PHILLIP Dreise said the biggest
thing that shocked him was how little the current generation knew about the
histories of the Stolen Generations.
“That goes for Indigenous and
non-Indigenous kids,” the Australian Catholic University lecturer and
“They just don’t believe it could
happen to real people and they don’t know the stories behind it.
“That’s why I love sharing those
Mr Dreise said he shared the
stories not in a negative way, “not in a way that blames anyone”, but just so
they “are aware of what happened, why it happened, the era that we lived in,
and let’s hope that we don’t live it again”.
At the same time he said this
generation was also his greatest hope; but he was biased – he is one
very proud dad.
His eldest daughter was a Year 11
student at Mount Alvernia College, Kedron, and was awarded a Queensland
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foundation scholarship on February 22.
The scholarship ceremony held
special significance because it was held at ACU Brisbane campus, where Mr
Dreise had been the first Aboriginal man to graduate 30 years ago.
It was also where he met his wife
Darlene, who had been the first Torres Strait Islander woman to graduate there;
Mrs Dreise directs the St Vincent’s Health Australia reconciliation action
“I love how the government is
using stolen wages money to give scholarships to kids and I’m glad my kids are
going to be in receipt of that,” Mr Dreise said.
It was not about the money, he
said, it was about acknowledgment.
The scholarship represented a
century’s late repayment to Mr Dreise’s family, whose maternal grandparents
were members of the Stolen Generation at the turn of the 1900s.
His grandfather was a member of
the Kamilaroi people, a stockman, and his grandmother was a member of the
Euahlayi people, a domestic servant.
Both grandparents grew up on
different Aboriginal reserves, but after the pair met, they settled down in St
George in south-west Queensland.
Mr Dreise’s father is of German
heritage and mixed marriages were frowned upon by some at that time.
Mr Dreise and his family grew up
poor, and “very aware” of the racial divide that existed in regional and rural
“We were sort of stuck in the
middle between those Indigenous families who lived on the old Aboriginal
reserves along the riverbank, compared to those
who lived in town.
He said this tension coupled with
the desire to “make it” really
“motivated us to want to get an education because dad was a truck driver –
eight kids at home – we never saw him because he was out driving trucks all the
Education was the “hand-up” he
needed to lift himself in closing the gap for him and his family.
“I was the first one of seven
(siblings) who went off to university,” he said.
“Leaving St George to go to
Townsville when I was seventeen or eighteen… was one of the hardest things I
ever did in my life.
“I would hide in my room and cry
on my pillow because I was so homesick, as I was so far away from my family.
“But my motivation was: I’ve got
to finish this.
“I’m just thankful and proud that
all of my siblings after me all followed me in that path to doing education and
becoming teachers, because then they have given all of those things to their
Family was everything to him, and
Mr Dreise worked hard to teach his children about their heritage, including
Aboriginal, German, Torres Strait Islander and Chinese.
He would sing his children
Aboriginal songs and teach them about Torres Strait Islander songs because his
wife’s family had taught him those too.
“I take my kids out to St George
as often as I can… I take them out into the bush,” he said.
“I show them plants, I show them
animals… I eat bush tucker with them all the time.
“I want all my kids to know all
these things so they can practice them with their kids; it’s going to be
different when they do it with their kids, culture doesn’t stay the same, it
evolves with time and we’re trying to maintain all the cultures that my kids
He said he tried his best to
model strong fatherhood to his children.
“I don’t smoke, and I don’t
drink, and I don’t go out partying, and I don’t gamble, and I want my kids to
see, ‘This man, Phillip Dreise, my father, is a strong Aboriginal-German man
and he’s showing me that’,” he said.
Mr and Mrs Dreise were both
raised in the Catholic faith and turned to it, too.
But Mr Dreise did say he had
struggled with questions in the past, particularly when it came to his
“I always look for the things
that are in common between my Catholic faith and my Aboriginality,” he said.
“Look there is this Creator
Spirit, in my language, it is Baiame”, he said, and to him it was “wonderful”
or “wunderbar” in his German language.
At the back of his mind though
was the understanding that many members of the Stolen Generation have had
negative experiences of the Church.
He said he it was not his lived
experience because his early experience of the Church was when his mother was
having the next baby in hospital, “us kids would be put in the convent with the
religious sisters” to be cared for.
“I’ve always maintained my
Catholic faith and Darlene has as well and we both work in the Catholic system
in our roles,” he said.
He said he wanted his kids to
maintain their Catholic faith too.
But questions still lingered
about the Church’s role in past injustices, and “we’re not saying it didn’t
happen, we talk about it and acknowledge it happened in the spirit of
reconciliation”, he said.
“That’s where I sort of juggle my
Catholic faith with my Aboriginality,” he said.
“I question it a lot, but I think
it brings a lot more to the table when I’m teaching students, ‘This is what
happened to Indigenous people’.
“We can’t dwell on the past.
“This is the reason why we have
QATSIF scholarships, or Indigenous units at universities or this is why we
teach Indigenous studies.
“It’s about telling the story
from an Indigenous perspective.
“This can only benefit all and
bring about real change moving together as Australians.”
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