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Paul Keating Speech Essay

  1. 20 Feb 2015, 10:36 AM#1

    Excelling in Critical Study-Speeches(2015-2020)-from a 99+ ATAR HSC graduate

    Hi Everyone,
    For those who don't yet know, my name is Meihua. As a 2013 HSC graduate who got 93 for HSC English, and as a passionate public speaker myself, I have decided to shed some insight on how to excel in module B of the Advanced English course called Critical Study of Texts, in particular, within the elective of speeches. Hopefully you will develop a passion for this module as I did (it was my favourite module for HSC English) and enjoy the power of rhetoric articulated at the right time and at the right context.

    Please note strictly that these speeches are for the 2015-2020 prescription and does not apply to the Standard English course.

    Let's get started on this wonderful journey

    The rubric states: "This module requires students to engage with and develop an informed personal understanding of their prescribed text. Through critical analysis and evaluation of its language, content and construction, students will develop an appreciation of the textual integrity of their prescribed text. They refine their own understanding and interpretations of the prescribed text and critically consider these in the light of the perspectives of others. Students explore how context influences their own and others’ responses to the text and how the text has been received and valued."

    1)"Engage with and develop an informed personal understanding"
    This requires you to do extra research if needed to develop a better understanding of the speaker's life (biography) as well as any significant events that were occurring in the particular context and time the speaker was making their speech. No text is created within a vacuum, and these selection of speeches has been selected to exemplify how speeches can be used as a powerful vehicle to voice out personal and societal concerns of one's time, and often, compel audience to accumulate new insights and even initiate a certain course of desired action. Without some background knowledge around the topic of the speech or the live of the speaker, an informed and holistic personal understanding of the speeches cannot be developed.

    2)"critical analysis and evaluation of its language, content and construction"
    This requires you to select the best quotes and techniques to illustrate your understanding of the key themes of the speech, that is what critical analysis is, don't go randomly select quotes, you got to select significant ones that illustrates the speaker's main point well. Evaluation of language, content and construction requires a judgment of how effective the speaker has achieved their aim, how effective have they used the tools of rhetoric (literary techniques) as well as the careful structuring of their speech to compel their audience to sustain interest. The content of the speech refers to the often timeless themes that are perpetrated in the speeches selected.

    3)"Appreciation of...textual integrity"
    This is perhaps the terminology that most students are often confused about. Essentially, to show your appreciation of textual integrity of the speeches, you need to demonstrate that whatever idea you are dissecting from the speeches, it is present throughout the entirety of the speech, and not just through a sentence or paragraph of the speech. Textual integrity requires you to extract quotes from the start, middle and end of the speech to support any themes that you postulate are present in your selected speeches, it requires you to analyse the text as an entire whole, not as a fragmented part. Make sure the thematic concerns you are drawing out from the speeches are actually also relevant to the context the speaker is speaking in, e.g. to illustrate my point using a hypothetical example, there is no point in drawing out a concern of Anti-Semitism when the speech was made to defend the rights of African-American individuals within the Civil Rights Movement if there is only one sentence that relates to combatting Anti-Semitic sentiment as well.

    4"critically consider these in the light of the perspectives of others"
    Essentially this does not automatically mean you have to put critics quotes in your speeches, indeed I have never had to put a single critic's quote in any of my essays for speeches and I still get a consistent A range essay. The important point about this is you should, if you have time, track down how other people have viewed the speeches, i.e. was it effective? Did it speak to a broad spectrum of social strata? Often you can find these by searching through the website archives of key media websites, such as Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. It will provide you with an informed understanding of how effective and resonant the speeches has remained within and beyond their respective contexts. Perspectives of others can also include the perspectives of your classmates and English teacher, so make sure you listen carefully in class and jot down any interesting perspectives, it might stimulate a renewed understanding of what the speeches are about.

    5."How context influences their own and others’ responses to the text and how the text has been received and valued"
    This requires you to consider the impact of context on the effectiveness of a speech. For example, a speech made today about the importance of anti-terrorism in light of the recent Paris terror attacks would be much more powerful than if I made a speech about feminism, if you consider the audience as general, everyday individuals. How the text has been received and valued is determined both by your tracking down what changes have occurred since the making of the speeches in the particular areas the speeches were concerned about and within the quotes of other critics in determining how effective and whether all of the selected speeches have managed to resonate and transcend beyond their respective time contexts.

