Britannica is honouring NAIDOC Week through a series of conversations with inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women, whose ideas, skills, commitment and contributions have led to the betterment of our students, schools and communities.
We find out about their incredible work as well as the personal passions, triumphs and journeys that led them to where they are today.
Cathy Craigie is a Gamilaroi and Anaiwon woman from Northern NSW. Her previous roles include Executive Director of First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN) and Deputy Director General of NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. One of the original founders of Koori Radio, Craigie is also the author of “Reading the Bush” and “Odd One Out” from the children’s book series “Yarning Strong”, which provides authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives for educators to use in their classrooms without fear of causing offence or perpetuating inaccurate stereotypes (Oxford University Press). She has also authored several plays and essays.
How did you get involved with writing? What do you love about your job?
For me writing was inspired by my love for reading and family stories. I come from a family of storytellers and even those these were oral stories, I loved the intimacy of stories and the knowledge I gained from listening. I also had a thirst for knowledge. My primary school librarian encouraged me to read and showed me how to escape into other worlds with books. I was an avid reader (and still am), in my younger life and would read anything including phonebooks! I became interested in words and the effect they could have on people.
Being a First Nations person in Australia, I well understood the power that the written word could have on people. As I grew up, I was aware that information was powerful and that as a community we needed to keep informing ourselves of what’s happening around us. Personally, I just love a good story and I love to go on the journeys that books/stories take you.
My primary school librarian encouraged me to read and showed me how to escape into other worlds with books. I was an avid reader (and still am), in my younger life and would read anything including phonebooks!
What are two pieces of advice you would offer budding authors today?
Read! Reading isn’t only enjoyable but by reading widely, you see how other writers tell their stories and it certainly helps when you do your own writing. Reading can also shape what genre or style you might like to use in your own work.
Listen and observe, I always have a notebook on me to record anything I see that maybe relevant to my own work or inspires ideas. It can be as simple as a conversation you have heard or something you see that can trigger ideas.
We also need to explore other forms outside the traditional forms to get kids to read.
Based on the 2016 PIRLS study, nearly one in five Australian children are not meeting international benchmarks for reading. Compared to other English-speaking countries from similar socio economic backgrounds, a large share of Australian students fall below the “intermediate” benchmark into “low” or “below low.” What do you see as the biggest challenge/s to improving literacy rates in Australia?
Having stories that the reader can relate to. When I was young, I loved Australian stories (and still do) because I could relate to language and imagery etc.
We also need to explore other forms outside the traditional forms to get kids to read. I attended the National USA Book Fair in Washington a few years ago and saw how young people, especially boys were drawn to graphic novels.
NAIDOC Week is a chance for Australians to come together in recognition of the history, cultures, voices and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The event takes place from every second Sunday of July through to the following Sunday.