The Australian-born Noonan was encouraged by his father to pursue his interest in film as a teenager. He made his first film, "Could It Happen Here?" (1969), when he was 16. It went on to win a prize for short films at the Sidney Film Festival and later aired on Australian TV. Noonan was one of twelve students (along with Gillian Armstrong and Phillip Noyce) in the inaugural directing program at the Australian Film and Television School in 1973.