    This is a mistake that many students make, and an extremely easy one to fix up. This tip actually applies to all English Modules, but it is particularly important for this Module, you need to avoid analysing the speeches in isolation, remember the bigger umbrella that the texts of this module falls into is called "The Critical Study of Texts" and so you should be finding common themes, common rhetorical structure or similar use of rhetoric techniques to engage the respective contextual audiences of the speeches and link them together, usually, linkage by themes is the most common type of essay questions, although some essay questions does specify the importance of structure, but in this instance, you still need to highlight how the structure exemplifies the key concerns across the speeches. There is a reason why these speeches are selected together, and it is because they are powerful examples of rhetoric, though uttered in different contexts and by people from vastly different walks of life, has never the less managed to engaged audience emotionally and intellectually over an extended period of time and has often made a significant impact through history. Appreciate it as a collective study of texts, not the study of 7 separate, unrelated speeches. Once you change your perspective in terms of this, your analysis will rapidly improve by a lot.

    DO NOT try to analyse obscure themes, the themes you analyse from the speeches will not be unique (because of the need to uphold textual integrity) but the quotes and techniques and effects you select from the speeches will differentiate you from the rest, as well as how well you link the speeches together in relation to the specific essay question you are being asked to respond to.


    1. Anwar Sadat – Speech to the Israeli Knesset (1977)
    This speech was a groundbreaking speech in terms of transforming all conventions of political diplomacy, and should be considered and evaluated in light of the various bilateral conflicts that Israeli and Egypt has been involved with each other over the previous decades prior to the making of this speech. This speech should be valued for its emphasis on achieving justice on fair terms as well as establishing a basis for international peace by building on a hope of bilateral peace between two nations. Several significant things to note include the use of a circular structure, the speech starts with a religious reference and concludes with a religious reference as well, and uses various devices of repetition to reinforce the main thematic concerns of peace and justice. The abundance use of religious references is another attempt by Sadat in a context where both countries were highly religious to unite individuals together and compel them to look over past prejudices and hatred. Sadat's advocation of political transparency within this speech is an absolutely wonderful act, particularly considering geo-political landscapes of countries around the world is often dominated by concealed strategies and lack of open honesty. Sadat's life and the transformative impact this speech had are absolutely fascinating and definitely worth exploring.

    Paul Keating – Redfern Speech (1992)
    This speech was significant as it was made in the context of a recent pronouncement of one of the greatest Australian cases of recent decades, that of the Mabo decision in 1992. Essentially, the Mabo decision determined that the phrase 'terra nullius' (the land belonging to no one), a phrase which was used as a key justification by European settlers in the colonisation of Australia as well as the many terrible wrongdoings that were subsequently perpetrated to the Indigenous population, most notably in the Stolen Generation, was wrongfully applied to Australia and that Indigenous people could have the opportunity to claim native title to lost lands if strict conditions were met, (one of them being they needed to show a continual connection with the land, but this was often impractical since if Indigenous people were driven off from their land by white settlers who subsequently often used the land for commercial or residential purposes, how do they show a continual connection to the land?). Nevertheless, the Redfern Speech uses direct speech and accumulative language of increasing modality as well as multi sensory imagery to compel the Australian public to imagine themselves in the shoes of the dispossessed Indigenous people and through developing a more informed and empathetic understanding of the lasting legacy of such dispossession, in term contribute to the reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. A short speech, but a powerful one nonetheless.

    Margaret Atwood – ‘Spotty-Handed Villainesses’ (1994)
    This is perhaps one of the more difficult to understand speeches, but one of my absolute favourite to read and analyse. The difficulty of this speech mainly lies from the fact the audience was to an educated group who were assumed to have an extensive literary knowledge of different characters in different English texts. To assist yourself in understanding this speech throughly, if you come across a character name or Biblical reference that you don't understand, make sure you google it. This speech is about the importance of have a multi-faceted portrayal of female characters in literature, as a possible way to achieve gender equity (just because Atwood claims she isn't a feminist does not mean that concerns of feminism can't be drawn out in anyway). Up to this point, there has been a bipolar representation of female characters, as either virtuous or villainous, but Atwood is essentially making the point of the importance to create female characters that are a combination of both, as there was already an abundance of male characters who embodied these two different human traits, as better reflective of the complex spectrums of humanity in general-an amalgamation of good and evil. It is a truly fascinating speech, the use of metaphors are certainly compelling, and the range of literary references and jargon used are simply dizzying, in a great, eyeopening way.

