NACCHO #OchreDay2017 Aboriginal Male Health : Celebrating #IndigenousDads #FathersDay Creating positive images of Aboriginal fathers


” We are surrounded by negative images of Aboriginal men and fathers.

In the mainstream media, and even academic literature, they are mostly portrayed in a negative context: the focus is on crime, domestic violence, alcohol and other drugs, unemployment, and child abuse.

It is time we started seeing more of the positives.

A recent study (Stoneham, Goodman and Daube, 2014) looked at 335 media stories relating to Australian Indigenous health and found that 74% of them were negative, 11% were neutral and only 15% were positive.”

 From Creating positive images of Aboriginal fathers


“As the spontaneous expression of Aboriginal identity and pride of #IndigenousDads demonstrated, Aboriginal fathers are teachers, lawyers, academics, employers, actors, animators, athletes.

Above all they are dedicated and devoted role models for future generations and give them hope that they can rise above discrimination and racism, be proud of their identity and culture, and be encouraged to reach their potential.

Roy Ah-See, a Wiradjuri man, is chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the largest member-based Aboriginal organisation in Australia : And former chair of Yerin ACCHO  see interview here from NACCHO TV

See full article HERE

Read over 300 NACCHO Male Health articles printed over past 5 years

 ” Recommendations developed from the present study are therefore strongly grounded in strength-based approaches that have the potential to empower urban Aboriginal fathers to develop, strengthen and reclaim relationships with their children and families.”

From Engaging Aboriginal fathers see part 2

We had to ask ourBe strongselves how could it be that a whole society is not thinking of positive images of Aboriginal fathers/men. The images that were available were all about domestic violence, assault, sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs. The messages with these images were about what men shouldn’t do. From there, the project team sat down with men of all ages and talked about the lack of positive images of themselves in the media, on posters and other public spaces. (p. 23)

Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  communities in Newcastle, the Tiwi Islands, Yarrabah, Wreck Bay, Alice Springs and Hobart  helped develop a series of beautiful posters that show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in a different light.

The article  (available online from the publisher at a cost of $3.98) includes discussion of the ways in which he engaged local communities. You can read about  other work with Aboriginal fathers (for free)  in the report Reaching the heart of Indigenous families & communities.

Chris Sarra spoke about his work as a principal at Cherbourg School it showed the power of changing how we see Aboriginal people and communities. Despite wide spread negative perceptions about Aboriginal students, he  knew they could be Strong and Smart (the school motto). Unfortunately not all the staff agreed.

We then had to establish a team that believed it could be done; those that didn’t believe it could be achieved were encouraged to move on. And I did sit in the staff room and say to staff, ‘What I believe and what the community believes is that our children can leave here stronger and smarter. If you don’t believe it, then you have to go. And half the staff left. (Sarra, 2005, p. 6. The whole speech is well worth reading.)

It was only when he had staff who really believed in the potential of their students that things could change. These types of negative perceptions are reinforced by the negative images that surround us.

We need to to be exposed to more positive images of Aboriginal families and communities and to hear more from people like Chris and Craig who recognise and build on their strengths.

Darwin October 4-5 Register HERE


Part 2 Findings  : Engaging Aboriginal fathers

Stuart, G., May, C., & Hammond, C. (2015). Engaging Aboriginal fathers. Developing Practice: The Child, Youth and Family Work Journal (42), 4-17.

Read in full here

The Challenges

Some of the participants said that, at times, they found trying to engage  Aboriginal fathers frustrating, challenging and plain hard work.

Yes, it got really, really frustrating. You put all that work in. Especially with this [project] – and I went and saw the boys and said, ‘You make it look so silly, you let yourselves down really.’ I sort of put it all back on them. And then after that the group sort of kicked off again and we just let it go for a while and then it just dies off. (Trent)

Creating and maintaining momentum

A common challenge was creating or maintaining the momentum.

At [name of location]. I told them that I’ve got all these ideas and I wished to put forward to everybody and they’re saying, ‘Oh yes, we’ll be there, we’ll do it, just tell us when.’ Then when the word gets around, they don’t move. Had to go around and knock on his door and chase him up and drag them out of the house. [Chuckles] (Aaron)

Some participants felt that fathers tended to not do anything “until it gets to some sort of a pressure crisis point.” At times this meant that a problem had escalated to the extent where services were limited in the support they could provide and the fathers were unsatisfied with the response. This made further engagement less likely. Sometimes, by the time the worker could make contact, the crisis had passed and the father no longer wanted assistance.

Participants also described how they would establish an effective group for a while but numbers would dwindle off. Attendance could be spasmodic or decrease for a range of reasons – many of which were external to the program.

I started a men’s group at the end of last year called ‘Connecting Fathers’ at our school. It went real well last year – had about 15-18 people there, but this year because of all of the kids that are moving on to high school and a couple of families moving away, we got down to about six, seven people… (Dane)

Lack of male workers

Most participants in this research were female and/or non-Aboriginal, and this was clearly a challenge for some of them.

