I have to confess that Noel Pearson is one of my favourite writers. This collection of writings* brings together various speeches and articles from roughly the mid 990’s through to 2008.
The first part has some memories of his origins at Hope Vale and some of the characters who were part of that community. The paper, “Anthropology and Tradition”, from 1987 was already highlighting both the alienation many Aboriginal people felt from white society as well the “exploitation and parasitism” that continued within Aboriginal societies. This exploitation depended on myths which have been created and perpetuated by anthropologists and other white ‘experts’ (p23). Myths that have been internalised by Aborigines, especially with regard to alcohol and Aboriginal identity.
The second part, “Fighting Old Enemies”, contains lectures an papers to do with land rights, Native Title, Mabo, and include a strong paper related to the 2002 ‘Yorta Yorta’ High Court decision which in Pearson’s view “misinterpreted the definition of native title under the Native Title Act” (p100). Some valuable historical and legal reflections here.
The third part, “Challenging Old Friends”, contains a variety of papers related to the passive welfare debate. Pearson was one of the first to draw attention to the failure of the welfare system and its contribution to the terrible state of remote communities. These lectures and papers all date from 2000 and later and form a crucial deposit of intellectual and social debate on this vexed question.
The fourth part, “The Quest for a Radical Centre”, includes a paper discussing black rights in the US, Barack Obama and the situation in Australia. It also contains articles about Cape York and more on passive welfare. This from 2007 is typical, “In an article about the Aurukun rape case, academic Marcia Langton wrote, ‘It would be a fair bet that each of the adults who pleaded guilty to raping this child was receiving a government social security or Community Development Employment Program payment. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that dysfunctional Aboriginal behaviour is financially supported by government funding.’ Langton identified the nub of the problem in remote communities: government funds dysfunctional behaviour and there is no connection between what a person or a community does and the income they receive. Money for nothing – passive welfare – is in the long term corrosive.” (p287). Other articles include the Intervention, and Jobs and Homes.
The last part, “Our Place in the Nation”, includes articles about people hood, identity and language. He also take issue with both sides of the political debate and again pleads for an economic development paradigm.
Not included in the collection is the2009 Quarterly Essay, “Radical Hope”**. Pearson’s thesis is that “Our hope is dependent upon education.” (p11). And education depends on good teachers. Not those with good personalities and inspiring pastoral relationships, but those who are effective instructors. This is a big part of Pearson’s thesis. He strongly promotes Direct Instruction, a teaching method that goes back to Ziggy Englelmann.
Controversial as you might expect, but stimulating and challenging and written by someone who has worked hard to try these idea out in his Cape York Institute. This is an essay worth reading – and not only by educators.
*Noel Pearson, Up From the Mission: Selected Writings. Black Inc 2009. ISBN 9781863954280
**Noel Pearson, Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia. Quarterly Essay Issue 35, 2009. ISBN 9781863954440