Michael Noonan controversies continued…..

As many may be aware there have been new complaints about Michael Noonan’s film work.

I have been reluctant to publish them until now but since Noonan has now publically responded to the allegations  I am re-opening the discussion.

Background to the controversy here

Aboriginal Elder Ted Watson, acting on Behalf of May Dunne, the Aboriginal woman in Noonan’s Boulia Pub scene has accused Noonan of not seeking permission to use the footage of May and her husband, of fabricating permission forms and breaching research protocols.

The accusations can be found here – Laughing at Aborigines

Michael Noonan’s response to the allegations are at the end of this post.

As I have said before I do not believe the footage is a negative image of May or Aboriginal women.  I reached this conclusion after talking to my Partner Baganan, a Kalkadoon and Pitta Pitta woman about her perception of it.  She has also offered her perspective on the “An Aboriginal Woman’s perspective”/thread.

However our perceptions of the footage is indeed a different matter to whether May and her husband’s involvement was based on informed consent or not, a question that is now to be played out in various courts and committees it seems. 

There are some very serious issues relating to the representation of Aboriginal people by non-Aboriginal media workers as well as protocols for negotiaiting involvement in film projects, all of them very relevant to this situation.

The academic ethical framework that QUT film research uses, and Noonan is being judged by,  is a template for health and medical research which is generalised in principle but not specifics to other disciplines of research.

There are also protocols produced by indigenous academics that concentrate on anthropological research involving traditional knowledge and intellectual property which, like health protocols, are inadequate to cover issues faced media workers, in particular documentary makers except for when they do represent traditional knowledge.

Part of the problem with this latest controversy, it seems to me, is inappropriate academic research guidelines  for media studies and research. 

Outside of academia there are protocols and guidelines produced by indigenous media workers, for example SBS’s indigenous protocol.   http://www.sbs.com.au/sbsi/documentary.html?type=6

This protocol has the same essential principles as the health and anthropology protocols but has specifics directly relevent to media workers.

 I fear however  that the clarification of these issues  will now be sidelined by the sensation of another high profile QUT scandal.  The focus of the sensation will become the question of whether Noonan’s signed permission forms are real or fabricated.

If Noonan’s documents are authenticated the ambiguities of the present protocols will be exploited by both sides of the dispute in adversarial courts and little will be resolved in anybody’s interest.

 Here is Michael Noonan’s response to the allegations……..

This is Michael Noonan.

The video “Laughing at Aboriginies” contains many errors of fact:

my comments here are to set the record straight about the most significant – in particular, the allegations that the research approval regimes I implemented were flawed and corrupt. My study was approved by the QUT Ethics Committee before any filming was undertaken.

Subsequently, and in response to the concerns raised by John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, my study was subjected to a full ethics audit by a committee of review, which included one expert member external to QUT.

That committee found I had not breached the relevant ethics guidelines.

All documentation was shared with the audit committee, including the appropriate consent and release forms. I have this documentation for all 33 people who participated in the film production. The accusations that appropriate consent was not gathered or was gathered under duress or fabricated after the event are not true and will not stand informed scrutiny.

There are many other errors of fact in this video – my film crew was not even in Boulia 18 months ago as claimed and there was no hostility to us at any time from Boulia residents.

Reluctantly but proudly, I made my film rushes available for public review to counter the innuendoes and untruths maliciously propagated over the depiction of disability in my film and also to set the record straight about the scene in the hotel at Boulia.

It had been obnoxiously misrepresented from the beginning and was hysterically reported in The London Times that James had been ‘severely beaten’ by an aboriginal woman – a vile and unsubstantiated slur.

I hoped that releasing my footage would destroy the negative stereotypes invoked by so many uninformed commentators. I am distressed to hear of the claim that May feels ‘hurt and shamed’ by that footage. Acknowledging this may be the case, and out of respect for her, I have written to the media outlets hosting my film rushes and asked them to remove those rushes from their websites.

I am happy to be held to account for my actions and my study in any properly-constituted space but I do not recognise Youtube, which has no means of testing gossip, innuendo and lies, as the forum in which to deal with these serious matters. I am prepared to discuss my study and its impact in any properly-constituted place and with any person of good faith – if this applies to you and you have genuine concerns, please send me an email.



Filed under Aboriginal, australia, film, justice

13 responses to “Michael Noonan controversies continued…..

  1. John Hookham, one of the academics suspended from QUT has confirmed that these issues are being raised as a part of the ongoing scandal about Noonan’s film.

