Sandi Sieger - Founder of Onya Magazine
Sandi Sieger – almost sounds like a catchy household name. Awarded as Melbourne's 'Most Influential People' in 2019, she may as well be a celebrity. And yet her warm, disarming nature will surprise you. I met Sandi back in 2018 in a unusual setting: nibbling on bread and sweets in the background of a TV episode shooting (it was my 2 seconds of fame!) Sandi and I started chatting and instantly clicked. It was easy, natural (anyone who's met Sandi will nod knowingly) and I had this intuitive feeling that I would see her again.
A few months down the track I applied and was accepted into a writing internship with Sandi's successful online magazine, Onya. Over the last two years, this wonderful woman and proudly self-titled 'glass half-full advocate' has taught me so much, not only about writing, PR and media, but also about knowing and backing yourself, while also generously helping others. Her uplifting words and lust for life are both inspirational and contagious, and I feel immense gratitude to call Sandi my mentor and friend. In our interview, she shares her story and invaluable advice.
From a young age, you knew you wanted to be a writer. What led you to becoming one—were you focused on a particular writing career or was it more serendipitous?
I’ve started to think that, more than anything, writing chose me.
I wasn’t necessarily focused on a set career – I knew I would always write, in some capacity. How or what or where I didn’t know but I knew writing would be a major part of my life, and career.
Knowing that, from such a young age, made decisions like school subject selections and choosing courses and narrowing down career paths particularly easy.
Beyond that, nothing about it was particularly easy. It took, and takes, hard work. When you love doing something, it can be easy to dismiss any element of it as hard work (“I love this! I’d do it for free!”) but I think suggesting it hasn’t been hard is a disservice to others.
I became a writer because writing, for me, is a little like breathing – it’s natural, I rarely have to think about it and doing it seems like the easiest thing in the world.
Writing and being a writer are two different things, though. But there is nothing else I’d rather do. Nothing else seems to fuel me as much.
Tell us about Onya Magazine and how it all started.
Onya Magazine is an online Australian lifestyle magazine – a curated collection of content focused on Arts & Culture, Beauty, Fashion, Food & Drink, Travel, and more.
I launched Onya Magazine in 2009. I couldn’t find the kind of website I wanted online, one that kept me in the loop on an upcoming festival, but also reviewed a new restaurant, and a current theatre show, and one that had a cocktail recipe I could make at home, alongside an interview with an Australian doing something interesting in the world. I couldn’t see enough positive conversations online about Australians doing great things – either in Australia, or abroad. And I definitely couldn’t find a place that celebrated the diversity in Australia and showcased all the wonderful makers, creators, artists and business owners doing incredible, innovative things.
The driving force, initially, was to showcase how richly talented we are as a country, and, extending on from that, encourage people to consider supporting more Australian-owned, and particularly made, businesses.
I’m incredibly passionate about buying local and supporting local. I wanted to create a place where people were flooded with all the varying ways they can do that.
There’s more to Australia than cork hats and kangaroos – we might be small compared to the rest of the world, but we’re mighty. Onya Magazine is a celebration of that.
Through Onya, you help emerging writers get invaluable experience with internships (like me!). You also coordinate Camp Awakenings—a personal development program for Australian teenagers. What sparked this generosity to help others?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint a specific reason – I’d say it’s a combination of my wiring, my experiences and my family.
I grew up in a house where every stray dog, cat or bird was given a loving home. Our front door was often a revolving one, with family or friends or someone’s third cousin staying over. My Mum is the most selfless, generous person I know. My Dad was also incredibly generous. That’s probably shaped a lot of who and why I am. I mean, my Mum even sends door-to-door salespeople off with home cooked biscuits – it’s ridiculous!
Growing up, I was afforded opportunities to attend various leadership programs and camps that propelled me forward, opened up my network and made me grow as a person. Those experiences were life-changing. I know how powerful immersive personal development programs can be, and that’s why I run Camp Awakenings. We change lives.
I don’t think of mentoring or helping people as a chore – it’s a fundamental part of life for me. What people don’t often realise is that I learn as much from them as they might from me.
I continually evolve and learn from meeting the wonderful interns I get to work with, and the participants at Camp Awakenings.
When you're not working and living your best life through Onya, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Write. Even though I do it for work, sometimes I do it just for me.
I love reading. I seem to have an endless pile of books to get through, but that’s because I seem to have a pattern of finish one, purchase four more.
I love music and work to music most days, and I listen to music constantly. Walking, cooking, driving – it all has a soundtrack. I churn through podcasts, too.
I love playing with my son, Oscar – everything from boardgames to outdoors. I walk my dogs. I cook. I take photos. I drink coffee. I make lists.
What are you most looking forward to once the COVID-19 lockdown is over?
I miss packing a bag. Going on roadtrips. Going camping. Flying. The excitement and anticipation that comes before a trip. I’m one of those people that loves everything about the journey – from the airport to the destination. So I miss that.
I’m fortunate to travel a lot with my work. I have gone from sleeping in a hotel every second weekend and being on a horde of trips and adventures each year to being home every night for four months. And while getting back to New York would be amazing, while heading to a tropical island would be nice, while traipsing around Italy would be fabulous, what I miss most are the little things: Sunday night dinner with my Mum, sister, brother and sister-in-law and my nephews and niece. I miss dinners with friends, that turn into cocktails, that turn into dancing. I miss running Camp Awakenings. I miss dashing through Melbourne laneways for a coffee and then a meeting and then a catch up and crossing the Princes Bridge, soaking in the view across the Yarra, and feeling the buzz rip through my stomach.
Here's a foodie question for you: what's your favourite cuisine? Go-to snack when you're on the run?
THIS IS HARD.
I love Asian, Indian, modern Australian, the odd bit of American, Italian…if I had to choose just one, though, I’d say anything my Mum cooks. From fresh pasta to brodo to quiche to roast, she nails everything, every time. So Angela’s cooking is my favourite cuisine.
My favourite go-to snack would be a smoothie if I’m on the run or yoghurt and fruit if I’m at my desk. And coffee.
What are your top three tips to other writers and creatives starting out?
If you want to write well, you have to read well. Read wide, and far, and varied, and often.
Put yourself – your words – out there. It’s scary but you must. Don’t feel like you need to do what everyone else is doing, don’t feel like you have to be across, or on, every platform, or mailing list, or website, just choose one place, or one thing, and get uncomfortable there. You’ll never grow if you don’t.
Find yourself a crew that gets you. Whether it’s a mentor, a networking group, some fellow creatives, find one, or ten, people that do what you do, or want to do what you do, or get why you want to do whatever it is you want to do and spend time with them. In person. Online. Over coffee. Over the phone.