Interview: Allan Cook
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Interview by Melina Simpson
Caboolture’s Allan Cook is a man who has rewritten the narrative of his life, consciously deciding that if he was going to do something worthwhile, it would be on his own terms, for his own fortitude. Allan could be forgiven for choosing the troubled life – an easy option for someone who led a traumatic childhood. But that’s not a thought he ever allows to enter his mind.
Allan was a ward of the state from the age of seven, fostered out to different families after his own mother was deemed unfit to parent. He had no idea he was indigenous until he was visited by Aborginal Affairs at St. Patrick’s College, where he attended high school. Initially confused, he accepted an ABSTUDY scholarship to continue his studies. He distinctly remembers the moment he made the decision which would shape his life.
“I was standing at the sink washing the dishes, looking out the window of the house where I lived with a foster family,” he recalled. “I had a conversation with myself saying ‘No-one is going to help you here - you’ve got to do it for yourself.’ I was 13 years old.”
A huge call for a young man to make. Deciding to commit himself to his studies, Allan was determined to make something of his life and never revisit those early years. “I basically built a wall around myself, and standing there, wearing yellow dishwashing gloves, I said, ‘This is the direction I want to go and this is how I’m going to do it.’”
Allan remained true to his commitment, and was accepted into university to study Law and Medicine, which he deferred to join the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). He felt a burning desire to serve his country, so following his time in ADFA, he became a Police Officer. After 22 years of dedication to the force, Allan has never regretted the decisions he’s made. “For me, success equals satisfaction,” he said. “If I go to work and I’ve helped one person, I’ve had a good day. I have a great life and a great family. I don’t have a need for anything else.”
Allan is hesitant to delve further into his Indigenous heritage, as it would mean breaking down the powerfully built walls surrounding his past. While working in Gladstone, he became aware that his family name, Wenitong, represented Aboriginals of the area, but he didn’t want those stones further unturned. Allan is, however, using his cultural ties to help the troubled Indigenous youth of today, particularly in remote areas. “It’s about educating them, sitting down and saying ‘Look, I went through the same thing – don’t make these mistakes that I made. Make a positive decision because in the end it’s up to you,’” he explained emphatically.
He wants today’s Indigenous youth to reconnect with their elders, and feels that education in cultural awareness, Aboriginal Lore and the significance of elders is required.
Allan also believes that education in schools is of vital importance for Australia as a nation to move forward in terms of multicultural acceptance. “An unbiased, apolitical education system for all children, so that they can make their own decisions and form their own opinions,” he described. “All Australians need to be mature about this – we need to push ahead and step up. And I don’t think we’re ready to make the leap yet.”
Allan would also love to see a greater representation of Indigenous Australians in politics. He sees this as a way for our nation to progress and push Australia in a positive direction. “We need to be a bit more mature in our approach to Reconciliation,” he says. “It will take time to develop and nurture our culture and our direction as modern day Australians. But if you continue to look back – you lose.”
If you look back, you lose. The ethos to the narrative of Allan Cook’s life so far.