The Fathering Project is empowering Aboriginal fathers on the Noongar lands of Western Australia to design resources for an Aboriginal fathering program.

Founded in Western Australia in 2013 by Dr Bruce Robinson, the project delivers resources, programs and events that aim to inspire and equip fathers and father-figures to engage with the children in their lives in a positive manner.

Through a collaboration between Professor Len Collard, Dr Mick Adams, Dr Dave Palmer and Dr John McMullan, the Fathering Project asked Noongar men to explain what quop maaman (good men) looked like to them.

The outcome was a workshop and video series that will introduce the program to boys and young men on Country with a focus on key Noongar concept and themes.

Professor Collard, a Whadjuk Nyungar Elder and the lead researcher behind the Aboriginal father’s program, said one of the key points in the discussion was that the fathering role model looked different to the Noongar men’s counterparts.

He said while the western world may focus on the biological father being one of the primary caregivers, it wasn’t necessarily the same sentiment in the Noongar men’s discussions.

“The men were citing examples of when they were young, [roles] that not just their fathers [played] but the significant roles men in their extended families played in their life, giving guidance.”

“This idea of many fathers, compared to the idea of having a biological father as in the whitefella’s world, in the Noongar discussions the notion was, well we have many dads, and we went to them all to get advice and guidance to help us move forward. I could talk to several men and father figures for direction,” he said.

Professor Collard said the men wanted to find the balance between matriarchal roles and empowering a male’s role in parenting.

“Considering the history of colonisation and how our men were estranged from their role within Aboriginal society, there was a need for a focus on men’s voices and ideas when it came to fathering,” he said.

“What became clear was that the men didn’t want to take away anything from the women’s roles, the mothers and grandmothers, there was just specific men’s business to address and to discuss how a man’s role works alongside women.”

The Professor added that there is an opportunity to hear first-hand the Noongar men’s sentiments toward fathering on the Fathering Project website.

“I would encourage people to access the information, the report and the videos, hear the men speak for themselves,” he said.

“There are videos on fathering and language and fathering on Country. We’ve lost some of the men that participated in the program originally, but their voices and their message are still with us.”

The Fathering Project CEO Kati Gapaillard told NIT the aim of the research was to develop a culturally appropriate program that was “for Aboriginal fathers and boys by Aboriginal men”.

“The research is profound, showing that increased father involvement in the lives of children creates many positive outcomes,” Gapaillard said.

“However, despite significant interest amongst the Noongar community, unfortunately, the program was not run due to lack of funding. We continue to raise awareness about the need for father involvement and hope to source funding to support the program.”

By Darby Ingram