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Our ‘un-Australian’ anthem is girt by controversy

Is ‘un-Australian’ the most misused and falsely appropriated word in our national dialect?

I think it is, and I use the recent controversy around our national anthem to argue my point.

Indigenous rapper/comedian/writer/actor Adam Briggs (known as Briggs) used his performance on the ABC television show The Weekly to dissect Advance Australia Fair and highlight its offense to Indigenous Australians.

His performance pushed all the outrage buttons for the free speech warriors of the right wing press and social media. It was called an attack on patriotism and western culture, extremist identity politics typical of the taxpayer funded ABC, and so on...

And of course, it was ‘un-Australian’ to criticise our national anthem.

A descendant of the original indigenous inhabitants, a culture that has existed for at least 120,000 years, being criticised for being un-Australian was the ultimate definition of appropriating the phrase for the purposes of insult and ignorance.

Briggs himself stated: “I want to help you understand what the national anthem sounds like when blackfellas listen to it.” This was not an unreasonable point of view; all he did was analyse how the words of Advance Australia Fair relate to the Australia seen through the eyes of its original inhabitants. And like Briggs said, “the song sucks.”

I won’t analyse it line-by-line like Briggs, but it is obvious to this whitefella that it is a pro-colonial lacklustre dirge, and its words and their contents are exclusionary and outdated.

And let’s not forget the perpetually forgotten second verse which proclaims boundless land to share with those who come across the sea.

Australians don’t burst out singing it, preferring to mouth or hum along. It’s not a rousing call to arms or celebration of victory.

It was written in the late 19th century, hence the colonial undertones and absence of indigenous acknowledgement. A few words were changed – such as ‘Australian sons’ to ‘Australians all’ when it became the national anthem in 1984, but the outmoded and exclusionary language remained. Girt anybody?

By the time the Briggs controversy combined with the furore over Indigenous players refusing to sing Advance Australia Fair at the State of Origin, girt was the last thing on anyone’s mind, let alone the usual free speech advocates who were by now close to demanding treason charges be laid against any person not fully backing Advance Australia Fair.

The most vigorous finger wavers were most likely the ones who most lamented the passing of God Save the Queen as our anthem. This anthem was of its time; a time when Australia was beholden to the British Empire and its head of state, head of its armed services and head of its church (which just happens to be the same person). Queen Elizabeth endures, and Australia thankfully doesn’t have to endure singing God Save the King to Charles.

Waltzing Matilda has occasionally been suggested as an alternative, but realistically, its dated anachronistic language and references would make no sense on the world stage.

Another suggestion that occasionally gains traction is I Am Australian. The themes are inclusive, it embraces our Indigenous heritage, European settlement and multiculturalism, with mention of our harsh and diverse environment.

But it is long and wordy, five verses and three choruses, and can sound like an over-earnest advertising jingle.

And let’s not mention Down Under, that would be embarrassing and best left at the pub.

Call me un-Australian, but the time for Advance Australia Fair has passed too. Time for something modern that includes all Australians.

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.