Time to change the national anthem?

One of the bigger news stories this week was the young girl in Queensland who refused to stand up for the national anthem – Advance Australia Fair – on the grounds that she thought it was not inclusive of indigenous Australians.

The nine-year-old schoolgirl, Harper Nielsen, decided to protest the national anthem during a school assembly and when she refused to stand she was told to do so or leave the building.

As punishment, she received a lunchtime detention, and was told she needed to sign a written apology, or she would risk suspension.

But the story didn’t end there. Young Miss Nielsen’s decision sparked a bitter debate in the media, with Alan Jones and Mark Latham, in particular, firing barbs at the year four student for being a ‘brat’ and saying she should be sent to a special school for students with behavioural problems.

Pauline Hanson also joined in the fray, threatening the young student with a ‘kick up the backside’ for her decision to make a stand against what she thought was unjust.

The hosts of Today had differing views on the girl’s protest. Karl Stefanovic blamed Miss Nielsen’s parents for supporting her in a way he didn’t think was appropriate, while his co-host, Georgie Gardner applauded her strength and character and for actually considering the words and meaning behind the anthem, instead of mindlessly “rattling it off”.

Controversial Guardian columnist Van Badham defended Miss Nielsen, saying that she was brave to stand up for what she believed in and accusing her detractors of “being so threatened by non-conformism” that they would “bully a child”.

The resulting furore has sparked a bitter debate in the media and the Australian public, with many saying Miss Nielsen should abide by school rules and that she should show more respect for the anthem and her country, while others believe she was right to stand up for her beliefs and that, maybe, it is time we reviewed the national anthem and put one in place that is more inclusive of all Australians and more accurately reflective of our history.

Advance Australia Fair was penned in 1878 by Scottish-born Peter Dodds McCormick. It replaced God Save the Queen as our national anthem in 1984, after a plebiscite to choose a new anthem was carried out in 1977.

Many of you would have voted in that plebiscite and today, we are asking you to participate in a mini plebiscite of sorts. Back in ‘77, the choices for a new anthem were God Save the Queen, Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda, and Australia Song.

The results of that plebiscite were:

  • God Save the Queen (18.78 per cent)
  • Advance Australia Fair (43.29 per cent)
  • Waltzing Matilda (28.28 per cent)
  • Australia Song (9.65 per cent)

Many believe that I Am Australian by The Seekers would be a suitable replacement and reading the lyrics, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t more inclusive and an accurate representation of our past:

I came from the dream-time
From the dusty red-soil plains
I am the ancient heart
The keeper of the flame
I stood upon the rocky shores
I watched the tall ships come
For forty thousand years I’ve been
The first Australian

I came upon the prison ship
Bowed down by iron chains
I bought the land, endured the lash
And waited for the rains
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife
On a dry and barren run
A convict, then a free man
I became Australian

I’m the daughter of a digger
Who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman
On the long and dusty road
I’m a child of the Depression
I saw the good times come
I’m a bushie, I’m a battler
I am Australian

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
“I am, you are, we are Australian”

I’m a teller of stories
I’m a singer of songs
I am Albert Namatjira
And I paint the ghostly gums
I’m Clancy on his horse
I’m Ned Kelly on the run
I’m the one who waltzed Matilda
I am Australian

I’m the hot wind from the desert
I’m the black soil of the plains
I’m the mountains and the valleys
I’m the drought and flooding rains
I am the rock, I am the sky
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
“I am, you are, we are Australian”

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
“I am, you are, we are Australian”

“I am, you are, we are Australian”

Others say Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home would suit. Many would prefer to stick with the one we have, and others have their own suggestions.

So, which one would you prefer?

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Do you think it’s time to change the anthem? If not, why not? If you voted in the 1977 plebiscite, which anthem did you select? Do you think Miss Nielsen was brave or disobedient? Would you prefer our children follow blindly or question authority in a healthy and informed way?

Related articles:
Should we move Australia Day?
Australia’s alternative anthem?
Who really discovered Australia?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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