Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pat (Patricia) Dixon (?-2001)

Photo: Pat (Patricia) Dixon

Note to readers: the story that follows is drawn from the Australian Women biographical entry with some personal additions.

A Dainggatti woman, Pat Dixon was born on the Macleay River near Kempsey and raised on a reserve near Bellbrook, presumably the Nulla Nulla Reserve.

Her extended family included many aunts and uncles, nine sisters and three brothers, but Patricia was separated from her family at the age of 13. Sent away by the Aboriginal Welfare Board, she worked in domestic service in a wealthy private home in Sydney.

The Australian Women's biography entry suggests that as an Aboriginal person growing up in the 1950s, she was excluded from high school. I think that this is factually incorrect in the way it reads, although I have to check the details. In any event, Pat's initial education was limited to primary school, returning to study later as a mature age student.

After working in Sydney for several years, Patricia married Doug Dixon and had two sons, Graham and Douglas. The family soon moved to Armidale, a city with strong Dainggatti connections (Bellbrook and Armidale are relatively close) reinforced by in-migration during the 1950s.

Patricia worked first as a cleaner. She joined the Labor party in the late 70’s, and her involvement in local politics began. Much of her work since then focussed on enhancing Aboriginal involvement in local governance and mainstream civic affairs.

In 1983 she was elected to Armidale City Council, becoming the first Aboriginal person elected to local government in NSW. I first became aware of Pat as a Council member both from the local newspaper (The Armidale Express) and then directly after I returned to Armidale to live in the middle of 1987. In all, Pat spent over 17 years on the Armidale City Council as a member including, for three years, Deputy Mayor.

Working with Lowitje (Lois) O’Donoghue, Pat saw numbers of Aboriginal people participating in local councils nationally build to over 600 in 1998. She also worked for the Australian Local Government Association (Canberra) and the Department of Local Government in NSW. She served as Chairperson of the Armidale & District Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place; was a member of the NSW State Committee for Reconciliation; and was the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Armidale at the time of her death.

In 1997, Pat was pre-selected by the Australian Labour Party in the seat of New England, becoming the first Aboriginal woman federal candidate for the ALP. She passed away on 30 September 2001 just before the election was called.

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