Indigenous business month is held in October every year. In 2022, Speaking in Colour Founder and MD Cherie Johnson was invited as the keynote speaker for the monthly Newcastle Business Club lunch. Here are a few dot points that Cherie covered during the event. 


Yaama Yaama. Nata ta wa Cherie Johnson, Gamilaroi and Weilwan looking towards Mulloomnbibah the name country has given its self-meaning “place of sea ferns”. This place is of the Kattang speakers.

I respectfully acknowledge the stories of this place, those who tell those stories and am wonder at the new and innovation that is coming from the cultural vitalisation that is bringing a renewed essence of strength and discernment.

I am only here due to those who have come before me, carved a space out for people like me so that we, in our cultural identity belong. I honour those who fought to have our flag flown high, those who at the time were not acknowledged nor respected, those who stood creating a legacy, so that today our flag is flown with pride and we are moving towards a place of respectful partnerships. 

I acknowledge any brothers and sisters here today from the many different Aboriginal countries who now call this place home. I acknowledge the new generation of Elders coming through and I, with so many others watch with hopefully eyes that in the day of adversary, which will come, that they all will stand firm and become the link in the chain each one of us called to be.  

My name is Cherie Johnson, daughter of Dawn Conlan, granddaughter of Racheal Darcy and great granddaughter of Charlotte Wright, we are Gamilaroi women from the Macquarie marshes in Northern NSW. While am off country, for four generations we have been raised in this town and call it my home. I am humbled to be here today. 

I am an entrepreneur, Managing Director of Speaking in Colour, a school teacher, artist, curator, PHd candidate. However more importantly I am a mum, raising courageous children, a sister of five, a daughter and an active member of my community. I can only do what I am doing today “because of her” all those women who have mentored me, and I give honour to those who have gone before and mentors in my life today. 

Jim asked me to come along today as its Indigenous business month. As an local Aboriginal entrepreneur he thought it would be best for me to talk to this topic.

So what is Indigenous business month?

This year’s theme, ACTIONS TODAY, IMPACT TOMORROW, designed to inspire the next generation of First Nations business leaders.

Why do we need to promote Aboriginal business?

Who here knows of an Aboriginal business owner or supplier? Well you all do now as you have meet me and I am not the only one in this remarkable town.

So why do we NEED Aboriginal business?

  1. Aboriginal products need to be created and sold by Aboriginal people

  2. Aboriginal business employee Aboriginal people

  3. It is a way to build our economy

  4. Our Aboriginal heritage is Australia’s unique difference to the rest of the world.

We have the oldest human built structure here in NSW, older than anywhere else in the world with the bre fish traps and the oldest human remains at Lake Mungo in western NSW.

Knowing all of this, in 2016 the government initiated the Indigenous business sector strategy, this current strategy is in effect from 2018-2028. On your table you have the QR code which will take you to this.

Knowing that a strong, diverse and self-supporting Indigenous business sector is key to empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and placing Indigenous business owners, their families and communities in the driver’s seat of their economic future. Indigenous businesses create wealth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are a source of pride and foster social and economic empowerment.

A flourishing Indigenous business sector is also an unrealised source of economic growth for the broader Australian economy.

By investing in today’s Indigenous entrepreneurs, we can work together to create a generation of entrepreneurs who build their own business knowledge, networks, assets and wealth. This in turn breaks down barriers for future generations and creates a positive cycle of economic empowerment that will build over time.

The Indigenous business sector is already doing fantastic things across the country. The sector itself is growing rapidly, and faster than the rest of the economy.

But historical economic disadvantage means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still three to four times less likely to be self-employed than the national average.

Of the 2.1 million businesses in Australia, around 12,000- 16,000 are Indigenous-owned. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are more than twice as likely to be self-employed as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Over the next decade, we expect over 73,000 additional working age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (20 to 44 years old) to join the Australian economy. If we support the Indigenous start-ups to grow at commensurate levels with non-Indigenous start-ups, the sector could grow by up to 8,000 new Indigenous businesses over the next ten years.

One of my personal goals is to support the establishment of 100 Aboriginal led business, so far I have directly assisted 14 and mentored a few others.

Indigenous businesses are also a significant contributor to local, national and international economies. For example, collectively Supply Nation registered Indigenous businesses earn more than $1 billion per year with revenues growing by an average of 12.5 per cent annually.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face some unique barriers to participation in the economy. Historic economic marginalisation, together with low intergenerational wealth transfer, and the ongoing impact of poor education, employment and health outcomes mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people require additional business support, access to information and access to capital to establish and grow their businesses. In particular, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to bear the burden of historical policies to restrict Indigenous wealth, home ownership, business ownership and economic growth opportunities, as well as higher rates of incarceration.

