In July this year, Professor Patrick Dodson was the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed to the Australian National University Council. A Yawuru man from Broome, he is a former Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (the body replaced by Reconciliation Australia), and the winner of the 2008 Sydney Peace Prize. Known as ‘the father of reconciliation’, he is a former Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and was co-Chair of the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians. His brother Professor Mick Dodson AM, who is also a national Indigenous leader, is currently director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at ANU.
Regarding his appointment as the very first Indigenous ANU council member, Pat described the call from ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans as “out of the blue”. Having “sat on the other side of the fence” to Evans over fifteen years ago during the time of “land rights struggles”, Dodson replied that he needed a few weeks to think about it. During those weeks, he reflected on his interest in education and his hope for greater opportunities for Indigenous students. Dodson decided to say yes to Evans, and after the Chancellor appointed him, told his brother Professor Mick Dodson of his new position on the ANU Council via phone. “You’ll find it hard”, was Mick’s response, “because he knows, having the insights he does working at the ANU” said Pat, “but he wished me well.”
Professor Dodson visited the ANU on October 2, 2014. At the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), he spoke about issues he felt were most pressing in a national sense, including “the broad Indigenous identities that now exist across Australia. For those in remote areas, it’s about modernity and education, how it fits with traditional culture and values”, also noting that “as a national university, the ANU needs to focus on the whole of Australia, not just the East coast.” Professor Dodson discussed the education of non-Indigenous students in universities as essential to creating meaningful change in policy and at the highest levels of government. “It’s their education about Aboriginal people that influences their later work”, he said. Meeting for lunch at the Tjabal Centre with Indigenous students and staff including Professor Mick Dodson, his passion for Indigenous ANU students was clear. Professor Dodson generously gave an hour of his time to be interviewed for Woroni, after being told it was the ANU student newspaper.
When asked about his hopes and aims for his position on the Council, Professor Dodson responded, “As a national university, we need to be focusing on national challenges, in all areas and disciplines. Good research – and we need more Indigenous professors and academics in all fields.” Constitutional recognition is the most pressing issue for Pat at this time, in terms of what he believes ANU students need to know about national Indigenous issues. “The importance of recognition and an understanding of treaty – it’s about a willingness on behalf of the state or government to meet Indigenous peoples in the middle. There has to be compromise on both sides. Indigenous people need decision-making ability at all levels, on all issues, not just traditional issues such as land management.” Dodson is disillusioned with the current Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s movement on constitutional recognition. “We, the expert panel, provided our recommendations in 2012. He now wants to blow out the timeframe until 2017. It’s not a priority to them. When other things happen, like their latest response to ISIS news, they moved immediately. It’s a matter of priorities, not whether they are capable of doing it.” Professor Pat Dodson is currently lecturing in reconciliation and spirituality at the University of Notre Dame in Broome, but says his interests span a number of areas. Talking at depth about his genuine hope for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to learn to see each other as equals, he said:
“I teach more about human values than Indigenous spirituality. Love, tolerance, respect, forgiveness, equity. Compensation to those who the government has admitted they have harmed – what is being done to redress those wrongs?”
When asked to list some of his role models, Professor Pat Dodson had a long list of incredible people: Mandela, Luther King, Vincent Lingiari, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), Hồ Chí Minh among many others. “But those who don’t receive accolades too – my grandmother and grandfather, my mother. Indigenous people who have survived ordeals. People of today like Dr. Chris Sarra – I knew his Mum and Dad. He is inspiring to me.”
Professor Dodson finished on his son, and Indigenous young people, his passion for whom heavily influenced his decision to say yes to being on the ANU Council. “My son Adrian, who has a small family, is part of the Indigenous Marathon Project. He will be running in New York. Young people, who are working toward their goals and trying to establish a sense of identity and place – they inspire me.”
“My message to Indigenous ANU students is this: if you think you have it tough, others have it tougher. Keep walking. I walked around this university when I was young on crutches. It’s a big place. Focus on what you want to achieve. But always keep your dignity- as a good human being. Don’t ever become arrogant.”
Professor Patrick Dodson currently lives in Broome with his family, is Chair of the Lingiari Foundation and Executive Chair of Nyamba Buru Yawuru. He delivered the ANU Reconciliation Lecture in 2013 titled ‘The road to reconciliation: Some reflections on the politics and challenges of reconciliation’ which can be viewed at http://www.anu.edu.au/vision/videos/10851/