I just think maybe because I’m female and I’m not Indigenous. I just think that was just – already that’s something there. You’ve got to just keep trying to say ‘hello’ to people and just try and build up a relationship with them and just take it to the next step – but I just find that quite difficult. (Gina)

This challenge may have been particularly salient for services with sole female workers who expressed a need for a male presence to combat a perception that family services were mainly for women as this exchange and Liam’s comment show:

Whitney: I think the thing that’s lacking is just that male presence. Just thinking of the three meetings that we’ve got set up. We don’t even have men on the planning side of things, so that’s – we could start there….

Trent: It starts from there doesn’t it, so there’s no men involved in that meeting or in that group, you’re not going to get men to —

Whitney: Exactly.


One of the Aboriginal men I work with at the moment, he came to me he said, ‘I thought you only looked after women. I didn’t think you looked after men.’ (Liam)

Not being an Aboriginal man

While it was not discussed to the same extent as being male, some of the workers discussed the challenge of not being Aboriginal. As one women suggested ‘it’s ideal if you’re black and hairy’, that is, visually clearly both Aboriginal and male. Part of the challenge was in knowing the best way to respond to male Aboriginal culture. At times there was a problem being outside the culture and receiving conflicting advice from different people.

And I was very much told [by a female Aboriginal worker], ‘That’s men’s business. No. Don’t go there.’ Ok. But then, when I was talking with [a male Aboriginal worker] about it, he said, ‘No. Go and talk to them.’ (Jennifer)

One way in which Jennifer attempted to address this issue was by using Aboriginal trainees; however many of these trainees were challenged by limited knowledge and experience.

We found those challenges; we had Indigenous trainees with one of our playgroups at one stage and the aim of those trainees was to bring the Aboriginal perspective to the playgroup and cultural activities. What we found was many of those kids [the trainees] didn’t even have a good sense of their own culture and identity.  How can you impart that information and knowledge? (Jennifer)

Lack of time

Time and funding structures could also become a major constraint for service providers trying to build meaningful relationships with Aboriginal fathers. A male participant, who had extensive experience with a variety of services, found that funding agreements requiring a certain number of clients meant that he didn’t have the time to build and maintain relationships with quite marginalised fathers. Others spoke about the time required to become accepted, particularly when they were not part of the local Aboriginal community.

And time, it takes a long time. My work over in WA for example, it took 18 months nearly, to actually start talking to blokes. So we’d only just started conversations – or men were only just starting to look for me for conversations. (Bruce)


The service providers identified a range of strategies that they had used to engage Aboriginal fathers.

Building strong, trusting relationships

Participants frequently spoke about the importance of building strong, trusting relationships with Aboriginal fathers. Jo suggested that relationships were particularly important when working with Aboriginal communities.

I think my experience in the past is that Indigenous people work better with a person, rather than a service… If you can sit down, or you’re working with a man, they’re saying, ‘This is my problem’ they won’t walk into a building and go, ‘Oh, this building says they help kids with problems.’ They’ll go, ‘Who do I know that might be able to help me with this?’ (Jo)

It often took time to build trusting relationships and participants spoke about involvement in the local Aboriginal community and using non-work contexts as a means to help build these relationships.

And living locally where you work, you go shopping and to run in and grab some milk, takes you an hour and a half some days, because you get stopped as you’re walking towards the aisle you want to get to, as you’re walking back, as you get to the car, all by different people… It’s less confronting for them to walk up to you and chat like friends in a public place, they ask you a few things and you just say, ‘Come down and see me another day’, or ‘I can come around to your place.’ (Liam)

Some others, while recognising the value of being seen in the community and building relationships outside of work, expressed concerns about the demands that these expectations placed on their personal life. As one of the workers commented:

If I see someone up the street I’ll never ignore them, ‘Good day mate, how are you going?’ And then I’ll say, ‘No, just doing my shopping. Give me a call Monday morning mate. Come in and see me’ because I don’t, I can’t lower those boundaries… I don’t want to have to go to the shops and have to deal with a client; my life is very separate to my work.

Aboriginal workers who worked in the same community they lived in were under particular pressure.

We had some really good [Aboriginal] health workers in Newcastle. They got burned out and moved on… They get that constant interruption from community when they’re outside their work hours. (Liam)

Having male and Aboriginal workers

In terms of the importance of gender and Aboriginality, many of the participants felt that these factors needed to be taken into account in service design. They described how people coming to a service might want to see a male staff member and how having male or Aboriginal staff encouraged Aboriginal fathers to become involved.

I think it does make a difference if you’ve got an Aboriginal worker or project within your organisation… because what often happens in welfare services is they’re seen as a female service and therefore males aren’t welcome… And I think quite often Aboriginal workers and males in the organisation helps to change that opinion. (Sue)

Where having Aboriginal male staff wasn’t possible, an alternative was having somebody who was known to, and accepted by, the local Aboriginal community.

