MEET DR GREG DICKSON
Talking to interesting people, about reading and literacy is something I could do ALL day and I had the privilege to speak with Dr Greg Dickson, who lives an incredibly interesting life in the NT advocating for and promoting indigenous literacy and indigenous language books. He’s also a tennis tragic, doctor of linguistics and now resident of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Greg Dickson’s life and language changed after a student exchange to Iceland where he realised how mono-lingual his hometown of Brisbane was growing up in the 90’s. In the lead up to Indigenous Literacy Day in 2022, I spoke with Greg, who is at the coal face of indigenous literacy and language in a remote indigenous area.
THE SOCIAL BENEFITS OF PUBLISHING IN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE
Greg is the Manager at Meigim Kriol Strongbala – Stronger Communities Ngukurr, Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation. Greg and I discussed the incredible photo I saw on Meigim Kriol Strongbala’s Facebook page – a bookshelf full of children’s books in Kriol, a language that the majority of people speak in this region of southern Arnhem Land. You can find more info on Kriol, by Greg here.
After identifying that Kriol wasn’t featuring in the education system in a meaningful way, Greg’s organisation allocated funding to start a focused program to create resources in Kriol. Greg says the social benefits of publishing books in indigenous languages are huge and now major publishers such as Allen + Unwin are starting to publish books purely in Kriol. Beloved kids books like ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’ by Joanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beesley (which has an incredibly inspiring story behind it) have now been published in Kriol.
Local Author Events Make a Big Difference
Over the three years Greg and his team have been working on this project there are now more than 10 titles that have been published (with the assistance of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation) and children are being taught to read and write in their language. It’s an emerging space as focus on language and literacy in remote communities becomes more of a central point in education. While there’s limited access to literacy classes in language at Greg’s local school (1 hour in kriol to 4 hours in English literacy), the educational theory is that kids learn to read and write much better when it’s their first language.
Greg is so positive about the implementation of published books in language, he says it’s such a breath of fresh air to see the kids enjoying and having meaningful outcomes when reading in language. Facilitating authors to visit the school in Ngukurr has been another venture and the school recently had a visit by Karen Manbullo who wrote (the Indigenous Literacy Foundation published) book called ‘Molly’. The children were fascinated to learn that Molly, who is a pig by the way, lives in the same region as them and they were equally as fascinated by the fact they could see how the creative process works – that books don’t just ‘fall from the sky’ – they’re written by real people about real things.
It was amazing to gain some insight into language and literacy in community and also connect with someone doing incredibly rewarding and interesting work in the linguistics and literacy area.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation has some great resources, and some excellent recommendations to bring indigenous culture and connection into the classroom and home.