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Dr Lawrence Perry


Indigenous Education and Research (Indigenous Cultural Studies)

A man on a mission

Dr Joe (Lawrence) Perry is collecting the stories of local Kooris from beneath the hidden shadows of Australian history and taking Aboriginal culture to the world stage

Joe Perry

Dr Joe Perry is a Worimi man who grew up on an Aboriginal Mission in the small New South Wales coastal town of Karuah. His research focuses on this area and the people who belong there.

His exhaustive studies merge detailed information about traditional cultural practices and post-occupation history with the stories of the residents who have, and still are, living on the Mission.

Primarily an attempt to create an accurate record for younger generations of the Worimi people, Joe's work also shines a light on hidden Australian history. And he doesn't pull any punches.

"I have some very happy memories of the mission and it is still home," Joe says.

"But there is no denying that these designated tracts of government land became the catalyst for many social and economic problems that Aboriginal people experienced and are still coming to terms with today."

"Look at how they are trying to close down the communities in Western Australia; it just shows that the government's agenda is still the destruction of Aboriginal culture and assimilation."

Joe cites this hegemonic urge to merge as opposed to celebrate diversity as a secondary motivation for his work.

"I know a lot of people don't understand what missions and reserves were like so I thought that was important," he explains.

"We have stories and it is important that they are told."

"They are part of Australian history, not just Aboriginal history."


Joe is strident in his criticism of those attempting to hide or alternately, exploit Aboriginal voices.

Too often, he argues, Aboriginal stories and knowledge have been co-opted by non-Aboriginal academics. This cultural divide means that the stories may be misinterpreted, used without appropriate permissions, or exploited for gain.

He believes that a Western understanding of objective knowledge transferal at a tertiary level has stifled the collection of important Aboriginal stories told from an Aboriginal perspective.

Although attitudes may have changed, when he first began his thesis, Joe was chastised for incorporating his own narratives into his work.

"This meant that I was being urged to write as if I was someone removed and detached from the research area; like I was on the outside looking in, but not connected to the people, community and land," Joe recalls.

Ownership issues are also a barrier to the recording and dissemination of important cultural knowledge.

He recounts once asking his mother if they could write a book together recording her knowledge of the bush, including bush tucker and bush medicine.

"She asked who would own it. I said 'Well, probably the University or whoever publishes it,'" Joe remembers.

"So she said, 'Don't worry about it then. It is our knowledge, we shouldn't have to give that away.'"

"Aboriginal people have lost so much, sometimes they just want to hang on to what they've got."


A popular and engaging teacher, Joe's work examines in depth the barriers faced by Koori children during their education, both in mission and mainstream schools.

"A lot of the time, the only people these kids know before they start school are on that mission," Joe notes.

"And then if you put them in a school where there's all white people, those kids can be very vulnerable."

A defiant student in the face of fear and prejudice, Joe's own experience of the Western education system reflects this observation.

He tells of a high school teacher pulling him aside to warn him that two teachers had been plotting against him in the staff lunchroom. The two were heard to agree to fail Joe, regardless of his marks.

"I wasn't doing that great at school anyway, so I left. And I thought he was a good bloke for letting me know," Joe says.

"But now I think, he should have said something to them, or someone else."

"It's just wrong."

"Just because you are a teacher doesn't mean you are not a racist."

"All you need is one racist teacher and one child's education is gone."


Fortunately, being all but forced out of school turned out to be good for Joe, who immediately secured a long-term position as a surveyor's assistant.

Thirteen years with the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services followed, where Joe played a key role in establishing a Koori fostering program for local Koori children in out-of-home care.

In 1996, Joe got involved in Wollotuka at the University of Newcastle, lending his expertise to the development of a new Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies.

Many years of teaching, research and various major leadership positions at Wollotuka have followed.

Joe's latest role, as the International Collaborations Officer, sees him travelling around the world exploring partnership opportunities with Indigenous centres within universities, or universities that are Indigenous.

In this capacity, Joe recently travelled to China and Inner Mongolia, as well as Canada.

"We develop MOUs, explore possible research partnerships, and discuss options related to PhD supervisions, as well as exchange of staff and students," Joe describes.

"It's about developing relationships."

"I really enjoy going to meet people from other cultures, and there are so many similarities."


Having always been involved in sport, it is an area of great interest to Joe, who calls it 'the great leveler'.

