Noel Pearson, Michael O’Loughlin and Amar Singh gather for ‘The Voice’ at Addi Road with David Shoebridge, Rosanna Barbero and Sam Mostyn


By the time Noel Pearson has been given a chair to sit on outside in the open air, it’s clear the man needs a breather. He places a leg on a nearby blue milk crate. Body aching, but still ready to receive people keen to meet and speak with him.

One of Australia’s great orators has given another rousing speech for The Voice, this time at Addi Road in Marrickville. He’s already done some early morning media. Another long day of meetings, gatherings and speeches lays ahead. Yet with all that still in front of him, the 58-year-old Pearson makes time to stop for an extra half an hour after his talk to meet informally with everyone he can at the Addi Road community.

Pearson’s been on the road like this for weeks, crossing paths and combining forces with his friend Amar Singh of Turbans4Australia, who has been driving around in a large truck likewise rallying communities in favour of the referendum. By the end of this particular day Amar will estimate he has driven a full 25,000 km, adding to that mileage by coming from Western Sydney to get Pearson from the airport and take him to Marrickville before the pair moved on to all points of the compass in Sydney.

It’s a devoted crowd at Addi Road, of course, summoned up at short notice when Singh let the community centre know Pearson was keen to drop by. Despite a jam-packed campaign calendar, Pearson is actually adding activities in, making space for grassroots affirmations and direct appeals to the activist heartland, as well to all those who might listen to what he has to say, whether they agree or not.


Noel Pearson and Sam Mostyn at Addi Road in Marrickville. Photo by Mark Mordue.

Noel Pearson and Sam Mostyn at Addi Road in Marrickville. Photo by Mark Mordue.



The YES campaigner is introduced today by much-loved Addi Road volunteer Sam Mostyn, better known to most people as the Chair of the Women’s Equality Economic Taskforce. Mostyn has a few handwritten words of Pearson’s jotted in her notebook, words that capture what the Cape York leader is seeking to inspire:

“A citizen’s movement enlivened and empowered by the Australian dialogue, to restore some semblance of grace, justice and beauty to this country.”

The language is almost Biblical in its cadence, echoing Pearson’s Lutheran upbringing and legal training as well as his inclinations towards the ecstatic. The undercurrent appeals are equally obvious, a calling out to those who feel oppressed or overwhelmed by what is going on. Don’t give up, he says in his own unique way. It’s in words of this nature that Pearson can be at his most effective, echoing the redemptive overtones of a preacher, a dream just ahead of his gaze yet within reach for everyone who might see it with him.

As Sam Mostyn recites the words in her notebook out loud, a morning wind picks up and blows lightly through the crowd as if to carry the message deeper inside everyone listening and much further afield as well. A little chill of warm possibility.

Addi Road CEO Rosanna Barbero steps up and  thanks Amar Singh for making this day happen. It comes at the very end of what became a two-month journey for Singh, hitting the road to connect most especially with multicultural groups and explain to them why their support for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is so necessary. This kind of hands-on ethic is classic Amar Singh. As Barbero says, “Amar is part of our family at Addi Road. We came to know him during the lockdowns and the fires and the floods, when Turbans4Australia were delivering food and essentials to very remote communities and people in trouble.”

The relationship has been sustained, with Addi Road supporting Singh’s work with Turbans4Australia, helping them with everything from food hampers to bottled water and supplies as each problem has had to be faced. It’s been a tough few years, we all know that. Yet once again the country feels as if it is in the middle of another crisis – right when something positive and unifying is desperately needed.

Singh reflects on his trip around Australia, the triumphs, the good feelings. “You guys at Addi Road weren’t far from my heart. Every time I’d look at that eagle [painted on his truck] I’d think of you and our relationship. People would ask me, ‘Where did eagle come from? And I’d tell them – ‘Addi Road!’”


Amar Singh of Turbans4Australia and the truck that took him around the country for The Voice. Photo by Mark Mordue.

Amar Singh of Turbans4Australia and the truck that took him around the country for The Voice. Photo by Mark Mordue.


Inspiring mural on the side of Addi Road’s Gumbramorra Hall created by Aunty Kathryn Dodd Farrawall. Eagle painted by Georgia Frew.


The eagle he alludes to was originally part a large community mural created earlier this year on the side of Addi Road’s Gumbramorra Hall by Aunty Kathryn Dodd Farrawall, with the eagle itself painted by Aunty Kath’s collaborator Georgia Frew. Aunty Kath told Singh the story behind it: an eagle traversing the country, a symbol of spiritual movement and freedom. Looking at the mural and the eagle, Singh felt a calling inside him, deciding to dedicate himself to travels for The Voice and requesting permission from “Aunty Kathy” to have this same eagle painted on to his truck.

Back home again at last at Addi Road with Noel Pearson, Singh spoke today of his Sikh background and the archetypal immigrant stories and cultural crossroads that were somehow converging in the referendum moment: “How many of us are coming from another land,” he asked, “or trying find their feeling of home again?”

