The farce and the spurious

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about Patrick Dodson ... and inadvertently started the chain of events that has unfairly and absurdly led to Dodson, now a Senator, being hounded by questions about whether he, the most prominent Aboriginal man in the nation, might be a dual citizen.

My column, published in March, 2016, was about the Pat Dodson I knew when, in the 1960s, we attended the same big boarding school, Monivae College in Hamilton, western Victoria.

Dodson was elected by the boys as captain of the school. He was known as "Paddy".

His brother, who also attended the school and became a prefect and house captain before attaining his own national profile, was named Mick.

It was a Catholic school. Most of the students had some form of Irish heritage, and those days, many of us spoke of our families as "Irish Australian", despite their having been in Australia for generations.

Possibly to explain to ourselves how two Indigenous boys named Paddy and Mick, raised in the Northern Territory, could become leaders of our Catholic school, the story that became accepted was that their father must have had Irish heritage. Precisely where the story came from is buried by time.

All we knew was that both parents had died some years before, and that the boys were orphans.

And so, when Paddy Dodson was chosen by the Labor Party as a Senate candidate for Western Australia last year, I devoted my column to my early memories of him. We had, from time to time, kept in touch, and I had undertaken an extensive interview with him, back at the old school, in 2012.

The column, headlined "Aboriginal elder Pat Dodson: portrait of the senator as a young man", offered a line or two about his heritage. Embedded within it was a term that has since been repeated by other journalists, political figures, and Wikipedia.

"Born in Broome to an Irish-Australian father, Snowy Dodson, and an Indigenous mother, Patricia, his family had fled across state borders to Katherine, in the Northern Territory, when Pat was a two-year-old baby," I wrote. Their love had been deemed a crime in WA - Snowy had been jailed for 18 months, years before, for "cohabiting with a native woman", the Dodson children's mother.

All of it was accurate - except the term Irish-Australian, which could not be established.

Even a biography of Senator Dodson written by his chief of staff Kevin Keeffe had left open the question of "Snowy" Dodson's origins.

"Supposedly from Launceston, Tasmania, Snowy has left no track of his birth, family or schooling," Mr Keeffe wrote in the 2003 book Paddy's Road: Life Stories of Patrick Dodson, adding that the family had "no clues and no family connection has come forward".

Nevertheless, in the current hysteria about politicians who might be dual citizens, the term "Irish-Australian" has been re-used to embroil Senator Dodson in the controversy.

He has now produced documents from the most painful period of his childhood showing clear evidence that his father, John Dodson, was, in fact, born in Launceston.

Senator Dodson, pretty clearly, was not a dual citizen, Irish or otherwise.

It remains unknown whether John "Snowy" Dodson had Irish heritage further back in his family line.

The only documented Irish heritage in Senator Dodson's complicated family story is through his Indigenous mother, he said in a statement. And that goes back to his great-grandfather, Joe Fagan, who arrived in Australia in 1857.

This story The farce and the spurious first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.