Gregg Dreise Presents

It was a wonderfully dynamic, interactive, educational and personal guest presentation by Gregg Dreise, an award winning illustrator and writer of books like Silly Birds and Mad Magpie, at the recent Book Links AGM at the State Library of Queensland.

Gregg is a descendant of the Kamilaroi tribe, from south-west Queensland and north-west New South Wales. You can find out more about him on the Speakers Ink site.

Gregg  began by honouring the Indigenous people of the local area we were  meeting in, and then gave the audience a sample of what he does when goes on his various visits into the community, but especially into schools.This gave us a chance to learn some of his language and sing it, and do the accompanying actions just as the students would.

Then he used a number of images to structure his talk around the memories of his upbringing, including one of his mum as a little girl, which he gave a a thought provoking back story to.  I’m not going to fully detail that here, as I think that will be something Gregg may one day do himself if he ever writes a memoir or maybe if he is busy one of his family might do this.  If you attend one of his presentations you will hear it directly from him as well.

Gregg  gave some critique of the notion of ‘blackness’ and Indigenous identity as well how little diversity appears in Australian children’s books, in libraries, publishing and schools. 

This observation was used to spring board into suggestions of how illustrators might consider including more diverse characters in their picture books.

However, it was suggested not to do this in a tokenistic way, or with stereotyping, but in a naturally inclusive way. 

Later on this point was discussed further by the authors in attendance of the AGM.  As authors shared with Gregg that they have little control over the work of illustrators if they are not author/illustrators.  He suggested that authors could at least make a note about wanting diversity in the illustrations of their book.

Gregg said, non-Indigenous could still include Indigenous characters, but should ensure they do their research and be accurate in those portrayals.  If there is an opportunity to include, do it! But just do the research.

He said often, however, there are picture book stories  that require very little change of the writing to embrace an inclusive society, rather a subtle change in illustration where the main character could be Indigenous instead of Anglo Australian, or in a wheelchair instead of walking is what makes the difference.  He gave us a specific example, which he had gained permission from the author to do so, to show how simple the task of inclusivity can be.

He did not advocate however taking on traditional stories, and explained that authors who truly want to support Indigenous people should instead empower an Indigenous person to tell and illustrate that story.

At times it might be relevant to consult Elders when undertaking a project, but the writer should be open to the answer being no, or yes and not try to railroad communities into assisting them with their research or books.

Mentoring is a rewarding experience, and can not only be taken on board as best practice when wanting to support Indigenous people, but can and should be acknowledged.  This is also work he himself does for regional and remote students especially.  Equally if writers receive assistance in research or from Elders they should acknowledge it.

On a positive note Gregg observed that in film and television there are great advances in diversity and the positive deconstruction of ‘blackness’ with films like Black Panther and also Star Wars.

He shared that Indigenous authors and illustrators should avoid stereotyping their own communities, and showed us an illustration where he represented the different skin shades of Indigenous Australia today.  Sometimes ‘blackness’ is taken as a sign of Indigenous authenticity, when it is not the major indication in contemporary society.

Another very heartening aspect of Gregg’s presentation was sharing the story of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and his work mentoring young Indigenous writers and illustrators.

So far we have gifted more than 260,000 new books to over 250 remote Indigenous communities where books are scarce.
Working with more than 30 generous publishers, we gift culturally relevant books to schools, libraries, playgroups, women’s centres, youth centres and other service organisations.
We have books available for babies through to adults, 40 per cent created by Indigenous authors and illustrators, with a new catalogue released each year. 

He is hosting a group  of talented Indigenous creatives in Sydney soon and taking them to Google and Hachette so they can aspire to become writers, illustrators and more.  It’s all about the doors that writing and books can open and broadening the horizons for Australia’s Indigenous people.  This work is made possible through a bequest from Pamela Lofts.

He showed us an example of a beautiful book co-produced with a school, which exemplified the kind of work possible.

I was very blessed to have a fantastic earlier discussion session with Dimity Powell and Gregg where we discussed the potential of  picture books and poetry to contribute to social justice and unity in diversity in the Australian literary community and how we might advance that happening.

June Perkins, Dimity Powell and Gregg Dreise

It was a highly uplifting and inspiring conversation for all three of us, and  we will be continuing our conversations as like minded, but very diverse background humans.