Singh then addressed “those others long before us here. A great storytelling culture. Having the love and blessings of this culture and their elders is only going to make Australia a better place. This is why I support The Voice. I’m doing it for myself, for my children, for a better Australia and for all the future generations seeking to make this place their home, our home.”

The microphone that Amar Singh spoke into was set at ground level on the side of the road directly outside Addi Road’s Food Pantry Marrickville. A low-cost grocery store servicing the community by rescuing food that might otherwise go into landfill, its dual purpose to support people in need and balance the ways in which might live in harmony with our environment added to the greater symbolism of the day.


Addi Road CEO Rosanna Barbero, Michael O'Loughlin, Sam Iskander, Noel Pearson, Colin Hesse, David Shoebridge outside the Addi Road Food Pantry in Marrickville.Photo by Mark Mordue.

Addi Road CEO Rosanna Barbero, Michael O’Loughlin, Sam Iskander, Noel Pearson, Colin Hesse, David Shoebridge outside the Addi Road Food Pantry in Marrickville.Photo by Mark Mordue.



Volunteers who donate their time to work at the Food Pantry stood by in the doorway listening or among the gathering crowd. Everything seemed to be growing out of the ground we were on, at the truest levels of what community is.

Beside Amar Singh were the rest of the morning’s speakers: not least Noel Pearson, along with NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge, Sam Mostyn and AFL hero Michael O’Loughlin. Standing with them, Rosanna Barbero provided the introductions, first describing Singh as “an example of what Australia is really about’.

She then acknowledged the ongoing support of David Shoebridge, both visible today and consistently behind the scenes. “Whether its Addi Road’s work with food relief and combatting the high cost of living, or our involvement with campaigns against domestic violence, or raising awareness about the blight of single-use plastic and how they are polluting our oceans [through a recent art exhibition and multi-lingual community education campaign depicting the problems], David is always the first politician to respond and do his best to offer practical help and just be there for us.”

Given Pearson’s authority as a speaker it was quite something to hear the former Sydney Swans forward, Michael O’Loughlin take the microphone next before him – and almost steal the day away with his speech. O’Loughlin was a legend of the AFL game in every area of play, most of all for kicking goals, and he really brought that goal-kicking spirit home.

“We’re in a powerful moment of change,” he said. “To be here with you all, experiencing a sense of connection, hearing the truth directly, 100 of us, 200 of us, people in communities all over the country on days like this, gathering against racism and dispossession… well, it’s days like that are critical to winning the YES vote.”

Aware of his sporting fame, he emphasised the honour of creating the GO Foundation in partnership with fellow AFL legend Adam Goodes, bridging their work over the last decade – providing over 1,000 educational scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth – with calls for The Voice and what it could mean for them. “Adam and I are proud of what we have done playing AFL. But we know where our greatest legacy will be. With the GO Foundation. With the work we are doing today.”


Katie and Jane Oakeshott with Noel Pearson at Add Road


Brett Kirk of Sydney Swans and Omar Elrayes of the GWS Giants in dialogue with Noel Pearson. Vi and Sam tuning in. Photo by Mark Mordue.


O’Loughlin turned to Pearson for moment and asked him jokingly, “How are the legs, Noel?” The football star would certainly know how that feels in the last quarter of an AFL game when the odds were stacked against you and your team required something heroic to win. “He has done a lot of miles, this bloke,” O’Loughlin continued, pointing to Pearson and sharing a smile.

Facing the crowd directly again, O’Loughlin changed tack, becoming much more serious. “Let me tell you, our communities are screaming out for help. They’re screaming. And no one is listening. That’s the reason I’m here. It’s why Noel is here too. He’s tired. I know. But he’s a tough competitor. He’s strong. He’s determined. Tough,” O’Loughlin repeated, sounding almost weary himself, “but yeah, he’s done a lot of miles for this.”

His tone becoming warm and strong again, O’Loughlin said, “I want each of you to be like Noel. You might feel weary now. But his heart is very strong. He knows, I know, something has to change. I believe in people, I believe in Australia. We still have a lot of work to do. Come the day, I want you all to vote with your mind and vote with your heart.”

It’s rare to be involved with a public communication of such understated power, but there it was. O’Loughlin achieved it in the most humble and soft-spoken of ways, and doing it off -he-cuff as well. A major player turning it on for the big game.

It was finally Noel Pearson’s turn at the microphone. During The Voice campaign it has been very clear that his speeches provide many of the benchmarks and turning points upon which a YES vote depends. Along with figures like Marcia Langton, Rachel Perkins, Thomas Mayo, Linda Burnie and others, Pearson has been working on the frontlines for understanding, as well as attempting to weave a more unifying direction for what The Voice means.

“Only ten days to go,” Pearson said a little frighteningly of the referendum vote coming up on Saturday October 14. “This will be the most momentous vote we ever take as a nation. I believe when the voting day comes we will get it right.”