    Noel Pearson – ‘An Australian history for us all’ (1996)
    This speech could link extremely well with Keating's Redfern Speech. One fundamental point about the presentation of history that you should note is that history is often portrayed by the side with the most literary and well-resourced individuals, for example, you rarely see any version of history written by an Indigenous individual because of often their more disadvantaged access to the resources needed for widespread publication as well as the greater difficulties they faced in achieving the level of education required to write coherently in English to communicate to a larger audience. This is not a discriminatory statement in anyway, it is simply demonstrating an awareness of the long term socio-economic disadvantage and disparity that is confronted by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians respectively (supported by data from past censuses, accessible on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website). Noel Pearson is brave for his outright criticism of the lack of moral leadership demonstrated by John Howard in terms of dealing with Indigenous issues, in that Pearson believes the current government's actions are simply done to please the majority of the voters while ignoring the plight of the minority (in this case, the non-Indigenous populations). Pearson references a lot of famous historians, who you may not know, so it pays to actually look them up, essentially the main argument is we should create a version of Australian history that includes both the good and bad, not just the gallant Gallipoli legends, but truly recognise how we unlawfully dispossessed Indigenous people off their land and how we deprive them of fundamental human rights, through this act of recognition to reverse biased representation of history of Australia, we can be a step closer to reconciliation. Remember significant events that have occurred in the five years before this speech includes the Mabo decision and the passage of the Native Title Act(!993).

    William Deane – ‘It is still winter at home’ (1999)
    A lot of students overlooks the importance of the shortest speech in the whole speech collection. To be, it is actually one of the most poignant reminders of the tragic events that can struck any of us from choices we make about our lives, whose significance may not be immediately realised nor fully appreciated. The beauty of this speech is that instead of focusing on who was in the wrong and blaming authorities, instead, they chose to focus on the positive consequence of a terrible tragedy and use that to begin the healing process, very poignant use of imagery, eloquent language articulating the potential to strengthen the relationship between Switzerland and Australia, and the vast impact the media has played in connecting all of us together, transcending geographical boundaries. The quote extracted by the poet, Jonne Donne, articulating no man is an island, is a powerful one that still resonates with me till this date. If there is one thing to be learned from this speech, it is to treasure our lives as we are living it. Don't let the beacons of your youth get wasted away through procrastination

    Doris Lessing – ‘On not winning the Nobel Prize’, Nobel Lecture (2007)
    A beautiful speech that is one of the three newly added to the 2015-2020 prescription range. The title of the speech is paradoxical, as well as introduces a major extended metaphor used by the speech on prize-winning in relation to opportunities to access books, education and recognition for one's achievements. The speech is filled with abundant, touching anecdotes of the struggles of individuals in Africa to access basic rights to be educated. When I read through this speech, Nelson Mandela's quote "Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to transform the world" resonated very strongly within me. There are also an abundance of motivational sentences that is targeted to compel the audience to take action to transform the current avoidable, but devastating disparity between the unequal access to education between the most developed and least developed regions of the world. It is an empathetic call out of what transforms lives, and how much more we can all do to make this transformation happen.

    Geraldine Brooks – ‘A Home in Fiction’, Boyer Lecture 4 (2011)
    This speech links quite well with Margaret Atwood's speech, this speech talks about the diverse sources of inspiration that results in great fiction, and blurring the lines between non-fiction and fiction, in that they are actually not as different as we may initially think. For example, the characters in a fictional novel, particularly for one set in a particular historical context, is often based on a substantial amount of non-fictional historical research, personalities that the author has met/known in real life coupled with a dose of imagination. It is an absolutely fascinating speech noting how mediocre, boring experiences of reporting statistics for the races can allow individuals to accumulate great insights into the craft of writing, at the end of the day, if there is one thing this speech teaches us, it is that everything is about perspective. When you transform your perspective of the potential significance of your experiences, regardless what stage of life you are at, you are ready to transform the world through your writings.


    As with any other essays for Advanced English, suggested word limit is around the 1000-1100 mark if possible.

    There are three main essay question types:

    1)Those focusing on how the careful selection of rhetorical techniques helps to reinforce the timeless concerns of the speeches

    2)Those focusing on how the careful structuring of the speeches helps to reinforce the timeless concerns of the speeches (in this type of essay, it is important to spend more time on relating the importance of selected rhetorical techniques to enhance the strength of the structure of the speech, and relate it to how having an effective, easy to follow structure can compound the impact a speech can make)

    3)The 'mixed/less usual' questions-i.e. you might be asked to write a reflection instead of an essay (ask your teacher how you should structure a reflection), or you might be even asked to write a speech articulating the importance of the speeches you have studied, or inclusion of three speeches instead of the conventional two speeches in an essay approach (generally I could recommend three paragraphs, linked by themes, instead of 6 paragraphs, 2 ideas, because your essay will be way too long and too difficult to follow).

