Culture

Noel Pearson Gave One Of Australia’s Greatest Speeches In Honour Of Gough Whitlam Today

Cate Blanchett was great, but Noel Pearson was even better.

First thing’s first: all the footage in this article comes via the ABC. They filmed it, and they’re the reason you’re able to watch it. We just saw it and thought it was cool to share. Credit where credit is due.

Cate Blanchett’s tribute to Gough Whitlam, which she gave at his memorial service earlier today, has already gone viral, and for good reason: it was a fantastic speech that a lot of people have identified with. But immediately after Blanchett finished her tribute, lawyer, academic and Aboriginal lands rights activist Noel Pearson gave a tribute of his own, and it may genuinely be one of the greatest speeches ever heard in Australian public life.

Pearson has a great deal of influence with the government over policy-making on Aboriginal issues, and is a divisive and often controversial figure; last year he called for Aboriginal Australia to embrace mainstream Australian economic values, and his support for the 2007 Northern Territory intervention has drawn strong criticism from the likes of Labor NT Senator Nova Peris. The two are frequently at odds over issues like income management and government intervention in Aboriginal communities.

But people seem united in praise of Pearson’s speech today; Twitter is losing its mind even more than usual, and glowing tributes to Pearson’s glowing tribute are already starting to flow. Having watched it as it happened, I can testify: it was fucking magnificent.

Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea; reading it loses the power of Pearson’s voice, which is half the reason it’s such a great speech in the first place, but it gives you a jumping-off point.

“Thirty-eight years later, we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin’s Jewish insurgents ranting against the despotic rule of Rome, defiantly demanding: ‘And what did the Romans ever do for us anyway?’

“Apart from Medibank? And the Trade Practices Act? Cutting tariff protections, and no-fault divorce, and the Family Law Act? The Australia Council? The Federal Court? The Order of Australia? Federal legal aid? The Racial Discrimination Act? Needs-based schools funding? The recognition of China? The abolition of conscription? The Law Reform Commission? Student financial assistance? The Heritage Commission? Non-discriminatory immigration rules? Community health clinics? Aboriginal land rights? Paid maternity leave for public servants? Lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years, and fair electoral boundaries and Senate representation for the Territories? 

“Apart from all of this, what did this Roman ever do for us?”

Now watch that snippet,with Pearson’s voice and all, and you’ll get it.

The whole thing is below; it’s eighteen minutes long, but it is genuinely worth those eighteen minutes. There hasn’t been a speech like this in a really long time.