THE message sent by the axing of the national anthem from the Indigenous All Stars game stretches far beyond rugby league and even sport itself.
And it’s this simple: Australia needs a new anthem, one that embraces the nation we have become and are trying to be rather than the one we were four decades ago when Advance Australia Fair was adopted.
As Preston Campbell points out, Advance Australia Fair has jolting tones for indigenous people from its opening lines.
“We think about our old people and the struggles they had, and when you think about the first couple of lines – ‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free’ – for a lot of our communities they don’t feel like they are free,” Campbell told NRL.com
“We have been around for 60,000 plus years, so obviously we are not so young either, and there are a couple of lines in the national anthem that has a lot of people starting to think we should change it up.”
Or replace it with something better.
The chastening facts are that Australians of all backgrounds were never totally in love with the anthem anyway.
Back in 1977, when a referendum was held for the anthem, Advance Australia Fair got 43 per cent of the vote compared with 28 per cent for Waltzing Matilda.
It did not even get half the vote.
It was only 10 years before that decision that Australia voted to make Aboriginal people part of the census in Australia so for the first time they counted as Australian citizens.
Be honest. Does Australia’s anthem actually move you the way an anthem should?
If the answer is “no”, you don’t need to say sorry, because you should not have to tell yourself to love something – you either do or you don’t.
Sadly, you only realise how far Advance Australia Fair is falling short in its duty of galvanising the spirit of a nation when you see other nations sing their anthems and how it unifies them.
The South African rugby union team, which won last year’s World Cup, represented all corners and colours of the Rainbow Nation and they stood together as one emotionally bonded unit singing their hearts out before the final.
South Africa’s political history, with its sordid apartheid regime, is nothing to be proud of, but at least they recognised things had to change in all sorts of ways, including their anthem which, complex little number that it is, is quite a majestic piece of work.
It starts in Xhosa, followed by several versus in Zulu, Sesotho and Afrikaans before finishing with a spirited final verse in English.
It includes five of South Africa’s 11 national languages and was penned for adoption in 1997 by a committee featuring voices from different cultures.
Australia’s anthem was penned by a Scot in 1878, when Indigenous Australians were treated horrendously.
It just seems incongruous that former prime minister Kevin Rudd said “sorry” to indigenous Australians for the way they were treated, yet our anthem, which is our spiritual signature as a nation, does not recognise never mind embrace their culture.
When the anthem is played at major rugby league games now, such as the State of Origin series, the attention of many fans is grabbed by trying to note which players are singing it rather than actually singing along with it themselves.
There are many different strands. A few players – not many – sing heartily. Some strike the middle ground of mouthing the words but not being too emotional because they don’t want to offend their indigenous teammates.
Others don’t know the words. Some do, but deliberately don’t sing them.
It’s not the way it should be and it’s the reason that Australia needs a new anthem that represents modern Australia.