Marissa Verma bubbles with excitement at the response her Bindi Bindi Dreaming company has generated in spreading interest in Aboriginal history and culture.
“I just love it when I can meet passionate people who are truly and genuinely interested in wanting to know about Aboriginal history and culture,” Marissa told Have a Go News.
“They come in with next to no knowledge and go out with their minds on what they’ve learnt. And I know they’ll share their experiences with others.”
Marissa’s creation, Bindi Bindi Dreaming, has been signed-up by corporations, community groups, festivals and schools to embrace Marissa’s Aboriginal insights and experiences.
Marissa, a former CALM specialist, says she’s aware that seniors, including Baby Boomers, lacked knowledge about Aboriginal history and culture.
“I take little groups of seniors who missed out in their school learnings. They know about world wars and things but about Aboriginal people, they haven’t the foggiest,” she says.
Marissa, 45, says her company battles to keep up with demand.
“People are thirsting for it,” she says.
Across WA, Aboriginal specialist tour and lecture organisations are springing-up.
“Many Aboriginal groups are starting to emerge. There are artists and dancers and singers and there are three tours just at Kings Park.
“But they are different to mine which are out on country with a connection to country. No, there’s no competition between groups. We just give. People decide what they want to do,” Marissa says.
Marissa leads corporate groups to John Forrest National Park or around the Swan River or Walyunga National Park with its prolific wildlife including echidnas, kangaroos, bobtail lizards and flocks of birds.
“Most companies have a bus so I meet them out on country and tour for two to three hours, walking, talking and sharing information, connecting people to the flora and fauna,” she says.
Marissa’s tours include catering with a difference, being married to Saurabh with his Indian heritage, infusing Indian herbs and spices and curries into the menus.
Kangaroo hamburgers, roo steaks, fruit salad and lemon myrtle cake may be on the tour menu. And perhaps mild curried kangaroo (slow-cooked for hours with bush spices, perhaps saltbush), served with rice.
“I’ve even had vegetarians eating kangaroo, once a pet food but now acknowledged for its nutritional value,” Marissa says.
“Saurabh has come out with me to learn and he also educates people, although he is too busy working as an airport security officer at the moment.
“I take tours on many weekends. Saurabh and I pass like ships in the night. But if I work the weekend, I take two days off to recover, recruit and deal with emails,” she said.
Marissa is committed to passing knowledge to Indigenous students, employing them as guides and speakers at schools.
Bindi Bindi Dreaming was launched by Marissa after CALM was swamped with public interest in Indigenous issues.
“People wanted to come and learn a bit about Aboriginal history and culture,” says Marissa whose Noongar Yidinji father comes from Queensland and her mother from Katanning.
With three brothers, Marissa went to Hamilton Hill Senior High School and South Fremantle High School where they played with groups of Indigenous friends.
“Most of us were related but didn’t know it at the time and only later in life made the connections,” laughed Marissa.
“Our families were known to each other and so we all played together.”
Marissa completed an associate degree in science and technology at Curtin University and with her background knowledge and family teachings, was a plum pick for CALM.
But she said her science knowledge in plants and wildlife was put to little use in her job as a specialist.
“I was mostly working with elders. I went across the State, up to Broome and over to Esperance. I think that’s where I got my travel bug. I loved it.”
In 2000, Marissa launched Bindi Bindi – “Just me. I’m the face of the business, I deliver the workshops, go to schools and companies and take people on cultural journeys – anyone who wants to learn about our culture. But I am recruiting. I’ve mentored a program for schools.
“I’m trying to make a profit. The more companies that participate, the more money I can use to spread the programs into schools.
“Rates are based on hourly or all-day tours. It might be $300-an-hour for a non-profit organisation or up to a couple of thousand dollars for a corporate,” she said.
From her home south of the river, Marissa heads out for another tour in her loaded Suburu Forrester.
Secure at home are her much-loved, three cats, Tiger, Telly and Mano (the Indian word for cat) who wear bells on their collars to protect wildlife coming into the yard.
“You can hear them alright. They sound like a road train coming up,” laughs Marissa.
Marissa is in a happy place, spreading knowledge when interest in Aboriginal history and culture has never been greater.
“It’s what gets me out of bed in morning. It’s what I do,” she said.