Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Which is the best Anzac Day speech?

The transformation of Anzac day from a day off work with two-up, into a serious day of reflection on our national war history has been remarkable. As a cynical 13 year old, swishing away the flies at the local War Memorial, I recall thinking that the Diggers would all be dead soon, and we would then be spared our annual Anzac Assembly.  I could not have been more wrong. Anzac day is big, and getting bigger.  It’s our only highly ceremonial occasion, with identical rituals being performed at dawn here and abroad, in small communities and large.  It’s  meaningful, and  offers serious food for thought on important moral, social and political questions.

But do the words of our leaders do it justice?

Here are three examples for you. Post a comment to tell me which you like best and why.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the 2012 Dawn Service at Gallipoli.  This year she got  it right. (Or her speech writers did).  It’s beautifully written and deeply moving.

It tells the story of the catastrophe in poetic language, deftly weaving in respect for the Turks, and builds to a climax that could have been crass but is heartbreaking.

“In this place, they taught us to regard Australia and nowhere else as home.

Here where they longed for the shape and scent of the gum leaf and the wattle, not the rose or the elm.

Where they remembered places called Weipa and Woolloomooloo, Toowoomba and Swan Hill.

Or the sight of Mt Clarence as their ships pulled away from Albany, for so many the last piece of Australian soil they would ever live to see.

This is the legend of Anzac, and it belongs to every Australian.”

Tissues anyone?

I didn’t like the hat, and I wish she would lift her eyes when she ends a paragraph – we want to be held, not disconnected while she finds the next sentence, but it was great.

Winston Peters  was a maverick New Zealand MP but there’s an unspoilt sincerity to his words at the 2008 service which sent chills up my spine. So what if he mispronounces “Auden”, the device he sets up – getting Auden’s soldier to ask if the world they fought for is the one we’ve now got, is brilliant. Start at 3.58 if you don’t want to hear the whole thing.

And finally, Paul Keating‘s great eulogy for the unknown soldier.  In my view there’s been none better than him since him.  This is an incredible speech, with its repetitions, and contrasts and triads – the  ‘mad brutal awful’ war, and the shocking simplicity of the conclusion. They were the ordinary people who were not ordinary. Taste this:

“We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was…. His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.”

Notice in the audio that he stumbles – he’ s supposed to say ‘Australian’ but begins to say ‘soldier’. He doesn’t miss a beat, just keeps on going. Like an ANZAC.

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4 comments on “Which is the best Anzac Day speech?

  1. Betty Marshall
    26/04/2012

    The battleground memorial speech is a really tough one. Anyone writing or giving one must feel a bit like Brahms did when he said that he always had Beethoven looking over his shoulder. Gettysburg makes it almost impossible. But in the Aust scene, it’s hard to best Keating. He’s also got the speaking tone for it right. It’s serious, even a bit sombre, without being too grave.

    He also seems to make a bit of a reference to that other monster shadow for political orators, Winston Churchill, in those bits about empires and nations.

    Remember: “This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes. There are vast numbers, … who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a War of the Unknown Warriors; but let all strive without failing in faith or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.”

    By the way,
    You mention PM Gillard’s speech writers. They seem much more publicly visible now than they used to be. What do you think about speechwriters claiming credit? It’s not really like publishing a poem. If you take a job writing for a politician, shouldn’t you basically accept the back room position, and accept you won’t get the glory?

    • Claire Duffy
      26/04/2012

      Thanks Betty. Very true. We have some celebrated speechwriters now coming out front – Freudenberg and Watson, and it highlights how significant their political contribution has been, and what a powerful tool they are for leadership. I agree about speechwriting being a backroom job, but if I were one (note correct grammar) I’d find it hard not to claim the credit. They can make or break a political career. If only more Australians saw it that way!

  2. Alastair
    26/04/2012

    Thanks, Exellent post. Good to have them all togehter.

  3. Debbie Kearns
    26/04/2012

    I saw Don Watson interviewed some months ago (I think this is the link http://www.themonthly.com.au/recollections-bleeding-heart-don-watson-conversation-3944) – talking about credit and how in his view it is not his to claim – although apparently Paul Keating thinks he did claim some which was not due and that is one of the reasons they fell out.

    Meanwhile, pity about Gillard’s slip over pilgrim but otherwise – possibly the best speech I’ve ever heard her give and I surprise myself by preferring it to Keating on this occasion.

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This entry was posted on 26/04/2012 by in Audience connection, Presenting a speech, Public speaking, Special Occasions, Women speakers and tagged .

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