How Indigenous Literacy Foundation Ambassador and author Gregg Dreise changes lives through stories
Indigenous Australian author Gregg Dreise has dedicated his life to sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories with families. He shares the experiences that have shaped him.
Video: The Australia Post logo sits in the bottom right corner. Text: "Instilling a love of reading from an early age." A man wearing a NAIDOC hat with a colourful Indigenous design sits on a log in a forest. In a river, water flows between rocks. The man examines a vine and twists long reeds together into a rope.
Audio: Gregg: I think a lot of people say that storytelling is in my DNA. In Aboriginal culture, we call it our songlines. Everything about me growing up down the river, running around playing games, telling stories by the camp fire, inspires everything we do.
Video: Text: "Gregg Dreise, Kamilaroi Nation and Euahlayi Nation. Indigenous Literacy Foundation Ambassador & Author." Gregg animatedly reads a book with Aboriginal illustrations to a girl. He leafs through an Indigenous language book that has photos of Indigenous children opposite children's drawings.
Audio: Gregg: My name's Gregg Dreise. I love to put my knowledge and wisdom as an author and an illustrator behind the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. I get to see communities full of culture and passion and storytellers come alive when they can see that they can be a part of the book world. To see books from little tiny communities in remote Australia, to have characters from their own country in their own languages, oh, that...that just makes me shine.
Video: As he plays didjeridu for children, Gregg taps a stick against the didjeridu. The children tap their heads, shoulders, knees and toes. They sit in a library. A picture book has vibrant Aboriginal illustrations of two large birds in the desert under the sun.
Audio: Gregg: We are slowly building those stepping stones to make it natural that communities are gonna be filled with great access to books. To have partnerships with Australia Post to help us to get access to books into remote Australia is fantastic.
Video: In the left half of the screen, the white Australia Post logo appears on a red background. In the right half, the blue Indigenous Literacy Foundation logo appears on a white background.
“Yaama nginda. Ngaya Gregg Dreise, Gamilaraay-Yuwaalaraay. Hello, everyone. My name's Gregg Dreise and I'm from Gamilaraay nation and Yuwaalaraay nation.”
Talented storyteller, artist and musician Gregg Dreise has dedicated his life to sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples stories with Australian children and families.
Gregg is the author of picture books that tell stories of Indigenous culture, self-image, friendship, kindness and bullying, including Cunning Crow, Silly Birds, Kookoo Kookaburra, Mad Magpie and My Culture and Me. Gregg is also the illustrator of the classic story Tiddalik the Frog (Pearson Publishing) and his poetry and illustrations appear in the A Boat of Stars poetry book, as well as a children’s music CD titled Sing. Dance. Walk Together.
Reflecting on his culture and career, Gregg shares the pivotal experiences that have shaped him.
1. It’s vital for children to see themselves and their culture in books
Gregg says that when people see themselves in books, they’re able to hold onto their culture and sense of self.
“If you have a really good think about it, all the books that you probably love, your favourites, they have a bit of you in them,” he says. “As a consumer of a book, you need to be able to pick it up and feel for that character, feel for that setting or feel for those animals in it.”
This includes reading books in first language, he says: “You need a book in your language to find that connection to books in the first place.”
2. Working with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is one of his greatest achievements
As a proud Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), Gregg heads to remote Indigenous Communities to perform, run writing workshops, and deliver new books to children. The ILF and Australia Post have delivered more than 280,000 books to remote Communities, with about 40% of those books written by Indigenous authors and/or illustrators.
One of the favourite parts of his Ambassadorship with the ILF is creating new books with children. “I talk to these kids about how ideas start from your imagination – or, as I call it, your 'imagicnation', 'cause that's where all the magic happens – and then we work on getting it into a published book. Those kids can be proud because their names are in it, their culture's in it, their passions and their ideas are in that book,” he says.
He calls his role with the ILF one of the greatest achievements of his life.
“I get to see Communities full of culture and passion, and storytellers come alive when they see that they can be a part of the book world. To see books from tiny Communities in remote Australia, to have characters from their own Countries, in their own languages… oh, that makes me shine.”
3. On being born to be a storyteller
Gregg believes that storytelling is in his DNA. “There are different people in different cultures that have different jobs, I suppose you would call it. So, there are medicine men and it runs in their family, medicine runs through their fingers. But my family are definitely the storytellers. It’s in my songlines, and I'm a very proud storyteller.”
While he was born to share intriguing tales, it was the birth of Gregg’s first child that inspired him to enter the world of writing and illustrating children’s books. “I made her a bedtime story and everyone that saw it said, ‘You need to send that off. You know, you need to get that published,’” he says.
Gregg is now a father of four, and he still loves to read with his kids. “It keeps that DNA of my family songlines going today in a modern setting,” he says.
He encourages others to follow their passions, too. “If you've got a story in you, that's that passion, that's that fire that burns inside you.”
I get to see Communities full of culture and passion, and storytellers come alive when they see that they can be a part of the book world. To see books from tiny Communities in remote Australia, to have characters from their own Countries, in their own languages… oh, that makes me shine.
4. Indigenous stories are Australian stories
Gregg spends much of his time in schools, performing with his didgeridoo, clap sticks, a bullroarer, and his guitar.
“I absolutely love working with stories and working with children and performing,” he says. “I really love the performance side of it.”
He says there’s a myth that only some kids need to hear Indigenous stories. “Sometimes people say, ‘We'd like to get you at our school, but we don't have any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.’” Gregg then explains, "But do you have any Australian kids? 'Cause I teach Australian history."
5. Australia Post provides literacy access to remote Communities
Gregg has fond childhood memories of walking into Australia Post with his mum, posting letters and being known by the whole local Australia Post community.
But his favourite new memory is Australia Post’s partnership with the ILF Book Supply program, which shows a commitment to provide even more books for remote Communities in the coming years.
“Commitments like that make me content that we're making an impact already. To have partnerships with Australia Post to help us to get access to books into remote Australia is fantastic,” he says.
The opposite is happening, too, with families outside those Communities having the access to better understand Indigenous cultures.
“Now East-coast Australians can go into the Post Office and buy some books created by kids from a remote Community who share a bit of their culture and a bit of their heart and soul with everyone in cities. How beautiful is that?”