Our national anthem is a joke. Tinkering won’t fix it.

Jan 3, 2021

“For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share.” The blackest satire in the entire rigmarole. Endorsed by both sides of politics, the plains of Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru are scarcely boundless. As for sharing, forget it mate. If you’re a new chum, especially an African or a woman in a headscarf, you’re on your Pat Malone.

Credit – Unsplash

In 1878, when it was first written, Advance Australia Fair might have had a grain of truth to it. 142 years later it reads like pure satire. A national lampoon that needs to be replaced with something more honest and meaningful.

When PM Scott Morrison decided to swap ‘young’ for ‘one’ in Advance Australia Fair he was only acknowledging what we all know to be true: our national anthem is a joke. Typically, he left the rest of the job uncompleted. This is what he should have considered.

First, the title: is there anyone who would seriously argue Australia is ‘fair’, either in terms of how we treat people like migrants, Muslims, women, First Australians, refugees, the poor, the sick, the disabled, altar boys, the elderly and the jobless?

Or that an Australia largely clear-felled for ‘development’, blighted by 60,000 toxic mine sites no-one will ever clean up, its rivers running dry, its aquifers punctured like the arms of an addict by a billion drill cores, its Great Barrier Reef in ruins, is ‘fair’ compared to what it once was?

“Let us rejoice, for we are young and free.” Well, Scotty’s right about the first. We’re far less young than we used to be – in 1900 one in 25 Australians were aged 65 plus; today its one in seven; by 2050, the figure will be one in four. The typical Aussie then lived 52 years, now its 82 years. So the image of golden youth doesn’t quite cut it in the wizening present.

Free. Now that’s a joke. Since 2001 more than fifty new laws, powers and offences have been introduced that restrict or curtail the freedoms enjoyed by previous generations of Australians. The Law Council of Australia notes: “Many of those laws contain measures that run contrary to established notions of criminal justice. Many of those laws were rushed through parliament but have never or very rarely been used. In short, Australia has been left with a legacy of flawed and unnecessary legislation.”

To these have been added new powers for the Government to pry into almost any aspect of your data or private affairs it wishes, laws which empower intelligence officials to force you to open your smartphone, laws and apps that spy on your health or census data and robots that assay your alleged debt to the government. “The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party,” commented UNSW Professor Greg Austin. You bet, mate.

On top of it the Government has constructed the all-powerful Department of Home Affairs as the primary instrument of state security, surveillance and repression. At a more basic level of freedom, as we become more and more like America and less and less like Australia, the prison population is exploding: from 25,000 in 2007 to 42,000 in 2020 – an increase of 68%.

Any way you cut it, Australians are a lot less free than they were a generation ago, but our ridiculous anthem cheerfully boasts the exact opposite.

“We’ve golden soil…” Well, we had, maybe. In 1878. Then a lot of it got over-cleared, overcropped, overgrazed and overdeveloped – and just blew away. It turned mountains in Antarctica and New Zealand pink. It covered Sydney and Melbourne in dust-storms estimated to contain up to 5 million tonnes of ‘golden soil’.

“Current rates of soil erosion by water across much of Australia now exceed soil formation rates by an order of magnitude or more,” the government’s own State of the Environment Report reads. Our anthem celebrates a national disaster, for which no end is yet in sight.

“…and wealth for toil.” On paper the ‘average Aussie’ owns a $55,000 slice of the national pie (GDP per capita). But, as Credit Suisse and Oxfam have both observed, the top 250,000 mega-rich own more than the poorest 18 million Australians put together. No matter how hard you toil, wealth for most is now beyond reach, being discreetly and regularly redistributed among a handful of business cronies and political lapdogs. If you can’t afford a politician or two, you’re unlikely to make it big in the Land of Opportunity.

“Our home is girt by sea.” More sea than ever, thanks to coal-fired climate change. The one truthful line in the entire AAF lampoon. Melting the Arctic and Antarctic is a one-way street: once it gets underway – which it is now – it cannot be halted or reversed in human time. Ultimately this will raise sea levels by 65 metres worldwide. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and the Gold Coast, along with a host of smaller coastal towns, will drown beneath the waves. Only the top of the Harbour Bridge and the 21st storey of the taller CBD towers will be poking out. Twenty-odd million Aussies will have to relocate. So ‘girt by sea’ is nothing to brag about: it is proof of catastrophic political incompetence over decades.

“Our land abounds in nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare.” Well, it certainly once did – but ask the Tassie Tiger. So far, we have wiped out 58 native animals, birds and frogs and have a further 106 species lined up in the gunsight. Our governments and the fossil fuel sector are doing their level best to abolish the Great Barrier Reef, the kelp beds, mangroves and southern forests. Having removed half the continent’s trees since white settlement we’ve bulldozed another 3.8 million hectares, mostly in Queensland, since 2010 – and the trend is going up, not down.

“Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, we’ll toil with hearts and hands.” In fact, most of us knock-off, come 5 o’clock. As for toiling with hearts and hands, at least 3 million Australian jobs are slated for replacement by a robot or artificial intelligence, which have neither.

“For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share.” The blackest satire in the entire rigmarole. Endorsed by both sides of politics, the plains of Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru are scarcely boundless. As for sharing, forget it mate. If you’re a new chum, especially an African or a woman in a headscarf, you’re on your Pat Malone.

And finally, exchanging ‘young’ for ‘one’, who are you trying to kid, Mr Morrison? Does the divided, self-seeking, politically rancorous, inequitable, schismatic country you are working so hard to achieve merit such an Orwellian term?

All things considered, Advance Australia Fair is scarcely honest anthem material. It’s a giant national pisstake, designed to evoke a ‘vision splendid’ of an Australia that doesn’t exist, probably never existed and certainly never will exist if today’s governance achieves its ends. It appears calculated to make the hoi polloi feel good about themselves while having their pockets picked, their data stolen and their activities surveilled by millions of tiny little cameras.

It should be consigned to history’s wheelie bin without further ado.

Assuming we even need an anthem – and there may just be a case to jerk the occasional beery tear before Grand Final kickoff, or when the (debated) Aussie flag mounts the gold pole at the Olympics – why not Waltzing Matilda? Everyone knows it, everyone loves it and 100 years on it still speaks truth to power in a way the current specious chant never will.

The swaggie remains a quintessential Aussie. Down-on-his-luck – but tenacious, ingenious, tough as teak and fond of a good barbie. Like most today, he is up against the plutocracy with its po-faced, uniformed henchpersons, one, two, three. A true battler, he’d rather die than yield. He has guts. All right, the words are a bit quaint – but who needs words? Most Australians don’t even know the words of Advance Australia Fair. We can all sing the chorus of Waltzing Matilda, like all the generations gone by since 1895, when Banjo Patterson first penned it.

So get your pen out again, Mr Morrison, and put a thick red line right through AAF in its entirety. Let’s hear it for Waltzing Matilda instead

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