A post over at Bay Of Fundie got me thinking about our national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair”. The post at BOF was about the religiosity of most of the world’s national anthems or national hymns and how perfectly good & understandable love for one’s country of birth can be rooned by throwing in “God” at every opportunity. What about the people in that nation who don’t believe in God, or at the very least don’t believe God plays favourites with arbitrarily declared international borders? Anyway, I left this comment (my gos, can someone tell me why blogger’s editor is such a turkeyslapping pain in the arse when you’re using the quotes button?):
I’d much prefer Matilda to Advance Australia Fair (even though AAF is about as secular an anthem as you can get). Matilda has nice irreverent lyrics by Banjo Paterson (Oz’s best-loved colonial-era poet) and is developed from an old folk song about a homeless bloke who steals for food and would rather die than go to jail – it tells you a lot about our notions of a “fair go” and our natural suspicion of cops, especially in the state of Victoria 🙂 It also speaks volumes about our convict past.
However, AAF is totally secular and free of any sucking up to fairies:
Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea:
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare,
In history’s page let every stage
Advance Australia fair,
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands,
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.
Apart from the utterly naff & uninspiring melody, it’s completely free of toadying to God to keep our prime minister safe, free of the guns n’ dicks n’ explosions militarism of “The Star Spangled Fuck You King George” and has nice messages about wide open spaces and welcoming hugs for immigrants (which, by the way, our conservative party like to ignore, especially when there are desperate refugees daring to try and float to our northern coasts). While it does have bits about nature’s gifts I just wish it had a cautionary verse or two about the fact that most of our wildlife WILL KILL YOU if you let your guard down. We’ve lost too many good tourists and conservationists that way.
While I’m not the most patriotic person in the world, I do know the words to this song (unlike many Aussies – seems we’re one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to remembering the words to our anthem, especially the second verse which never gets played unless there’s something huge going on, like the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony). But while I know the words, today is the first time I’ve actually realised that our anthem is completely secular. I must’ve sung it a hundred times at school sports days, ANZAC Days and other things like that (though not at all lately) and not realised that it’s as godless as a song can be. There’s a reference to our “radiant Southern Cross” which is nice and kind of nerdy – not many songs have references to specific constellations! Also there are lines about “boundless plains” and “beauty, rich & rare”, which is kinda cool as appreciation for our wildlife and environment was impressed upon me quite a bit by my parents, both directly & indirectly. But, like I said, the melody’s really quite uninspiring and I’m not a patriotic person, so it’s not something I care to sing these days, much as agree with its sentiments.
Patriotism has long been a source of introspective inquiry to me and George Bernard Shaw’s thoughts on the matter sum up my thought processes nicely:
Patriotism is your conviction that [your] country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.
I do love living here and there’s no question it’s a fortunate country in a lot of respects, with great weather, sporting prowess, robust & fairly liberal (at times) democratic politics, a decent judiciary, semi-decent media (better than the US anyway – SBS & ABC TV ftw!), unique wildlife & wilderness, fairly decent education, health, pay (minimum wage nearly thrice what US workers are entitled to!), freedom of speech, religion (without too many wackos) and a whole bunch of other benefits you’d expect in a modern, free liberal democracy. But, for an accident of birth or circumstance, I could be a Kiwi, a Yank, Pom, Congolese, Chinese, Kazakhstani, Iraqi or never have been born at all. Yes, this country has a lot to show the world and has much to be proud of. But it’s not the greatest country in the world (whatever that means) and just because I was born here and know it better than any other nation, it doesn’t mean I can’t be objective about it. Our treatment of Aborigines is deplorable. Our treatment of refugees, especially recently with Howard & Co all but labelling every illegal arrival a potential terrorist and treating them as such, leaves much to be desired. Our continuing participation in illegal wars kicked off by our US cousins, from Vietnam to Iraq, is a source of great shame to me (though I can’t fault our troops’ actions in those theatres – our guys always seem to conduct themselves pretty decently wherever our government sees fit to send them).
People should just remember that, given the odds against one particular sperm meeting that one egg, that it was a miracle they were even born at all. That they were born on a particular piece of land within the confines of some arbitrary national/state/county/provincial/city border is something that they had absolutely no control over, so why such intense pride at being from Country X? You’re an Australian not because you selected to be born here in some pre-foetal waiting room with a giant Risk map stretched out in front of you. You just struck it lucky, not just by being born in a democratic country with opportunities, but also because you were born into a family which had access to such things and knew how to raise you to be a smart enough adult to take advantage of them. You had the pure fortune to be born to decent people under the radiant Southern Cross, so just thank those lucky stars for that and don’t ram down peoples’ throats how it’s the best country in the world because it happened to spawn you. Thankfully, most Aussies don’t behave that way. There’s maybe one country in the world that does though, and perhaps it should take a step back and check the mirror once in a while…