Politics or Poetry?


Read the following text of Paul Keating's 'Redfern Speech' (1992) and discuss the questions below in class.

As I said, it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we have lived on for 50 000 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, then we can imagine its opposite. And we can have justice....

Ever so gradually we are learning how to see Australia through Aboriginal eyes, beginning to recognise the wisdom contained in their epic story.

I think we are beginning to see how much we owe the indigenous Australians and how much we have lost by living so apart.

I said we non-indigenous Australians should try to imagine the Aboriginal view. It can't be too hard. Someone imagined this event today, and it is now a marvelous reality and a great reason for hope.

There is one thing today we cannot imagine.

We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through 50 000 years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.

We cannot imagine that.

We cannot imagine that we will fail.

And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won't.

I am confident that we will succeed in this decade. Thank you.


(Click here for full text.)

Focus questions for in-class discussion

  • What poetic devices does Keating use in this speech?
  • What effect do they have? (For a review of poetic devices in the context of this WebQuest, go here to download the pdf document.)
  • How might the text need to change to become a 'poem' or 'song'?
  • Who do you think his audience was/is?
  • What language does he use to position his listeners?


Now click on the Youtube link above. (If your school doesn't allow Youtube, you can find the video here.

  • How does Keating adjust his delivery to the context?
  • How do tone of voice, pacing and pausing, emphasis and volume modulation in his delivery affect your response and help to create the emotional impact of this speech?


Look at the images below.

  • What if Keating's speech were played as the soundtrack to either of these images?
  • How might this affect your response to the text.

Note the names on the boats: the lifeboat dinghy is 'Mabo'. To learn about the 'Mabo' case and its importance in creating the context of Keating's speech click here or here.


Would it surprise you to learn that Paul Keating isn't the sole author of the 'Redfern speech', that Keating's political speech writer Don Watson has also been given credit as its author?


  • What does the Keating/Watson collaboration say about the 'authority' of what one sings/writes/speaks?

  • How many times might we assume work originates from one person when actually it is a collaboration? (This is a rhetorical question - I don't expect you to answer it!)

  • How do you think this insight might impact on your creative process?

Extracts from Keating/Watson's 'Redfern speech', alongwith Prime Minister Rudd's apology to the stolen generations in parliament were used to transform Kelly and Carmody's song 'From Little Things Big Things Grow' into a new multimodal text. Click on the Youtube video to see how that story of Vincent Lingiari has been transformed.

What is the effect of this transformation? The multiple voices? Of 'projecting' images of people onto the natural and urban landscape? How might this visual textual selection support the original meaning of the Lingiari story? Does this version move you? Inspire you?



(If this video doesn't play, it may be because it has been withdrawn for copyright reasons. An interesting experiement is if you play Keating's speech and the Get UP video simultaneously.)


The Disadvantages of being White: Australia's First Aboriginal Prime Minister

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Now read this 'acceptance speech' of the fictional first Aboriginal Prime Minister of Australia, Bolapin-kwabinyarn. Compare its register to Keating's speech.

‘Thank you, Australia. My fellow deadly country women, solid countrymen, and those of you who have come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. I pay respect to Mother Earth and to the traditional custodians of this beautiful country. My fellow citizens, I stand here before you on this day today, humble, in my Armani suit that I picked up from Saver’s in Sydney Road for $29.95. (You just gotta know where to look, brotherrr.)…

And a plan, a plan that will take us forward as an island continent. To all of you who voted [claps]. I applaud you for getting off your moongs and making your vote count. This is your victory, Australia. This is the change Australia has chosen.

It warms my heart to think of how far we have come as a nation. And to be honest, when I found out the election result, it shocked the sh*t right out of me. First, Casey Donovan. Now Bolapin-kwabinyarn.

We have grown, from a snotty-nosed teenaged nation, to one of maturity and mutual respect. In these times of global economic struggle, we must come to rely, not on our American allies, nor our English chums, but on one another.

Currently in this country, sociological stats are reaching tragic levels.

Seventy-five percent of Australians over the age of 18 see their parents once every two years, and some have never met an aunty or an uncle. Preferred method of communication is via email or an SMS text.

I caught up with Aunty Mavis in her nursing village, and she tells me that she is happy to speak with her children as long as she doesn’t have to see the [blanks]. Quote. (Pause) Unquote…'

(Source: --> ‘A black sheep walks into a baa’: comedy sketch featured on 'Awaye', Radio National 30/05/09)

  • Imagine if you were to take a similar point of view as this comic, fictional character: that white Australians are disadvantaged because they don't have the benefits of the sense of community and connectedness of indigenous cultures. What kind of text might you create from this point of view?

On to Activity 4