SOMETIMES silence can speak volumes.
The ARL Commission has announced the national anthem will not be played at the All Stars match on the Gold Coast after accepting advice from the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council.
In a statement released by the NRL, the commission said it viewed the All Stars match as “an event unique to Indigenous Australians and the wishes of our players should be respected”.
While the usual suspects are now levelling accusations of “un-Australian’’, the truly un-Australian behaviour would be to ignore just how problematic our anthem and our day of national celebration have become.
This is a country of mateship, a country where class does matter – but it is the so-called “first class’’ that is not appreciated. In fact, it is the very reason the tall poppy syndrome exists. We don’t like any indications of superiority.
Yet when the demographic that is least likely to scale that social ladder calls out for a fair go, suddenly we close ranks.
I just cannot understand why it is such a big deal to change the date of Australia Day, or change or adapt our national anthem.
Neither the date of the holiday nor the words and tune of the anthem are longstanding traditions – in fact, it is only a matter of decades – and no one is suggesting we ditch the significance behind these national icons.
Should we celebrate our country with a public holiday? Heck, yes.
Should we choose a day that is not offensive to a proportion of the population? Heck, yes.
This is what I do not understand – as long as we are celebrating the awesomeness of being Aussie, what do we care when it is? (And, side note, we only adopted January 26 as a holiday in 1994, although all states were celebrating the date as Australia Day by 1935.)
If you were throwing a parent-appreciation party, would you choose to host it on the day your mother was brutally murdered? Or would you maybe opt for a date that suits every member of your family?
And then there’s our anthem.
Adopted in 1984 following its selection in a national plebiscite in 1977, our youthful anthem is a baby among the rest of the world’s anthems, many of which date back centuries and generations.
The bulk of our soldiers who have fought for our country did so under England’s anthem God Save the Queen (or King).
Despite these relatively new national additions, some still ask why the sudden stink about Australia Day and the national anthem. Why is it an issue now?
Well, speaking as a privileged white woman, I would like to suggest that perhaps the outcry is not so sudden, it is just that we have only started listening.
Jessica Mauboy’s performs a moving rendition of Advance Australia Fair celebrating Australia Day.
The social landscape has changed significantly in the past two decades, even in just the past 10 years.
Ideas that never gained a foothold in so-called mainstream society can now spread like the coronavirus thanks to social media. Grassroots movements can go viral and social change is no longer something that can only be instigated by leaders and hierarchal heads.
The jokes we made, the slurs we said, the mindless privilege we enjoyed just a few years ago, are not okay anymore.
Some might say that is political correctness gone mad. And sure, as someone born without a filter, I can accept it can be annoying to watch your mouth, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than being on the other end and being belittled, denigrated or harassed.
We are living in a moment when people who never had a voice are now being heard. What seems new to us, is old to them.
Take January 26 … way back in 1938, a historic protest was held by Aboriginal Australians gathered for a conference in Sydney to mark the “Day of Mourning’’.
The controversy is not new, but the traction within white Australia is.
As for the anthem, debate over Advance Australia Fair has been simmering since leading Indigenous players spoke out after electing not to sing it before last year’s All Stars match and during the State of Origin series.
For the players and many other Indigenous people involved in the game, it has been an issue for much longer. After all, “young and free’’ does not really describe a 40,000-year-old culture that was not classified as human until 1967.
To all the non-indigenous critics, may I remind you that this was not our wound, it is not our pain, and we cannot tell others how much they are allowed to hurt.
When it comes to the NRL All Stars match and the national anthem, or lack thereof, I understand the sentiment to “just play footy’’ and drop the politics, but I don’t agree.
Sport is one of the few spheres where indigenous voices are heard. In the NRL alone, indigenous players make up 12 per cent of the cohort, compared to 2.4 per cent of the total population.
So if those voices choose to remain silent, well, that speaks volumes.
We need to turn over a new page and start a new songbook if we are to allow all Australians to really celebrate living in the Lucky Country.
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