    “An Aboriginal friend of ours has gone to Boulia and made contact with May”


    It is truly sad that important issues of Aboriginal Australia have been chained to the squabblings of white academics. MacLennan and Hookham have been discredited for their criticism of Noonan’s work on issues of disability. To connect this discredit to issues of Aboriginality in general or to individual personalities such as May or Ted is a recipe for confusion and more hurt.

    White Australia will percieve the Aboriginal issues as just more “crying wolf” and ignore the wolf that is before their noses, using Hookham and MacLennan’s reputation as an excuse to dismiss the obvious truths inherent in what Ted is saying.

    Because the framework of support for May has been designed to dovetail in with MacLennan and Hookham’s own dispute and court actions with QUT, Mays interests are not being served. For example, despite Noonan having provided signed releases to QUT for review, which MacLennan and Hookham know about, Ted and May are insisting that no forms were signed. This allegation will go nowhere and only humiliate Ted and May when the forms are produced – again.

    The real issues will be ignored – of whether these consent forms and a medical model of research protocol were adequate to ensure informed consent within appropriate cultural understandings. If they were not, what does this mean for May and her interests?

    But as long as the battle lines are drawn around status-quo protocols, which in my opinion fall short of basic instruction, and Noonan is Judged on whether or not he conformed to these inadequate protocols then the real issues of Aboriginal power in the media will be ignored by the academic bureacracy.

    I have spoken at length to Noonan about these issues. I observe that he has respect for Aboriginal people including Baganan who he has also spoken too. He has been meticulous in following academic and media protocol including release consent forms. I have no doubt that his decision to request the footage be removed from the Courier Mail is based on genuine concern for May, not a strategic defence manouvre.

    However, I also observe, and have written about his ignorance of matters of race and culture. I suspect he is the same in this regard to all the other non-Aboriginal staff and students in QUT’s creative industries. Noonan and everyone else need proper education, but I cant see how that can come from this situation when the strategic decisions of the campaign are dictated by the objectives of white academics and their squabbles.

  2. There is another issue regarding the representation of Aboriginal people by white media which is not directly relevant to May’s case but is another gap in the present health protocol model.

    That is the performance industry. However the wisdom of the performance industry and its protocols have more to offer May’s case than the health research model.

    As a manager, I have represented a number of Aboriginal performers including one high profile musician who, during my term of management, was asked to be involved in a university film project. He also has appeared in or collaborated with non-Aboriginal film productions.

    The essence of the health protocol is relevant to Aboriginal performers in terms of general principles of personal sovereignty and informed consent – but not much more.

    The mainstream entertainmnet industry’s protocols about contracts (informed consent) is far more specific and solid than any indigenous academic protocols.

    The agenda for Aboriginal artists, it seems to me, is to become educated and creative about how to use contracts, in particular to draw up your own rather than sign someone elses. This is the quantum leap out of “informed consent” into controling the negotiation.

    The other problem for Aboriginal performers with the health protocol is that they, in general, do not want to be protected from the white media, in fact they bend over backwards to try and get its attention.

    Participation in student documentaries and film clips is an important, and cheap, option available to Aboriginal performers to get profile. The focus in this case should not be on the academic restrictions on the student, thus minimising the chance of a collaboration actually occuring but rather on ensuring fair contracts have been signed and everybody understands all the specifics of the contract.

    The general principles such as resiprocity need to be clearly outlined in the contract, not be some vague notion that the research will support Aboriginal communities as the reciprocity principle is applied in the health protocols.

    In the case of Noonan’s film, Aboriginal reality is not the subject of research so Aboriginal participation in the film escapes the scrutiny of the microscopic examination of the research ethics protocol, which acknowledges that other people than the participants may be effected by research and this impact should be considered, but offers no more direction.

    The unique circumstance of an extra in a documentary whose circumstance is not the subject of the film is simply not covered by the health protocol that Noonan is being judged by and claims he has conformed to.

    The irony of Noonan’s film is that his contractual arrangements giving Darren and James creative and editorial control of the project is a model of documentary making that is of great relevance to the collaboration of Aboriginal people and white film makers.

  3. I have been agonizing over the last couple of days whether to publish information that I have about Noonan’s relationship to the Boulia Murris during filming.

    Paradigm Oz was the only place that publically asserted that Noonan had signed releases before Ted’s Youtube message was published, as a result the charges against Noonan were upgraded to forging the releases, so I am hesitant to give any more details.

    So I apologise for the cryptic nature of the following.

    Anyone who has even a vague and superficial knowledge of the Boulia Murris, as I do, will realise from watching the footage that local Aboriginal authorities were indeed involved in the process of filming.

    Noonan himself was not aware of this until Baganan and I pointed it out to him after the footage went public, so it cant be used as an example of him following proper protocols beyond the health research model.

