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Noel: a man of words and action

By Stephen Hagan - posted Monday, 23 July 2007

I preface my comments on Noel Pearson, lawyer and Cape York Institute Director by saying that I don’t know him personally although, like most Australians who follow the evening news, I feel like I do from the saturation media coverage over the years on his views about Indigenous welfare dependency and child abuse.

I’ve only fleetingly come in contact with him at conferences or in airport lounges where a cursory nod of the head in acknowledgement or hasty handshake is the only direct contact I can recall. I do however know his brother Gerhardt on a more personal level through sporting and political contacts (more on that later).

Mind you, approaching Noel Pearson to share my views on social issues, from a position of rapport deficiency, is about as awkward for me as waiting in line to get a few words with Melbourne Storm’s Indigenous rugby league superstar Greg Ingliss.


The latter identity was spotted by me recently at a Brisbane domestic airport newsagency surrounded by a gathering of adoring autograph-chasing fans the morning after he played undoubtedly his finest game of the year against the North Queensland Cowboys.

Noel, I guess, is an enigmatic person, like sports star Ingliss or any other celebrity whom you think you know but really don’t: who you’d like to corner for ten exclusive minutes to ask a succession of probing questions that you’ve stored for years on a range of issues. Do you vote Labor or Liberal? Why don’t you work with Indigenous communities outside north Queensland? Why didn’t you practice law and become an eminent judicial figure? What do you do to relax away from politics? Did you excel in sport? Why do some people think you’re aloof? And do you really have a direct line to the Prime Minister John Howard and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie?

Noel, a handsomely robust, charismatic man, commands attention in much the same way as Galarrwuy Yunupingu, former Chairman of the Northern Land Council did when he was of a comparable age and was sharing and acquitting his precious time in divergent political and traditional worlds with distinction.

There are rafts of issues I am not fully accommodating of that Noel espouses in his utopian world of Indigenous vocation and empowerment, but two issues on which I emphatically offer him my total support are his stalwart views on child protection and education.

Of the thousands of words declared on these topics by him over the years there are none more empowering than the interview he shared with ABC AM Radio on June 20, 2007 (listen to audio available here). He challenged those who say management of Indigenous communities is racist-based intervention.

"Ask the terrified kid huddling in the corner when there's a binge drinking party going on down the hall. Ask them if they want a bit of paternalism.


"Ask them if they want a bit of intervention because these people who continue to bleat without looking at the facts, without facing up to the terrible things that are going on in our remote communities, these people are prescribing no intervention, they are prescribing a perpetual hell to our children."

The most poignant point raised by Noel, and the one that moved me the most and the reason I’m penning this article today, was his challenge to his critics to spend a night or nights in these “hell holes” during a CDEP pay night.

From these choice words Noel left nothing to the imagination for his critics to ponder: the unmistakeable gut-wrenchingly screams of pain and pleas for help from the most vulnerable members of the community; women and children, when the inebriated perpetrators are lustfully and violently abusing them.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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