I recently read an amazing story on the ABC website that I felt I had to publish on The Carrolup Story. The article ABC journalist Suzanne Dredge shares her story of overcoming adversity to become the first Head of Indigenous News focuses on a remarkable Wiradjuri woman, Suzanne Dredge.
This article is a Healing Story, showing that one can overcome considerable adversity and go on to do great things. The Story is inspiring and deeply moving.
‘For Suzanne Dredge, this was a story that was very close to home.
Earlier this year, she was producing a groundbreaking Four Corners investigation (How many more?) into the deaths and disappearance of Indigenous women, who are murdered at up to 12 times the national average.
On top of what it uncovered, the story was notable because it was the first time a Four Corners story had been investigated by a team of three First Nations women – Dredge, a Wiradjuri woman who was the producer, Bridget Brennan, a Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta woman who is the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs editor and was the reporter, and Brooke Fryer, a Dharawal woman who was the researcher (Queensland Journalist of the Year Stephanie Zillman also worked on the story).
The program told the story of the shocking deaths of three women and exposed an appalling lack of resources for women at risk of domestic violence.
Suzanne Dredge is a trailblazer, a multi-award-winning journalist who has been appointed to the ABC’s News executive as the first Head of Indigenous News.
But the story of the women featured on the Four Corners program could so easily have been her story.
Suzanne Dredge grew up in a low socio-economic area in Sydney’s western suburbs. Her father worked from a young age, barely attended school, and couldn’t read or write. Her mother raised Dredge and her three siblings on her own in a public housing home, working in a turkey factory to support them. Dredge dropped out of school at the age of 16, had a baby at 18, and by 23 was the mother of three young boys, living in a domestic violence relationship.
“The stats weren’t in my favour,” she says.
“That same year, two young mothers in my community were murdered at the hands of their partners. By the time I was 24 I wondered if I would make it out of my relationship alive.”
Amid the trauma, she found the courage to change her circumstances.
“I’d been hiding the domestic violence from my family for many years. I was ashamed that I’d found myself in that position,” she says.
“But something changed in me … as I drove away from the house for the last time. I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders, and it was replaced with a determination to provide a better life for me and my children. I knew from that moment nothing would hold me back.”
With the support of family, Dredge enrolled at TAFE to study youth work and started working in marginalised communities. The injustice she witnessed had a profound effect on her.
“I saw young Aboriginal boys put into jail for minor offences at the age of 10,” she says. “Young people and their families were living in severe poverty, and they would come to us hungry and reveal they were living with no electricity. Drug and alcohol abuse plagued the area.”
“No-one seemed to care. They were completely forgotten about, and in the back of my mind was the voice of a 12-year-old girl who used to dream about becoming a journalist and exposing injustice. If I didn’t stand up and tell these people’s stories, who would?”
So, at the age of 27 and with just a year 10 qualification, Dredge enrolled as a mature-aged student in a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in journalism, at Western Sydney University. She was the first person in her family to attend university. It was a tough road, studying while working full time and raising her children as a single mother.
“A lot of people had strong opinions about my decision, telling me I was too old to become a journalist and there was no way I would get a job in the industry, but their opinions didn’t affect me. I knew that nothing was impossible with hard work and dedication,” she says.
“But some days it was a struggle to turn up. I worked night shift so I could study during the day, operating on no sleep. I’d take my children to classes with me when I had no child care. At times I had no money and couldn’t afford to pay for parking. I could barely afford to pay for petrol. I was struggling, but I loved being at university and learning.”
Students were advised to pitch stories to the local paper and apply for internships at media organisations. In her first year, Dredge had a front-page story in the Macarthur Advertiser and began working at Koori Radio, producing the station’s current affairs program, Blackchat. In her second year, in 2011, she scored an internship at ABC News and her journalism career took off.
She started as a researcher with the National Reporting Team, worked as a producer with the ABC Investigations and was supervising producer of nightly current affairs flagship 7.30, which included overseeing the program’s Indigenous affairs coverage.
She’s won three Walkley awards for her work with Four Corners, 7.30 and ABC Investigations.