You could have a non-Aboriginal person, but it’s got to be somebody that really gets [the Aboriginal] culture and gets the diversity of communities… There’s a lot of guys who are well and truly accepted in the Aboriginal community that aren’t Aboriginal, but they’ve grown up there and have been part of that community and are very well accepted. (Jennifer)

Services with only female staff (often projects with a sole worker or only a few staff) sometimes tried to find men who could take a lead role or worked in partnership with other services who could provide a worker who was male, Aboriginal or both.

So when our playgroup first started up… we had a grandad coming along and he’d take his son and they’d come with the grandad. And we found that was brilliant. You’d sit at the table and have five or six dads and uncles and granddads and aunties, so it was really lovely. He got a job, not that far into it and that’s when we found the engagement of the dads really dropped off from the playgroup. The mums would still come, but we lost the dads. (Jennifer)

Creating father friendly environments

Participants also spoke about the importance of creating a father-friendly environment. An important starting point was the physical setting (colours, posters, reading material).

We had lots of pinks and things… and we changed them. There’s the pictures that we put up and we changed a lot of things around encouraging both dads and Aboriginal families, because there wasn’t a lot of that a couple of years ago, there were just scenes with single mothers and kids. (Jo)

As well as the physical setting, it was important to signal to fathers that they were both welcome and safe. As the following discussion suggests, female-dominated services could be challenging for some fathers:

I find that we’ve some of our younger dads are not bad looking and you’ve got all these single mums there. Some of them come out with the most inappropriate comments to the guys ‘Oh, what’s he like?’ ‘Is he single?’ … They [the fathers] laugh it off at the time, but I’m sure for a lot of them, particularly Aboriginal dads, they get quite shamed by it and it puts them well out of their comfort zone. (Jennifer)

Organising specific events or activities

One of the more frequent strategies employed to engage Aboriginal fathers was the organisation of specific events and activities. For example, NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) week was often seen as a good opportunity to engage Aboriginal fathers.

On Monday we had NAIDOC celebrations and we had Rika Alley [an Aboriginal performer] come…. Basically he did this dance to engage with them and the kids came up and it went right through, up to the teachers and then he called parents as well. I was quite surprised how many parents went up. And it was all, you know, with the dads and the kids just loved it and laughed. And it was just breaking that ice. (Gina)

However, relying on these one-off events may not be enough. As one person said, ‘You can’t continually have these big celebration things.’ Fathers would come for the special events but not continue their involvement with the organisation afterwards.

When we have formal assemblies at the school where there’s different awards or whatever, there’ll be a heap of dads. Education week we have big open school, we do get dads through. So, we’re getting them, but it’s just that momentum of keeping them. (Jennifer)

Providing camps and cultural activities

Most of the male participants in the focus groups had been involved in running camps for Aboriginal fathers and saw them as generally being successful in both engaging fathers with the service and in the lives of their children.

One dad said, ‘Well I’ve got three daughters and really I don’t know what to do with them or how to connect with them. At home it’s always mum, mum, mum. If they get hurt, they fall over, whatever, it’s always mum.’ When he went on this camp, he did everything and he had to do everything. And he loved it. (Trent)

Cultural activities were also seen as a particularly good way to engage Aboriginal fathers.

They liked doing Aboriginal painting and stuff, so they wanted to do a painting course… And we got blokes down wanting to do Aboriginal [hunting] weapons and stuff; wanted to show the kids how to make didgeridoos like I make them; wanted to do boomerangs, battle axes, that sort of stuff. (Dane)

Engaging family and community gatekeepers

Focus group participants identified the importance of recognising gatekeepers and ensuring they were supportive. Mothers and other female family members could play an important role in facilitating the engagement of Aboriginal fathers in a service and with their children, particularly in relation to their role as a gatekeeper to engagement with the children. Services needed the support of these important family members.

And I actually think that when I have a lot of Aboriginal clients over the years, of the male clients, probably 80 percent of those, the icebreaker was by a woman, who has actually brought them there; it could have been an aunt, or a mother or a sister, who has actually brought that person into the service, because a male person had the perception we don’t help men. (Janelle)

In Aboriginal communities, elders frequently play a vital role in engaging other community members. Gaining the support of elders could be quite beneficial for services.

And we’ve got a couple of key local elders that did have a lot of grandkids at the school and all those grandkids have now moved on, but we still have very close connections, but it has backed off a bit since the last of the grandkids moved onto high school – which is a shame because we really made a point of having that connection with local elders because they’re really the key people to get involved with. (Jennifer)

Having flexible programming

Flexibility was important in a range of areas including the hours of operation, location and way of working.

We do after hours work, long weekends. It all depends what the client wants. (Liam)

I do my groups of a night. I’ve had more males turn up to the night groups than the day. Out of 46 I’ve had six males. And most of them at night. (Sharon)

Participants also suggested that it was important to be flexible in terms of group membership so that extended family could be involved.

