Keating and the arts

Anne SummersKeating and the artsPosted by Anne Summers on 10 October 2010

An excerpt from The State of our Creative Nation, the 2010 Stephen Murray-Smith Memorial Lecture that I delivered at the State Library of Victoria on Thursday 21 October:

“When it was over, the performers joined Keating on stage in an exuberant throng.  The newspapers the next morning showed a photograph of the Prime Minister, wearing a trademark light grey Zegna suit, standing close between two Bangarra dancers who were wearing not much more than a laplap and a bit of body paint.

It was an endearing – and revealing – image of contemporary Australia.

Paul Keating was a very different kind of Australian from the hard-drinking, womanizing, sports-loving Bob Hawke. (Although both excelled in their profane use of the Australian vernacular.)

Keatng’s nationalism – his Australianness – exhibited itself in spectacularly different ways.

In his kissing the ground at Kokoda, with his two most famous speeches – the Redfern speech and the one on the unknown soldier, and in his inventive and often inflammatory aphorisms.  He thrilled his admirers with such outbursts as: ‘If you’re not living in Sydney, you’re just camping out’, or, ‘A soufflé does not rise twice’, ‘All tip and no iceberg’ and, memorably from a few months before this Arts for Labor event, when John Hewson pestered him as to why he would not call an early election, he said: ‘The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly’.

At the same time, the leader of the country was urbane and elegant, a man whose tastes ran to Regency furniture, Georgian architecture and the late-Romantic Austrian composter Mahler. And, now, here he was that Sunday in Sydney, embracing the Indigenous descendants of one of the world’s most ancient cultures.

How great our arts will be, Keating had said in his speech, when we are as one with Indigenous Australians, ‘when we say sorry for the murders and the dispossession and mean it, not just write a cheque off the budget’.[1]

Stephen Murray-Smith Lecture 2010

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[1] Watson, Ibid.