Stephens, David: ‘Awkward humility’: The speeches of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO: Part II: Long bows, Holly Golightly and political baseball bats

Stephens, David

“Awkward humility”: The speeches of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO: Part II: Long bows, Holly Golightly and political baseball bats‘, Honest History, 20 October 2016

This article continues our analysis of ten of Dr Nelson’s speeches from 2007 to 2016. Part I is here. Part II looks at the connections Dr Nelson draws between events on battlefields and modern ideals, revisits a 2004 article by Margaret Simons about Dr Nelson as a federal minister, and draws upon some work by Peter Cochrane about the difference between history and politics. The article concludes with some points about style, some guesses about motivation, and a suggestion for the future.

Dr Nelson’s delivery certainly suggests he sees his speeches as words for the ages. When he is in Anzac mode, he does not speak; he preaches. He uses and re-uses vignettes of individual soldiers in a manner akin to a revival preacher intoning parables. Even when rattling off details of campaigns and battles, as in Speeches 8 and 10, he looks for the affecting individual story, if sometimes he misquotes the source.

The accuracy of the evidence is not really the point; emotion and impact is. Dr Nelson has taken to heart Ken Inglis’s throwaway line about Anzac being a secular or civic religion. (Communism, Nazism, fascism and Kemalism have been described in the same way.) He has undertaken to assuage what Father Paul Collins, in an Anzac context, once called Australians’ longing for liturgy. He once thought about becoming a Jesuit priest …; he has become a bishop of the cult of Anzac.

Read more …

Note: Honest History gave Dr Nelson the opportunity to provide input to this article. By an email of 18 September 2016 to the Communications and Marketing (C & M) area of the War Memorial we asked:

a. Who wrote the speeches? [the ten speeches listed in the article]

b. What is the reason behind the repetition from speech to speech of themes, paragraphs and anecdotes?

c. How does the Director perceive his role when speaking as Director of the AWM?

We said we would print the answers received without amendment, unless any part of them was specified as ‘background’, in which case we would not use that part. C & M responded on 4 October 2016: ‘The Memorial is declining to comment on this matter’.

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