Yes starting to get some of the young fellows coming up to the group too like, some of the kids’ brothers and stuff were coming up – the dad or someone couldn’t make it, the pop would come or the uncle would come, so someone was always coming up to the group. (Dane)

Creating a sense of ownership

Finally it was important that participants had a sense of ownership of the programs.

Almost every group of mine that hasn’t worked has been a suggestion by somebody to do a group that I’ve had no connections with and what happens is I get a flyer out and often what happens is the mothers put down the father’s name and phone number…and it doesn’t work…. There was no connection. (Bruce)


The present study identified a number of issues which need to be considered in developing strengths-based programs for engaging Aboriginal fathers and fathers of Aboriginal children. The strategies identified by the participants in this research offer suggestions for ways to address these issues.

It is important to note that our paper is grounded in the specific context of Aboriginal fathers in urban Newcastle/Lake Macquarie and the more rural setting of the Upper Hunter Valley. Despite the Hunter region’s history of colonisation, with the first European settlements being established very early in 1800s, and the major impact of oppressive, divisive and discriminatory policies, there is still a very strong sense of culture and identity within local Aboriginal communities.

While some of the findings may be relevant to other contexts, there may also be differences. The experience of Aboriginal fathers in regional NSW context will be very different to Aboriginal fathers in other contexts such as remote communities. Despite these differences, there are also likely to be similarities.

A key learning from this research is the need to carefully build strong and trusting relationships before meaningful intervention can begin.

Urban Aboriginal men have often moved to be with their partners and therefore their family and community connection are in other communities. This means they may be poorly connected to the community in which they live. Many will also experience distrust that has arisen from factors such as colonisation, cultural disconnection, family disruption and intergenerational trauma (Bowes & Grace, 2014; Lohoar, Butera, & Kennedy, 2014; Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, 2010). Building connections with these men requires both skill and credibility, particularly as the men often seek informal references from people they know within the community before engaging in any form of relationship with a service’s staff. Having male Aboriginal workers within the program has the potential to minimise barriers such as these and to reduce the risk that an engagement will fail before it has begun. The value of having Aboriginal male workers has been emphasised in previous literature (Beatty & Doran, 2007; Berlyn, Wise, & Soriano, 2008; Communities and Families Clearinghouse Australia, 2010) but, as identified by participants in this research, this can be difficult for sole-worker service or services where all the staff are women. Services can address this by strategies such as adopting partnerships with Aboriginal workers, employing local Aboriginal men on a casual basis and recruiting well supported male volunteers.

Mothers, and their families, play a key role in managing the lives of children in urban Aboriginal communities (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, 2010). Mothers are more likely to talk to teachers, attend services and provide a greater proportion of care to their children. If mothers are sceptical or anxious about a program then it is unlikely that fathers will be encouraged, or given permission, to attend (Tehan & McDonald, 2010). A key tenant of a program’s success may therefore lie in the ability to win the confidence and support of mothers. One strategy to manage maternal concerns is to operate programs out of services that mothers know and trust, and to incorporate the involvement of workers that have previously formed trusting relationships with the mothers.

Like fathers in other communities, Aboriginal men often rely on signals that a program is going to focus on their needs rather than fit them into a program designed for mothers.

This may particularly important for Aboriginal men because of highly differentiated maternal and paternal parenting roles that characterise many Aboriginal communities (Department of Families, 2009; Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, 2010).

Programs should therefore aim to create environments that explicitly welcome men and signal to them that they are in a man’s space (Berlyn et al., 2008). Programs should also aim to focus their activities on factors that relate to fathering roles in Aboriginal communities such as culture and connection to community.

One means of doing this is to link fathering activities with well-established cultural events.

A program, however, needs to create more opportunities than those afforded by these intermittent celebrations of harmony or culture. Holding camps where fathers can engage with their children around cultural activities was identified as an important way to fulfil many of these requirements within a program (see also Communities and Families Clearinghouse Australia, 2010). However, it was also recognised that programs needed to actively engage with, and manage, potential maternal concerns that could easily arise from such activities.

Strengths-based approaches to working with fathers and Aboriginal communities are important in challenging some of the negative, disempowering approaches that have often been adopted when working with Aboriginal communities. Lohoar, Butera, and Kennedy (2014) argue that Aboriginal cultural practice and cultural identity is a strength that ‘acts as a protective force for children and families’ (p. 2) and a range of authors have advocated a strengths-based approach to working with Aboriginal families and communities (Armstrong et al., 2012; Bamblett & Lewis, 2006; Geia, Hayes, & Usher, 2011; McMahon, 2003; Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, 2010).

Recommendations developed from the present study are therefore strongly grounded in strength-based approaches that have the potential to empower urban Aboriginal fathers to develop, strengthen and reclaim relationships with their children and families.


