Men and Women of Australia! by Michael Fullilove, Netgalley, 23 July 2014, 426p
Men and Women of Australia! is certainly a type of book I have never stumbled into before. A collection of Australian speeches, all of them deemed important enough to be included. Certainly I felt like the politics were a little one sided (but I will say no more on that topic), but there are some beauties in this volume. An excellent resource for the student of Australian history, those interested in our political history or people who love a well formed speech – Men and Women of Australia! is one moment uplifting, the next hilarious, and then capable of bring down the mood of the reader. The best aspect of this collection of speeches is certainly the snapshot that each speech provides of Australia at the time the words were spoken.
I found some of the additions of speeches from people of other countries to be more infuriating than adding to the overall picture – I was reading this book to hear what Australians thought of Australia, not to hear other people’s opinions.
Some of the choices didn’t do much for me, but many of them where excellently picked. Generally anything Menzies would make me appreciate speech writing as an art form directed solely at engaging and convincing the listener. Some of my favourite speeches would have to have been the humorous ones, such as Barry Humpheries’ ‘Through the thin end of an asparagus roll’, Andrew Denton’s ‘I worship the very protector he sweats in,’ and James Killen’s amazing ‘My honourable friend is beyond insult,’ which today is something my best friends and I say to each other (usually during a wine soaked toast). Any time Tim Winton talks about the sea makes me happy!
Some of the speeches spoke to my feminist views – especially Jessie Street’s ‘Surely we don’t mean liberty and democracy for men only?’ and Julia Gillard’s very memorable torrent of awesomeness at Tony Abbott – ‘the Misogyny speech.’ While talking of social equality, there are some gems in the chapter headed “The Equal Right of All”, notable speakers being Alfred Deakin, Germaine Greer, John Paul II, Paul Keating (you can’t leave out the Redfern Park speech, it’s a favourite of mine), K. Rudd (whose first name shall always be abbreviated), and our present fearless leader, Abbott.
The section that stood out to me was “The Familiar Faded-Green Uniform”, not because of the quality of the speeches, some of which are great, some of which are average, but because Australian armed forces have been given the nod, and so often they are neglected in this kind of compilation. My favourite Australian speech of all time – which went a little bit viral on the internet, is David Morrison’s ‘There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters’, which is the video in this post… I remember watching it for the first time and being overcome with emotion, and I am glad it made it into this book.
Overall, I certainly would encourage all who are interested in Australian history to pick up this book and peruse the speeches – even those who know little of Australian history could easily benefit from this collection. I certainly will be using the selections in this book, and hopefully video and audio recordings of them, in my Australian history classroom – it is so important that we can connect to the past through the words of Australian men and women.