Category Archives: film

“Unlikely Travellers” voted best documentary at IF awards


Congratulations to Michael Noonan and John Hart and for their film “Unlikely Travellers” winning the Inside Film (IF)  award for best Australian  documentary.

“Unlikely Travellers” will be screened on the ABC over the next three weeks beiginning Monday November 19 at 8pm.  more details here. 

Here is my review of the launch of Unlikely Travellers in August –   movie review

UPDATE – While Unlikely Travellers is now recieving the acknowledgement and praise that it deserves, the controversy and condemnation is continuing at Irish Indymedia – here  and at the Courier Mail – here 



Filed under art, disability, film, society

QUT controversy resolved but patronising attitudes to disability continue.

The long running QUT dispute over the sacking of two academics seems to be over with an out of court settlement. Courier Mail article  “QUT academic brawl ended by settlement”

It seems to me however that there are 3 issues that marked this affair which remain unresolved. These are…

 1/ attitudes towards disability,

 2/ attitudes towards free speech and

3/ The allegations that Michael Noonan forged signatures on release forms for Aboriginal people he filmed.

1/ Attitudes to disability.
 The original flashpoint of this controversy was the criticism of Michael Noonan’s film work with people with intellectual disabilities. This criticism has continued and none of the critics have changed their tune. However Noonan’s film “Unlikely Travellers” has now been widely praised for its representation of people with disability since it was released. Similarly the footage presented to Noonan’s QUT PhD confirmation hearing that was released to the Courier Mail has received almost unanimous praise, the exception of course is the issues of permission raised about the Aboriginal woman in his footage, which I will get to soon.

Since the release of “Unlikely Travellers” I have personally written several letters to Queensland Advocacy Incorporated asking them to retract their criticism of Noonan’s film but they have not responded to any of my correspondence.

The Australian Catholic Disability Council continues to criticise the film project as recently as last month, indicating that they are incapable of admitting they were wrong or that they hold a totally repressive attitude towards disability and they are offended by “Unlikely Travellers”, but my guess is they still haven’t seen the film or Noonan’s PhD. rushes and are still commenting in ignorance. Australian Catholic Disability Council speaks out against degrading research project

Noonan’s film is now an international landmark in positive representation of people with intellectual disabilities in the media. His work deserves support and praise but instead this whole affair has demonised Noonan and has never, ever, raised any serious and rational discussion about issues of disability. The ignorant, repressive and patronising attitudes of the criticisms have been reinforced and largely unchallenged in this whole episode. The so called “speaking up for the disabled” has created one more brick in the wall that contains people living with disabilities.

2/ Free speech issues.
The academics and their supporters called for Michael Noonan’s film project to be stopped, for the screening of his movie “Unlikely Travellers” at the Brisbane International Film festival to be stopped and for the issue of what universities ought and ought not to teach to be determined by the federal court, a course of action that has been thankfully aborted through the out of court settlement – all in the name of free speech.

Nothing is black and white, even the most ardent anti-censorship libertarian realises that there are times to censor. The extreme case is snuff movies but there are less dramatic compromises such as racist or sexist vilification and exploitation of the vulnerable. Many libertarians accept the need for moderation and control of the media in some areas.
However any call for a film or any other project to be censored needs to have a good reason, a rational explanation of why its production or broadcast directly exploits or oppresses somebody. The calls to censor Michael Noonan’s work was not based on any such explanation. The criticism was based on false information about the capacity of the on screen performers and an academic critique that it was an example of post modernist ammoralism.

It seems absurd to me that such a campaign of censorship could have existed under the banner of a free speech campaign.
  This campaign was perhaps the most significant parochial left wing campaign that Brisbane has seen for decades, it defined the evolution ( or slowed the devolution) of that strange phenomenon known as “the left”. Yet this campaign went from start to finish with absolutely no discussion or exploration of any of the core issues of the campaign. The powerful force of solidarity was corrupted and transformed to a mindless witch hunt and gang mentality relying on personal slur and gossip rather than any intellectual reflection and learning. It was this ignorant gang mentality that justified the call for censorship, not a concern for people with disabilities or the principle of free speech.

