An Australian History for Us All by Noel Pearson

Noel Pearson

Noel Pearson

Another old speech from the pre-2009 syllabus for for Module B: Critical Study of Texts – Speeches.

There are actually a lot of notes already on Bored of Studies on this speech.

One of my least favourite speeches here. It’s pretty long, very academic (making it hard to teach) in parts and utilises a lot of long quotations, rather than Pearson’s own rhetoric.

However, it’s kind of interesting for me (not for highschool students I suspect) as I’m a Law/Arts student, because this isn’t the first time I’ve read encountered these issues (both legal and historical).

Anyway, here are some things to consider:

  1. This speech deals with issues about Indigenous Australians. How it is different to Faith Bandler’s speech?
  2. This speech is just 3 years after Keating’s speech. How does it relate to that speech and the Australian identity?
  3. Why does this speech include some many quotations?


  • Noel Pearson is a law/history academic and Aboriginal activist.
  • He is an Aboriginal.


  • Chancellor’s Club Dinner at the University of Western Sydney – academic, intellectual audience
  • Given the national debate about indigenous issues and Australia history – this was covered by national media.
  • Both Australians and Aboriginals, politicians, historians etc.


  • Delivered on 20 November 1996
  • 1992, the landmark Mabo case resulted in the rejection of “terra nullius” and some recognition of Aboriginal land rights. Justice Deane, who was one of the judges on the Mabo case, is the same Sir William Deane that we also study in his speech about the 1999 canyoning tragedy.
  • 1994, the Native Title Act 1993 was passed and began operation – first time that Australian legislation recognised Aboriginals as the original people of Australia.
  • Thus, indigenous issues and the Australian past were very topical and controversial in 1996, when Pearson gave this speech.
  • This speech was given as a response (few days after) to John Howard’s accusation that historians were creating a “black armband” view of Australian history and putting unnecessary guilt upon Australians.

Techniques by Page

This speech is much longer than the others – I’ll simply go page by page, instead of paragraph by paragraph. The page numbers are as they are on the PDF of English Prescriptions: Advanced Speeches on the BOS website.

I won’t do your analysis for you, but here is a general guideline:

  1. Identify where the listed techniques are in the speech.
  2. Explain their effect/purpose.

Page 17:

  • Formal, humble language
  • Authoritative introduction
  • Inclusive pronoun
  • Colloquialism
  • Satire
  • Sarcasm
  • Direct quotes and references (this is pretty much used throughout the entire speech)

Page 18:

  • Academic vocabulary – historiography, discourse
  • Legal terminology
  • Emotive/emphatic language

Page 19:

  • Reference to current event and judicial authority
  • Emotive language

Page 20:

  • Rhetorical questions
  • Colloquialism/cliche
  • Allusion to Darwinism

Page 21:

  • 2nd person
  • Rhetorical question

Page 22:

  • Emphatic language
  • Paradoxical rhetorical question
  • Sarcasm
  • Paraphrase of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Page 23:

  • Emotive quotation of William Cooper
  • Inverted commas
  • Sarcasm

Page 24:

  • Parody of Keating
  • Emotive alliteration
  • Positive tone

Page 25:

  • Metaphors
  • Listing of emotive labels
  • Academic vocabulary – anti-intellectualism


  • Turbulence – trouble, instability
  • Indulging – wasting time in
  • “Navel-gazing” – being too focused on a single issue
  • Perpetual – endless
  • Persevere – continue despite hardship
  • “hot bottom” – causes great debate
  • Resonance – effect
  • Vehemently – passionately
  • Alleviate – lessen
  • Pessimistic – view that is looking always looking at the bad side of things
  • Cultivated – grown
  • “Politically-correct” – being overly polite and diplomatic
  • Bigoted – refuses to tolerate any other view than their own
  • Discourse – discussion
  • Propagated – spread
  • Depredations – robbery, crime
  • Apportion – give out in portions
  • Frank – honest
  • Palatable – easy to eat or accept
  • Forbears – ancestors
  • Penance – punishment
  • Solidarity – union
  • Anachronistic – out of order
  • Repudiate – reject
  • Resilient – enduring
  • Belittle – make little or insignificant
  • Woeful – terrible
  • Delirium – insanity
  • Exorcise – get rid of
  • Spectre – spirit, ghost
  • Equivocal – unsure
  • Exhortations – encouragements
  • Afflicting – affecting in a bad way
  • Obscurantist – hiding, avoiding
  • Infidelities – unfaithfulness
  • Injunction – order
  • Apathy – lack of caring
  • Tacitly – unspoken
  • Confounds – confuses
  • Derogation/dimunition – decrease
  • Remnant – remaining
  • Rupture – break
  • Obscenities – something rude or unacceptable
  • Predecessor – the one before
  • Hectoring – bullying
  • Rigorous – thorough
  • Tabloid – cheap, biased
  • Punters – gamblers
  • Seminal – highly original and influential
  • Touted – called
  • Foray – fight


20 comments for “An Australian History for Us All by Noel Pearson

  1. Maddie
    July 19, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I’m having trouble identifying the parody of Keating on page 24. Could you possibly point it out for me?

