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.
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