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"It's a rhythmic collection of lies." What's so wrong with the Australian national anthem.

“Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free…

My people die young in this country. We die 10 years younger than the average Australian, and we are far from free.”

That line from Stan Grant’s 2016 IQ2 Racism Debate perfectly encapsulates the problematic nature of our national anthem. This song, which is meant to be reflective of the nation we call Australia, has not stood the test of the ever-changing face of our society, and it certainly has never acknowledged the true story or presence of its First People.

As a proud Kamilaroi and Dunghutti woman, I stopped singing the national anthem in high school. Growing up and learning of the ways the systems in power in this country continue to exclude and discriminate against my people, I found Advance Australia Fair went from sounding like old-fashioned, emotionless droning, to a rhythmic collection of lies.

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The Australia me and my family, and all the Indigenous mob across the continent live in, sees us as young, but far from free. For as long as our young people are more likely to see the inside of a gaol cell than a university campus; for as long as they feel so hopeless and alone that they choose to take their own lives as barely teenagers and for as long as we are not recognised in the founding document of this country, our constitution, we are not free to enjoy the possibilities that are provided to so many other Australians.

Growing up where I did, a place with an overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon population and facing the push back and ignorance of peers and teachers alike throughout my schooling, not singing the anthem was the safest and most comfortable way I could maintain my integrity and represent my people’s truth, during a school assembly or similar event.

 

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This act of not participating is not new – not even in the realm of the NRL – former league player turned writer and mental health activist Joe Williams was protesting the anthem back in 2007, when he stood away from his team mates as it was played before a game.

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But as we saw in the recent uproar around newly named NSW Blues player, and proud Bundjulung and Yuin man, Cody Walker’s decision to opt out of singing before game one of the 2019 State of Origin series, it’s obvious that this type of peaceful protest never fails to spark conversations.

For me, the conversation around the anthem as it is and its lack of inclusivity, plays into a much bigger conversation around our national identity. What does it mean to be an Australian? What makes you one? Do we truly have an Australian culture? These are the same questions that get raised when we think about the date of Australia Day, or the symbols that make up our national flag, and it is obvious that we as a collective don’t have those answers.

state of origin national anthem
Proud Bundjulung and Yuin man Cody Walker will not sing the national anthem before the State of Origin games this year. Image: Getty.

So, what do we do from here? What is the solution? Some would argue that changing a word or two in the current anthem, like the ones in the line I opened this article with, would solve the problem. But to me, it would only serve to help non-Indigenous Australia justify stopping the conversation.

There is an array of flaws that hinder our journey to reconciliation in nearly every facet of this country and you can’t fix the gaping holes in our foundations with a measly fresh coat of paint. You have to dismantle them and start from scratch in consultation with the previously oppressed and excluded voices. There must be true togetherness.

No, a new anthem, a new date for Australia Day and a new flag will not solve everything. But the symbolic nature of those actions will indicate a shift in the psyche of the population for us.

It will indicate as close to a universal desire to build a better future for all, as we’ll get. And it will pave a clearer path for us to reach a point where this country and its treatment of all the people who call it home, will be something we can be truly proud of.

Marlee Silva is the co-founder of Tiddas 4 Tiddas. For more from here, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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