    Upon quizzing Noonan about this connection it appears that this authority assisted Noonan in the collection of some releases by some Aboriginal people portrayed in his footage (I am not refering to May).

    So, although Noonan’s research protocols were inadequate to ensure community consultation, and such consultation was not initiated by Noonan, it seems that Aboriginal authorities intervened and offered support anyway.

    I do not say this to dismiss in any way May’s concerns, there is obviously a serious problem that must be addressed regarding her interests.

    However, it seems to me, the accusation that Noonan and his crew rode roughshod over the wishes of the local mob is not supported by the footage itself.

    The Boulia mob are proud and tough – they dont take shit from anyone. A film crew with a silly little painted car cannot sneak around filming in Boulia un-noticed or without the local authorities intervening.

    White film makers may well be ignorant, but the Boulia murries are neither ignorant nor vulnerable on their own turf. The Boulia Murris are more educated about white film makers than white film makers are about them.

  4. Edward James Watson

    Ted Watson here. You, John Tracey, know me and you have known me for a number of years. I have always operated from honesty, integrity and trust when I have anything to do with my people. I do not form opinions or biases when it comes to matters of representing or speaking on behalf of my people. You know this is true. What has happened in the years since we met? You were intimately involved with me in our struggles and now you dare question me about me representing May Dunne when I have been to Boulia and spoken to the people there. You also know that I do not use influence on people. May Dunne and Richard Saunders did not sign any release forms. Noonan is not saying clearly that they did. Read his statement. He says he has release forms from the people in his film. The catch is May is not in the film according to him. QUT call May an “incidental”. She has suffered because of what Noonan did and you and he and QUT won’t admit that and say “sorry” to her. The NHMRC are still investigating Noonan on two fronts – his treatment of the disabled and now his treatment of an indigenous Australian woman. He has NOT been cleared of either charge.

    I have been subjected to vitriolic attacks by the white Star Chamber that is QUT. Where are your loyalties here, John?

    I am still in the struggle. What happened to you?

    Ted Watson

  5. Hello Ted,

    I have been supporting Noonan for some time as the attacks on him on disability issues were simply false. His work is brilliant on that front.

    I was obviously disturbed when I heard that it was you who approached May. However you did approach May and she obviously has business that needs to be attended to. I do not dispute this and nor it seems does Noonan.

    Before your youtube was put up Theresa and I were talking to him about going to Boulia to sort it out but everything is on hold now to see what you are going to do.

    Before May’s interests became an issue, when she was still being refered to as the drunken woman who mauled James, Theresa and I spent some time with Noonan. We had not seen the footage yet but quizzed him about getting permission from the Murris in the footage. He told us that everyone in the footage had signed release.

    I pressed him on this once an anonymous poster challenged me on this matter on this blog. Noonan relayed to me details of the document including address and signature.

    Ted, I do indeed know you and your integrity. Yet on this case I honestly believe you to be wrong. I believe Noonan will (or has) produce signed releases from both May and her Husband as well as other murris.

    It is sadness about your and May’s insistance that this is not the case that disturbs me.

    I have read the NHMRC protocol, and as I have written above it is inadequate, within that term of reference Noonan’s insistance that May was not the subject of research satisfies the protocol.

    Read between the lines Ted, I have outlined the weaknesses in your case so you may ammend it. I have not gone hunting on blogs to discredit you as I did to Mac/Hook on the disability attacks. I have confined my comments to here.

    You do know me. Take what I have to say, or leave it. Do you think I would lie to protect a white film maker?

    Show me how May and other Murris might benefit from this and I will support you.

    But if your case depends on an absense of permission, and it is argued within the frameworks of white academic rules, then all I can see is your action may benefit Gary and John’s agenda if May’s matter is not resolved before their issue is.

    The academics and lawyers will get paid well to argue about the fine detail and they may even acknowledge a problem and “look into it”.

    What does May or Murris get out of this? Especially if the white authorities vindicate the white film maker for alleged breaches of white institutional law which is the most likely outcome.

    I am still in the struggle, just not Gary and Johns. Their attacks on Noonan on disability have been disgusting – dishonest as well as plain wrong.

    Gary’s past public attacks on me, people I respect and people not confident enough to defend themselves has not earnt my loyalty either.

    Send me an email kurityityin at yahoo dotcom send me a phone number or I will send you mine.

    I was writing the following when your post appeared, please consider.


    An open letter to all parties to the QUT ethics disputes.

    I Sean Traecy, 2nd generation migrant in Australia, 3 generations removed from my homeland Tipperary, Ireland, of no relation to any party in this dispute and no official connection to academia beyond dropping out 5 times,

    do in good faith and without cynicism offer the following solution to the problems and issues surrounding the film work of Michael Noonan and the QUT ethical assessment procedures.

