O’Donoghue got to the heart of the problem: “Australia has been living a lie. It has patted itself on the back as a fair country… [but] the Constitution still contains a potential discriminatory power… [and] still lacks any explicit recognition of us or our place as the First Australians”.
Clanton recites these words with passion. “There are still lessons that are unlearned,” she adds. “I don’t think Australia is being honest about its true history.”
Clanton chose this piece for Audio Lab. MTC associate director Petra Kalive, who has curated and directed the series of performances of great Australian speeches, included three Indigenous actors in the project and asked them to bring to the table their suggestions.
“It was one of the most humbling experiences,” Kalive says. “To be hearing these speeches through the voices of these young Indigenous actors… we wanted them to speak to this moment, right now. To look at our history, listen to Indigenous elders. The conversation we’re having now is not new – and here’s proof of that.”
She says hearing the final recordings sent “shivers down the spine”.
Leonie Whyman performs Faith Bandler’s Faith, Hope and Reconciliation speech at the 1999 Reconciliation Convention.
And Mark Coles Smith performs Jack Patten’s address to the Day of Mourning Protest, January 26, 1938.
One of the most powerful speeches against injustice in the country’s history, it remains unheard in high places.
“Do white Australians realise that there is actual slavery in this fair, progressive Commonwealth?” he asked. “Such is the case.”
Clanton says Australia needs to be more courageous in the way it talks to and about itself.
“[Prime Minister Scott] Morrison’s recent commentary about slavery not existing, then trying to backtrack… as a leader of a nation you should know better,” she says. “You should have explored the history and the truth, and been unflinching in acknowledging it.”
Clanton inherited a political fire from her parents: her mother was the first Indigenous state prosecutor in Western Australia, her father from the US Deep South.
In choosing the speech she wanted to words for “a time of truth telling”, she says.
“These speeches are not just about being a bookmark in history… it’s about occupying a new space. They tap into your imagination, they articulate our culture and our voice.
“What you take away from that is entirely up to you. But you’re not off the hook.”
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.