    Suggested essay structure for two speeches in an essay

    Idea 1
    Body Paragraph 1: Speech 1
    Body Paragraph 2: Speech 2

    Idea 2
    Body Paragraph 3: Speech 1
    Body Paragraph 4: Speech 2


    In this module, you could be asked on any of the speeches studied, they can be specified in the essay question, so ideally, you should have a comprehensive knowledge and selection of quotes from all speeches. However, having said this, you can focus on three or four main speeches where you know particularly well, I could highly recommend you to make sure one of the longer speeches, such as Atwood or Sadat's speech is in this selection.

    I personally loved the speeches module to the point I recorded down all the speeches (me saying the speech aloud) and listen to it throughout the entire year as I was walking to and fro school regularly, and so I had very little trouble at all in remembering all the speeches. As with every other thing in life, being passionate about what you do can make a significant difference to your enjoyment of what you do. Hope this guide would help you to develop this passion.

    If there is any questions you are confused about or anything you wish for me to add to this guide or whether you found this guide to be helpful or not, please feel free to comment on this thread and I will try my best to get back to you as soon as possible. Happy studying everyone
  2. 20 Feb 2015, 12:21 PM#2

  3. 20 Feb 2015, 4:06 PM#3

  4. 21 Feb 2015, 1:12 PM#4

  5. 22 Feb 2015, 10:17 AM#5

    Re: Excelling in Critical Study-Speeches(2015-2020)-from a 99+ ATAR HSC graduate

    Hi Crisium,
    I personally think having a half essay on Sadat is way too inflexible, because sometimes the essay would demand themes that are majorly found in other speeches, for example, what happens if the unseen essay question is one about the process of creative writing/fiction writing-then you will be majorly stuck. As I have reiterated in my guide, you should ideally have a solid understanding of a minimal of 3 speeches very well, so you have the flexibility to choose what is the best speech to adapt to the question. What I did was I wrote two paragraphs for each speech, on a key idea explored-and it was a kind of generic paragraph that I can then build my exam essay upon, obviously it was a lot of work to write and remember, so you can consider doing this for 3 speeches only, and having a paragraph on the other speeches.

    1)I don't exactly know what you mean by a half-essay, but if it was like two paragraphs, would be approximately 400-500 words max.

    2)You will lose marks if you don't have adequate detail on the speech specified for the question, as such, make sure you revise all the speeches to avoid that uncertainty. Stop feeling and hypothesising, just study the speeches as best as you can

    3)You could write a topic sentence to combine both speeches in the first paragraph of each idea (in context you have two paragraphs for each idea) or you can simply write a topic sentence articulating how one idea is expressed in one speech, and at the start of the second paragraph, relate it to the first topic sentence and articulate how the same idea is expressed differently-whether it be through structural construction/emotional/intellectual engagement with the contextual audience in the second selected speech.

    Hope this helps
    Originally Posted by Crisium
    I am planning on writing a sort of half-essay using Sadat's speech and then having a good knowledge of all other speeches, so that when I go into the exam room I can apply my half-essay to the question and write about the other speech as well.

    1) If I do choose to do this, how long would you recommend the half-essay to be?

    2) I feel that I won't be able to write as much as I would on the speech specified in the question, and if this is the case will I be deducted marks for a lack of balance between the two speeches?

    3) In regards to the structuring of the essay, you say that there are two separate paragraphs for each idea, and if I do follow this structure will I have to write a topic sentence for both in relation to the idea?

    Thanks in advance!
  6. 22 Feb 2015, 11:07 AM#6

  7. 22 Feb 2015, 8:21 PM#7

The Redfern Park speech, delivered by Paul Keating on 10 December 1992, remains an especially brilliant oratorical moment, especially given the context in which it was performed. It managed to capture in explicit terms some harsh truths about Australian history, and to use them as a basis for building trust in the government’s motives among Indigenous Australians (although admittedly much of that trust has been squandered in subsequent history).

Of particular importance was the way the Redfern Park speech was able to fashion its most compelling narratives with very little sentimentalising or histrionic rhetoric. This is a reason why the speech has stayed so firmly in public memory, despite periods when the national mood was profoundly against it. The address was voted number three in a 2011 ABC Radio National poll of ‘the most unforgettable speech of all time’, ranked behind, first, Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ and, second, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. (A caveat on this poll: of the four Australian speeches listed in the top twenty, three were given by Labor Party politicians. I know from some close experience that such people have no particular monopoly on rhetorical flair.)

