Ros Moriarty (pictured) is the Managing Director of the Jumbana Group, a leading indigenous art, strategy and communications company which is famously responsible for conceptualising Aboriginal art on Qantas 747 and 737s.
30 years ago when I started The Jumbana Group with my husband John, I had no idea what lay ahead. I was 27 years old with a toddler and a new baby. Balancing our young family and our fledgling business has been the hardest thing we have ever done.
As a business professional I’ve grown through the excitement, fulfilment, challenges and exhaustion of the journey. I’ve learnt so much about myself, my husband and family along with it’s worth persisting with a great idea.
Our business journey has been challenging, especially in the early years when we knew little about managing a business and often under-priced ourselves or agreed to unrealistic deadlines. Like most start-ups, cash flow was tight and there was plenty of sacrifice.
Time, or shortage of it, was an ever present battle. As any working mother will tell you, sometimes there’s just not enough time in one day and sleep, well, forget it!
We experienced dizzying heights along with lows that made it hard to pick ourselves up off the floor. Like so many other Australian endeavours, we generated far greater respect and interest overseas but we overcame the biggest of our challenges by pushing through and believing and trusting in our vision and in ourselves.
The biggest lessons I’ve learnt on this 30 year rollercoaster ride have been:
Accept helping hands
There’s nothing weak in accepting someone’s help, especially when the business is on a knife’s edge. It’s sometimes a sign that people believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve, which is humbling and powerfully encouraging.
Particularly in the first few years we had a number of helping hands that made a big difference to the survival of the business. Free vegetables from the neighbour’s garden helped us stretch scant resources and an incredibly generous gift from a close friend of a $10,000 groceries voucher fed our family for a whole year. It was what kept our business dream alive.
Don’t be afraid to get the family involved
Even if just for their moral support, having family members engaged in the business can be a huge asset. Our kids were central to our goals right from the beginning. The business was openly discussed around the dinner table and children were central in many of the big decisions we made for the business.
As they grew up the children helped out in areas like design and animation, accounts and public programs, and now 30 years on our younger son heads up business development.
Our children haven’t been the only family involved in the business. We’ve revelled in having our wider Aboriginal family members from the bush involved in various ways, through artwork, ceremonial events, exhibitions and consultation. They are still involved in our numerous commercial and not-for-profit activities to help improve life outcomes in remote Indigenous communities.
Keep the Dream Alive
When starting a business from scratch it can be difficult to maintain perspective and keep a clear vision. Through all our struggles, and there were many, we kept believing in our goals, and remained focused on the pressing urgency to share a culture that is in danger of disappearing.
The inspiration of our business was grounded in the desire to keep our children connected to their Indigenous heritage and their Aboriginal family in the bush. We were also driven by John’s experience as part of the stolen generation which saw him forcibly removed at four years of age from his mother for having skin paler than hers, given to him by his Irish father.
We saw art and design as a way to break through the stereotypes and prejudices and share a culture that is deeply spiritual and rooted in strong family beliefs. The belief that we were creating a new sense of Australian identity was what got us out of bed every morning.
The Jumbana Group has been operating for 30 years and comprises of Jumbana Consulting, design studio Balarinji and not-for-profit, The Nangala Project.