NACCHO #IndigenousDads and Aboriginal Health : Stereotyping a barrier to Aboriginal advancement


 “As the spontaneous expression of Aboriginal identity and pride of #IndigenousDads demonstrated, Aboriginal fathers are teachers, lawyers, academics, employers, actors, animators, athletes.

Above all they are dedicated and devoted role models for future generations and give them hope that they can rise above discrimination and racism, be proud of their identity and culture, and be encouraged to reach their potential.

Roy Ah-See, a Wiradjuri man, is chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the largest member-based Aboriginal organisation in Australia : And former chair of Yerin ACCHO  see interview here from NACCHO TV

On Sunday, August 7, Father’s Day came early for Aboriginal dads. On that morning, Aboriginal people gathered on one of the modern forms of the Koori grapevine — Twitter — to have their say about the Bill Leak cartoon that had offended so many earlier that week.

Aboriginal fathers and children shared personal family moments on social media, presenting an image of Aboriginal life mainstream society rarely sees.

#IndigenousDads was empowering and a reminder to the Australian community that the first nations peoples of Australia are much more than the stereotypes that exist today.

Roy 2

Stereotypes and racism continue to hold back the potential of Aboriginal people in Australia. The hurt and humiliation of everyday racism affects the physical health and the mental wellbeing of our mob.

Anyone who takes the time to look at the images of #Indigenous Dads will quickly appreciate why our people are so offended by these racist stereotypes.

Organisations such as the one I lead — the NSW Aboriginal Land Council — invest so much effort into strengthening culture and identity and ensuring Aboriginal people can participate in our communities and economies.

In NSW, the land rights network is in a unique position. Since 1983 local Aboriginal land councils in NSW have been able to claim certain lands as freehold title and use that land for the cultural, social and economic benefit of our people.

Democratically elected local Aboriginal land council boards make informed decisions about land use. In some instances, land is kept for healing and to protect culture. Land is also leveraged for economic development. Like any owner of freehold title, local Aboriginal land councils can buy, sell or lease land for the benefit of Aboriginal people.

Local Aboriginal land councils are engaged in property development on the NSW central coast, international tourism ventures in the Hunter and social enterprises on the mid-north coast.

During the past 33 years, the land rights network has worked hard to shift public perceptions of Aboriginal people. We’ve sought to convert the gains from land rights to self-determination and economic independence.

Despite this success, disadvantage continues. The Close the Gap campaign confirms that compared with the general population, Aboriginal people die 10 years younger, lose people from suicide at twice the national rate and, despite comprising 3 per cent of Australia’s population, our people make up 27 per cent of the prison population. Of course there is the crisis in the juvenile justice sector, including in the Northern Territory where Australians were confronted with the horror of the mistreatment of children at the Don Dale juvenile detention centre.

The Prime Minister was so appalled he announced a royal commission and in the weeks after those shocking images were broadcast, the debate has broadened from the actions of staff at Don Dale to questions of why some 95 per cent of young people incarcerated in the Territory’s juvenile detention facilities are Aboriginal, and assumptions that the actions of Aboriginal parents should headline the terms of reference.

In publishing Leak’s cartoon, The Australian argued it was justified as an open question about the role of parental responsibility in Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal people and organisations have no objection to issues of parental responsibility being debated. It is undoubtedly a factor alongside the ongoing impact of European invasion, racism and discrimination, child removal policies and entrenched intergenerational disadvantage.

However, a cartoon that reprises outdated race-based stereotypes is no substitute to the high-level complex policy discussion this issue demands. For decades, The Australian has played a constructive role in the coverage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues including the Mabo and Wik High Court cases, national native title legislation and deaths in custody.

Recently, The Australian has been relentless in helping secure justice for the families of Mulrunji Doomadgee in north Queensland and the victims of the Bowraville murders in NSW. It is the efforts of The Australian’s team of reporters that add value to important national debates affecting Aboriginal people in Australia.

For too long, Aboriginal people have felt marginalised by Australia’s mainstream media, but slowly coverage is shifting away from stereotypes about Aboriginal people living in remote communities to the modern realities and challenges of our people, most of whom live in urban populations.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council complained about the cartoon because it fell well short of the standards set by The Australian in its coverage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues for many years. It also presented a misleading and hurtful picture of who we are.

As the spontaneous expression of Aboriginal identity and pride of #IndigenousDads demonstrated, Aboriginal fathers are teachers, lawyers, academics, employers, actors, animators, athletes.

Above all they are dedicated and devoted role models for future generations and give them hope that they can rise above discrimination and racism, be proud of their identity and culture, and be encouraged to reach their potential.

Roy Ah-See, a Wiradjuri man, is chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the largest member-based Aboriginal organisation in Australia.

NACCHO #IndigenousDads and kids turning a negative into a positive of culture and family

Indigenous Dads

“I must praise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fathers and their children for taking a stand against media stereotypes by sharing personal family moments through social media

The #IndigenousDads campaign allowed Aboriginal people to demonstrate the pride they have in being fathers and responsible parents.

