Keeping a business going is never easy and achieving longevity is a lot more than just luck. 2020 will be Balarinji’s thirty-seventh year in business and while it has evolved greatly in that time, we’ve always stayed true to the original vision we had when we started, to deepen people’s understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal Australia.
When I look back on Balarinji’s journey and that of other businesses that have stood the test of time, there are characteristics and traits that many have in common.
A committed team
You can’t achieve anything of substance alone and Balarinji’s success and longevity is largely a result of our committed, cohesive and culturally-connected team. The quality of teams we have been able to build around our work has made all the difference. Your team needs to come with you on the journey, they need to be invested and motivated by your mission and they need to share your values for you to have any chance at long term success.
Be direct and always endeavour to be authentic. Authenticity is inextricably linked with trust, integrity and respect. Others will quickly see beyond a flashy and shallow exterior and I’ve learnt that the best commercial relationships come from shared values.
To achieve our goal of deeply embedding Aboriginal sensibility into Australia’s national identity, authenticity is crucial. This includes authentic engagement with Aboriginal artists, Elders, traditional owners, storytellers and community members in order to articulate and interpret the authentic Aboriginal narrative, protocols and principles of Place.
Don’t be afraid of challenges or when things get difficult. When we started Balarinji there was little interest in us or Indigenous design. To help us start changing people’s perceptions, we targeted one major Australian brand to showcase Indigenous design on the global stage.
I woke up at 2 o’clock one morning with the idea to paint a Qantas jumbo jet with Aboriginal artwork. However, turning the idea into reality wasn’t easy. It took a daunting move of pitching the idea to then CEO, James Strong when we found ourselves in a lift with him, to literally get it off the ground and launch Wunala Dreaming in 1994, the first aircraft in the internationally acclaimed Balarinji-Qantas Flying Art Series.
It also takes courage to know when to adapt your business to remain sustainable for the long term. Responding to market changes isn’t always easy, especially when you are emotionally invested in a particular service or product. We’ve been involved in Indigenous fashion and homewares, Indigenous workplace consultation and strategy, and most recently, integrated Indigenous art and design projects for some of Australia’s largest infrastructure developments.
The key is to remain true to your vision but be brave enough to evolve the business as things change. And don’t be afraid of failure as it’s impossible for every step to be a winning one. No matter what the stage of the business it’s always a long game.
Ros Moriarty, Co-founder and Managing Director, Balarinji