• Noongar Boodjar Elder Greg Little is a prison support officer at the Bunbury Regional Prison. (NITV)Source: NITV
Uncle Greg Little has spent many years caring for and supporting his entire community, including those on the inside, who may be forgotten by wider society.
By
Emily Nicol

12 Jul 2019 - 7:04 PM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2019 - 7:04 PM

Dedicated elder, Noongar and Yamatji man Greg Little is this year's NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year.

This man would be well-known to many in his community of Bunbury, West Australia, not least of all, because Greg heads up a very large family as a proud great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle and cousin.

As a widely respected community member and elder, this 70-year-old has spent most of his life supporting those who need it most. 

For the almost 18 years, Greg has been a Peer Support Officer at Bunbury Regional Prison, offering a lifeline to men who are separated from their families and communities. It is typical for Greg to have daily contact with vulnerable Aboriginal men, who know him as "Uncle". 

The empathic and caring nature was evident from the age of 13, when Greg decided to leave school so that he could support his Mum and Dad as they raised a large family.

"I do owe a lot to Mum and Dad for what their achievements were," Uncle Greg tells NITV. "Just as a general reminder for me, Mum had 18 kids in the family.

I still ask the question today [...] 'how did you manage?' She said they would wool pick, jam pick, do all kinds of things just to survive because the government was only providing them with sugar, flour and tea."

The challenges faced in his childhood deeply influenced Greg and led to a career which cared for others. He has done this in a number of many positions and roles he has held, all of which have brought a great benefit to the wellbeing of his community.

Since 2002, Uncle has been helping detainees and their families feel supported in the system and to remain connected to their culture. This is done through in-prison restorative justice process. Journey Ways, is one such program where inmates can 'address harm and get back cultural knowledge'. In the Yarning Circles program, Uncle Greg provides guidance, instruction and direction to the men. He believes it will 'strengthen them for the future'.

As well as being an educational leader for the detainees, Greg is also a respected mentor for other staff members at the prison.

"Greg accords everyone dignity, irrespective of their family, ethnicity and position," says Bud Coe, of the Breakaway Aboriginal Corporation, a division which Greg helped to set up that operates inside the prison, which providing post-release support to the men once they are on the outside.

Greg says that some people don't understand his role at the prison, but he knows the value of the work that he does.

He told NITV, "I’ve received a lot of criticism from my own people who have wondered why am I working in a prison? But I look for the good in people, it might be hard for somebody to sit back and listen to me say there is some good in a prisoner, but to me, there’s always some good in everybody. 

"My focus is on the positive because if we focus on the negatives, it’s going to remain negative.

But over those years I’ve learnt more about my Noongar people than I did before, because I was making contact with all those family members that were connected to those that were in prison." 

Greg also acts as a pastor with the Church of Christ in South Bunbury, often called upon to say a few words in any community event, regardless of its celebration.

"Greg is also an Elder who is constantly called upon to attend family events, public gatherings and other occasions of importance. Often, he is asked to 'say a few words', which are inevitably wise and often tinged with some humour," Coe says.

In other roles, Greg has given back as a sports coach and a long and active supporter of the local AFL team. He is the Chairperson of the Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury, a position held almost continuously since 2012 where he has overseen the stabilisation of the school and an increase in students’ positive results.

When he reflects on the roles he has been able to play in his community, he sees it as simply his way of being able to give back to those less fortunate and he doesn't owe it to his independence, but as a team with his beloved wife Margaret. 

“I guess I’ve always been a family man.

My biggest support has been my wife Margaret, because there’s a lot of hours that I spend with other people and she’s always been there to support me. And of course my kids and my grandkids.

So I’m forever thankful for my life. I love my people. I care for my people. And if I can make a difference, I will.”

To listen to Greg Little acceptance speech, watch the clip below.

 

The SBS network is celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and recognising the achievements of our First Peoples throughout National NAIDOC Week (7-14 July).

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