Name: Greg Douglas
Greg Douglas has taught high school for 32 years. A teacher of history and Aboriginal studies at the Hunter School of Performing Arts, Greg entered the profession because he says he loves the interaction with kids and filling their minds. “Teaching is not just about fact, but also the values you pass on,” he says.
And those values can also change over time. Travels through Australia and South-East Asia triggered a new outlook in Greg’s teaching and the messages he wanted his students to learn after he was exposed to social injustices that he hadn’t known existed.
Greg speaks from experience when he cites problems with ignorance as the most difficult part of his job, but also one which can be overcome. “I grew up in Maitland,” he says. “I was as bad as anybody else, and didn’t know any better.” Unfortunately many people still don’t know better, so Greg has taken it upon himself to spread the message of education to students, as well as his peers, by empowering his Aboriginal students.
Twelve years ago, he established the Millabah Dance Group as a way for his Aboriginal students to “take pride in their culture, focus on school and have access to performance career opportunities”. Roughly 20 out of 35 Aboriginal students at Hunter participate in Millabah. Since its beginnings, Greg believes Millabah performances within school and at other venues have helped raise the profile of Indigenous culture with non-Indigenous people. The students themselves feel as though they are “ambassadors for reconciliation”.
“The best part of my job is seeing kids succeed and hear praise from other teachers,” Greg says. “If you make a difference in someone’s life, it makes it easier for the next mob.”
Millabah is an Awabakal word meaning “place of fun”. It was chosen as a name to reflect the experience that the students get from the group, but also out of respect to the traditional land-owners of the region. Greg brings in professional Indigenous dancers to lead workshops and to instruct students in traditional dance. Eight per cent of the dances the group performs are traditional, while the remaining 20 per cent are choreographed by the students.
Millabah performs for other schools, teaches workshops to primary students and participates in cultural camps in Yengo National Park. This year, they will perform at CrocFest. In addition, each year Greg takes his students on regular field trips, which showcase the careers that are available in the performing arts.
Some of his students have gone on to work with NAISDA and established themselves as professional actors and dancers in the Newcastle region.
For the past nine years, since the Board of Studies established an HSC curriculum for Aboriginal Studies, Greg has tried to make sure his students are exposed to Indigenous culture. He stresses the interplay between history and culture by including culturally appropriate material in his history curriculum.
Looking to the future, Greg knows that he cannot teach forever and would like to “find someone to take over with the same level of care and commitment” to keep Millabah going. He sees Millabah as more than a link – it’s a gateway into a performing arts career.