Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
So “The Man” Mundine was back making headlines again recently. Well, headlines on page 40-something at least. Turning his back on the national anthem, he chose to make yet another statement about how racist Australia is. This bloke’s showboating is usually excessive, though all part and parcel of a sport that rewards controversy and ego. But one this one occasion, he was right. The national anthem is a throwback to an Australia that we no longer recognise.
Most of us can recite the first verse, with its embarrassing references to being “girt by sea”. Most of us also know a so-called “second verse” exists, though few can remember the lyrics. What most of us don’t know is that this is actually the third verse, as the original second, fourth, and fifth verses are always omitted. Somewhere along the way, the Anglo/British/Caucasian undertones of the remaining three verses have seen them dropped out of usage.
The second verse, for instance, speaks of Captain Cook being driven by “true British courage”, and having landed here, he “raised Old England’s flag, the standard of the brave”. Support for an Australian republic now sits at around two-thirds of the population, so the final line “with all her faults we love her still, Britannia rules the waves” is an irrelevant anachronism.
The fourth verse speaks of our welcoming ways for migrants who’ve travelled from far and wide to share in our lot. Well, maybe not all of them. In fact, it specifically states that three nationalities are welcome – English, Scottish, and Irish – leaving the remaining hundred-odd communities in Australia wondering how they managed to slip through the cracks.
The final verse is the clincher. It drives hard against “foreign foes”, promising that if they ever “sight our coast, or dare a foot to land, we’ll rouse to arms like sires of yore, to protect our native strand”. Apparently this is done in order to appease Mother Britain, who needs to know that “beyond wide ocean’s roll, her sons in fair Australia’s land still keep a British soul”. It’s impossible to reconcile this racial-nationalist rhetoric with modern Australia.
Mundine is probably the last person you’d listen to on matters of national cohesion and cultural change. But in this instance, he’s on the money, though he probably doesn’t even realise it himself. This anthem is an embarrassment. The only verses that are appropriate to the modern Australia we live in speak of inane traits like being an island, and sitting on a lucrative quarry of rocks to sell to the world. Whoever wrote this piece was a perfect reflection of Australia of yesteryear – an inward-looking, dependent, insecure nation, floundering for some identity and pride, only to resort to racial constructs and a geographic landscape we were lucky to have been born upon.
Ironically, this lacklustre tune was an attempt to establish our distinct identity back in the 1970s, when God Save The Queen didn’t seem progressive enough. Modern Australia needs a new tune. With the likes of Jimmy Barnes and John Williamson still around, it shouldn’t be too hard to achieve.