“While caring and devoted Aboriginal fathers don’t feature prominently in our mainstream media, they are real and they are having the final say in response to the racist cartoon published by The Australian last week.

“It is disappointing that The Australian fails to recognise the hurt and humiliation the cartoon has caused – on this issue they are on the wrong side of history.

“But Aboriginal people throughout Australia can take some comfort that from such an ugly and negative episode we have such a positive expression of Aboriginal culture and identity.”

NSWALC Chair Roy Ah-See and former Chair of Yerin ACCHO



“The aftermath of Bill Leak’s cartoon demonising Indigenous fathers as drunks who don’t know their children’s names has seen numerous articles condemning or supporting his message. Most significantly, it inspired a significant number of Indigenous people to use their social media presence to promote positive images of Indigenous fathers via the hashtag #IndigenousDads, which trended nationally over the weekend on Twitter.

This show of strength and solidarity was heart-warming and inspiring, and served to help counter the stereotypical images that have plagued Indigenous peoples since long before Bill Leak entered (and re-entered) the fray.

that It was the sort of campaign that many PR firms would have loved to have created, would have charged an arm and a leg to coordinate, and probably still would not have been as successful.
It was an important demonstration aimed at countering racist depictions and stereotypes, an essential reminder in any ‘national conversation’ is going to take place. It sets that conversation tone and reminds us and reinforces importance of our collective strength and humanity. Most importantly, it was a conversation created and led by Indigenous people, on our terms, our images, and our time. And Australian Twitter responded, loving our faces, our love, and our collective show of humanity.”

Luke Pearson Founder of Indigenous X #IndigenousDads – combating stereotypes and reclaiming the conversation or see below Part 2 of this report

 NACCHO Update

Over 24 hours NACCHO shared over 100 #IndigenousDads tweets :

The Tweet above was seen by 64,775 people and there were 4,875 engagements and interactions with this tweet according to Twitter

Read over 30 NACCHO posts Racism and Health HERE


Perkins Mob




Indigenous Australians have responded to a recent cartoon by News Corp’s Bill Leak by sharing photos of themselves with their dads, sons and father-figures on Twitter.

Article from the Guardian 7 August @MelissaLDavey


Leak attracted widespread condemnation last week for his cartoon, which appeared in the Australian, depicting an Aboriginal boy being returned by a police officer to his father, who is holding a beer can and asks “yeah righto, what’s his name then?”.

Indigenous Australians have responded by sharing family photographs on Twitter under the hashtag #IndigenousDads and sharing fond memories of their sons, fathers and father-figures.


The creator of the Aborginial sci-fi series Cleverman, Ryan Griffin, was among those to share a tweet.


In a piece written for Guardian Australia in May, Griffen wrote; “I wanted to create an Aboriginal superhero that [my son] could connect with, no matter what others said. I wanted a character that would empower him to stand and fight when presented with racism.

“Just like the old dreaming stories, Cleverman would be able to teach moral lessons; not only for my son, not just for Aboriginal people, but for many more out there as well.”

Quandamooka woman and Queensland MP, Leeanne Enoch, tweeted that her father was a “hardworking, supportive, generous man”.


When it was published last week the cartoon left advertisers reconsidering their relationship with the broadsheet, and the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, slammed the cartoon as “tasteless”. Leak was guilty of “depicting racist stereotypes,” Scullion said.

Dameyon Bonson, the founder of Black Rainbow, an advocacy group for LGBTQI Indigenous youth, told Guardian Australia that when he saw the cartoon, he felt “gut punched”.

“I felt crippled by it,” he said. “This was in the national broadsheet, and published on national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s day.

“It was arrogance that they could do that and think they could get away with it and that mirrors quite a bit what happens in this country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people every day.

Bonson posted several of his own photos under the #IndigenousDads hashtag, saying that he felt “completely uplifted” when he saw the movement was trending on Twitter on Saturday night and Sunday morning.


“My father passed away more than 10 years ago but last night was a fantastic opportunity to remember him,” he said.

“He used to take me camping at Danger Point in Arnhem Land, we did that a lot during my teenage years. We would catch the best black-lip oysters, so huge they were like mini steaks. Going to Arnhem land with my brothers and my dad was just special.”

Other posts

dads 3


Luke Pearson Founder of Indigenous X #IndigenousDads – combating stereotypes and reclaiming the conversation

Putting face to the many loving and intact Aboriginal families and engaged and active #IndigenousDads is necessary to reject Leak’s caricature of us, equally we need to find a way to talk about some sad realities beyond the reach of the Bill Leaks of the world and beyond the reach of those who fight with or against him over the top of us.

A sad reality is that there are woefully insignificant efforts made to work with families who need support. That kids taken from families and placed in juvenile justice centres or in DOCS’ care, are often not placed in the ‘safe spaces’ that we as a society would like to imagine when we are told ‘neglect’ necessitated their removal.

