WE SHOULD LISTEN TO INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVES THIS FATHER'S DAY
The Canberra Times, 27 August 2019
A few weeks ago, I spent time in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, meeting with people in remote communities like Bidyadanga, and learning from my Labor colleague, Senator Patrick Dodson.
Hearing their stories, I was struck by the way in which parenting and place are interconnected in Indigenous communities. In those places, your ancestors are part of the land, and the land is part of you. To be a good father is to take your children onto country, teach them the traditions, and listen to what they have to say. I asked Damien Crispin, a Broome-based stevedore who was part of the Indigenous Marathon Project last year, whether he’d ever consider living elsewhere. ‘No way - this is home’, he replied.
This Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about what Indigenous traditions can teach non-Indigenous people like me about being a better dad. Living near the base of Mount Majura, I’m struck by the fact that when my three sons take a walk or a bike ride in the bush, they immediately become more animated, less focused on themselves. It’s like a switch has been flicked, and they become more engaged, gentler, and even more fun to be around.
We spend a lot of time in Australia thinking about reconciliation through a deficit model. And it’s right that we work harder to close the gaps - especially as most are not on track to be achieved.
But there is also a celebratory side to reconciliation - recognising how awesome it is to share this land with a people whose continuous links to the land go back 60,000 years. A people who had been around for thousands of generations by the time the Greek and Roman civilisations were just getting started. And a people who have plenty to teach us about parenting. This was made easier for me when I was immersed in Indigenous thought and culture in the Kimberley. Here in Canberra, non-Indigenous voices can crowd out Aboriginal perspectives.
In Indigenous communities, from the Yawuru around Broome to the Ngunnawal in Canberra, there is a much stronger sense that raising children is everyone’s job. Aunties and uncles aren’t just your parents’ siblings - they’re also an extended network of more distant relations and trusted friends. Like an expanded version of what Christians call Godparents, aunties and uncles keep an eye out for children as they grow up - providing a watching eye and a friendly ear.
Being a father is the most demanding, exciting, rewarding, frustrating, and challenging thing I’ve ever done. My extraordinary wife Gweneth and I often reflect on how our three little men came to develop their passions and talents - why one loves dancing, but can’t stand bananas. And there’s often moments when we’re reminded that we’re outnumbered by our brood. As the sporting analogy goes, three children is the moment you need to move from man-on-man to zone defence.
So happy father’s day to my fellow Canberra dads. May we all keep learning to be better parents. Who knows - by the time we’re grandfathers, perhaps we’ll have it figured out.
Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.