The Redfern Park speech provides an excellent vehicle for exploring the complex and often vexed relationship between four fundamental components of the contemporary scripted political speech: the speech performance, the speaker-persona, the performance manuscript and the speechwriter who drafts that manuscript. Between the page and the voice, between the moment of performance and its moment in history, the Redfern Park speech invokes a curiously empowering version of the ‘us-and-them’ narrative framework underpinning the Indigenous reconciliation project in Australia (as elsewhere). This frame of reference, the most fundamental paradigm in the grammar of Aboriginal reconciliation, remains ubiquitous in non-Indigenous discussions of this issue – even now, two decades later.

This article is thus an argument for the speech’s place at the head of a decades-long and ongoing phase in the history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This historic period has been greatly animated by notions of ‘Aboriginal reconciliation’, most of which have gone unfulfilled in significant respects. In 1992, the concept was still new enough that a conspicuous speech could set down its basic terms.

One further remarkable aspect is the tension that arose between Keating and his advisor Don Watson – that is, between the performer of this speech and the speechwriter who drafted its manuscript. Reflecting on the dispute, particularly with reference to the manuscript itself, provides an opportunity to reflect not only on the speech, but also on the reason why there is something worth arguing over and why the speech has acquired such lasting resonance in a country that prefers to forget such things. What can the tension itself tell us about the nature of political speechmaking and about this speech in particular?


The speech performance

Before getting too analytical, it is worth considering some of the significant facts around the speech, both in terms of the historical situation in which it arose and the historical moment it designated. In June 1992, Australia’s High Court handed down the Mabo judgement, a landmark decision that found that people living across that continent before 1788 were indeed the occupiers of a land that previous generations had inhabited and worked for over 40 000 years. A received understanding of land title predicated on terra nullius was therefore overturned.

Keating’s speech, which marked the launch of Australia’s celebration of the coming International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, was mindful of the need that Mabo had occasioned for a new dispensation of Australia’s common wealth. At the same time, it was trying to give impetus to a national policy program of ‘Aboriginal reconciliation’.

Reconciliation is a key term, even for the many who distrust it, because it has set the frame for government efforts in Indigenous relations since it rose to prominence in the early 1990s. In a report for the Australian Parliamentary Library, Angela Pratt argues that it is a word that can have many different meanings and as many different uses. As Ravi de Costa has shown, this was exactly its point: in 1990, the Hawke Labor government – with Keating a member of the cabinet – determined that striking a retrospective treaty with Indigenous Australians was politically impossible, so it replaced all mentions and hopes of a treaty with this more nebulous phrase. In an illuminating comparison, South Africa, at essentially the same moment, also fixed on the word ‘reconciliation’ because its vagueness seemed helpful in overcoming the murderous legacy of state racism.

Keating preformed the Redfern Park speech just short of a year into his term as prime minister. Significantly, he chose to deliver the address in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern, which for decades had been the epicentre of Aboriginal (or, more specifically, Koori) culture in Australia’s largest city. Redfern’s Koori population has since been significantly displaced by successive NSW governments, each one keen to realise windfall taxes from housing stock so close to the city centre.

Keating’s audience was a particular mix of elements, and this may indeed be a pointer to the kind of Australian community the speech was seeking to invoke. There were a few conservative politicians, as though to acknowledge the democratic possibility that reconciliation might not be what all non-Indigenous Australians wanted. There were, of course, plenty of ‘real stakeholders’ – in this case, Koori folk. There were plenty of leadership figures from the national Indigenous peak bodies. There were plenty of non-Indigenous politicians, public servants, religious leaders and other influential figures who could be counted on to support the goal of an Australia reconciled over its history of expropriation and genocide. And there were plenty of inner-city progressive lefty types.

Significantly, as you might sense from the audio and video excerpts freely available online, it was a rowdy audience. Keating was, in one sense, preaching to the converted – the majority of the audience thought history had dealt Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a tough hand and that this merited a reallocation of at least some of the cards. But in another sense he was speaking to an unconvertible contingent: Koori locals whose experiences were so bitter that nothing a white prime minister said could mollify them.

