An Australian Gettysburg Address: How much punishment can you take?

Crikey has taken it upon itself to run a competition in which people get the same number of words Lincoln used in the Gettysburg address to get their rocks off about this great nation. The entries have been uniformly execrable – well execrable, but perhaps not uniformly. Even Mem Fox’s entry was awful. A good spoof could be fun but the entrants seem to have taken themselves desperately seriously. And that’s not wise when comparing youself to the iconic greatness of the Gettysburg Address, to the majesty of Lincoln’s quiet, intelligent modesty.

The lefties have been much worse than the righties. Here’s an extract from Barry Jones.

Although science and technology have annihilated boundaries, mankind retreats from global goals of compassion, reconciliation and mutual understanding, nations turn inward, reinforcing tribal values. Racism, nationalism, militarism, religious hatred, democratic populism, suppression of dissent, using propaganda, resolving problems by violence, promoting fear of difference, attacking organised labour, weakening the rule of law, using state violence, torture and execution, remain widespread. All reject rationality, replacing evidence-based policies with faith-based policies.

Thanks Barry.

At least this effort from David Flint – hardly a fave of mine – is a positive expression of achievement. I waited for the carping about multiculturalism, elites and all the rest, perhaps a mention of what a really great bloke Alan Jones is.  But it never came.

Society, it has been said, is a contract, a contract between those who are alive, those who have gone before us and those yet to be born. This is especially true of Australia, where our heritage has been the surety of our considerable success. Founded a penal colony under the rule of law by liberal reformers with noble beliefs in redemption, and that slavery should never taint these shores, within a surprisingly short time, our forefathers lived in self governing thriving communities, constituting one of the worlds oldest democracies. Then they did what no others had done — without war, deaths or violence, and humbly relying on the blessings of the Almighty, they united to form one great nation.

Australians were soon to be among the worlds leaders in education; in womens, workers’ and the aged’s rights; and in sports, medicine and the sciences, winning proportionately more Nobel Prizes than any others. They irrigated the parched land, they built thriving cities and towns, and they farmed the interior. Their contributions to the freedom of others were vast — more died in the First War than those of the armed forces of the great United States. The generation who emerged from the hard won victory of the Second War strongly endorsed equality and eschewed indulgence in favour of responsibility, respect and personal abstemiousness. They soon removed the shame of racial discrimination. In brief, we have inherited a decent society. It is our sacred duty to make ourselves worthy of this inheritance by adopting and applying the values and principles enunciated by the pioneers, the founders and those who fought and died for this country.

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Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

“Then they did what no others had done without war, deaths or violence, and humbly relying on the blessings of the Almighty, they united to form one great nation.”

But Canada did this in 1867 with the British North America Act, albeit that other provinces joined progressively thereafter. Of course, Canada was just a federated union of colonies in 1867, but that’s exactly what Australia was in the years after 1901. And there had been war in Canada long before federation (i.e. war with the French). But there had been war in Australia (with the Aborigines) long before federation too. Moreover, Canada adopted the Statute of Westminster (which was the key step in sovereign independence) well before Australia did so. Like much of what David Flint says and writes, this piece is fairly heavy on pompous bluster. But even that is better than the self-flagellating nonsense of Barry Jones.

whyisitso
whyisitso
14 years ago

All right, perhaps he should have substituted the words “few others” rather than “no others”. But all in all a mean-spirited spiteful critique on KP’s part to a good effort from a man he obviously despises.

derrida derider
derrida derider
14 years ago

Ah, happy the country with no history! Long may it be impossible for any Australian to write a Gettysburg address.

The point is that great national speeches come from great national tragedies. Our only really big national tragedy – the genocide (albeit largely unintentional) of the Aborigines – has left its victims mute.

vee
vee
14 years ago

All great speeches are filled with pompous and bluster, it is part of their appeal.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

Barry Jones is not a wordsmith, but what he says it at least has the virtues of being both factually correct and compliant with agreed principles of syntax. Flint’s is neither. As far as the former is concerned, I admit that my knowledge of the Norfolk Island penal colony and of blackbirding is due mostly to Robert Hughes and Wikpedia respectively, but that’s enough to know that our nation was not established exclusively by ‘liberal reformers with noble beliefs in redemption, and that slavery should never taint these shores.’

TimT
14 years ago

I agree with some of what DD has to say. Great speeches are made, often at times of crisis, by wordsmiths who have spent years honing their craft and are able, through a spark of native ingenuity and an understanding of what the moment demands, to rise to the occasion with a few choice words.

Crikey runs a competition, and this cheapens the whole process. This is not speech-making at a moment of crisis, nor speech-making by wordsmiths who are necessarily any good at their craft: it’s a competition designed to appeal to the pompous asses who spend their time writing bad poems and sending them in to newspapers.

No wonder the results are so bad!

Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

factually correct?
annihilated boundaries? So what’s the fuss about increased security and immigration then?
nations turn inward? In an age of more overseas travel, immigration, aid, investment and co-operation than ever before?
all that bullshit remains widespread? – except less so than ever before?
All reject rationality, blah blah? – except presumably those brave lefties valiantly fighting for the socialist dream…wait a minute, weren’t we talking about rationality?

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

Do you really want to disagree that technology is annihilating bounderies in a general sense? Your point about about trade, immigration, travel and so on tells me you don’t. The fuss about increased security is a reaction to that, not evidence against it.

Nations turning inward is vague enough to refer to anything, but I take it to mean that governments are less inclined to trust in diplomacy and build mutilateral institutions. It’s also more commonplace for politicians and intellectuals to disparage other cultures than thirty years ago. And there’s also more hostility to refugees and illegal immigrants. Also, foreign interventions are increasingly tailored for domestic political consumption. All this applies more to the US than Australia, but it has its echoes here.

If you restore Jones’s actual words in place of ‘blah-blah’, your last question is miraculously answered. Rejecting rationality obviously is a reference to religious fundamentalists.

I notice you didn’t object to the bit about torture and executions.

In any case, Tony is dead right.

Brendan Halfweeg
Brendan Halfweeg
14 years ago

Don’t we have to have a Gettysburg to have a Gettysburg Address? What are we going to talk about? The AFL Grand Final between Sydney and West Coast? The State of Origin between NSW and Queensland? Tasmania’s victory in the Sheffield Shield?

I enjoy studying the US Civil War, but not as something to be lauded, more as an avoidable conflict that was born not in the spirit of the US Declaration of Independence or the letter of the US Constitution. Lincoln soaked the US in blood to preserve a Union, the Emancipation Proclamation was a pragmatic one for the purpose of quelling the rebels, and since the Union forces were unable to enforce it, largely a propaganda excercise. The Civil War and its causes flies in the face of self-determination and federalism.

The breakdown of federalism in Australia is something to regret, but I cannot see it descending into civil war as the Americans ignobly did. Australia never had a solid federal system, Chapter IV (finance and trade) of the constitution saw to that, giving the Commonwealth taxation powers and control over state finances. Why a nation like Australia needed a strong central government is beyond me, when we had 6 colonial governments of good standing and little need for continental defence. The only thing we needed was freedom of trade and labour movement between the colonies and legal methods to resolve cross-border issues such as extradition of suspected felons and escaped prisoners.