Five deadly First Nations businesses to discover

19 May 2023

Taste the flavours of the Torres Strait, fall in love with changemaking Aboriginal art and browse designer fashion that supports children in remote communities.

Whether you’re dining out, buying a gift or contracting services for your workplace, we can all play a role in helping First Nations businesses thrive.

At the City of Melbourne, our Aboriginal Procurement Strategy guides us in promoting economic participation and development among Aboriginal people to close the gap of disadvantage.

Here are five beloved dining and retail businesses you can explore around the City of Melbourne.

1. Big Esso by Mabu Mabu
Federation Square, Melbourne

Settle in with in pepperberry and saltbush fried crocodile and damper with golden syrup butter at Big Esso by Mabu Mabu, an all-day bar and kitchen in central Melbourne. Stay a while to enjoy chargrilled seafood alongside bevies and beats from Indigenous creators, or browse small-batch pantry supplies online.

A vibrant restaurant interior with a neon sign reading "Big Esso"
The vibrant interior of Big Esso (which means “the biggest thank you”) by Mabu Mabu (“help yourself”) at Federation Square

2. The Torch
146 Elgin Street, Carlton

Browse stunning artwork by First Nations creatives who’ve taken part in the powerful Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program run by The Torch. Each year, this Melbourne Award-winning program supports around 600 First Nations people who have been impacted by incarceration in Victoria. This creates new pathways for participants’ lives beyond the prison system.

Three people standing in front of a mural.
Christopher Austin is a former participant turned mentor for The Torch program

“With The Torch program, with the art, it shows us a new pathway. A lot of people, when they get out of jail, they go back to where they came from and that’s what put them in jail the first time. A lot of them go back in because there’s low self-esteem, there’s no money, there’s homelessness and all that. If The Torch program didn’t come along, I don’t know where I’d be at to this day.”

Christopher Austin
Indigenous Program Mentor, The Torch

The Torch is running an exhibition called Confined 14 at Glen Eira City Council Gallery and online until 4 June 2023. The exhibition features around 470 artworks by 400 artists in prisons or post-release.

3. Ngali
24 Aurora Lane, Docklands

Shop for silk dresses, scarves, clothes and tops that share the stories of Country through stunning artwork. These street and runway-ready First Nations designs are a sustainable and meaningful alternative to fast fashion. Proceeds from your purchases will support literacy and IT programs for children in remote communities.

A person walking down a catwalk.
Ngali on the runway / Photo by Liana Hardy

“I believe as an Indigenous person, there is a connection to our ancestors that we feel guided by. It’s like an invisible support… that’s why we feel like we have freedom to create. As a culture, I think we just see things a little bit differently. I measure Ngali’s success on what it means for the remote Indigenous artists we work with, what it is we can contribute to educating our kids in remote communities, and the ability for us to share our stories and celebrate who we are as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Denni Francisco
Founder and Designer, Ngali

A person smiling.
Denni Francisco, Founder and Designer of Ngali / Photo by Angela Arlow

4. Pawa Café & Bar
Southbank Promenade, Melbourne

Grab a lilly pilly croissant, kangaroo meat pie or pre-show cheese board at Hamer Hall, overlooking the Birrarung (Yarra River). Pawa collaborates with a network of Indigenous native food growers, farmers, foragers, artisans and makers. Pawa means ‘to cook’ in the language of the Gunditjmara people.

A bar interior with vibrant yellow decor.
Pawa Bar & Cafe overlooks the river Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne / Photo: Jake Roden 

5. The Koorie Heritage Trust
Federation Square, Melbourne

Browse authentic Victorian Aboriginal artwork and artefacts at the Koorie Heritage Trust in the heart of Melbourne. This curated collection includes paintings, carvings, didgeridoos and clapsticks. By deepening people’s understanding of Indigenous arts, the Trust aims to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Two people looking at Aboriginal artefacts.
Deepen your understanding of Aboriginal art and culture at the Koorie Heritage Trust

Need more stops on your shopping trip?

The Queen Victoria Women’s Centre Shop at the rear of 210 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (access via QV Square) stocks cool threads by Clothing the Gaps and statement earrings from The Koorie Circle.

The Museums Victoria store in the Carlton Gardens at 11 Nicholson Street also stocks stunning laser-cut earrings from Haus of Dizzy.

These are just a few of the ways to support the more than 100 First Nations owned and operated businesses in the City of Melbourne.

Discover more online

Many First Nations businesses from Melbourne and beyond trade online.

Get empowering kids toys from Yarn Strong Sister, plants from Pop Wilder, chocolate from Jala Jala Treats, wellbeing-boosting teas from Ilan Style and popcorn in zesty native flavours from Uncle Charlie’s Taste of Country.

Need a removalist, photographer, pool installer, homewares supplier, or anything in between? Browse the Kinaway (Victorian) and Supply Nation (national) online directories.

Start and grow your business

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person looking to start or grow a business in Melbourne, reach out for support with permits, grants, marketing and more. For more information, visit Aboriginal Melbourne.

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