I can still hear the sound of the prison doors clanking shut as we wheeled the last road case into Kalgoorlie Gaol. It was an eerie sound, and one we were not used to. Our family band was due to give a free concert to the inmates.
I will never forget that gaol. It was the first gaol we ever played at as a family. It was also the first time that I had met Aboriginal Elder, Ps Ron Williams, who himself was also a musician. It was the first time I had ever seen a gold smelter built next to a gaol (crazy if you ask me). Ultimately, that meeting with Ron Williams would change my life and change Australia’s history, but on with the story.
Our family went on to play 18 more concerts at gaols across Australia, including the infamous gaols such as Pentridge in Melbourne, famous as Ned Kelly’s burial place. Pentridge was the same gaol that housed the last execution by hanging in 1967.
Other gaols we played at included maximum security Berrima Gaol in Darwin, Goulburn and Long Bay (Sydney) Gaols, to name a few. At that stage we did not know that gaols are basically homes for fatherless men.
But as I said, Kalgoorlie may have been the most important, because meeting Ron Williams, Aboriginal Elder, ultimately changed my life and changed yours too.
What do you mean, Warwick? I’ve never heard of Ron Williams and I certainly have never met him!
You may have never met Ps Ron Williams, but yet you have met him because you have met me through these weekly blog posts. These weekly blog posts or the Dads4Kids weekly newsletter would not exist without Ron’s inspiration and encouragement. Frederick Nietzsche was right to say,
“What was silent in the father speaks in the son,
and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father.”
Ron was a very gentle and wise man. It was he who told me first about Australia being a fatherless country. A gigantic prison for the refuse of England. Australia was never ‘Father England’ but always ‘Mother England’. Our Father was nowhere to be seen, at least in that moment of time anyway.
Ron told me, in my frequent trips to the desert, that Australia still suffers with a spirit of rejection and fatherlessness. He pointed out how the USA soldiers in WWII were shocked with the use of the Australian term ‘bastard’. For them it meant a fatherless child and worse besides, but to the Aussie soldier it was a term of endearment.
Ron’s thoughts and observations about life and spiritual things began to slowly permeate my white western brain. Not only that, they also got into my heart.
Ron didn’t just talk his words, he lived them. He was a father to the fatherless. The men in Kalgoorlie gaol loved him. The street people of Kalgoorlie loved him and the prostitutes loved him too. He would often visit the Hay Street brothels with his wife to give each of the girls a red rose and tell them they were special and that God loved them.
To those girls, Ps Ron Williams was the loving father they never had. Ron was loving to all he met and became as much to me too; such was the well of love springing from his heart in the middle of all the human suffering he witnessed on a daily basis. I had a great dad, but I have already shared my own story of fatherlessness many times in past articles.
Growing up, the ‘father water’ was low, as it is for most young men these days. ‘Father water’ is a term used by Robert Bly in his groundbreaking book Iron John. Because my father water was low, I actively looked for father figures I could look up to.
Ps Ron Williams was one of those men. I had four of what I would call spiritual fathers. Another was Aboriginal elder and preacher Peter Morgan, a powerful man of prayer and faith; and the third was Ps Bill Beard, a white pastor who himself had spent a lot of time working with Aboriginal people. My own Dad would be number four.
Interestingly, my dad had a lot to do with Aboriginal people, so much so, that as a young boy in the sixties, I was called a ‘boong lover’, a derogatory term I still carry with pride today. My Dad was a man with a big heart and a pioneer in Aboriginal reconciliation. ‘Like father like son’ was true for a number of reasons.
We all need spiritual fathers who are wellsprings of love. This is especially the case if we were ourselves fatherless in any measure.
I would argue that it is wisdom to seek out wise men as so-called ‘spiritual fathers’ or ‘wise mentors’, whether you are fatherless or not.
Paul the Apostle wrote about the importance of ‘spiritual fathers’. Jonas Clark said, “Spiritual fathers transfer a wealth of knowledge to their sons and daughters through the spirit of wisdom.” Proverbs says, “He that walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed.” To have a spiritual father in your life is a gift from God. Your response to that gift will determine much of what happens in your future.”
In the case of Ps Ron Williams, this quote is extremely accurate. His declaration in a meeting at Parliament House in 1998 that ‘Australia’s greatest need was for fathers in the home, fathers in the community, fathers in the church and in both the political and business worlds’ was the inspiration for the founding of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation on 1 May 2002.
But it wasn’t just his words that released Dads4Kids into the Earth, it was the fact that Ron Williams was what he said he was. Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must become the change you seek.” This was the truth of Ron Williams’ life, and it became our truth too.
Fast forward to 2020. COVID-19 had hit Australia hard. Many families were struggling and businesses too. Dads4Kids had engaged a next-generation father, Paul Lassig, as a Business Development Manager to take Dads4Kids to the next level. It seemed that in spite of all our hard work, Dads4Kids would become a coronavirus casualty. ‘Money became too tight to mention,’ and Dads4Kids had to fall back to half-pay JobKeeper in June, yet Paul kept bravely working full-time.
In the middle of all this drama, one of my Indigenous friends offered a matching grant if the Dads4Kids donors could rise to the occasion. Not only did they do so, with more besides, but they gave sacrificially to keep the dream of Ps Ron Williams alive (see above thank-you video for details).
My message to you, as a loyal supporter of Dads4Kids, is a huge Thank You! Your donations have saved Dads4Kids from extinction. What seemed like the end of Dads4Kids has become a new beginning.
Thank you for your prayers, your support and your generosity and kindness. Together, we can make a difference for Australia’s children!
Keep your eyes open for men of integrity who you can learn from and aspire to.
We all need spiritual fathers, no matter how young or old we are. Such men are often quite rare. When you discover them, find ways to spend time with them. Trust me, you will never regret it.
Yours for more Spiritual Fathers,
PS: Speaking about spending time with wise men, we invite you to SAVE THE DATE for the Men’s Leadership Summit, Saturday 8 August 2020. COVID-19 has prevented us holding a men’s gathering at a physical location, but we will be able to hold a one-day online summit.
Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.
Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”
The Fatherhood Foundation Incorporated trading as Dads4Kids is a Harm Prevention Charity listed under Subdivision 30_EA of the Australian Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 with Tax Deductible Status (DGR) for donations
Dads4Kids – Building Men. Growing Fathers. Changing Generations.