    • tutortales
      July 20, 2009 at 6:24 pm

      The line is “I always said that it was the turmoil and confusion the country had to have”. You should have a look at some past BOS resources notes or just do a google search to find out how it’s a parody and what it means – otherwise that might still be confusing.


    • miggles
      November 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      its not parodied but it is meantioned and scrutinised when he talks about Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech (1992) when he says that we need to open up our hearts a bit. But that is NOT a parody.

  2. jes
    July 22, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    “This speech deals with issues about Indigenous Australians. How it is different to Faith Bandler’s speech? ”

    I’m suspecting that it would be the audiences who are different. is this right? its a hard question for me, yet an important one. I’m wondering if you would be able to give further information to the answer of this question.
    Thanks 🙂

    • tutortales
      July 25, 2009 at 11:25 pm

      Yes, that’s right. You should also consider how Pearson’s speech is sharply different in terms of tone and purpose.

      Does Pearson’s speech sound positive/negative?
      What is Pearson’s purpose?
      What is Pearson’s speech mainly composed of and what rhetorical techniques does he use?


  3. Allie
    August 31, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    i have been told that there is a common link between Noel Pearsons Speech and Paul Keating’s, this common link is irony.

    I am having trouble identifying this link, i would very much appreciate it if you could possibly just simply outline what it the irony is.
    Thank you.

  4. Deanna
    November 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    for jes…i just had to write a responce on the difference between Bandler and Pearson…i wrote that Bandler speaks in a gentle yet critical tone and her purpose is to put the past behind and look forward and reconcile in contrast to Pearson who comes across as very educated but sometimes condensending(especially towards john howard) and his purpose is not on ways to move forward but rather ackowledging the past before any moving foreward occurs.

  5. Dan
    June 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Hi I’ve read this speech many times…But honestly I’m not too sure what it’s about. Is he just talking about the need to accept Australia’s history and that Aboriginal people are entitled to basic rights?

    • tutortales
      June 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      Hey Dan,
      Sorry, I haven’t looked at this speech in a while, but I’ll try to answer your question. Pearson’s speech is a response to Howard’s accusation that historians are putting unnecessary guilt on Australians. Yes, Pearson is talking about the need to recognise and accept Australia’s history of dispossession, but he distinguishes this acceptance from guilty. He argues that the key to reconciliation is not about guilt, but about ‘opening our hearts a little bit’, which means acknowledging the wrongs of the past. BUT he also raises a 2nd issue, which is Australian accountability for the present/future. He gives the examples of the Yorta Yorta people and Howard’s proposed amendments to the Native Title legislation.


  6. Dan
    June 14, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you so much. This really helped me a lot 😀

  7. alli
    June 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    hi, i have a question that not even my teacher could answer…
    how does Pearson’s constant reference to famous historians and politicians give his speech power? As in what is the effect of the rhetorical device. Not only that, are there any more techniques within the speech that are worth writing about or mentioning during an essay? I cant see many…

    if you could help that would be great 😀

    • tutortales
      June 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      Hi alli
      Pearson’s use of references/quotations serve multiple purposes:
      – they uses direct speech quotations as evidence, which he then critically analyses
      – it demonstrates his academic (law/history) background and knowledge
      – it appeals to the audience’s intellect rather than their emotions
      Overall, it makes his speech far more authoritative and persuasive.

      There are other techniques, but I’ve already listed them on this page, so just have a look through.


  8. Emma
    August 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm


    Im finding it hard to find info on how the speech was recieved at the time. I was wondering if you can provide me with some insight on how the general public, white Australians,indiginous Australians, politicions etc responded to Pearson’s speech.

  9. Hun
    November 14, 2010 at 10:34 pm


    I have the exact same problem as Emma! I would really appreciate if you could send a link or summarise it’s reception.

  10. Tik
    May 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    If I write an essay that is on Noel Pearson’s speech, would I talk about two ideas from Pearson’s speech. What could these two ideas be? Australian collective identity and how Australians should respond to the past?

  11. Sam
    May 23, 2012 at 9:17 am


    I love this site and it’s really helping me through the HSC course.
    Just a brief correction — ”hot bottom” is actually a ”hot button” in the speech!

  12. Lucy
    July 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

    This site is really helping me understand Noel Pearson’s speech.
    Just wondering what the technique is on page 18, 3rd paragraph down, “which judgement canvassed the legal and moral implications of this history, is a characterisation that resonates with the instincts and feelings of ordinary Australians.”

  13. Jane
    July 9, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Hi, Just wondering if you could point out the Paraphrase of Shakespeare’s Macbeth on page 22. Thanks heaps

  14. Shun
    October 10, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Hi there,

    I just wanted to point out that irked me a little about the information about the audience.

    Australians and Aboriginals? Aboriginal people are Australian! It might be better to phrase it as both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.

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