Culture / People

Author and activist Marlee Silva on why ‘there’s no such thing as can’t’

In partnership with Cartier

"If you truly believe in something and you desperately want for a world where the change you desire is a reality, the blood, sweat and tears you’ll shed, will be worth it." It's this passion for progress — real progress, not the optical kind — that has kept Marlee Silva's fire for pushing the boundaries alive.

Marlee is the author of a best-selling novel, she was the first Indigenous Australian woman to study at Stanford University, she's worked for AIME alongside the CEO, and other big names like Oxfam and Common Purpose. Marlee's CV is impressive, especially when you consider she is just 25 years old. Her activism is grounded in the belief that sharing her voice is one of biggest ways to influence change around her. "For me, storytelling is the greatest vessel for evoking empathy," she says.

In honour of The Cartier Women's Initiative — an organisation that looks to drive change by empowering and spotlighting female change-makers and entrepreneurs — we spoke with Marlee about her inspirations and what continues to drive her activism. Below, she shares with us why she believes change comes through storytelling, her personal hero and her advice for anyone else wanting to make a difference — no matter how small.



What’s the first thing we should know about you?

Once you get me going, I can talk forever. So I hope you don’t have a word limit on this interview. Haha.


BALLY jacket; CARTIER earrings.


Did you always dream of becoming a writer?

I sure did, but I didn’t realise how openly I expressed that dream growing up until more recent years. I remember when I was still studying at university and I ran into my kindergarten teacher. When she asked me what I was up to these days and I let her know I was studying creative writing, I was a bit taken a back to hear her respond with a little laugh, "so you’re still writing stories?" It's pretty special to think how proud five year old Marlee would be to see her name on the cover of a book today.


BALLY jacket; ST AGNI top; CARTIER earrings.


Tell us about your book? How did it feel for your first novel to become a best-seller?

My debut book, My Tidda, My Sister, is a celebration of Aboriginal women. It features a few stories I got to hear from some amazing tiddas (sisters) I connected with and I am so proud of all of them, but the most special part is that I got to feature the strength and resilience of the most important Aboriginal women in my life, my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother. To have their legacies in print for the world to see is like nothing I could’ve dreamt of. I always said I couldn’t care less if only one book sold, I was just so honoured for it to exist — but that whole ‘best-seller’ title is pretty insane.


What keeps you inspired day to day?

I’m really lucky to have a circle of family and friends that provides a constant source of inspiration — there’s always someone around me achieving something incredible or reminding me of my own capabilities. They are who keep me uplifted day to day.


BALLY jacket; ST AGNI top; CARTIER earrings.


You’ve worked with Oxfam, Common Purpose, AIME and volunteered with organisations like the Red Cross and Generation Australia. What drives you to be part of social activism?

Working for and connecting to all those organisations was something I was driven to as I was seeking to learn. To learn about the depths of a range of issues happening in the world — and importantly, to learn what I could do to contribute to the solutions to them. I was raised in a household where I knew the privilege of the opportunities I was given and I grew up with a fire in my belly to give back in some way. I know its my duty to continue the legacy of those who’ve come before me and made the sacrifices they have to ensure I had a clear path to success — that’s what I always remember.


How do you think we can create change through storytelling?

For me, storytelling is the greatest vessel for evoking empathy. As individuals we are the sum of our stories, and by sharing them with each other, we can better understand different experiences, find similarities in each other that are otherwise unseen and hopefully be compelled to treat each other with more kindness and empathy and eventually take actions towards the positive change we need to see in the world.


BALLY jacket; CARTIER earrings.


Who is your personal hero?

I’m tempted to paraphrase that Matthew McConaughey Oscar acceptance speech and say my hero is "me in ten years" — but I can’t go past my parents. They’re the ones who’ve made everything I’ve achieved in my life so far, and ever hope to achieve in the future, possible. Through their sacrifice, hard work and the lessons they’ve passed on to me, they’ve made sure the sky is the limit for me and my sister. It doesn’t get much better than that.


Do you have any advice for people out there who want to influence change?

It can be a tough slog, but if you truly believe in something and you desperately want for a world where the change you desire is a reality, the blood, sweat and tears you’ll shed, will be worth it. Celebrate the small wins, surround yourself with people who will be your cheerleaders and don’t feel like you have to carry it all on your own or can’t take a break — your cup has to be full before you pour it into something else.


BALLY jacket; ST AGNI top; MICHAEL LO SORDO pants; CARTIER rings and earrings.


What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

This saying used to infuriate me as a kid, but anytime I said I couldn’t do something or doubted myself, my Dad would say "there’s no such thing as can’t." And I find that still rings in my head now and it's the advice I’ve listened to the most.




Photography: Sam Armstrong
Talent: Marlee Silva
Fashion: Angel Jhang
Hair: Kyye @ HM Division
Makeup: Cherry Cheung
Fashion Assistant: India Stibilj
Director: Ella Jane


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