Dodson, Patrick

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According to the account given in chapters 11-13 of Chatwin's The Songlines, Dodson (called Dan Flynn by Chatwin) was a foundling, left in a store at Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, by an unknown mother. When he was six he was sent to the Benedictine mission at Cygnet Bay. He showed great intellectual gifts and a dedication to the Church, and trained for the priesthood. In 1969 he was ordained. After further study in Rome he returned to Australia and was sent to Boongaree Mission to prepare to be the first Aboriginal to take sole charge of a mission station. From then until being sent to Roe River Mission in October 1976, he and one of the two priests in charge at Boongaree were in constant conflict, as Dodson became more politicized and identified more with Aboriginal people and less with Europeans. At Roe River he quickly completed the transformation to activist and left the priesthood soon after, moving to Alice Springs.

While Chatwin's Flynn is based on Dodson's story, the facts of his life are somewhat different and less romantic. He was borne in Broome and lived with his parents until 1960 when they died. He and his younger brother Michael were then sent to boarding school to finish their education. Patrick went on to seminary and was ordained in 1975 and was a parish priest for five years.

In 1981 he left the priesthood and has since been an Aboriginal rights activist, civil servant and member of a number of official commissions concerned with Aboriginal affairs. He is former director of both the Central Land Council and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and was a member of the Australian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.


Chatwin, Bruce. The Songlines. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987)
Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, Society and Culture, general editor David Horton. (Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1994)
Who's Who in Australia 2001. (Melbourne: Information Australia Group, 2000)
Shakespeare, Nicholas. Bruce Chatwin. (London: Harvill in association with Jonathan Cape, 1999)
Dodson, Patrick. "Reconciliation and Social Justice Library: Telstra Address: Address to the National Press Club, November 28, 1997 ..." Available at:
Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Australia, general editors John Arnold and Deirdre Morris. (Port Melbourne: Reed Reference Publishing, 1994)
Walker, Frank. "Ex-Priest May Unravel Black Deaths in Jail," Sun Herald, 30 July 1989, p. 28
Dodson, Patrick. "Address to the National Press Club, Canberra, April 1996." Available at:


Australian Aboriginal
20th Century
21st Century
Civil Rights, Advocacy
Government, Politics, Civil Service, Public Administration
Birth Identity Disputed or Deliberately Concealed
Ethnic or Religious Identity Confused or Concealed, Racism
Figures Whose Adoption or Fostering Is Fictitious, Disputed or Unconfirmed
School-age Years, Adolescence
Orphaned (Both Parents)
Foundlings and Feral Children
Trans-Racial, Trans-Tribal, International or Trans-Cultural Adoption or Fostering
Institutional Care
Other or Unknown Reasons for Serial Placement
Parent(s) Died, Disappeared or Became Incapacitated
Birth Siblings Placed Together
Tracing Impossible or Birth Family Extinct
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