an interpretation of historical events

Speeches form an interpretation of historical events and values which are moulded around the speaker’s opinions and ideology. Paul Keating’s ‘Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier’ 1993 and Noel Pearson’s ‘An Australian History for Us All’ 1996, demonstrate a contrast between how a historical and contextual understanding of these speeches helps create the necessary apperception on the given audience to convey the speaker’s message appropriately.

Despite the fact that both speeches were given in the mid 1990s, they were addressed to different types of audiences; Pearson’s being delivered to a small, highly academic audience, while Keating’s was broadcasted to the entire nation. They also addressed differing topics addressing patriotism within Australian society; the history of Indigenous mistreatment, and Australian participation in war, and were therefore perceived quite individually. Pearson’s speech was quite inaccessible because of its academic nature, but with consideration to the specific audience he was addressing at the time, he demonstrates careful consideration of kairos.

To emphasise his status to the alumni and academics at the University of Western Sydney, he introduces himself through his academic credentials for the audience to both respect and consider the issues he raises within his speech. Pearson also sets up a definitive social divide between the well educated population and the rest of Australian society. “Revise we historians must. ” demonstrates his deliberate effort to include himself amongst rest of his audience, as well as calling upon the audience to reconsider the past from how it is publicly portrayed, to how he urges the audience to interpret it.

In comparison, Keating’s speech was aimed to be widely accessible to create a patriotic atmosphere amongst the population. The continuous repetition of “we” in his introductory paragraph creates a sense of unity amongst him and his audience. As his speech did not withhold any potential controversy, the content and context of it was widely understood and appreciated by his audience. ‘Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier’, was addressed by Paul Keating as an individual, as well as the Australian Prime Minister, the representative of the entire nation.

The purpose was to pay respect to Australians who had fallen in battle with the dedication of a monument, without glorifying or celebrating Australia’s participation in war. As it was addressed to a mixed audience, the wider Australian community, the themes remained universal, to be easily appreciated with minimal knowledge and understanding of Australia and it’s history in war. “This unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; …

or of one generation above any that has or will come later” reflects on Keating’s anti-war perspective which is contextually proven, as he was well known for being extremely critical of war and Australia’s participation in it as an ally. Without the knowledge of Keating’s anti-war ethics, the speech was often thought to celebrate war and Australia’s participation in it, thus creating a divided reception of the speech by the audience. Despite this, Keating had substantial social respect because of his title as prime minister, which resulted in the audience readily accepting his point of view.

The concepts of war and peace are the overarching themes in Pearson’s ‘An Australian History for Us All’. Pearson’s ideology remains consistent throughout the speech, that Australian’s should recognise the ill treatment of the indigenous community and take responsibility for their actions, instead of dwelling on the conflict of the past, so that Australian society can then progress forward. The specific audience that this speech was delivered to, one filled with academics, largely influences the way the speech was written and then delivered.

Constant references to specific aspects of Australian society, such as “the black armband view of history” shows that Pearson’s intention was to deliver this speech to a specific type of audience, and unless a there was a thorough understanding of historical events and well as contextual knowledge, individual’s would not be able to grasp the overall purpose and message of this speech. Both Pearson and Keating address patriotism within their speeches, but do so in contrasting ways. Keating addresses the acknowledgement of all Australians who have participated and been sacrificed in war.

As this is an easily comprehendible idea it remains a more widely appreciated speech in comparison to Pearson’s, which highlights the difference in the necessary historical and contextual understanding of the audience. He also addresses how as a nation we should pay our respects to the men who have fallen in battle as they create a strong part of our national identity in a historical context. “And he is one of us. “, enforces that all Australians are part of one society, ignoring any aspect of racism, while Pearson actively creates a societal divide throughout his speech.

By using descriptions with strong negative connotations, such as “cult”, “explicit moral implications” and “unutterable shame”, Pearson’s speech constantly evokes emotion by prompting the audience to relive the history and injustices from an indigenous person’s perspective, in ways disregarding their personal opinions on the events of the past. As Pearson counters the opinions of John Howard, the Prime Minister at the time, it is increasingly harder for him to emphasise and convince the audience of his point of view.

This once again reinforces the impact contextual knowledge of the audience can have on the perception of a speech. Both speeches have a depth of purpose which is conveyed individually, dependent on the audience and their understanding of the history and context of the speech. While Keating’s speech appropriately served its purpose because of his integrity as a speaker, Pearson’s speech, although audience appropriate, did not appeal to the majority of Australian society. This is reflective of the opinion and understanding of the audience affecting the perceived apperception of each speech.