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'Hero' Pat Dodson hangs up hat after lifelong service

Rudi Maxwell -

Katy Gallagher has paid tribute to "hero" Pat Dodson who retires from parliament after a lifetime of service.

The Labor senator hangs up his hat on Friday after serving more than seven years in the upper house.

The 75-year-old has been labelled the "father of reconciliation" for his work to bridge the divide between Indigenous people and broader Australian society.

Senator Gallagher described her senate colleague as a "real hero".

"A giant in public policy and community service and we're going to miss him ... but we know he's got a lot more to contribute," she told ABC News Breakfast.

"I hope he's fishing off the coast of Western Australia, which is one of his favourite places to be."

His early life was touched by fear and tragedy, which the Yawuru elder who was born in Broome spoke about in his maiden speech to the Senate in 2016.

"I was born before the constitutional changes of 1967," he said in the speech, referring to the successful referendum to have Aboriginal people counted in the population.

"I was hiding in the long grass in the Northern Territory town of Katherine and watched my age-mates being taken by welfare and police."

While the young Pat Dodson and his siblings avoided becoming members of the stolen generation, their parents died in 1960 and Pat, brother Mick and two of their siblings were made wards of the state.

In 1975, Senator Dodson became the first Aboriginal person to be ordained as a Catholic priest.

But a few years later he left the priesthood, finding it difficult to reconcile his Yawuru spirituality with some aspects of Catholicism.

He later worked as a commissioner on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and had spells as director on the Kimberley and Central land councils.

Senator Dodson later said that being a royal commissioner had crystalised his understanding of the importance of self-determination and giving a voice to the seemingly voiceless.

He chaired the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation from 1991 to 1997 and co-chaired the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians from 2010 to 2016 before joining the Senate.

In 2023 Senator Dodson was diagnosed with cancer, meaning he played a lesser role than he'd hoped in the unsuccessful voice referendum campaign.

During his farewell speech to the Senate in November, Senator Dodson handed the message stick for reconciliation to the next generation. He reiterated words from his maiden speech about the deep shared spirituality that has nourished his people for thousands of years.

"Mabu ngarrungunil, a strong community where people matter and are valued; mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced, and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; and, finally, mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community, whose essence arises from our encounter with the land and people," he said.

Rudi Maxwell - AAP


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