I think it is precisely those people who made the moment of this speech so intense, at least as a performance. The man somewhere up the back who can be heard repeatedly roaring – to Australia’s prime minister, mind – ‘Get out of our country!’ The kids who continued their raucous games close enough that no microphone filter could remove the noise. These are the unreachable types Keating reached out to with what he later called a ‘fundamental act of recognition’.

Extract 1

And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.

It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.

Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.

We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.

We brought the diseases. The alcohol.

We committed the murders.

We took the children from their mothers.

We practised discrimination and exclusion.

It was our ignorance and our prejudice.

And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.

With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.

We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?

As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded us all.

As he did so, Keating named the parties to Aboriginal reconciliation in a way that has characterised the grammar of non-Indigenous discussions of the topic – by supporters, sceptics and apathetic citizens alike – ever since: (i) a ‘we’ or ‘us’ incorporating all non-Indigenous citizens, no matter how recent or ancient their family histories of immigration and (ii) a ‘they’ or ‘them’ incorporating all Indigenous Australians. In public discourse ever since, to switch pronouns and their entailments – that is, to speak outside of this frame of reference – effectively signals a move away from discussing reconciliation.

Along with colleagues Melissa Walsh and Ravi de Costa, I have been researching this highly specific paradigm for several years now. We find that, for all the usual apprehensions about us-and-them scenarios, it is a model that assumes ‘we’ have something to work through with ‘them’ – there is, in other words, business to conduct between the parties. To bridge such a divide requires acknowledging it in the first place. But the significance of this particular moment was that, in Australia at least, it defined the constitution of the ‘us’ camp and the ‘them’ camp in ways that have survived all the innocent and wilful obstructions to reconciliation that successive governments have since instituted.

In other words, Keating instantiated a grammatical paradigm that has governed subsequent discourse about Aboriginal reconciliation, whatever the motives of the discussants. This is not to suggest that nobody had ever spoken like that before, but Keating, as a non-Indigenous person, could have drawn on other constructions, many of which would have entailed significant ethnic and/or racial discrimination within the ‘we’ identity. However, Keating’s frame bridges all such distinctions, except of course the primary distinction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Extract 2

Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions.

Economic contributions, particularly in the pastoral and agricultural industry. They are there in the frontier and exploration history of Australia.

They are there in the wars.

In sport to an extraordinary degree.

In literature and art and music.

In all these things they have shaped our knowledge of this continent and of ourselves. They have shaped our identity.

They are there in the Australian legend.

We should never forget – they have helped build this nation.

And if we have a sense of justice, as well as common sense, we will forge a new partnership.

As I said, it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we had lived on for fifty thousand years – and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.

Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless.

Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight.

Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books.

Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice.

Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.

Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.

It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine its opposite.

And we can have justice.

The above is not an argument that Keating first coined the us-and-them frame to countenance Aboriginal reconciliation. I am very sceptical that any original author could be found. A fundamentally identical frame covers non-Indigenous discussions of Aboriginal reconciliation in Canada, by comparison, and there is no compelling evidence that Canada’s population acquired it from Australia’s.


The speaker-persona

It is also important to remember the unconverted public to whom Keating was not speaking in Redfern: that large body of non-Indigenous Australians who regard ‘Aboriginal reconciliation’ as a wanton distraction from the practicalities of government. In the 1993 federal election, the Australian public voted inconclusively, but by 1996 people had united against Keating, whom they saw as arrogant in his manners and political concerns. Because this delivered government to the Liberal Party’s John Howard, such voters became known as the ‘Howard battlers’. As Anna Clark notes, integral to the emergence of this decisive new political alignment was a new dispensation of pronouns, an attempt to turn public gazing away from questions of reconciliation:

Howard’s ‘All of Us’ represented a vague collective Australian identity. It also became an astute conservative slogan playing off racial disharmony for political gain; as Noel Pearson contended, it implied an Australia ‘For All of Us (but not them).’

Gestures of respect towards ‘the Aboriginal guilt industry’ along the lines of the Redfern Park speech were a leading reason why the Howard battlers parted ways so conclusively with Keating. His speechwriter, Don Watson, whom we shall soon consider directly, captures this dynamic, and the role of Aboriginal reconciliation within it, in his political insider’s memoir, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart.

I have argued elsewhere that political language is a class of poetry, and political speeches are a class of performance poetry. But the video recordings of this speech remind us that Keating’s performance was strikingly ‘writerly’, rather than performed for charismatic effect. That marks a significant contrast with Keating’s fluency, command and sheer destructive glee as an improvising speaker. YouTube extracts from his parliamentary performances show this abundantly: watching his 1994 ‘Acme Fightback!’ impromptu, for example, one is immediately struck by the tone of voice, the dramatic timing, and the facial and body movements as he turns out his epithets of abuse and entertainment. In the principally aesthetic relationship that citizens have with political discourse, Keating is principally remembered for such epithets, both with adoration by those who adore his memory and with loathing by those who loathe it.

