Today we are introducing you to Phil, the small business owner of The First Cook which educates Melbournians about Torres Strait Islander culture.
Phil is a Torres Strait Islander who was born with a gift for storytelling and connecting with people. Sharing his culture is something that Phil has done all his life. He realised that there were very few Torres Strait Islander cultural education experiences in Melbourne VIC. With his wife Sonja, Phil decided to work with Many Rivers’ business coach Gina to take the business to the next level. Together they have been building more regular opportunities for Phil to share his wealth of knowledge about the Torres Strait Islands.
“We wanted to work with Many Rivers to take things to the next level. Phil was doing what he was good at, but I wanted to help him get more jobs and do some marketing. I started working with Gina a couple of years ago to broaden the business.” – Sonja, The First Cook, Melbourne VIC
Phil is motivated by a larger purpose than just owning a sustainable business. He hopes that The Future Cook will be an opportunity for his spirituality to be passed on to young people.
Read their story.
Meet Phil and Sonja
Sonja – We run a Torres Strait Islander cultural education business. Phil developed the program because he loves to have a yarn with the community and share stories. The purpose of his program is to support the healing of country, which was this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, and to contribute towards reconciliation. People who ask for his services include councils, community groups, Indigenous men’s gatherings, schools, kindergartens, refugee community centres, festivals such as Harmony Festival Renaissance and large organisations such as BHP.
He does kup murri, flag raisings, blessing of the food, and cooks dampers and scones for the community. He never stops working. Phil has a special gift and he gets approached by so many people to talk about the Torres Strait and reconciliation. He is really good at having those hard conversations and acknowledging the feeling on all sides.
Often he provides these cultural experiences over a few days and it takes a lot of preparation time the day before the events.
Before Working With Many Rivers
Sonja – Phil got his ABN in 2004 but he’s done this kind of work all his life. I’ve been supporting him with the business side of things for the last couple of years.
Phil – I was a community development officer. Along the road, I achieved my workplace training and assessment, a Diploma in Community Development and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution and these equipped me with the tools that I need to use when I am having discussions about coping and dealing with change.
I went into business to embrace my cultural heritage. I was born on Aboriginal country, but I come from the Torres Strait. For me, the backbone of this business idea was to have identity. I decided to turn this into a business as an employment opportunity. I started working in NSW and then moved down to Melbourne. I realised that there are less services offered by Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria and less knowledge about the culture.
My business ideas were the ideas of my family. Throughout my life I was always asked to be the spokesperson for my family because of my ability to converse easily with other people.
Working With Many Rivers
Sonja – I wanted to work with Many Rivers to take things to the next level. Phil was doing what he was good at but I wanted to get him more jobs and do some marketing. I started working with Gina a couple of years ago to broaden the business.
Phil – Gina helped me understand a bit more about public liability and develop a repository of information. I do this work to appease my God, not anyone else. I am an ambassador for my spirituality. I have conducted many cross-cultural, two-way cultural learning programs on my home island with my own people and the wider community to enable them opportunities. The support from Many Rivers and from Gina has been awesome.
Phil – During COVID-19, we had to look at alternative ways to stay afloat. Through Many Rivers, we had the opportunity to have loans to reenforce my business during this time. We looked at marketing and advertising campaigns and how to get my name known by the appropriate people in our field of work. I started to engage with universities to develop cross cultural training packages.
We got a loan from Many Rivers to get a car for our business.
Community awareness of current Torres Strait Islander issues. There has been a big lapse since we had our own voice. Most of our communities are controlled by agencies with protocol rather than our own cultural protocol. This makes reconciliation hard and that is what I am out to do.
The biggest success is when everyone is on the same page, and we create a sense of partnership. When big companies and events come in and hold an event that touches the whole community, that is a success.
My spiritual awareness and my cultural heritage have expanded. Along the way I have had to teach myself the skills to be a role model. It is a big responsibility to be this person in my community and in the public and private sector. It has made me good at rebutting and I need to be quick with my responses to hold an important and impactful conversation.
Future Goals for The First Cook
I need to pass it on. My culture is a living thing and I need to find a container program and train some of my family and younger people. At least, I need to prepare them for the road ahead. It is not for me to just pass on, it is to protect my spirituality.
Thanks Phil and Sonja for sharing your small business journey. Your story will inspire people who are looking to take their next step towards creating their own small business. If you would like to stay updated with Phil and Sonja and their journey as small business owners, visit the The First Cook website.
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