Australians All Eat Kangaroos

History, unless delivered in a good yarn, tends to bore most kids.

As does, detractors claim, Australia's national anthem: Advance Australia Fair

So here’s a good yarn to wake them up.

Entwined with Australian colonial history and evolving nationhood, our various national anthems weave an absorbing tale as they adjoin attitudes of their day.

Yet again Australia’s national anthem endures a running cultural battle, like its predecessors and competitors: God Save the Queen/King, Waltzing Matilda, and Song of Australia.

This week a thoughtful, empathic, and quite brave child startled her classmates, teachers, free speech warriors, and national media – indeed, the global media – when she refused to stand for her school’s choral rendition of our patriotic paean.

That dreaded tongue twister – Advance Australia Fair – drew the ire of a nine-year-old student. Her protest specified “fair” and “young” as disrespecting, if not totally erasing from our cultural consensus, eons of indigenous heritage.

“When it says ‘we are young’ it completely disregards the Indigenous Australians who were here before us, for over 50,000 years,” she said.

“When it was originally written, Advance Australia Fair meant advance the white people of Australia.

When the adults in charge of her formal education reacted according to form with “punishment” (that they deny) she expressed annoyance:

I felt like they were trying to take my power away and that made me feel a bit upset because everything that I fight for is for equality and for equal power for everyone.

Australia’s famed free speech warriors piled on with abuse and offers of unsolicited corporal punishment. Our miniature protester thereby (inadvertently, one presumes) exposed this ugly crew as the hypocritical, attention-seeking, miserable swines they have always been, who so publicly and viciously attack a school girl aged nine.

Mistress of Irony, feral federal Queensland senator Pauline Hanson, gained global attention for her delightful master class in manufactured indignation:

Here we have a kid who’s been brainwashed and I tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside. This kid is headed down the wrong path and I blame the parents for it, for encouraging this.

No. Take her out of the school

I’m angry about this. I’m proud of the Australian flag and the national anthem as everyone should be … If it’s good enough for [indigenous people] to stand for the National anthem, it should be good enough for this nine-year-old brat.

Common sense arrived as perspective from octogenarian Tweeter Everald Compton (@EveraldAtLarge) whose long memories from former times revealed the abject silliness of this week’s fabricated outrage. On Twitter he was pointedly pertinent:

Can’t work out why we are crucifying a schoolgirl who won’t stand up for the Australian National Anthem. When I was at school 80 years ago our anthem was God Save The King. Irish kids would not stand. They were not punished. It’s time to put humanity before bigotry.

The Complaint

So, what was the substance of our student’s censuring of the anthem’s two words: “young” and “fair”?

“Young,” she feels, ignores the original Australians. The nation is not young if its indigenous occupants are recognised. Their custodianship measures to at least 65,000 years ago. We can reasonably agree those lyrics (published in 1879, well before federation in 1901) refer to the still fledgling colony already amnesic of aboriginal culture.

“Fair” – unfairly, Throsby asserts – implies a white Australia policy still applies. But the word has at least seventeen far more applicable definitions, and it’s unlikely the author, “Amicus,” aka Peter Dodds McCormick, used it in a racial sense. ‘Fair’ frequents 19th century literature as a broad compliment to national or personal character, and in that largely neutral literary descriptor “fair skinned.”

Innocuous as “young and free” seems as a phrase to describe peoples or nation, it is forever established as a rally point for those who dislike this anthem’s difficult and archaic wording, and those who perceive racial undertones.

Alternate Lyrics

The most positive move – which will probably take a further century to apply – is new wording for our modern era and a more inclusive imagery on the nature of Australian community.

Deborah Cheetham, Associate Dean, Music, University of Melbourne, reluctantly declined a tempting invitation to sing Advance Australia Fair at the 2015 AFL grand final.

I knew it was honour to be asked but I simply can no longer sing the words “for we are young and free

I wanted to find a way to make it OK. I told the event organisers that I was available to perform but I made it a condition of my appearance that I would be permitted to replace the words “for we are young and free” with “in peace and harmony”.

To their credit, the AFL gave my request consideration but decided that they were not able to openly support this change of lyric. So I made the only decision I could make – I turned down the opportunity to sing the national anthem in front of more than 90,000 people at the ground and potentially millions more watching on TV.

[ The Conversaton article ]

In 2009 Deborah helped launch alternative lyrics penned by Australian legend Judith Durham in consultation with Muti Muti singer songwriter Kutcha Edwards.

The lyrics are indeed inclusive, respectful, and assert a national character. They even suggest (to use that now dreaded phrase) Australian values.

Australia, celebrate as one, with peace and harmony.
Our precious water, soil and sun, grant life for you and me.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts to love, respect and share,
And honouring the Dreaming, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

Australia, let us stand as one, upon this sacred land.
A new day dawns, we’re moving on to trust and understand.
Combine our ancient history and cultures everywhere,
To bond together for all time, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

Australia, let us strive as one, to work with willing hands.
Our Southern Cross will guide us on, as friends with other lands.
While we embrace tomorrow’s world with courage, truth and care,
And all our actions prove the words, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

And when this special land of ours is in our children’s care,
From shore to shore forever more, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance … Australia … fair.

[ The Conversaton article ]

The furore has led Throsby to some equally delightful discoveries.

The Christians have had a go, as if they don’t have sufficient hymns already:

With Christ our head and cornerstone,
We’ll build our nation’s might;
Whose way and truth and light alone,
Can guide our path aright;
Our lives a sacrifice of love,
Reflect our master’s care;
With faces turned to heav’n above,
Advance Australia Fair;
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

[ Wikipedia article ]

Amicus Dodds got a bit carried away with stirring patriotic bulldust in his later verses:

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,
To trace wide oceans o’er,
True British courage bore him on,
Til he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
The standard of the brave;
“With all her faults we love her still”
“Britannia rules the wave.”
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

[ Wikipedia ]

As every school child has grasped since the 1970s, the anthem is an incomprehensible ensemble of sounds desperately seeking everyday phrases. So… improvise kids, the teacher is watching to see if your mouths are moving (if you aren’t sitting down in protest):

Australians all eat kangaroos
For breakfast, lunch and tea.
With olden royals, we’re fair and loyal
Our home is dirt by sea.
I learned to bounce on nature strips
In booties stitched with care.
In mystery’s haze, let’s harvest maize
And plant azaleas there.
Enjoy full trains and let us in
And dance Australia yeah!

[ Misheard lyrics at AmIRight ]
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