Alan is a Wiradjuri, Eora and Yorta Yorta man who supports Indigenous men incarcerated at Fulham Correctional Centre. He works between VACRO’s Time to Work Employment Service and the Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Yawal Mugadjina Cultural Mentoring Program, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to forge new paths for themselves.

Read on to learn more about Alan’s experience, career and motivation. 

Late last year you received two significant awards – the Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Elder of the Year 2019 and the Aboriginal Justice Committee’s East Gippsland Elder of the Year 2019. Congratulations! What does your recognition mean for the men you work with?

It means that there is hope. When I first started going into Fulham [Correctional Centre], I talked about the ripples in the pond. That’s one thing about men. Women will think about something before they do it. A man, he’ll do it first. Later on is too late to think. I try to instil in our men about the ripples. Drop a stone – a good thing, a bad thing, anything – but be mindful of what our actions do. Every action has a reaction and an interaction; good things or bad things, that’s what people need to think about.

One thing people don’t realise about our elders is their main purpose in life is to enhance life. Maintain, sustain and continue life.

I moved here in 2013. I was an alcoholic, a drug addict. I went to South Australia to reconnect with my granddaughter. I hadn’t seen her in eight years. I came home and started thinking about paying respects to elders. What is the legacy I’ve got for these kids? I didn’t have a legacy. All I was was a bad memory. People couldn’t wait to see the back of me. [But] things started to change. I was very fortunate.

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

A justice system that is just, regarding Aboriginal people. The thing that I know is the justice system has failed our people in so many ways. The system… it doesn’t see things through our vision. That’s one of the biggest failings.

I don’t want the system to fall. I want it to be just. I want to stop deaths in custody. I want children to stop being taken. The inquiry [into deaths in custody] took ten years to make 339 recommendations. How many of those have been put in place? Six. It costs all that time and money to lay down six recommendations. Where’s the sanity in that?

"I try to do the best I can for my people. I want to see equality across the board." — Alan Coe

My main role and function is the wellbeing and enhancement and advancement of our people. When I say this, let’s take a fact that’s starting to be looked at. How much in resources have been removed from the land since settlement? How much in resources [have been] made from the land? The Murray River systems are dying because of the farming system. Because the amount of animals on them [that] they’re feeding and breeding and trying to grow. I don’t have a problem with that, but they haven’t learned. Look at all the mining that’s going on here. When will they realise the land we walk around on is a living entity? A living being. See that grass out there; those trees? If it wasn’t alive, they wouldn’t be here; we wouldn’t be here.

People don’t want to recognise the ingenuity of Aboriginal people. You know why we’re still here? That ingenuity. People forget how we live. Dr Suzuki said the Indigenous people of the world have the answers to environmental problems.

What’s a message you’d like to share with VACRO’s community?

I want you to understand there’s unfinished business for our people. We have the highest imprisonment rate for Indigenous men. Highest male suicide rate. Highest rates of childhood illnesses in the world.

These resources that they’re taking out of the land – we haven’t seen a drop in seven buckets. It’s disgusting. This is our big struggle. My purpose is to sustain and enhance our lives. I’m just doing the best I can. I try to do the best I can for my people. I want to see equality across the board. People weren’t meant to be destructive. People were meant to live life. Enjoy life.

Learn more about VACRO's work supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people