This in turn limits opportunities to purchase land, assets, accrue wealth, equity restricting opportunities to grow.

How do you know if a business is Aboriginal?

 It's, NSWICC registered, Supply Nation certified. Check for logos on peoples email, web site, social platforms.

There are search engines to locate business, type it what you are after and she what the fit is.

How do we increase demand?

The primary purpose of the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) is to stimulate Indigenous entrepreneurship, business and economic development, providing Indigenous Australians with more opportunities to participate in the economy.

Prior to the implementation of the policy, Indigenous enterprises secured limited business from Commonwealth procurement. The policy is intended to significantly increase the rate of purchasing from Indigenous enterprises.

How the IPP works:

  1. Annual targets for the volume and value of contracts to be awarded to Indigenous enterprises by the Commonwealth and each Portfolio.
  2. The Mandatory Set Aside (MSA) requires that Indigenous businesses be given an opportunity to demonstrate value for money before a general approach to market. The MSA applies to procurements to be delivered in remote Australia and for all other procurements wholly delivered in Australia valued between $80,000‑$200,000 (GST inclusive).
  3. Indigenous employment and business participation targets apply to contracts wholly delivered in Australia valued at $7.5 million or more in 19 industries, known asMandatory Minimum Indigenous Participation Requirements (MMR).  

Reconciliation Action Plans

Effectively a strategy document that sits along side your business plan that outlines how you will commit to making Aboriginal people, culture, diversity BAU in your work place.

RISE framework reflect, innovate, stretch and elevate. Reflect and innovate have an internal focus, challenging the internal and policies culture of the organisation while the stretch and elevate are the external focus.

Best way forward for organisation is to seek an Advisor to assist on the journey.

It is our responsibility as leaders, business owners and parents to educate ourselves and provide the opportunities for others in the work place and hope to learn the truth and history of this place so we can all move forward into a partnership.

Diversify your supply chain

You are committed to your purchase, is there a way this can be diversified with other suppliers?

On many government contracts now organisations are asked to evidence the percentage of the Aboriginal suppliers, this little accountability check in is enough to get the right people asking the questions.

Increase education and understanding

When have you or your colleagues had the opportunity to learn about Aboriginal people and culture? If we lived in NZ, how much would be now about the First Nations people culture and even be able to speak the language. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a company gathering where the CEO of the NZ chapter, a Kiwi who spoke in Aotearoa his entire address. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could be so proud of our First Nations people and culture?

Let me tell you about Speaking in Colour

The Speaking in Colour story:

In 2010 with the birth of my second child I started a business. My son was six weeks old and my daughter was 19 months, I realised I could do projects between sleeps to support my family.

In 2016, Speaking in Colour become a company because the accountant told me it needed to.

I left fulltime teaching, started a PhD and got stuck into the company.

Since 2016, we have double each year in a row. We still grew 15% last year despite Covid and scrambling to onboard ample capacity in house as we are 100% owned and operated Aboriginal local business.

Today, Speaking in Colour is a collective of likeminded educators working in several roles within the education and corporate sectors.

Our vision is to equip, empower and encourage.

From the classroom all the way to the boardroom, we believe that through education and inclusion we can create a future where all Australians can thrive.

We have three arms of the business – corporate, education and programs.

Tomorrow I fly to Adelaide to accept the First Nations award in the Australian Rural Education awards from SPERA, the Society for the Provision of Rural Education. We have also just found out we are finalist in the Annual National Ethnic Business Awards. Great news for a Hunter business.

I want to end on a note Mark Fitzgerald made in his speech at the NiB 70th birthday celebrations recently.

20 years ago behaviours appeared hard to change. In fact the women couldn’t wear trousers, that was changed and many celebrated. Today we could be embarrassed by that. It’s likely in 20 years’ time we will look back at this very moment and be embarrassed.

Anything worth doing is going to be tricky. But you want to be on the right side of history.

So I ask you to join me, diversify your supply chain, investigate how to bring cultural education into your work place, next time you have a team building day, lets us do the activity, write a RAP, partners with us, we can help you on this journey.

Thank you for your time, I hope you have been able to get something out of it.

Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Image courtesy of Newcastle Business Club, photography by Snapper Studio.