Senator Pat Dodson, who turns 76 at the end of January, has retired. The Yawuru Aboriginal Elder from Western Australia's Kimberley Region has lived a life of adversity and struggle, with a determination to make Australia a better place for all Australians, of every culture and creed.
On the announcement of the Senator's retirement, tributes began to flow. Australia's Prime Minister, Hon Anthony Albanese MP paid his tribute late last year, expressing his sadness at the political loss of 'a great Yawuru man, a wonderful Australian, and an excellent human being".
"You would gladly follow him into battle yet he's made it his life's work to make peace. From the moment he entered Parliament, he has made this place a better one," the Prime Minister said.
The senator's colleague, Hon Linda Burney MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians, celebrated his various contributions to public life, including his unfailing vision and hope for constitutional change:
"His work on constitutional recognition spans many years. He was Co-Chair of the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition and the Co-Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition," she said.
We at the National Centre for Reconciliation, Truth and Justice felt Australians should know and understand what a significant contribution the retiring Senator has made to public life for all. Indeed, the reconciliation of Australia is a vision of equity and justice for all, and the celebration of this great man will continue through his legacy for the next decade.
Patrick Lionel Djargun Dodson was born on his sacred Yawuru lands, immediately affected by the racist policies which continue to plague Australia's conscience—wherever conscience may still be found today in this post-voice referendum Australia, which is now inherited by generation next. The opportunities of the future have been paved by this Elder's career, long before entering the senate in 2016.
We, as younger First Nations Australians can see the silver-lining in the current storm clouds because of this Elder's career, and although we have recently observed a media blackout mourning the outcome of the referendum, we can take solace in the fact that Dodson has done his part in the opportunities that we now have in order to take matters into our own hands, and live the change we wish to see as an example to others.
Like many First Nations Australians, the Yawuru believe in a circular and ever-present time of beginning. The Bugarriagarra is the beginning of all for Yawuru people and is present even today in the creative and innovative force of humanity. In the way in which communities interact. In the way that leaders carry themselves and serve their people.
As a Whadjuk and Balladong Noongar born on my own homelands, this spiritual practice reminds me of my own Nyitting: my own time immemorial which is layered against every other era of time, every generation of Elders, who are ever present among us. The legacy we carry is poignantly tangible in the way we live, and the responsibilities we have in keeping country alive, and the homefires burning for our Elders, and generations of people to come. Dodson is loved and celebrated here on Whadjuk Noongar Boodja.
As a significant Yawuru Elder, the retiring Senator has significantly improved the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous Australians. The progress we celebrate through the work of Reconciliation Australia was made possible by him. As a Catholic Priest ordained in 1975, he learned that he had a sacred and spiritual responsibility in his own Yawuru culture, and that his heart was to follow that path instead. In 1980, Dodson left the priesthood and took up significant leadership positions across the coming decades.
Senator Dodson has wasted no time, continues to live by his beliefs, and has always taken significant social and political risk in speaking up about the issues that matter. He was one of the first voices to impact decision making on the disproportionate level of Aboriginal deaths in custody, the cause for reconciling Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, among many other causes relating to the health, wellbeing, and development of First Nations Australians and their place which should rightly be the pinnacle of Australian culture and its national values
Jesse J. Fleay is a Noongar writer and research specialist across major policy areas. His doctoral thesis explores a model for an Australian republic, along with calls to enact a Voice to Parliament for First Nations Australians. Views expressed are his own.