Although denied most rights, the Karuah Mission residents were often allowed to participate in local sporting fixtures, as a means of encouraging their assimilation.

"At least for the time that they were playing sport together in teams, they didn't see the Aboriginal man they just saw the team mate," Joe discloses.

Although sport may have challenged, or even at times momentarily dissolved racial barriers in Australia, Joe believes sporting arenas are still rife with prejudice.

"The media prefers Koori that sportspeople be subservient and conformist, regardless of how good they are at their sport, or what they do for their communities," Joe says.

"They must be talented without being proud."

"They must not assume they will be chosen on the basis of merit."

"And they must not promote Indigenous views or culture or be affected by racist taunts and abuse."

"Everyone loves a winner, but the media is quick to put the boot in when a Koori loses or doesn't perform well."


In between overseas missions and teaching, Joe is working on turning his thesis into a book.

"There are so many more Aboriginal people coming forward telling their stories now, it's great," Joe asserts.

"You see more publications, more books. People are talking about their land and country, and their connections to it."

Joe was motivated by his own children to collect as many stories as possible pertaining to their history, their place and their people.

"I just wanted to tell the story about their ancestors and how they actually survived under, at times, oppressive government policies on Aboriginal people," he conveys.

Although Joe hopes these stories may also inform and challenge non-Aboriginal people, he is not hopeful that his work will incite any great change in the mainstream cultural landscape of this nation.

"Dreaming stories are the only Aboriginal stories that most Australians have heard and want to hear," he says.

"There is just not a lot of value placed on Aboriginal culture. I mean it is good to have a little bit to show off to the tourists but rarely is any real value placed on it."

"But a story is a personal gift, even if it has been told a thousand times to thousands of different people."

Joe Perry

A man on a mission

Dr Joe (Lawrence) Perry is collecting the stories of local Kooris from beneath the hidden shadows of Australian history and taking Aboriginal culture to the wor

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Career Summary


Research Expertise
- Environmental Science


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
  • Diploma in Welfare Studies, Hunter Institute of TAFE
  • Bachelor of Education, University of Technology Sydney


  • Indigenous Knowledges
  • Aboriginal Studies
  • history

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
059999 Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified 100

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
Indigenous Education and Research
Lecturer University of Newcastle
The Wollotuka Institute


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Journal article (3 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 Perry LJ, 'Is racism embedded in the Australian football codes?', Sporting Traditions, 31 39-50 (2014) [C1]
2009 Perry LJ, Ramsland J, 'Big Billy Ridgeway 1907-69: the legend of a local cricket hero of Karuah', Journal of Australian Cricket, 12 47-57 (2009)
Perry L, Holt L, 'Searching for the Songlines of Aboriginal¿education and culture within Australian higher education', The Australian Educational Researcher,
DOI 10.1007/s13384-017-0251-x

Conference (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2004 Perry LJ, 'Learning through Indigenous Identity', Learning Today: Communication, Technology, Environment, Society: Proceedings of the Learning Conference 2004, Havana, Cuba (2004) [E1]
2003 Perry LJ, 'The Way We Were Taught to Learn: Indigenous Experiences of Western Education', New Learning: Proceedings of the Learning Conference 2002, Beijing, China (2003) [E1]

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Total current UON EFTSL


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2017 Masters Knock 'Em Down Bowra: Looking Into the Life of Aboriginal People in Bowraville from a Koori's Point of View M Philosophy (Abor Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2014 PhD Exploring the cultural learning journey of students in online first year courses at The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle PhD (Aboriginal Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2014 PhD Walking in Our Leaders Footsteps: Looking Back Going Forward PhD (Aboriginal Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2015 Masters Decolonising the Migration and Urbanisation of Torres Strait Islanders (Ailan pipel) from the Torres Straits to Mainland Australia between the 1960s and 1970s M Philosophy (Abor Studies), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2015 Masters Decolonising the Migration and Urbanisation of Torres Strait Islanders (Ailan pipel) from the Torres Straits to Mainland Australia between the 1960s and 1970s M Philosophy (Abor Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor

Dr Lawrence Perry


The Wollotuka Institute
Indigenous Education and Research
Academic Division

Focus area

Indigenous Cultural Studies

Contact Details

Phone (02) 492 12008
Fax (02) 492 16985


Room SAS1-06
Building Birabahn
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308