Occasionally a speech rises above all around it…

Not all that often in Australian politics, however. I really would include Kevin Rudd’s Apology speech in the “great” category though – and he wrote it himself too. You may not know it, but one option available in the NSW HSC is “Speeches”.

Margaret Atwood    ‘Spotty-Handed Villainesses’ …………………………………………………………………………. 5
 
The Honourable PJ Keating MP, Prime Minister  Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier ………………………………………… 15
 
Noel Pearson  ‘An Australian history for us all’…………………………………………………………………… 17
 
Aung San Suu Kyi  Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women…………………………. 26
 
Faith Bandler  ‘Faith, Hope and Reconciliation’…………………………………………………………………… 30
 
Sir William Deane, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia On the occasion of an ecumenical service for the victims of the canyoning tragedy……………………………………………………………………………………….. 33
 

Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt Statement to the Knesset………………………………………………………………………………. 35

I preferred the previous set they had, but there is still good material there.

A future set surely has to include a speech that completely subdued — and enthralled — all sides in the House of Representatives the other day: Malcolm Turnbull on Robert Hughes.

And then he did it again. In 1997 he produced American Visions, a love letter to America, as he described it—an equally monumental book and television series which told the story of America’s art from the naive portraits and landscapes of the first settlers to the magnificence of the gilded age and right up to his own time to the art of those he loved and admired, like Robert Rauschenberg and those that he did not love at all, like Warhol.

Bob lamented the way today’s contemporary art seems to have become disconnected from the politics and the terrifying dramas of our own day. Goya’s etchings Desastres de la Guerra, ‘Disasters of War’, scream to us still about the horror of Napoleon’s war in Spain as powerfully as Picasso’s painting of Guernica does of the mindless barbarity of the German bombing of that Basque market town. But, he asked, where is the great art of 9/11? Was the unbelievable spectacle of the fall of the twin towers—a disaster he saw from his own window in Soho—so surreal, so unimaginable it could not be painted? As wars raged across the Middle East, Damien Hirst suspends a dead shark in formaldehyde and lines thousands of pills up on mirrored shelves, while Jeff Koons casts Michael Jackson and his monkey like a pair of glossy plaster saints.

Bob’s critics said he didn’t get it—that he, the man who brought us The Shock of the New was now himself uncomfortable with the newest new. I rather think he did get it and moreover was dismayed that so few of us could see that we in fact were the ones being got.

I concur with what Leader of the House Albanese said immediately after Turnbull’s speech:  “I congratulate the member for Wentworth on his fitting and eloquent tribute to Robert Hughes and for reminding all of us what a great chamber this can be.”

Mind you, while his Australian history, The Fatal Shore, is an excellent read, those wanting a more balanced view would do well to go elsewhere – to Grace Karskens for example:

Or even to another accomplished writer, Thomas Keneally – and that takes us right back to Malcolm Turnbull. See also my post Being Australian 25: Australia Day Reading:

1. The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally

This is excellent, far better than Robert Hughes and his cliched, melodramatic account in The Fatal Shore.

…Comparison between the two books is inevitable and also illuminating. In contrast to the Gothic melodrama of The Fatal Shore, The Commonwealth of Thieves is sober and restrained and all the better for that. The brutal practices enacted at Sydney Cove during the first years of settlement – floggings and public hangings in a time of famine – are all duly recorded but not dwelt on with the salaciousness to which Hughes succumbed occasionally.

Nor does Keneally follow doggedly in the steps of those who have been dubbed – maliciously in most instances – the black-armband brigade. The terrible conditions endured by convicts waiting for deportation and the miseries they endured during the long voyage to New South Wales (particularly on the Second and Third Fleets) are detailed unsparingly. No less telling are Keneally’s comments on the horribly draconian criminal justice of late-18th-century Britain. But he also acknowledges the decency and humanity of some of the men involved in the emptying of overcrowded jails – for instance, the master and crew of Lady Juliana, a women’s transport that set sail independently before the Second Fleet left for the Antipodes.

He is equally moderate and even-handed in his accounts of the first encounters between Europeans and the indigenous owners of the land. Particularly notable are the pages that deal with the clash of two catastrophically incompatible cultures. Keneally resists the temptation to romanticise or sentimentalise Aboriginal society, its often bloody conflicts or its systems of retribution that seemed arbitrary and perhaps even barbaric to eyes that had glimpsed, no matter how faintly, the rational idealism of the Enlightenment.

These are, of course, perilous paths for a writer to follow. Keneally’s tact allows him to negotiate its hazards with aplomb…

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