What ideas/ ideals/ concepts/ issues are expressed in the text?

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An Australian History for Us All- Noel Pearson- 1996

Group 468

  1. What ideas/ ideals/ concepts/ issues are expressed in the text?

  • Unity- a history ‘for us all’.

  • National identity-> who we are

  • History- the importance of taking an intellectual approach to colonial history- revisionist- rejecting the popular/ mainstream understanding which have led to misconceptions about indigenous past

  • Language- power of language to shift perspective

  • Nationhood- building a sense of unity and ‘opening up our hearts a little bit.’

  • Cultural identity- analysing why we have ‘moral and political turbulence’ and moving towards understanding and acknowledgment to progress forward.

  • Guilt and responsibility- complex issue- guilt explored in relation to ‘black armband view of history’ as espoused by Blainey/ Howard.

  • Revision of Australian colonial past-> indigenous narrative- The Great Silence

  1. What was the agenda or motivation or purpose behind the construction and delivery of this speech?

  • To establish the central link between Australians’ popular understanding of its colonial past and the moral and political turbulence in Australia today.

  • An honest, intellectual assessment of the facts of Australia’s historical treatment of its indigenous people.

  • To discuss how Australian society should respond to its past; to promote an open and harmonious vision of reconciliation.

  • To overcome the inequities of the past and to build a better future based on the foundations of justice and equality without assigning guilt.

  1. Who was the original audience for the speech?

  • Gathering of academia at Western Sydney University- intellectuals who Pearson hopes to influence/ persuade to reframe Australian history

  • Former teacher

  • Overhearing audience- media, politicians

  1. How are these ideas/ ideals/ concepts/ issues expressed?

  • Structure-> Opening phase-> understated beginning (acknowledgement of learned audience), builds platform- standard view of Australian history; the immoral basis of the Great Australian Silence; new narrative, endorsed by High Court- Mabo-, work on cultural interface, current issue- black armband view of history- defines it- intelligently, addresses notion of guilt, evidence from experience-emotion, Mabo-> future progressive/ positive.

  • Academic credibility established/ inclusive language/ series of points-> foundation

  • Rhetorical questions provide frame-> allow focus/ highlight on Pearson’s key concerns

  • Shift in tone allows voice to move from formal academic, objective to more emotive and personal

  • Language- variation in tone, formal register then more informal register- personal

  • Division- you/ me -> to our, us, we

  • Appropriates Howard’s words/ pun on Keating

  1. How does considering the speech in different contexts enhance your understanding of the speech?

  • From current context can identify values and ideas important to Australians in 1996 and evaluate their current relevance or change

  • Our post ‘Sorry’ speech provides new context from which to assess the impact of this speech-> its purpose met as new awareness of Australian indigenous history felt

  • Historical distance from the speech allows a degree of objectivity-> can detach from the politics of the day to appreciate the measured, considered and intellectual nature of Pearson’s rhetoric.

  1. What events or attitudes need to be considered in order to understand this speech?

An understanding of how Australian history has been represented in the past and the implications of this; Mabo, Native Title and the indigenous experience. Media portrayals of events; political motivations. Knowledge of history and significant political/ cultural figures.

  1. What value or meaning did the speech have in its original context?

Added significant and valid perspective to the debate about Australian history and need to form new, informed understanding. Significant because audience was the shapers of next generation’s thinking- academics, teachers, people of influence and predominantly Caucasian.

  1. What events or changes in attitude have taken place since this speech was first delivered?
    Sorry speech. Some revision of Australian history at school- focus on indigenous experience- mandatory in curriculum. Still vast social/ cultural problems for indigenous Australians- deaths in custody, alcohol problem, literacy issues.

  1. What value or meaning does the speech have in our contemporary context?

    • An important reference point for Australians in indigenous affairs.

    • Impassioned speaker/ activist Pearson- profile/ status.

    • Model of forceful, impassioned rhetoric that speaks of justice, reconciliation and importance of commemoration.

    • Through reference to other important speeches- shows how speeches are an important tool to shift mindset and grapple with pertinent issues.

  1. What different interpretations of the speech could be made?

  • A political speech

  • An alternative view of and challenge to Australian ‘mainstream’ history

  1. What makes a speech endure? Does this speech have any or some of those resonant qualities?

  1. Does the speech have textual integrity?

An Australian History for Us All- Noel Pearson-University of Western Sydney- 1996


Primary context: Chancellor’s Club Dinner, University of Western Sydney, November, 1996.

Broader social/ cultural/ political context: 1990s contentious time in Australian society- 1992- Mabo then 1993- Native Title allowed indigenous people to present claim to traditional lands. Media generated hysteria and PM Howard’s statement- Australian public should not have to accept this ‘black armband’ view of Australian past; they should not feel guilty for others’ actions. Led to further tension- Pearson wants to address this ‘moral and political turbulence’.


To persuade his immediate audience and the broader Australian public of the need to revise our response to the past, and promote an open and harmonious vision of reconciliation.

A clear condemnation of Howard’s view of Australian history.


Academics and the national and international overhearing audience.

Argument/ Thesis

We must review our popular understanding of the colonial past because it is central to the moral and political turbulence happening within Australia. Calls for revision of History.

Ideas/ Ideals/ Values

National identity, reconciliation, history, justice,


Opening phase:

Positions himself amongst academic audience and assumes a humble, self-effacing stance- establishes formal register- appropriate for context. Introduces thesis- challenge the popular understanding of Australian history- though this is cleverly/ moderately introduced- not charged with high emotion- measured tone.

Middle phase:

Builds his case- legalese; references to other historical events/ speeches-> builds evidence and credibility

Final/ closing phase:

Explicitly delineated- ‘In conclusion…’- reinforcing the formal/ case building nature of his speech

Rhetorical strategies and language techniques

Opening phase:

Use of first, second and third person references reflects the divisive nature of the issue

High modality-

Formal/ academic register

Sarcastic tone

Metaphor= the spectre of guilt

Cohesive markers/ ties- stylistic feature to form a clear case-> no room for confusion-> determined to illuminate audience through case-building

Long complex sentences- lexical density- reflects context/ issue

Quotations/ references

Verb choice- reflects clear purpose-> to expose assumptions about/ behind attitudes- ‘embedded into popular belief’

Imagery- variety- ‘legal invisibility’ of aboriginal people

Summarises argument- clarifies to maintain conviction of case he is presenting

Variety of sentence types- short sentences to increase clarity- make point.

Rhetorical questions guides focus of middle phase of speech- ‘But has the so-called black armband view of history been about apportioning guilt?’


Textual integrity- The unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value. (p 143)

In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

  • demonstrate an informed understanding of the ideas expressed in the text

  • evaluate the text’s language, content and construction

  • organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form

Textual Integrity:

‘Module B deals with questions of textual integrity, significance and value. It is important to note that students do need to engage with the prescribed novel, film, drama or nonfiction text in its entirety to develop a deep understanding and personal view of the text and to develop their understanding of questions of textual integrity. Similarly, the study of poems or speeches in Module B requires the study of all of the prescribed poems and prescribed speeches.

The syllabus defines textual integrity as:
The unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value. (p 143)
Evaluating a text in terms of its textual integrity requires the students to consider the features and elements of a text and the extent to which it may possess an overall unity, integrated structure and unifying concept. Students’ close analysis helps them to evaluate how these features and elements function in different ways, leading to the consideration of the text’s overall coherence and complexity. In this way, they arrive at a sense of the text’s distinctiveness and enduring, or potentially enduring, value.’

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