There were of course many more things shared during the presentation and this day, so this blog is only highlights that particularly struck me.

Book Links will  be sharing a blog of the day with several comments from participants in the AGM.  I will add the link to this post when it goes up.

All the best,

June Perkins

Epic Journeys and Families Meant to Be

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Image courtesy of Mel Irvine

My friend Mel is on an epic journey to become a full time mum who is able to live in the country she chooses with her currently, foster, but hopefully to one day be adopted son.

This journey actually began as a reaching out to voluntarily help people in the Philippines after a typhoon, this was motivated by  the experience she had of Cyclone Yasi, something we  share.  Mel and I  met at a song writing workshop provided to help locals process their cyclone experiences and find healing through music.  Mel went to the Philippines to use her skills in music, and business to support the rebuilding after the typhoon.

Mel has shared the journey of meeting Jerry and his personal story on her website. From their first meeting, where  she didn’t know anything about him except that, “He had cut, bleeding feet and no shoes and was crying. He had been following a group of kids she was taking to the beach and couldn’t keep up.”

To the moments where she learnt the full extent of his family, fractured and spread out, and that he had lost his own mother. Very early on Jerry just seemed to know that he wanted Mel to be his mum.

But for Mel it was a slightly longer realization, and not something she took on lightly and when he first asked to live with her she said ‘no.’  She was concerned about her ability to stay in the country with limited personal resources and didn’t want to assume he would not be better off with his own people and country. She did background research to see what his needs were and realized she could do a lot to assist him, but that the biggest assistance of all would to be a continual presence in his life.

Over time, she realized that both she and Jerry truly needed to be a family and she could make a big difference to him in his life by having a long term connection and commitment, and began to be his foster mother.

So despite the many challenges they will face, and already have had to overcome, Mel has given her heart, time and resources to make a difference in someone’s life.  She is doing her best to create a sustainable situation and enable Jerry’s healing of his experiences in his life as well as to educate him.

Importantly she has the support of her family and of Jerry’s that remain (as his mother and father have both passed away) as well as many friends.

Mel is incredibly committed to this goal:

“In order to adopt Jerry I need to live in the Philippines until such time as our expatriate adoption application is accepted, reviewed and processed. Once that happens I can then apply to the Australian government for Jerry to become an Australian citizen. As you can imagine it’s a long and expensive process and is going to take up the next few years of our lives. Being only 8 years old, this is a critical stage of his development and I will not abandon Jerry.”

What can I say but that every time I am able to catch up with my friend Mel, I go away with a sense of the difference I can also make in the world.  She teaches me so much about what to focus on, and is a mentor.

To love someone, who was once a stranger with cut feet, as her own child and to have the commitment to raise that child to have the best of opportunities is something Mel feels she has been called to.  She has gone about this process sensitively and with respect.

I hope that if you feel moved by Mel and Jerry’s story YOU too might find as much as you can to help them become a full time family. Mel is in the process of also setting up sustainable ways of earning an income that are not tied to which country she lives in, and I am sure she will achieve this.  She also spends time assisting with community development of both women and children often on a completely voluntary basis when she is in the Philippines.

The link for their crowd funding campaign is  https://chuffed.org/project/jerry-needs-a-mum#/supporters  and there are just 17 days to go.

For now there is an immediate need for assistance to lessen the time Mel often has to spend away from Jerry to raise more funds back in Australia to sustain living in the Philippines.

another jerry shark
Image – Courtesy of Mel Irvine.

“Mel Irvine is an Australian writer, poet and musician living between the Philippine Western Visayas and Australia. Adopted/Foster mother to Jerry, an 8 year old boy whose parents died tragically, Mel spends her time in the Philippines helping the women and children of Jerry’s home purok (district): a fishing community deeply affected by poverty and seasonal typhoons. She provides free creative activities, art and craft supplies, music lessons and school tuition as time and resources permit. Mel is a freelance copywriter, daily blogger, busker and regular contributor to ABC Open.”

The link for their crowd funding campaign is  https://chuffed.org/project/jerry-needs-a-mum#/supporters  and there are just 17 days to go.

Please share  this post with anyone you think would like to help!