So, again, what a contrast the Redfern Park speech represents in its lack of performative fluency! Note the amateurish set-up: microphone feedback, down-beat backdrop, poor lighting, lack of ‘televisuality’. Note the background noise, even heckling and abuse. Note how script-bound the performance was – as though spoken more with a view to its place as written history rather than to its performative moment. And international comparisons might prompt us to note the use of a paper manuscript – definitely no autocue or ‘sincerity machine’ here.


The performance manuscript

But what a manuscript it was! Keating’s office has kindly permitted me to use a copy, complete with handwritten annotations from the morning before the speech was performed. Comparing the manuscript with transcripts and recordings, comparing versions of the transcript, comparing transcripts and recordings of the performance, comparing the public statements by Keating and Watson since the speech, and comparing all these to personal correspondence with Watson, makes me convinced that this was, for most substantive purposes, fairly close to a verbatim performance of the manuscript.

Watson has described the procedure for developing this manuscript as unusual in that it missed out on the regular level of ‘office scrutiny’, the final draft being read only by Keating himself before his delivery. Watson contends that this almost certainly headed off the temptation for Keating’s advisors to hedge the speech’s most memorable lines, especially in the extracts quoted above. Watson also suggests it enabled Keating the frontman to step outside the comfort zone of his office, leaving his staff to catch up with control of the message once it had gone public.

When one looks at the manuscript (although Overland has not shown all of the white space to demonstrate two examples here), one sees a word-processed document printed on landscape-oriented pages, with line-and-a-half spacing and a large sans-serif type. Numbers 1–22 are handwritten near the top of each page. The same hand – Keating’s – has scrawled changes to only a small number of words – for example, the manuscript’s initial formulation on page 8, ‘We took the children from their mothers,’ has seen ‘their’ changed to ‘the.’ Much more common, though, are annotations that mark up timing, emphasis and phrase coherence. Keating had a fairly systematic schema of underlines and margin-brackets to guide him in the speech performance. Importantly, all these linear notes show a speaker striving primarily to interpret and make the most of his manuscript before delivery, but not so much to edit and alter it. They are annotations that a musician might make before performing a score. They suggest a powerful sense of fidelity to the manuscript as authoritative composition.

Equally striking evidence of this performative writerly-ness is the way subsequent discussions of and quotations from this speech invariably pay attention to its lexicogrammar – to the words and their arrangement – but rarely to its delivery. Scholarly and journalistic commentary continues to focus on the style of the speech, but it is the language style as scripted rather than Keating-the-performer’s tone of voice, body language or marginal improvisations. Contrast, say, the focus on Churchill’s accent when people recall his wartime speeches – as in the subsequent revelations that several were performed by a voice double, for example, or as spoofed on The Goodies.

Of course, any speechwriting relationship requires a critical distinction between manuscript and performance – which is separate from the also critical distinction between writer and performer. Perhaps the focus on literary style is because that is where the speech’s performative edge was most salient. After all, they are brutally elegant sentences, even if you happen to reject their sentiments: ‘We brought the diseases. The alcohol./We committed the murders./We took the children from their mothers.’ The moral clarity of this prose is unmistakable, and its candour on points of historical revision has provided a template for pro-reconciliation rhetoric ever since.

A speechwriter’s manuscript is always in prospect, not retrospect. A manuscript anticipates deeds by the performer its writer(s) serves, to whose performance it is necessarily subordinate. Whereas a transcript of a speech is a written record – however accurately or inaccurately compiled – of the phrasing of the speech itself, a manuscript can never record more than intentions about things to say. In other words, a speechwriter’s manuscript is always in the act of becoming a speech, but can never complete that action without ceasing to be a manuscript. Remarkable in this instance, though, is the extent to which the manuscript became a speech that was faithful to the manuscript, its style of delivery being so thoroughly governed by its written phrasing and punctuation. Comparing the manuscript to the available recordings reveals this element especially clearly. Furthermore, analysing Keating’s marginal notes reveals that it was the clear intention all along.


