He’s known as the ‘Father of Reconciliation’ and is one of Australia’s most prominent Indigenous leaders. And now, Patrick Dodson will replace outgoing Joe Bullock as Labor’s new WA Senator.
Dodson, a Yawuru man from Broome in Western Australia, was at first surprised by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's phone call, but after deep thought said it was time for him to step up.
“It took me a little while to adjust to the idea. Having spent much of my adult life trying to influence from the outside, it is now time for me to step up to the plate and have a go at trying to influence those same conversations, debates and public policies,” he said.
Mr Shorten made the surprise announcement on Wednesday morning at a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
“As Senator for WA, Pat will help all of us to refocus on some of the critical questions that our nation faces. [He’s] presence in the Senate will help us to come together to work on solutions on constitutional recognition. On the yawning gap of opportunities between our first Australians and the rest of us,” Mr Shorten told the press conference.
The announcement comes after the shock resignation of Senator Bullock who decided to quit parliament over the Labor Party’s stance on same-sex marriage.
Who is the ‘Father of Reconciliation’?
With his trademark long flowing beard and Akubra hat, Professor Patrick Dodson has long been an iconic figure at the forefront of Indigenous affairs.
Born in the 1940s, a time when Indigenous Australians did not have the right to vote, and growing up in the Kimberley, Patrick has always been passionate about his people’s rights.
Orphaned at the age of 13, Patrick and his brother Mick, Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, became wards of the state.
With the encouragement of his sisters he accepted a scholarship to study at the Monivae College in Hamilton, Victoria. He and Mick were the only Aboriginal students, but despite this he was elected head prefect. It was here that he began to show signs of his remarkable leadership.
In 1975, he became the first Aboriginal Catholic priest, however after ongoing challenges with his beliefs in Catholicism and his Aboriginal spirituality he eventually left.
It was from this point on that Patrick focused his efforts on Indigenous issues, in particular reconciliation.
As the Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1989, and later becoming the founding chairman of the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation, Patrick was starting to build a name for himself.
It was through his founding and tireless work in the reconciliation movement, that he became known as the ‘Father of Reconciliation’.
He officially retired in 1997 from the Reconciliation Council stating, “I fear for the spirit of the country”. The Council has been replaced by Reconciliation Australia.
Despite retiring, Patrick has not slowed down still dedicating his life to the cause. He has a long association with the University of Melbourne collaborating with staff through the leadership program, Cranlana, and was the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed Council at the Australian National University.
He founded and is currently the chairman of the Lingiari Foundation, an advocacy and research foundation, and created the NHMRC Kimberley Men’s Health Project. In 2008, he won the Sydney International Peace Prize for his advocacy of the human rights of Indigenous people.
Dodson’s work today
Today, he co-chairs the expert panel on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. An issue he says is central to national cohesion.
“The constitutional recognition that we are currently seeking remains fundamental. And if we are ever to begin coming to terms with the national narrative, and its consequences for this nation, we need to pursue that”, he said this morning in Canberra.
Patrick’s work has encompassed many aspects of social change, but he always remains within the realms of Indigenous justice. His perseverance and vigorous work have helped shape him into the respected and distinguished leader that he is today.
This morning’s announcement marks a new direction for Patrick and his well-established career, one of progression and advancement for Indigenous peoples.
“I hope that we can move forward for all Australians, recognise that the constitutional recognition and any future settlement is important for our maturity as a nation,” Patrick says.