Some comments on Faith Bandler’s speech (answers to Question Sheet)
In a period when very little seemed to be happening to produce a better Australia for indigenous people, when the movement for land rights, for an apology, for reconciliation seemed stalled and old-style racism seemed the dominant mood of the country, Faith Bandler is trying to urge people to intensify the struggle, to be optimistic. She is speaking during the Howard period struggling against a sense of disillusionment – in the wake of Pauline Hanson and a white backlash, the rolling back of land rights, the destruction of ATSIC. She recalls the optimism of 1967 when at last Aboriginal people gained citizenship, voting rights, equality and freedom from the State Aboriginal Protection Boards, and how that optimism was soon shattered by the “ugliness” of enduring entrenched racist attitudes. She argues against giving in to despair as she sees the majority of people as fair-minded.
She gives many reasons for her sadness. She notes the “ugliness” of continuing racist attitudes, many of them out there in the media. She notes the sense that the land rights movement has lost steam. She mentions these negatives to anticipate why many in the audience may also feel a lack of confidence in solid progress ever being achieved. Only by acknowledging these feelings can she speak of moving forward.
Some issues: 1967 – the winning of citizenship and voting rights; 1960’s to 1970’s – the battle to achieve equal pay, particularly for stockmen; from the 1970’s into the 1980’s the battle for land rights. There are also general issues she mentions - housing, employment, education, as well as the need to enforce the Racial Discrimination Act.
A main example of “in-built attitudes” would be the talk-back jockeys who put aborigines down.
The closing section of the speech really lifts. It gathers in intensity and emotional force. Her simple telling of the story of Mapoon is vividly powerful – her strongly ironic language about the Mapoon people’s “unforgiveable fault” of saying that the land that they and their forebears have lived on for thousands of years is theirs. The closing section uses a range of rhetorical devices – rhetorical questions, repetitions (“It’s about . . . it’s about”), imagery, powerful short sentences – to deliver a call to action: “If not now, when? If not us, who?” From the very simple laconic opening and a style more like a chat in places than a talk Bandler touches a powerful visionary strain in the closing paragraphs of her speech. The simplicity of the speech adds to the force of powerful sentences like “a genuine people’s movement can move more than governments; it can move mountains.” The parallel structure (governments . . . mountains) effectively indicates how the struggle for a better Australia for its first people is even more about attitudes than about governments. Looking back at the earlier part of the speech it is as if Australia’s in-built racist attitudes are the mountain that seems insurmountable, the mountain that seems resistant to every change the government introduces and that can at times make it seem for aboriginal people that Australia in the 21st century isn’t that much different from Australia in the 1960’s. The reference to the mountain also recalls the powerful biblical image early in the speech – of people scaling ramparts, at last reaching the heights, only to look down not on the promised land but on the “ugliness” of entrenched racist attitudes.
The main audiences she aims to include in her speech would involve the local Illawara indigenous people, old campaigners, the range of official non-indigenous people present, younger people, people of general good will.
This is very much a personal matter. Keating speaks as a representative of the people – not fundamentally as himself. He speaks on a solemn occasion and he speaks to all Australians. His speech was written by a speech writer – Bandler’s was not. Keating’s speech was to be broadcast throughout Australia. Faith Bandler’s speech has a more specific audience – by and large those already sympathetic to the movement. Keating’s speech has far more clichés and is far more crafted in rhetorical terms. Bandler’s speech feels to me far more from the heart, far more direct. There is a wealth of vivid detail in Bandler’s speech (eg the expulsion of indigenous people from Mapoon by the police, the naming of specific Aboriginal activists) whereas Keating’s speech is far more generic. Bandler’s speech seems to meander about more than Keating’s but the close is extremely powerful.
Both speeches deal with Australia’s identity and the way in which we perceive our past history. Both could then be linked to Noel Pearson’s speech, “An Australian history for us all.”