It’s hard to soar like an eagle, when you are surrounded by turkeys. It is so hard to reach your potential without support. Support from parents, siblings, friends and great teachers can help everyone become the best that they can be. My life so far has been surrounded by inspiring people. I have also had times when I knew that I could do better. Silly Birds has been one of my opportunities to repay young people, and future generations, with inspiring words. Words to encourage people to set goals and work hard to achieve them.
My name is Gregg Dreise, and I am a teacher, author and illustrator. I grew up in St George, South West Queensland. My mother is Lyla Knox, daughter of Ted Knox (Toomelah) and Lulu Simpson (Brewarina). Knoxes are proud Kamilaroi Murris, and my grandma’s family are Yuwaalaraay people. I am the youngest of eight, and I am very proud of my family and my culture. My family love to support each other with confidence and effort. Seven of our eight siblings have gone to university to study education. All of us boys who are teachers, are also married to university graduates.
This story was inspired by my family and our people. My mother has written stories and poetry her whole life. Knoxes, including her father, my uncles and cousins, have all been very talented musicians. Painting also runs in the family, including my father Rod, sister-in-law Mayra, Uncle John Knox and Uncle Reg Knox.
I am very lucky to have spent time with Uncle Reg Knox, who painted a lot of school murals throughout South East Queensland. I have always been intrigued with his natural story telling ability and some of the inspiration for this story came from listening to him talk to school students. He tells a story that when he was young, he worked with Italian farmers who owned a pet cockatoo. They trained that cockatoo to speak Italian and English. Uncle Reg also taught it our Gamilaraay Aboriginal language. He finishes his story telling kids that ‘if a small brained cockatoo can learn three languages…. Imagine what you can do if you try your hardest.’
Silly Birds is a morality tale based on the old Elder’s saying, ‘It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys.’ Maliyan the eagle, is the main character of this story. He becomes intrigued by Wagun the turkey, because he is new and different. Their continued silliness attracts more young birds, and soon ruins their billabong. Luckily Maliyan finally understands the Elder’s advice and knows he has to make a change.
Silly Birds has a very important message: always surround yourself with positive people who allow you to follow your dreams. It is never too late to review your life and see if you are heading in the right direction. With the help of family and a few good friends, it is never too late to reshape your life to achieve something wonderful. I love to visit schools and libraries to encourage children to be the best they can be.
I really enjoyed illustrating this story as I knew I could add to children’s understanding with the artwork and I am very proud of the paintings I completed. I have used traditional themes and techniques, but also added contemporary elements to further engage younger and diverse audiences. I love to paint. It is a great relaxing way to let your stresses dissolve into something creative.
Writing books and having a great job as a teacher is very rewarding. I can use it as a platform to inspire people to try their hardest; set realistic achievable goals; believe in yourself; and surround yourself with good friends who can inspire and encourage you to follow your dreams. I can also look back and be happy to know that my family and friends have helped me to believe in myself, work hard and achieve many life goals. It now makes it easier to look at my next goal and begin the hard work to strive to achieve the next challenges ahead.