3/ Allegations of fraud and issues of filming Aboriginal people.
Firstly, I was at a meeting with Ted Watson (representing the Aboriginal woman in Noonan’s rushes), Michael Noonan and John Hart (The producer of “Unlikely Travellers”). At this meeting Noonan produced to Ted (and myself) signed releases from The Aboriginal woman and her husband. The signatures on Noonan’s release forms were the same as those on Ted’s documents of authorisation and complaint (in my opinion with no expertise in forensic handwriting analysis). I have never doubted Noonan’s honesty on this matter. At this meeting the issues of dealing with Aboriginal people and protocols was discussed at length and Noonan was genuinely disturbed by May’s concerns and has apologised to her.

However it seems that the issues of representation of Aboriginal people in the media were always only secondary to the legal defense of the two academics in their struggle with QUT. The complaints and allegations were administered as an addendum to the other legal actions. Now that the QUT issues are resolved what will happen to the the conflicts and controversy that has been stirred up about Aboriginal representation, in particular the interests of Aboriginal individuals at the centre of this? Will the issues of Aboriginality now conveniently disappear along with the issues of disability?

In conclusion I will recount my own involvement in this. As a long term proponent of free speech and as a person who has many connections to disability I was particularly interested in this issue. Initially I supported the academics but had not even read their criticism of the movie, I just assumed it to be valid. The fact that academics could be punished for being critical was an obvious attack on free speech.
However, somewhat belatedly, I read the critical article “Philistines at the gate” and was very disturbed by the patronising, moralising Roman Catholic attitude to disability expressed by the two authors. I had seen nothing of Noonan’s work but I knew the criticism was very wrong. This debate between humanisation vs. protection of people with intellectual disabilities was, and still is, an important debate to be had by the mainstream society – as it is the mainstream that embodies the attitudes of repression and exclusion.   I wrote the following critique of “Philistines at the Gate”“Laughing at the disabled, power perception and prejudice

As I surfed the net looking for more information I discovered that complaints had been made to the Adult Guardian, asking them to investigate Noonan’s “exploitation” of people with impaired capacity. I was outraged at this point. Regular Paradigm Oz readers will know that my family has been at war with the Adult Guardian who are a secret totalitarian agency that has complete power of peoples lives and can intervene and smash families with no accountability structure at all.  Background on the Adult Guardian

I was absolutely disgusted that people who mouthed rhetoric of freedom and human rights could be appealing to a fascist institution to intervene in the lives of people who are perfectly happy and supported.

Somewhere along the line I made contact with Michael Noonan and he gave me a copy of Unlikely Travellers. I was very impressed by his treatment of disability issues and realised that not only was the criticism of him based on a repressive ideological framework, but his work was extremely significant to changing mainstream attitudes about disability.  I wrote this review of “Unlikely Travellers” 

The campaign to support the suspended academics continued throughout to demonise Noonan, they never gave up attacking him for being an exploitative scum. This has disillusioned me terribly for I now have absolutely no respect for the Brisbane “left”. I was arrested at a land rights protest at the age of 16 – The concerned Christians arrests in Queens Park. I was arrested countless times marching, speaking and leafleting against Joh. From that time until very recently I identified as part of the “left” movement. But no more! What that movement has become is nothing more than a nest of malicious gossips, a petty and ignorant social clique that has nothing to offer the crises and issues of the modern world.


Filed under australia, disability, film, Paradigm Oz, politics, protest, society

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.

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

Laughing at Aborigines now – An Aboriginal woman’s perspective

UPDATE – This post has suddenly become very popular.  New visitors to Paradigm Oz should be aware that this was posted before the new allegations against Noonan were put on youtube (post on that issue here ).  It was not written as a response to the youtube allegations. The complaint refered to was a complaint to the QUT Vice Chancellor relating to the representation of Aboriginal women in the footage.

Paradigm Oz regulars will know that I have been following the controversy over Michael Noonans movies and his Phd thesis “Laughing at/with the disabled”.

This is a link to my most recent article on the controversy which contains links to the other articles on the issue.  “Michael Noonan exposes his naughty bits”

Since  Noonan has released his controversial footage to the public it has been widely applauded and the criticism against it in the name of “the disabled”  has dissolved. 

However Noonan is still being criticised, this time for inappropriate representation of Aboriginal people in one of the released clips.