That these children are all too often not given opportunities for education or rehabilitation, and instead are placed on a fast track to further dysfunction that becomes almost inevitable criminalisation.

Beyond Bill Leak and all those who preceded him, efforts to humanise Indigenous people are essential to ensuring we are afforded basic human rights. Let’s pause here.

Making Indigenous people appear less than human or at least not as human as others requires pretty solid legal, cultural, and language-based manoeuvring – or in other words, some pretty fancy and constant footwork.

See, we need to be framed as outside of normal, we need to be understood as undeserving, needy, irresponsible, and irreparable recalcitrants who lay about, contributing nothing, and as people who don’t subscribe to everyday rhythms of humanity – loving, sharing, caring, responsible rhythms.

Rhythms that are easily understood in notions of good parenting. Condemning parenting is a handy shortcut to dehumanisation and demonisation – and it’s a shortcut easily summed up in a handful of brushstrokes and a few choice words. Aboriginal parents are infantilised and made to look stupidly child-like while Aboriginal children are made to look like miniature adults and therefore not requiring love and care ‘real’ children demand.

We saw similar shortcuts in political speech (not to mention legal manoeuvring) around government refusal of immediate landing in August, 2010 for Norwegian freighter Tampa that had 433 rescued asylum seekers onboard.

Depending on your point of view the so-called Tampa incident set up astounding electoral victory for John Howard’s government in November 2010. A victory fuelled in the months between August and November with claims that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard.

These claims, later proven incorrect, categorically demonisined asylum seekers as not right, not normal, not people the Australian voter should need to expend empathy on.

Persistent framing of both Indigenous people and refugees as people who not only do not care about their own children but are an active danger to them, appears to reap traffic for elements of the media and votes for sections of the government.

Demonising and dehumanising are essential grist to this mill. Indigenous and refugee children are framed as victims of delinquent parents, delinquent parents who are only given agency over their own actions when it involves damaging their children.

In the public imagination, these parents become sole reason for inevitable further cross-generational delinquency. In this narrative, systemic issues of widespread poverty resulting from land theft, policies of legal discrimination and social exclusion, and social discrimination all get a free pass.

It took graphic images of a child being tortured in juvenile detention to rehumanise Aboriginal children and the image put forward by Bill Leak, whether intentional ort unintentional, contributed to dehumanising them again. The pendulum struck back.

Every denial of Indigenous peoples’ rights, from invasion to massacres to the Stolen Generations to the NT Intervention, has been accompanied by imagery and rhetoric that has made us out to be a threat.

A threat to white people, a threat to ourselves and each other, a threat to our own children; for this to dominate public imagination the public also needs to buy the underpinning idea that we are fundamentally flawed, that our very humanity is both in question and at stake, and that we need to be protected from ourselves.

This is what I feared when I spoke in my previous articles of the inevitable removing of Indigenous people from the dialogue in favour of another round of ‘Who are the real racists?’.

By removing us as having an active role in the dialogue it acts to make us both object and subject of other people’s discussion, and not active initiators or participants within the discussion.

When this happens it doesn’t really matter which side of the political spectrum people are arguing from, whether those people are arguing that the demonisation is fair comment or that we need to be saved, or both, the damage is done. We are not equals asserting ourselves and engaging in a dialogue, we are a problem that white people need to solve ‘by any means necessary’ with, or more typically without, us.

As I work in the media, I initially encouraged a discussion about the role of media in either promoting or countering racism. I believe that this is an important conversation as it speaks to what we as a society are willing to accept, and I believe that increased racism within the media serves to justify increasingly punitive and short-sighted responses in Indigenous Affairs policies for the reasons I have just mentioned above.

But that conversation by default infers another that is always taking place, the conversation that moves from ideology to action: ‘What are we going to do about it?’. A common catchcry from politicians in recent years has been ‘but something had to be done! – those on the other side of the debate would rather that we simply do nothing…’ and so on in a neverending circularity that many of us simply want to stop.

If the problem solely lies with Indigenous people, as Bill Leak’s cartoon would suggest to the casual observer, then the responses it justifies are punitive ones that further disenfranchises and disempowers Aboriginal people.

If the side who argue against these punitive responses similarly don’t regard Indigenous people as having our own agency then they will usually call for this not to happen but will fall short of offering an alternative response, or at least not a response consistent with the calls being made from Indigenous people.

When the conversation is one that is had by the whiter sides of the left and the right then regardless of which side wins we do not see positive outcomes for Indigenous people because that is not the goal of either group. Their focus lies not in our empowerment but in being morally superior over the other side of politics.

If, however, we understand that this is a multifaceted issue compounded by ineffective institutions, racist stereotyping, superficially responsive media reporting, and by governments who consistently refuse to listen to evidence, best practice, and the voices of Indigenous people; if we understand that and also recognise the dehumanising effects of the exclusion or removal of Indigenous people as appropriate framers and participants in the conversation, then we can also encourage multifaceted conversations in all of these areas simultaneously.

