This week, PM Malcolm Turnbull has rejected suggestions to change the National Anthem to be more inclusive and relevant to Indigenous people in Australia. Turnbull did, however, ‘graciously’ allow the new proposed lyrics to be performed as a ‘patriotic’ song at certain events.
Victorian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Vickery, proposed the new lyrics as part of the Recognition in Anthem Project. In Vickery’s version, the line “for we are young and free” would have been changed to “in peace and harmony.” A third verse making reference to Dreamtime and Uluru has also been put forward.
Turnbull based his rejection of the new lyrics when he failed to be convinced that there was enough support from the public.
And herein lies the biggest issue of all. In turning down what is essentially just a symbolic platitude, Turnbull has shown a distinct lack of awareness or courage. Holding our highest level of responsibility and as the representative of our nation, the PM has a responsibility to lead our country and set the tone for what is important and not important. In fact, I’d put the point forward that “a lack of public support” may be one of the main reasons why these changes have to happen.
Things of this nature always incite a particular conundrum in my head. On one hand, as a proud Murri sister, I sigh thinking how unnecessary empty platitudes and hollow rhetoric should be. On the other hand, I see how much these symbolic moves do to get issues into the public consciousness.
The issues us blackfullas are facing these days are due to a generational poverty and disadvantage bestowed upon us through historical trauma. Once a population is marginalized and stripped of pride of culture, has disease, judgement and disadvantage introduced, the effects are passed on. On both sides of the coin – the attitudes are inherited.
The argument against things like changing the anthem or changing Australia Day’s date are usually based around an argument that is “but it’s been this way for so long! Why do we have to change it!” either followed by ignorant comments or an explanation of the supreme difficulty or burden this puts on the public. Which is utter – insert which ever curse word suits you best here.
Opposition to anything that is purely symbolic only goes to highlight exactly where disadvantage in our society lies. In the same way that is a universally accepted fact that if you say “I’m not racist but…” you are about to say something racist – I posit that saying “we already love Aboriginal people – we don’t have to change anything” is code for “put the rug over it! I am full of white guilt!”
It has been a real pleasure to see that our entertainment industries have been embracing Aboriginal culture more and more recently. How lucky we are to have the oldest continuing culture in history being celebrated. Oftentimes, this is how it works though. To shift the public consciousness to a place of empathy rather than apathy, ignorance or guilt, it is usually through art and expression that the seeds are sewn.
If we can shift public attitude and make the public more aware and empathetic (note: different to sympathetic!) and honour and celebrate our amazing culture, then proposals to change the constitution memorandum, the lyrics of a song nobody knows the lyrics to anyway and the shifting a public holiday will be perfect ways to really start a healing process.
Unfortunately, the truth is, making these symbolic changes doesn’t address real concerns in policy. It is a start however.