    QUT should fund, and there should be a lobby campaign to get them to fund……….

    1/ Gary MacLennan and John Hookham to be employed by QUT for a fixed term appropriate to their personal circumstances to work under the guidance of Ted Watson, Sam Watson and Chris Sara to develop research protocol for non-indigenous media students, from pre-school to Phd. which will also provide a legal framework within tertiary institutions, to be adopted by Vice Chancellors as an equal legislative authority as the NHMRC protocol for research involving humans.

    2/ A business meeting to be convened at Boulia, under the auspices of Baganan Theresa Creed of the Pitta Pitta nation, traditional owner of Boulia, chaired by John Tracey of Tipperary. Those who should attend this meeting include Ted Watson, Michael Noonan, John Hart and a representative of QUT and whoever else Ted Watson and May Dunne decide should be present.

    Baganan has agreed to this suggestion.

    And, outside of QUT framework and funding,

    3/ Michael Noonan and Spectrum’s good work in the disability field be acknowledged by all parties and that Michael Noonan and Spectrum acknowledge that there is a problem to be fixed regarding the footage of May and resolve to fix it.

  6. Eward James Watson

    You talk of your and Baganan’s proposed trip to Boulia, John. What were you trying to put right?

    This is a matter of cultural protocols and Murri law and these issues need to be discussed privately with you. It is remiss of you to even offer advice on this when I have the authority to represent May Dunne. I have been attacked by the QUT Star Chamber and you too suggest that what I am doing is harming her.

    I have the authority from May Dunne to pursue justice for her and I will do my best, as I have always done.

    To save you further embarassment. I am quite willing to meet you today.

    Yours in the struggle

    Ted Watson

  7. Ted,

    What were we trying to put right?…. The proposed trip to Boulia was an attempt to address May’s concerns outside of the dispute between Gary, John and QUT on disability.

    I sent you an email last night with my phone number. Did you get it? If not, Sam knows my address and phone.


  8. I met John and Theresa at the Ethos Foundation, Binna Burra a while ago. Like John, I’m not aboriginal – but I am a working class woman. Here’s me:-


    I’ve also just got back from a weekend in Canberra with Diane Watson (Aunty Ruby Rose) – aboriginal elder of the Yugambeh region, daughter of Eunice Watson, and sister of Sam Watson. I also know Susan Moriarty, as she acted for me when I was the victim of gross bullying at work. May Dunne is being represented by a caring, competent and intelligent woman, with a deep and abiding commitment to social justice. Bottom line for me? May Dunne objects to this, and says she gave no written consent. Period. No further argument.

  9. Kim,

    You are correct that May’s will on this matter is clear and as far as I know nobody is disputing this.

  10. Hi and Salamu’alaikum (Arab for What peace needs between us can be at my expense to the limit of my capacity to ensure that)

    I like you weblog. The standard of information provision sure is way up on most.

    I have not myself looked at any of the Noonan footage, because I believe that if such pictures have become already contraversial, and contraversial about racism, then it is not always best to be looking. However, I have become interested now in the whole context, which I had not earlier paid any attention to.

    What strikes me up front is only that obvious fact, that what is funny within and about Aboriginal society, is not at all the same thing that is funny within and about the disability group of society. Most folk will identify more strongly in how we positively frame ourselves, and we all will always seek to identify our differences within a strong postive minority, rather than a weak un-able minority. The facts of how society brand us external to being a part of our various minorities, make a contribution to how we perceive our selves in humour, but not nearly so important a contribution as how well we are at noticing our own way in the world.

    Regardless of which, in every situation in which anybody is filmed without their consent, it is truly a crime against their basic Humanity to make such footage public.

    Thanks for reading my comment,

    Becky Copas nungarrayi

  11. Jill Toomer

    Have you heard the news?

    Michael Noonan’s brilliant work “Unlikely Travellers” has been nominated for an IF Award for Best Documentary.

    I know Darren and James. They are very proud of their participation in this film, and so they should be. It was funny, honest, educational, heartwarming and highly entertaining.

    Congratulations to Michael Noonan on this nomination. I look forward to following his career.

  12. I had heard a rumour that Unlikely Travellers had been nominated. As I said in my review of the film, it has enjoyed the most sensational pre-publicity campaign of any independent Australian documentary ever – and Noonan had nothing to do with it! It seems the Down Under Mystery tour will have a similar expectant curiosity to greet it when it is released.

  13. Philip Carroll

    I worked with May Dunne at Alpurrurulam School late 90’s and I have only found out about this. My sympathies to May. a wonderful lady.

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