Adina Vibe Darwin Waterfront F&B Supervisor, Lily Ahnfeldt Lovat

To mark NAIDOC Week 2024, running from July 7-14, HM is shining the spotlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the hotel industry. Here, TFE Hotels introduces Adina-Vibe Darwin Waterfront F&B Supervisor, Lily Ahnfeldt-Lovatt, in a HM exclusive.

Jawoyn* woman, Lily Ahnfeldt-Lovatt was born and raised in the Top End and has an affinity for her country that shines through in spades when you speak to her. Her mob have been the traditional custodians and owners of Nitmiluk Gorge (near Katherine) for thousands of years, and Lily proudly serves as an unofficial tourism ambassador for her homelands, enthusiastically telling hotel guests how to experience the grandeur of Nitmiluk Gorge and everything else in between.

“When you work in a hotel, you’re exposed to many people from different nationalities and backgrounds – it shows how multicultural Darwin is and how accepting we are of different races, regardless of who they are,” Lily says.

“I really like talking to people from other cultures and sharing stories and travel tips. I find guests tell me a lot about their culture and why they are visiting, and I also share mine.”

It’s a culture that is visible at various touch points throughout the partly Indigenous-owned hotel – from Larrakia Elder, Aunty Bilawara’s Welcome to Country on the in-room TVs to Trent Lee’s Dreaming artwork adorning the walls of Curve Café & Bar where Lily works to the Acknowledgement of Country at the entrance to the hotel.

As a school leaver, young Lily says she aspired to be a flight attendant but fell into a hospitality through TFE Hotels’ First Nations Real Jobs Program back in 2021. It’s a job and an industry that has kept her grounded mentally and has seen her nominated for an internal Growth and Adaptable Mindset award in her region; join TFE’s Future Leaders Program; and progress through the ranks to her current role as F&B Supervisor.

“The hotel team – at the dual branded Adina-Vibe Darwin Waterfront hotel – were so warm and welcoming and I’d say I’ve had a good experience as an Indigenous woman in this industry,” she said.

With NAIDOC Week shining a light on the achievements of First Nation’s people, Lily says she looks up to TFE’s Indigenous Liaison Officer and NAIDOC Ambassador for TFE, Henri Peters, as a role model and mentor and jokingly laughs that she has her eyes on his role in the not-too-distant future. Henri laughs in return and admits with her talent and tenacity that “he’d better watch out!”

It’s clear from talking to Lily and Henri that NAIDOC Week means different things to different people, but for all it’s a celebration.

“For me, my family usually get together and have a big lunch to celebrate, but I’m doing things a little differently this year,” Lily says.

Come Friday, she’ll be swapping her Curves Cafe apron for casual clothes as a special guest at TFE’s annual NAIDOC Week bush tucker-inspired luncheon (organised by Henri), where representatives from Indigenous businesses/organisations will be attending along with community leaders, like Aunty Bilawara.

Lily will also be frocking up and attending the Larrakia Nation’s annual NAIDOC Gala Ball and Awards on Saturday July 13 with her fellow First Nations team members and Hotel General Manager, Lucy Ockleston. Lily say highlights will include an awards ceremony, recognising outstanding achievements within the community, and a DAAFF Fashion Runway, showcasing the incredible talent and creativity of Indigenous designers…  not that she needs help in picking a dress.

“I don’t have it yet, but I know exactly what I want to be wearing to celebrate,” she says.

It’s an important choice for an important event.

“People from other countries don’t understand our culture,” Lily said. “So, NAIDOC Week for me is all about knowledge and empowering people to ask questions and understand… and that’s a very good thing.”

*Jawoyn is recognised among Aboriginal peoples over a large area of the Northern Territory’s ‘Top End.’ It is an all-encompassing expression used in reference to language, culture, people, and territory.