Leadership lecture highlights – Noel Pearson inspires thousands to consider our Australian identity

Our future leaders – more than 1000 Year 12 students – were challenged to think about what it means to be Australian and what our future identity could be at last night’s very successful inaugural PMSA Annual Australian Leadership Lecture.

With Master of Ceremonies BBC Captain Mason Black opening the lecture, Lockhart River Clayfield College student Shonteia Warradoo gave a moving Acknowledgement of Country Prayer which was followed by PMSA Chair Morgan Parker introducing inspiring key-note speaker Indigenous activist and lawyer Noel Pearson.

Be captivated and watch the whole lecture, read the full speech, listen to the ABC Breakfast interview or listen to the 4BC Breakfast interview.

Below are key highlights from the lecture:

  • Noel Pearson began by paying tribute to Clayfield College and their long-standing commitment to creating educational opportunities for young indigenous students. He made particular mention of the first Cape York Partnership scholarship which was awarded to Young Australian of the Year Tania Major who also called Clayfield College her first home away from home. Tania’s leadership continue to be a credit to herself, her mother and family and to Clayfield College.


  • Noel explained his thoughts about school education and the great privileges each of the PMSA school students and other like schools have. He shared desires for more transformational schools – those that take students wherever their social-economic background and whatever their personal learning attributes and circumstances. He called on our moral imperative to spread educational opportunity to all.


  • He made the observation that because Australia has so far failed to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations people, Australia remains deeply uncertain about its origin and its identity. And this uncertainty and confusion is growing as more and more Australians join with Indigenous peoples each Australia Day.


  • He told of the long-standing and overdue need for recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution which first commenced with Prime Minister John Howard’s initiative on the eve of the 2007 election, which he subsequently lost. “1770. 1788. 1901. If not then, then why not now? 2007 to 2021. If not now, then when?”


  • Where could we be in 2041? With constitutional recognition soon will come the day when we acknowledge three stories: the Ancient Indigenous Heritage which is Australia’s foundation, the British Institutions build upon it, and the adorning Gift of Multicultural migration.


  • He gave student five ideas of what we will need to do to secure the kind of Australia that resolves the contradictions and absurdities that are the consequence of the failure of recognition.


    1. We must think in layers of identity rather than identity fundamentalism.
    2. We must see our nation as a triune Commonwealth – comprising our indigenous foundations, British institutional heritage and the gifts of multicultural migration.
    3. We must rethink our economy – we must balance our commitment to markets with a proper social motivation that has regard for others; One that gives a hand-up to the disadvantaged.
    4. Society is a convocation of our ancestors. We are trustees for our future children and on behalf of our predecessors.
    5. Oikophilia is the common love we have for home. It is this love that creates our desire to conserve it for our descendants.
  • To enact on these ideas, he spoke of our need of strong Australian leadership.


  • Noel Pearson saluted Brisbane Boys’ College Captain Mason Black for his courage in his tectonic speech about respect for the equality of women. He paraphrased Mason’s speech, inserting words recognising Indigenous Australians where Mason referred to women.

“Every person in this room must not just be an advocate for [the recognition of Indigenous Australians] but in our every action indeed we have to be proactive in stopping the [denial].This starts with putting an end to slurs and derogatory comments about [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people]. It means standing up to any [power] no matter [who] they are if we see it happening and we have to keep our mates accountable no matter where it may be. Each and every one of us has an obligation to each other to not follow the ways of the past and to take our future on a new path, a path that uplifts and values [our First Nations] for who they are, appreciates their intelligence, strength and inner beauty and most importantly empowers them to live a life where they can [take their rightful place in the country], without judgement and they feel supported to be themselves, not changes to be anyone different.

  • To conclude his lecture, Noel called on students to vote YES when the question of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians will be put to the Australian people. In addition to their vote, he called on them to participate in the campaign for recognition.


  • Campaign research shows that as of June 2020, only 17% of people would vote NO, 56% would vote YES with the remainder undecided.


  • PMSA school students then posed questions to Noel Pearson about the steps we need to take, who inspired him, his hopes as a young man, and the rate of change he has witnessed in his lifetime.


  • His father and his saying “Reading makes the full man” was his first inspiration. His constant counsel was to “Serve God and serve fellow man” which Noel said was a burden and beacon for his life path. His teacher at the Hope Value Lutheran Mission was an enormous influence and the man who planted the seed that Noel to go to university.

Somerville House School Captain Dinethra Epa gave a warm vote of thanks to Noel Pearson and the other speakers of the day.

On behalf of the PMSA, our schools and everyone from around Australia, we thank Noel Pearson for giving us his time, wisdom and inspiration.

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