Two Cultures, One Story by Dr Robert Isaacs with Tanaz Byrami

One man making a difference.

‘I don’t know what my earliest memory is. I don’t think anyone really does. What I know is what I’ve been told – that I was born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth and taken straight to St Joseph’s Orphanage.’

Dr Robert Francis Isaacs AM, OAM, PhD (Hon) has dedicated his life to breaking down cultural barriers and bridging the divide between black and white Australia. He was taken from his mother as a baby, raised as an orphan in institutions, unaware that he was Aboriginal. In this memoir, he writes of his life: raised to adulthood by the Christian Brothers, determined to find his own way once he left Clontarf.

Robert Isaacs was a member of the Stolen Generations and was unaware that he had a large extended family living nearby. A chance encounter, while surveying families in the slums of East Perth, changed his life:

‘Robert! We know you, we know you, you’re one of our people!’

Determined to embrace his culture and to build on both his religious faith and education, Robert Isaacs immersed himself in the world of Aboriginal health and housing, proving himself able to negotiate real and practical outcomes.

I kept reading, about quiet and positive achievements in education, home ownership, and justice. I kept reading, about a man who has found a place bridging a gap between two cultures with differing values.

‘We had elders, not leaders.’

This is a personal narrative, of the life of an inspirational Noongar figure, of a man who has worked within existing systems to make a positive difference.  I read of his introduction of the rent warranty system, which saved Aboriginal tenants from eviction and of the purchase system which increased the available housing stock. In the early 1990s, Dr Isaacs became the first Aboriginal person elected to local government as a councillor for the City of Gosnells. I read of his other achievements, and I read of his heartbreak when he received a ‘phone call advising him that his mother (whom he had not met) had died and was to be buried later that same day. He never got to know his mother.

‘If I had one message for all the Aboriginal people in our community, it would be this. Your voice is important: use it to be a role model and to be influential, and use that influence for good.’

Dr Isaacs has retired now to Broome where his wife Teresa has extended family.

I finished this book full of admiration for Dr Isaacs and his achievements.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


7 thoughts on “Two Cultures, One Story by Dr Robert Isaacs with Tanaz Byrami

  1. Congratulations, Jennifer, yours is the first contribution to #IndigLitWeek 2021 at ANZLitlovers!
    (I know, it doesn’t start till July 4th, but I am always very flexible about the date.)
    Could you please visit and add your name, the name of your blog and the URL for this post, and then I will upload it to both the Reviews page and the ANZLL Indigenous Literature Reading List.
    Thank you!
    PS I’m reading this one myself, but I’m only just up to Chapter 4.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, that phone call is heart-breaking. I can’t imagine being stolen from your family and then suddenly discovering years later that your mother has died before you even had a chance to meet her. It sounds as if Dr Isaacs had a remarkable life. Thanks for writing about this one, Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

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