Her work has taken her on high-risk assignments in the Middle East, reporting on the end of the Islamic State group and investigating Australians who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with Al Qaeda-linked groups. In 2019 she produced the Walkley Award-winning film Orphans of ISIS.
It is impressive professional success that has been achieved while finding happiness on the personal front with a new partner and growing her family to five children.
Jo Puccini, now Head of Investigative Journalism and Current Affairs, set up the ABC News National Reporting Team a decade ago and was Suzanne Dredge’s first boss.
“I thought any woman who can single-handedly raise three kids, put herself through university and endure the commute from Campbelltown every day while juggling all of that is going to succeed as long as she has the right support,” she says.
“Suzanne was the first journalist to join the newly established National Reporting Team, so for some months it was just Suzanne and I sitting in a row of empty desks trying to work out how this new multi-platform team would work.
“I knew from our first meeting that she would be good. She was everything you want in a journalist and storyteller — determined, intelligent, creative and compassionate. Her background in youth work gave her an understanding of how to deal with people in crisis and how society treats its most vulnerable. She came from a background few at the ABC truly understand.
“Since then, I have seen her grow into one of the most accomplished investigative journalists in the country. From business investigations to her multi-year investigative work on extremism, to her recent Four Corners program on murdered Indigenous women, Suzanne’s journalism has been brave, forensic and compassionate.
“Along the way, Suzanne has been an editorial leader and mentor to many, particularly younger Indigenous journalists, and I’m excited to see what she will do with the unit and have no doubt she’ll make it a great success.”
Now, in the newly created position of Head, Indigenous News, Suzanne Dredge is charged with leading a stand-alone Indigenous Reporting Team, with a remit to expand and amplify coverage of Indigenous Affairs across the ABC’s news teams.
“The upcoming Voice referendum is a crucial moment and Suzanne Dredge and the Indigenous Reporting Team will be pivotal,” ABC Director of News Justin Stevens says.
“The team creates a framework for our Indigenous journalists to guide us in how best to give Indigenous people a voice in our journalism. And it helps ensure the ABC’s coverage of Indigenous communities and issues is constructive, accurate and representative.
“This team will also provide a touch point for all Indigenous journalists, helping the ABC attract and retain the best talent in Australian media.”
Suzanne Dredge has a deep connection to her Indigenous heritage, and it has been a guiding light in her life.
“My father has always had a special connection to country that he instilled in us,” she says.
“As children, he would take us out bush and teach us how to find food, locate water, to learn how to survive and live off the land. They are some of my fondest memories and I am most at peace on country.”
She’s honoured to take up the role leading the ABC News Indigenous Reporting Team.
“It is a privilege to lead the ABC’s Indigenous affairs coverage at such an important time for truth-telling in our country,” she says.
“This is a historic moment for the ABC and Indigenous communities across Australia. It is the first time in the broadcaster’s 90-year history that a First Nations staff member has a seat at the table, and I think it’s important we have a voice in the decision-making at an executive level.
“The stories we tell and the way we tell them will be watched by future generations. That’s a big responsibility. We need to get it right and understand how privileged we are to be in this position and include those with lived experience in our editorial decisions.”
Dredge says the Indigenous Reporting Team’s brief is broad and it will focus on issues and stories of national and local significance.
“We are about to go into a year of covering the Voice to Parliament, which is a historical moment. There will be a diverse range of voices and perspectives, and it’s important we get that right,” she says.
“But there are also many other stories we need to cover — social justice issues, housing, access to basic health services, and the many wonderful cultural events and work being done on a grassroots level in communities across the country.
“News is a fast-paced business, and there can sometimes be blind spots in coverage of Indigenous affairs when it isn’t led by journalists or editorial leaders who have lived experience or connection to community.
“The goal is to eventually have Indigenous reporters based all over the country with a focus on original journalism and investigations.
“The team will not shy away from difficult stories, but we will use our connections and understanding of community to tell stories.”
And Dredge hopes that sharing her personal story might provide some hope for others in difficult situations that a better life is within reach.
“I hope my story inspires others to overcome adversity,” she says.
“Hardship doesn’t define who we are. It’s a stepping stone to bigger and better things.”‘
Suzanne Dredge is a remarkable woman, a champion of Indigenous peoples. Her Story is truly inspirational.