We can realise that this is not a zero sum game, and that all of these issues are interwoven. And most importantly we can ensure that Indigenous voices remain central to the conversation. It is our lives under the microscope, our children placed at risk, and our futures that hang in the balance.

That doesn’t mean that every Indigenous person will offer realistic solutions to the problem, but neither will every white person so that is nothing to fear. What it does mean though is that we not be able to be turned into dehumanised caricatures. People will not be able to deny us our humanity and in turn, further deny us our human rights. At least, they won’t be able to do so without looking in the very human faces of those who they would attack.

If we can do this, then we can open up the conversation beyond the scope of white people calling each other racist, and we can explore nuanced considerations of complicated issues. And don’t worry, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for this to happen.

There have always been Indigenous people more than willing and more than capable of having these conversations and providing this nuance. What has been lacking is ample opportunities for them to engage in the national dialogue.

We can have conversations about what happens when children are removed from their families and communities, and strive to ensure that every effort has been made to ensure this only ever happens as a last resort. A little like the RCIADIC recommended sentencing as a last resort.

We can understand that the responses to this are not only related to parental responsibility, but to the quality of education, employment opportunities, housing services, healthcare, and government policy. We can strive to ensure that these responses are consistent with national standards and expectations and with our obligations under domestic and international law. Most importantly we can understand that any institutional response that achieves woefully poor outcomes in achieving the goal of rehabilitation is one that is in serious need of restructuring.

We can also have conversations about home conditions of children and families and explore ways in which we can support families to ensure that, wherever possible, children are able to remain at home with their families. In far too many instances it would achieve much better outcomes, and would be infinitely more cost effective, to provide basic family support services than removing children would. In those instances where this is not possible it would lead us back to the previous conversation about basic assurances that children were removed as a last resort, and that the places they will be sent will be safer places that will provide for their basic needs and respect their basic human rights.

These conversations would inevitably lead us to question why governments place far greater resources into child removal than they do into family support. It would inspire us to listen to those people who work within these systems, and those families who are affected by them, in an effort to improve the conditions experienced by children, by families, and by staff who very often do not endorse the government policies that they are forced to enact.

Demonising Indigenous people and ridiculing them within the media does not encourage these conversations. It never has and it never will. What that does instead is set a tone for superficial and punitive responses that are based on the assumption that Aboriginal parents are an inherent danger to Aboriginal children. Once that is asserted as the starting point for the conversation, any number of horrific and inhumane responses become justified and reinforced by feelings that at least ‘something is being done’ because clearly they can’t do anything themselves. This is what has led us to the current situations we now face.

If, instead, the conversation is one that acknowledges that this is not a zero sum game. If we are mature enough to understand that the conversation is much more complicated than ‘Who do we blame?’, then we can discuss the correlation between history and present. We can recognise that the research and reports that are consistently ignored by governments further compound the issues faced by Indigenous people and communities. We can respect the efforts being made by Indigenous people, organisations, and any number of professionals and public servants to achieve the best possible outcomes in the face of flawed government policies and inadequate funding. AND we can also recognise that there are children and families in need of support. We can appreciate that there will be times when there is simply no other option but to remove children from their families, and we can demand assurances that when this is done there was every effort made to support these families. We can demand assurances that the places these children are taken to will not end up doing just as much, or worse, damage to them than the reasons why they were removed in the first place.

If we can get to that point, then perhaps we can also recognise the very real impacts of intergenerational trauma. We can understand that the government, and our society at large has no small amount of culpability in the conditions that too many Indigenous people face every day, and not just because of ‘what happened 200 years ago’. The NT Intervention wasn’t 200 years ago, and neither were the abuses at Don Dale. The last Royal Commission that the government ignored wasn’t 200 years ago, and neither was the last time government pulled funding from frontline services. The racist attempts to demonise and dehumanise Aboriginal lives didn’t stop 200 years ago. The efforts made by Aboriginal people to assert our humanity and our rights didn’t stop 200 years ago either.

These are all very real issues that all have a very real impact on the likelihood that we will ever find satisfactory responses to these difficult conversations and realities.

If we want humane responses in Indigenous Affairs then we need to view Indigenous people with humanity. We also need to understand that is not an outcome in and of itself, it merely creates the necessary conditions for us to identify exactly what those responses should be and ensure that they are not only consistent with basic human rights but are also targeted to achieve meaningful outcomes. If we fail to do this then all the reports, Royal Commissions, and rallies in the world won’t get us any closer to actually implementing their recommendations. It won’t get us any closer to understanding humanising Indigenous people cannot be done without centring Indigenous voices within the conversation.

This will not only help us to ‘close the gap’ (or whatever tag line is your personal favourite), it will help the rest of Australia finally come to terms with its own history and allow them to finally play a positive role of finding solutions for problems they have long sought to ‘fix’ while simultaneously denying any responsibility for helping to create.

‘If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’.

Recognise our humanity. Do not seek to remove us from this conversation.