So Paradigm Oz asked Baganan Kurityityin Theresa Creed , a Kalkadoon and Pitta Pitta woman what her impressions were of the controversial Boulia Pub scene.

Baganan is not related to May, the Aboriginal woman in the footage, and cannot speak on her behalf.   She is however a traditional owner of Boulia.

This is what Baganan says………

(note Baganan is refering to James, one of the two stars of the clips when she speaks of “him” and “he”)

That was liable to happen because that was their intent to get a girlfriend for him. When he asked all the town folks and most of the girls up there had children so there wasn’t many to pick from who didnt have children.

It looked like a good mood where they were happy and cheerful and looking content with their interactions, content with each other.

Playful to the point of playfullness and a good time.

Aboriginal woman was very cautious with him, very careful with him, picked up straight away that he had disabilities and was able to give him that attention that he needed.

She was very careful with him and encouraging.

She was a very thoughtful person who was able to read where he was coming from and make sure that he felt accepted.

It was funny because this guy finally found someone after all this time, after looking everywhere, his heart was content then when he finally found someone.

The issue was to find out about a girlfriend, the issue was to go on a trip and find a girlfriend that can be good for him. Someone that was acceptable to him and acceptible to her.

Aboriginal women role in this movie was very powerful, she chose to be with him and understood the unspoken words of mental disability. She was woman affectionate as well as strong and straight, she wanted to be with him and she was sure of that, sure that she was with him, she made it happen.

She directed the playfulness and was able to get what she wanted which was his attention and they both got lost in each others joyfulness and had a playful time.

Racism could block the gap and peoples minds and make them get offended by this beautiful phenomenon. Once upon a time out west it was forbidden for black and white to be together and people who still suffer from that racism would have been very wild upset at seeing this happen.


Filed under Aboriginal, australia, disability, film, reconciliation, Uncategorized

Laughing at the “disabled”, Michael Noonan exposes his naughty bits!

CAUTION!                                                                                                                          Some academics may be offended  by the film footage in this link.     Michael Noonan’s Naughty Bits

The controversial Bris Vegas film maker, Michael Noonan, has been accused of producing “misanthropic and amoral trash” and exploiting people with intellectual disabilities who are not competent to make decisions for themselves in his PhD thesis “Laughing at/with the Disabled.”

This criticism can be found in the now famous Australian (newspaper) article by two academics from QUT -Gary MacLennan and John Hookham entitled “Philistines of Relativism  at the Gates” (link here).   My critique of this article can be found here.

Since the screening of Noonan’s film “Unlikely Travelers” at the recent Brisbane International Film Festival (see my review here)) the supporters of MacLennan and Hookham’s criticism have maintained their rage against Noonan, explaining that the criticism had nothing to do with “Unlikely Travellers” but was aimed at “the other one”. “The Other One” is an as yet unfinished comedy film entitled “Down Under with Darren and James”.

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Filed under Aboriginal, art, australia, disability, film, society, Uncategorized

Disability and film

“The big dilemma for disabled actors is that they are a tiny minority, unable to get agents, regular work, or even their foot in the door.” 

“Liberal guilt is suffocating. Is it ever okay to laugh at the disabled?”

“………but the fact remains that the disability humor in “South Park” is outrageously funny. I’m disabled and I laugh at it, so it must be OK, right? There’s nothing worse than a disabled person who takes it all too seriously. That’s a one-way ticket to serious long-term misery.”

These quotes are excerpts from an interview,  “Hobbling Hollywood”   from the U.S. blog “The Warren Report” Warren Etheredge interviews Seattle movie critic Jeff Shannon about the representation of people with disabilities in Hollywood.The article is copyright so I won’t reproduce it but I recommend the link to those curious about the issues raised by Michael Noonan’s film “Unlikely Travellers” and the criticism against his PhD thesis “Laughing at/with the Disabled”.

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“Unlikely Travellers” by Michael Noonan – movie review


The controversial movie “Unlikely Travellers” by Brisbane film maker Michael Noonan had its world premier on Sunday (Aug 12) as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival. The documentary features the lives of a group of people with intellectual disabilities who travel to Egypt as well as their families and support workers.

Up until Sunday’s screening “Unlikely Travellers” has benefited from perhaps the most sensational pre-publicity campaign of any independent documentary ever made in Australia.

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