WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following story contains images of deceased persons.
The sanctified lessons of the universe have a magical way of connecting us with thoughts and imaginations that have laid dormant and imprisoned for years.
Such was the case as my mind and heart turned to Father’s Day.
I never knew my biological father, Eric Morgan. He was taken from us in the 1950 flood that inundated my birth community of Walgett when I was only 12 months old.
My father and a sister drowned in the flood after a boating accident as my father was heading out to a shearing shed to do an inspection.
My mother witnessed the unfolding of this tragedy as she stood, with me in her arms, on the banks of the flooded backwater, metres from the dwelling that we called home.
Even though I was present during this tragedy, I have long loved and been fascinated by the resilience of my mother and the manner in which she dealt with the tragedy of losing both a husband and a daughter.
I attribute all that I do that is good, to her unconditional love and teachings.
The tragedy has left a lifelong vacuum for me because it robbed me of the opportunity to have the conversations that sons have with their father.
We never got to laugh, to cry, and he wasn’t there to disciplined or praise me, or to help me learn the life lessons that are handed down from father to son.
My father was a Gumilaroi man and a shearing contractor.
An Aboriginal shearing contractor was a rarity in those days when Aboriginal people were ruled by the infamous Aboriginal Welfare Board that controlled our business affairs and other aspects of life.
It was a time in Australian and human history when Aboriginal people were denied the same rights and freedoms that non-Aboriginal Australians enjoyed as their birthright.
Even though times have changed and progress continues to be made (albeit at glacial pace) so much more is required if Australia is to assume the venerated mantle of a just and noble society, especially in respect to First Nations people.
Each year as Father’s Day approaches, and especially as I continue to age, I find myself thinking about how my life might have been different had my father not been taken from us when I was so young.
The void created by his absence was filled by a wonderful and loving step-father who provided some of the life lessons that only a father can deliver.
But even with this wonderful man in my life I have always felt cheated by the unpredictability of existence.
Whilst honouring the father figures in my life, it would be totally remiss and disrespectful of me to not acknowledge my mother, Edith Morgan. She was the one who kept me grounded and ultimately laid the foundations for what has been a relatively privileged life.
In one of those quirky synergies that invades our space every so often, especially in those moments when life can be at its darkest, music brings solace and comfort.
And so it was that my moments of recent reflection were penetrated by a song from the 1980s, Mike and The Mechanic’s In the Living Years.
The haunting lyrics of the song are a poignant reminder of how easy it is to get lost in life’s maze and that all too often there are words unspoken and dreams unfulfilled.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I have spent so many years working with other Aboriginal men who also struggle to give meaning to their lives and who strive to fix the broken and flawed man within.
It is also possibly why I have been a friend and colleague of the work of the men’s rehabilitation and treatment centre, The Glen, on the Central Coast of NSW.
The men who find themselves entering The Glen have been damaged in so many ways and judging and demonising them serves little purpose as they learn to deal with responsibility and ultimately find pathways to their rehabilitation.
I am now a Septuagenarian, an old man who has lived and loved as a son, a brother, a partner, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather.
And even though I am as flawed as the next man I have worked hard to develop and maintain a loving and nurturing relationship with those I share life’s journey with.
This journey hasn’t always been easy and there are regrets that haunt me as I continue to age but there is atonement and hopefully forgiveness for the transgressions committed along the way.
So, as we celebrate Father’s Day this year, reach out and tell your Dad, or the man who has helped define the path of your mortal journey, that they are loved. Even if they have passed, they will still hear your words. Regrets are hard to live with.
Professor Bob Morgan is a Gumilaroi man from Walgett in western NSW.