Born from culture, Marara Designs is a small grassroots business that aims to educate young ones from their early ages and onwards.
The brainchild of 25-year-old Wiradjuri woman Shelby-Rae Lyons-Kschenka, Marara Designs does it all. From wooden cultural education games for little ones to home decor, baby gift packs and signs, the brand brings culture to any space.
Marara is the Wiradjuri word for carved wood and is a perfect fit for the business.
Selling educational wooden game sets, Lyons-Kschenka hopes to familiarise young ones with culture at an early age and encourage conversations of history and Reconciliation.
As a young mother of three boys and recently moving away from mob, she founded Marara Designs to stay connected to family and culture.
“I moved to Victoria around nine months ago, my partner got work down there so we decided to move,” she said.
“Through COVID I was missing my mob like crazy, I had no connection down there. No connection to culture and everything.”
“I took it on myself to teach my kids as much as I could. I thought why not make a business at the same time? I wasn’t doing anything, I had a baby and I don’t like sitting around.”
Lyons-Kschenka had a business previously which saw her create and sell contemporary digital Aboriginal art. However, she wanted something different, something that felt more “grounded in culture”.
“My mother is an Aboriginal teacher at the Wiradjuri childcare centre in Griffith where I grew up, she’s been there about 20 years now. I rang her and said I wanted to embed our culture in the kids more, I didn’t have her around to help,” she said.
“We came up with some games and that’s what kicked everything off.
“From there we expanded, I had always done home decor and I love it. But embedding culture into schools is really where my heart lies and it’s my big goal for this year.”
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“The younger generation, it’s who we need to target most. Their minds are forming, they listen and learn every day, they are always growing,” she said.
“We tried to be as authentic as we possibly could with it too, we didn’t use paper or anything. I went to the effort to engrave the wood as our people would back then.”
Lyons-Kschenka has also done NAIDOC workshops with schools, giving young ones the chance to ask and be curious about Aboriginal people and culture.
“The questions that kids ask, it opens my eyes so much. They ask things like, ‘Why aren’t you dark-skinned? Why do you have blonde hair?’ I take the time to explain those things to them and that history to them,” she said.
“They can’t comprehend it, they don’t have any idea about it from that age.
“But when there is no space for people to ask those questions, that’s where we get that racism when they’re older and that conflict and divide in cultures and people.”
Lyons-Kschenka has always pressed the importance of pride on her boys. Being away from her mob, she’s gone the extra mile to ensure her boys are proud of Wiradjuri heritage.
“They were going to the Wiradjuri childcare with my mum, then to move to Victoria on different Country with different mob. We were still involved with community a lot, but not having our specific culture, not having my grandmother or my grandfather or Mum physically there repeating language and teaching them — it was hard,” she said.
“I’d ring Mum a lot for support, ask her to pronounce words and teach me so I can teach them.”
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Lyons-Kschenka takes pride in knowing that Marara Designs allows her to express her culture and teach others — including her own kids.
“It makes me proud that when I do go eventually, that my boys have that pride to pass onto their kids and that keeps going. Culture will still be so strong and so alive,” she said.
With big things on the horizon, Lyons-Kschenka has one goal for the end of 2021.
“Expansion is on the cards, a big goal is that all of our government buildings in Wagga Wagga having an Acknowledgement of Country hanging,” she said.
“With everyone on board and how our mob is rallying lately, I see being change coming and I’m here for it.”
By Rachael Knowles