About Noel Pearson

Noel Pearson was born in 1965 in Cooktown into the Baagarmuugu (Little Red Flying Fox) clan of south-eastern Cape York Peninsula, he comes from the Guugu Yimithirr community of Hope Vale where he spent his early years.


Noel completed his high school education at St Peter’s College, Brisbane, on a Lutheran scholarship, and was the first Aboriginal Cape York student to attend Sydney University, graduating in 1993 with degrees in Law and History.

In 1990, while still at university, Noel co-founded the Cape York Land Council and in 1993, following the High Court of Australia’s Mabo decision, launched the Wik Native Title Claim in the Federal court, resulting in Queensland’s first successful land claim. In that same year, he and a group of Indigenous leaders negotiated with the Keating Labour government to establish the Native Title Act, which was passed in the Senate on December 21, 1993. He was Executive Director for the Cape York Land Council until retiring from the position in 1996.

In 1995 Noel and several Cape York Indigenous leaders established an 'Indigenous Business Institute' (IBI), which later became Jawun, a non-profit organisation which manages secondments from the corporate and public sectors to a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partner organisations across Australia.

At the age of 35, Noel made the decision to eschew a potential career in Federal politics believing he could work more effectively as an indigenous leader outside of the political system.

At this time, he published the paper Our right to take responsibility (2000) critiquing the impact of three decades of Aboriginal policy and welfare dependence in Australia and arguing for profound structural change and new forms of Aboriginal governance to combat the devastating effects of what he terms ‘passive welfare’.

Acting to address these issues he founded the Cape York Institute and the Cape York Partnership in July 2004; not for profit organisations dedicated to the development of policy and leadership programs designed to end passive welfare and empower Cape York indigenous residents to improve their own lives.

In May 2007, Noel, in his role as Director of the Cape York Institute, presented a report entitled From Hand Out to Hand Up to the Federal Government which details a series of radical recommendations for welfare reform in Cape York indigenous communities. The report led to the implementation of the Cape York Reform Trial in 2008 which introduced conditional welfare payments and other reforms into four Cape York communities including the establishment of The Families Responsibilities Commission (FRC).

Tackling the issue of education, his Quarterly Essay: Radical hope – Education and equality in Australia (2009) was shortlisted for the John Button Prize in 2010, and he subsequently founded Good to Great Schools Australia in partnership with Australian government and non-government education systems and communities in Qld, WA and the NT.


The first decade of this century saw Noel take a radical centrist stance to the question of indigenous rights and empowerment, publishing White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre in 2007 which was shortlisted for several national awards including Best Australian Political Writing 2009 and Best Australian Essays 2010.


He went on to deliver the 2016 Keith Murdoch Oration on the topic "Still hunting the radical centre: Revisiting Daniel Patrick Moynihan 50 years later".

Noel served as a member of the Expert Panel for the Recognition of Indigenous Australians (2010) and was appointed to the Referendum Council in 2015. His Quarterly Essay: A rightful place (2014) advocates substantial constitutional change intended to facilitate inclusion of Indigenous voices in Australia’s Parliamentary process.

He is the recipient of the Geuzenpenning “Beggar” Medal bestowed on defenders of human rights, and holds a Yuuk Puungh, a gift from the Wik elders of Aurukun for his advocacy and defence of Wik rights.

Currently, Noel is Director of the Cape York Partnership, Co-Chair of Good to Great Schools Australia and continues to act for the rights and empowerment of his people.

Noel's greatest passion

One of the greatest productions of the human mind: John Milton’s Paradise Lost

John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost is one of the greatest productions of literature, equal to Homer, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, in Noel’s view greater.

In his lectures, Noel makes argument about the sublimity of this colossal work of poetic genius, shares his passion for this greatest of epics, and his contention no greater gift was given humankind than this work of art for which Milton received £5 upon its publication.


Scroll down to watch the full lecture.

“Why would humans choose to live their allotted three score and ten years without receiving and knowing this gift?  Time must come to pick it up again, for to not know Milton is the very definition of spiritual impoverishment and cruel self-abnegation”.

Noel Pearson