Introducing Marlee Silva, a proud Gamilaroi and Dunghutti girl, born and raised on Dharrawal Country. Marlee is an author, podcaster and freelancer of many things, but mostly, she is a storyteller that highlights and gives voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Tell me a bit about you, your career and what gets you out of bed in the morning.
My name is Marlee Silva, I’m a 25 year old Gamilaroi and Dunghutti girl who was born and raised on Dharrawal Country south of Sydney. I’m an author, podcaster and something of a ‘bitsa’ - a term I’ve had to take on as a result of the many ‘bits’ of work and freelancing jobs I do on top of the core stuff. All of it though is dedicated to writing, storytelling and particularly that which highlights young people, women and my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.
An author, podcaster and power woman. That must be a lot. Where did you start in your career that led you to where you are now?
I started my career in the non-profit sector working for an education charity that was dedicated to assisting Indigenous high school students in staying at school and getting to university. I loved working with the next generation and it did a great job of cementing within me what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ - even though I feel like I’m still ‘growing up’ today - and although it wasn’t 100% clear or tangible, I knew whatever it was, it had to be something that helped me feel like I was giving back to my community and positively impacting up those I interacted with. However, I knew from a much younger age that I only ever wanted to work with and for my people. My culture has always been my strength and my internal compass on my path, so it was a non-negotiable.
Life is busy. How do you manage it?
With difficulty! Haha there’s just no denying that juggling so many different pieces of work can get really overwhelming and I’m still learning how to have a healthy work/life balance. I once had someone tell me that you have to know which of the ‘balls’ or life you’re juggling are glass and which are rubber - so your family or your mental health may be glass, while a particular project or ongoing piece of work may be rubber - meaning if things get too much and you have to drop one ball for a moment, it should only ever be a rubber one. It’s about prioritising and knowing what’s important and also being honest with yourself and the people you’re working with.
What is important to you when it comes to the work you do and the work of those around you?
I feel really privileged with the choice I have around the work I do. Because of the relationships I’ve formed with clients and former colleagues etc. most of my work comes through via word of mouth and I am really lucky to be able to pick and choose what I want to do. I only work on things I find value or believe in. Upholding my integrity is really important, as is the relationships I have with those I’m working for!
What has been the biggest influencing factor on why you do the work that you do?
My whole upbringing and particularly how I was made to feel on the outer with my majority white peers as a high school student, and my family and what they’ve instilled in me - particularly around the responsibility to further what my ancestors fought for me to have - have all led to this.
Who have been your mentors or supporters that have enabled you to be where you are today?
My parents were my first mentors and now are my biggest supporters. They’ve given me all my morals and my work ethic, but one of the things I’m most grateful for is the way they encouraged me to find my own voice and form my own opinions and beliefs from a young age. It’s allowed me to emerge as a confident, resilient adult.
In my career, I’ve also been really lucky to work under some incredible female leadership. These women I’ve had as my bosses or colleagues have shown me the power of kindness, patience and humility in the workplace and beyond. They have given me the strength to step out on my own and chase my dreams without fear.
Top three tips for women trying to find a break in the unsteady world we’re living in.
Be kind to yourself! Prioritise your health and happiness over working too hard. We only get one life and what’s the point of kicking career or work goals if you don’t have time to celebrate it with your loved ones - and I think we all also underestimate the importance of fun! And fun for no reason - you should feel compelled to go and have a laugh for no more than the fact that you feel like it or the sun is shining today!
You become the 5 people you spend the most time with. This is particularly important for us women who are out here trying to build empires. If your closest friends or the people you spend the most time with aren’t cheering you on, have different priorities or can’t see and understand why you’re working for what you’re working for - they’ll only serve to hold you back. Don’t be afraid to move away from friend groups like this, again it’s about putting what’s best for you first and the importance of a strong support network cannot be overstated!
Don’t rush! In a world of ‘30 under 30’ awards and ‘inspiring young women’ titles, it’s easy to feel like we’ve only got a certain amount of time to reach our goals or do anything of ‘significance’. This is so wrong! What’s the point of rushing? Success to me is happiness and happiness at any/every age is impressive and wonderful! Don’t beat yourself up for not hitting a milestone at the same time as someone else - and just don’t compare yourself to anyone else!