Memorable speeches have a capacity for reinterpretation within changing contexts, and are hence open in their possibilities. Their endurance stems from this flexibility via their use of rhetorical devices to address universal concepts and values.
Faith Bandler’s 1999 Faith, Hope and Reconciliation conveys overwhelming faith in humanity. The speech at the Talkin’ up Reconciliation Convention is set against the unhappy backdrop of the recent watering down of the Mabo land rights decision and corresponding public sentiment. Emotive, strongly articulated language, such as repetition of “terrible”, reveals the frustration Bandler feels, as a long-standing advocate of Indigenous rights. Similarly, the metaphor “reaching the summit, [they] have seen the ugliness when looking down” compares the reconciliation movement with a “triumphant” mountaineer, finally confronted with a panoramic view not of beauty, but of the “ugliness” of an unempathetic and ignorant society.
As the speech broadens from specific past events to end by looking towards the future, a movement from images of despair to those of hope is evident. Declaring the pain of the past “no longer designated to hopelessness”, Bandler demonstrates belief in “people power”. The rhetorical questions “If not now, when? If not us, who?” directly connect with the audience to appeal for action.
As well as communicating hope, Bandler promotes unity both through rhetoric and the ideas she addresses. Her criticisms are not overtly directed at specific persons or governments, giving balance to her argument. Broad terms such as “people” avoid racially polarising the debate. Tolerance is encouraged by the phrase “a homogenous society where...