Pearson stopped a moment. A dramatist fond of the power his silences as much as his words. “What is Australia?” he then asked rhetorically. “Who is Australia? What is the real Australia?”

Singling out the individuals and speakers beside him – Sam Mostyn, David Shoebridge, Amar Singh, Michael O’Loughlin – Pearson sketched some cultural history that involved everyone present in the crowd too. “It’s the migrants who have recently come here, and before them the migrants of the last two hundred years, the Italians, Greeks and Yugoslavs, the many Chinese Australians whose families have been here longer than many white Australians, the Afghans who came to Central Australia… I appeal to you all to hear The Voice because way back, way out in the nowhere, is the indigenous people, a people [still] excluded from The Constitution.”

“Ask yourself, are they really a part of the Australian story today? Must we push back that this is their country too? We must understand that Australia has been formed  by three great stories. Three stories. Not many people really understand this. The first story is that of an ancient indigenous civilisation whose heritage continues to be a blessing to this day. The second is that of our British democracy, captured in the Constitution. And the third is our multicultural blessing.

“Are we going to say YES in a referendum that can help recognise all that. Saying YES we can complete the story of Australia. A unity, an intertwining, can be made possible.”

Pearson paused dramatically again before observing, somewhat wryly, “If we looked in the mirror the truth would be as plain as the nose on your face.”


Noel Pearson and Colin Hesse at Addi Road. Photo by Mark Mordue.

Noel Pearson and Colin Hesse at Addi Road. Photo by Mark Mordue.


Enjoying the Noel Pearson Addi Road Address: Grace Rabuatoka from The Fijian Community with chef Kylie Kwong, environmental lawyer Theodora Gianniotis, Rosanna Barbero and Sam Mostyn. Photo by Mark Mordue.


Tu Le of Marrickville Legal Centre shares a joke with Addi Road Venues Manager Gurwinder Kaur and Noel Pearson. Photo by Mark Mordue.


And yet the campaign for YES to The Voice has not been so easy or clear, as Pearson acknowledged. “There has been a lot of misinformation. I’ve done a heap of events like this with communities all over Australia. The NO campaign knows only one tactic: to confuse and divide. I am here calling on you to tell your communities, all the people you know, that it’s safe; that voting YES will be good for the country. Good for the Anglos, the blackfellas and the multicultural diversity we are celebrating here.”

“I had the pleasure of sitting down with a former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, the other day. We reflected on the 1993 Native Title Act and how we spent seven months negotiating its architecture. The PM threw the doors of Parliament open for us to meet and talk. And in the thirty years since that time not one square inch of land has been lost to indigenous people. Did the backyard go like they said they would? No. Nothing was lost to anyone and everything was gained. The Voice will be the same. It will benefit indigenous people and take nothing from the rest of the country.”

Pearson stopped himself for a moment, digressed into a surprising personal anecdote when all these notions were still brewing and he had not quite roused himself to battle. “I was sitting on the couch hoping someone would come out of somewhere and prosecute this campaign. The then Victorian Premier [Daniel Andrews] came on the TV and said it was going to be up to each one of us. I thought about that. Time to stop the Netflix – for a few months! Time to get off the couch, Noel. You gotta get up and fight for this. We all gotta.”

So here Pearson is. In Sydney’s Inner West and just about everywhere else in the country for weeks and months on end. “I am appealing to the Australian people to not return us to the exclusion of the past, to not push that button on NO. Voting NO is to keep indigenous people out in the cold. Voting YES is to open a new chapter in the Australian story.”

Pearson opened his hands like a book as he spoke what seemed like his closing words. Echoing too, in some small and accidental way the eagle’s wings so indelibly painted on both Amar Singh’s nearby truck and the mural on the wall of Addi Road’s Gumbramorra Hall.


Noel Pearson takes a supportive call with a little help from Rosanna Barbero. “Craig Foster on the line.’ Photo by Mark Mordue.


Noel Pearson contemplating the road ahead. Photo by Mark Mordue.


Amar Singh and Noel Pearson hit the road again. Tu Lee photo bombs. Photo by Mark Mordue.


Reaching the end of his address, Pearson said he wanted to recite a song that had been written by the members of his community of Hope Vale to give him strength and help him on his journey. “We all like country music where I come from. About a 1000 people live there in Hope Vale,” he said, patting his heart. “So I hope you will like this too.”

Looking around at the crowd who’d flocked to Addi Road at short notice once the word was out that he was dropping by, Pearson made a few simple parallels between his Hope Vale home and the nature of the multicultural community at the heart of Addi Road’s working life.

A little shyly he then launched in his recitation. “This is called ‘The Constitution Song’,” Pearson assured everyone he would only read the words, then he joked, “Actually I might even sing them!” Everyone burst out laughing. But at the song’s pivotal moment, Pearson did break into song. Ending a fine morning with what he hoped was to going to be a greater day. Letting his voice carry some innate truth in the words of a song written for him, sent from his community for the entire country to hear.



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