The speechwriter

The last main element of this argument is a consideration of the speechwriter and his role. Watson is himself – and was already then – a genuine celebrity writer and author in Australia. Before he went to write speeches for Keating, he had been successful as a historian (including at my institution, Victoria University) and as a comedy scriptwriter. In the years since Keating lost office, Watson has been equally celebrated as a journalist and essayist, especially in his self-appointed role as a latter-day George Orwell, documenting the decline of public language.

As noted earlier, in 2002 Watson published Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, an insider’s memoir on the running, and subsequent decline and fall, of Keating’s government. As well as exposing some of the more fascinating tensions about life inside a prime minister’s office, Watson’s book also reveals the major tensions lurking for any political leader hiring an established author instead of a technician to write for her or him. I have a fear that this tale may be taken as grounds to retire that practice for good.

Keating’s response was hot anger: he wrote and spoke a fusillade of brickbats on Watson’s personality and motivations, attacking the book’s publication as an act of kiss-and-tell. Keating quoted the ALP’s most revered speechwriter, Graham Freudenberg, who (Keating said) offered a four-word judgement where others in the party might have offered four-letter judgements: ‘Broke the contract, mate.’ Keating went on to explain that Freudenberg ‘meant the contract of participating in the endeavour and the power in return for anonymity and confidentiality’.

The Freudenberg quotation itself is in dispute, but, taken at face value, Keating uses it to suggest either that former political staff should not reveal anything their former employers do not permit – or, more strictly, that they should stay forever silent about their working years. That is, the ethical and professional compact should outlast the defined terms of the employment contract. I am sure such an edict would not be sustainable in all circumstances. In the United States, for example, it is very common for former speechwriters to use the memoir as a vehicle for self-promotion, once their contracts or consultancies are over. Not that Watson’s memoir is similar to many of theirs: he is much less inclined to whitewash history than the ripping reads that fill your average logographologist’s bookshelf, and this level of open critique may well have motivated Keating’s feelings of betrayal.

Watson’s essential counterclaim seems to be that he is a writer. When he stops writing for someone in particular, he still keeps on writing. Presumably the letter of the contract permits this interpretation, because Keating did not choose to contest the memoir’s publication legally.

But the real point of Keating’s complaint was an intellectual property dispute. He insisted that ‘Watson was not the author of the speech. The sentiments of the speech, that is, the core of its authority and authorship, were mine.’ So does that make Keating the author?

The speechwriter and novelist Joel Deane agreed with this line, arguing the first rule of speechwriting is that ‘the words aren’t yours’. Complicating the situation, Watson had already pleaded no contest. While still employed in Keating’s office, in a published collection of speech transcripts that includes the Redfern Park speech, Watson set out a very minimalist ethics of speechwriting: ‘There are no rules or guidelines, except the unwritten one: ownership resides in the speaker.’

The 1920s Soviet linguist Valentin Voloshinov noted that such disputes are the very essence of oratory, and must forever lead the investigations of rhetorical studies:

Rhetoric requires a distinct cognisance of the boundaries of reported speech. It is marked by acute awareness of property rights to words and by a fastidiousness in matters of authenticity.

But is the speech’s authorship in that sense really the contest here? It seems that we have a contest about the wordsmithing, about the drafting work. Keating claims that he was both the sole performer and the leading scriptwriter. Watson argues his erstwhile boss was the former but not the latter. To my eye, the most interesting aspect of Keating’s remarks is the assertion that he was an integral part of the drafting team, a fellow-techie, not merely some benign director who fed the running briefs to his creative staff, and in any case certainly more than just some show pony who performed the scripted lines. There must be at least some truth to this view – but to think it even matters implies that, in a distinction between authorship and writership, our assumptions about creativity and conceptual design in political speeches rest heavily with the writer. How different such a view is from standard practice in some other fields where a manuscript cues a performance – filmmaking, for example.

A brilliant speech is liable to be particularly contested ground for anybody who thinks they deserve a share of the credit. I have no interest in finding one or other party right or wrong in this matter of Keating versus Watson; the existence of the dispute itself tells us more of interest than its adjudication is ever likely to. Any resolution may matter a great deal to the two disputants, of course, but it matters less to this speech’s public. People who remember Keating fondly often cite his employment of Watson as evidence for their attitude; people who admire Watson tend to count his work in Keating’s office as evidence for theirs. This speech typically features somewhere near the top of the list in both conversations.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Tom Clark is a senior lecturer in the College of Arts at Victoria University, Melbourne, and is president of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association. He is the author of Stay on Message: Poetry and Truthfulness in Political Speech (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012). He has previously worked as a speechwriter for several Labor politicians.

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