Grassroots woman, mother, anti-domestic violence campaigner and former police officer Dorinda Cox will be WA’s next Greens senator.
A strong and proud Yamatji Noongar woman, Ms Cox was born in Kojonup and raised in Perth. Her family has a strong pastoral background, and her father’s family “dominated” Kojonup’s local football team.
With five generations of child removal in her matriarchal line, Ms Cox is the first child to stay with family.
Now with two young girls of her own, she has ensured they have a strong connection to culture, community, and Country.
“Noongar Country is matriarchal … I come from a very long line of strong matriarchs and that is continued in my girls,” she said.
Raised by strong women, and being the eldest daughter in her family, Ms Cox was thrust into responsibility early. In 1994, at the age of 17, she left school and became a police cadet.
“There was a lot of discussion around what it would mean going into an institution as a young Aboriginal girl. I had seen so much of that negativity in Aboriginal people’s experiences with the justice system, I felt really motivated and determined to change things,” she said.
“I went to see my grandmother, my dad’s mother, I told her I was joining the police, and the first thing she said to me was, ‘Are you going to take children away from their parents?’
“It was heart-wrenching to hear that … she had had seven children removed. This is the reality for Aboriginal women, even today in 2021.”
A career that shaped her world view, Ms Cox spent a decade in the force before returning home to Country.
“It was hard to go in as a very bright-eyed 17-year-old thinking you could make this change for your people. But then, still we have people that have died in custody. Leaving the police at 27, I had done my time. I made a decision to come home.”
With a new-found love for questioning the system, Ms Cox stepped into a public policy role at Centrelink.
“I worked with some of the most vulnerable people, it was a steep learning curve for me, but it gave me that passion to … disrupt systems,” she said.
“Understanding the experiences of those most vulnerable in our community is at the heart of the work that I continue to do.”
From there Ms Cox moved into advocacy, working with women who had experienced domestic, family and sexual violence.
In 2008, in her early 30s, Ms Cox was on the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, an experience which saw her travel the country hearing the stories of survivors of violence.
“I was able to advocate for people who were risking their lives, who had had traumatic and horrific experiences but who needed recovery and healing,” she said.
She was a board director of Our Watch, a practitioner engagement group member for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), sat on the Advisory Committee on Child Death Reviews and Family Violence Homicides for the WA Ombudsman, and was a member of the Expert Indigenous Women’s Working Group on the Global Treaty on Preventing Violence Against Women in the Everywoman, Everywhere campaign — now known as the Every Woman Treaty.
“It was a learning curve for me about bringing, to an international stage, what is important to me both on a cultural level and a policy level and what would work for not only our mob, but women in a much broader sense,” she said.
“My experience is about relationships and how we reach across the aisle to work alongside and in partnership with others in a political forum.”
About to step into the Senate, Ms Cox believes this moment is all about timing.
“It’s time now for WA Greens to show leadership for First Nations people in this State, this will be a history-making moment for the party,” she said.
“Rachel (Siewert) did such an immense amount of work when she had the First Nations portfolio, her allyship in this was about creating those relationships and creating this foundation. I believe that Rachel knew five years ago when we met that she was going to have a First Nations woman follow her in Parliament.
“It isn’t just about me being a First Nations woman, the party genuinely believed the experience and skills I have are different and could bring something new.”
Ms Cox will join Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, along with the other Indigenous members of the Senate.
“Lidia and I have an unspoken respect, not just for each other but also for other First Nations people in the Senate,” she said.
“There is that unspoken thing about being First Nations people in a political system, which we know gives our mob a rough time. Sometimes it does things we don’t agree with and that we can often challenge the issue, but not challenge each other.
“There is … deep gratitude for the work each of us does.”
With strong views on climate action and the desire to bring First Nations people to the forefront of heritage conversations, Ms Cox remains a strong, grassroots woman — connected to her community and to her people.
Despite her ambition, Ms Cox said she never imagined ever being a senator.
At 17, before starting with the police, Ms Cox visited her mother who was working in Canberra. She recalls a moment, sitting in the House of Representatives.
“At that time there were no Aboriginal people in the Parliament … I was sitting there thinking maybe one day, I could work here. Maybe one day I could work for someone like prime minister Keating,” she said.
“Thinking about and reflecting on that day, I think each one of us knows we are capable of great things. Deep down inside you, you always have a dream, hope or vision that that could be you.
“I never dreamed I’d be a senator, but what that tells me is that you do have to dream harder, and never stop being ambitious. Any one of us can be a senator.
“For me, this isn’t about ego, or the fact I’ll have senator in front of my name, this is about what this will create for the next generation, and First Nations peoples.”
By Rachael Knowles