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Opinion

No need to play the anthem before the NRL All Stars game

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Editor
28th December, 2019
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Advance Australia Fair should not be played before the All Stars match between the Indigenous and Maori teams.

This is not a piece about whether we need to change the Australian national anthem – I’ve got thoughts on that particular issue, but will park them for now.

Instead, I simply agree with Ryan James’ statement on the issue from earlier this month, when he told reporters that he and his Indigenous teammates don’t want the Aussie anthem played prior to the match on the Gold Coast on February 22.

“We sat down and talked about it last year and it just doesn’t represent us or what we do,” James said.

The anthem has been a thorny issue of late, with most Indigenous players opting not to sing it when it was played before rep games this year.

That’s been the case with most footy players throughout my life, with one or two really belting it out, a handful making a show of slightly moving their mouths – literally paying lip service to the tune – but many simply standing with their jaws clamped, none too fussed about participating in a little singsong before 80 intense minutes.

Kyle Turner, Wade Graham and Ryan James of Indigenous All Stars.

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

However, this latest issue is not a case of opting against singing because it doesn’t get them revved up. Rather, as James put it, Indigenous players have said it doesn’t represent them.

The specific issue tends to be the word “young” in the second line – “for we are young and free” – which obviously does not apply to a civilisation some 60,000 years old.

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It may be one word, however it’s still a big deal – an ignorant oversight at best, intentionally exclusionary at worst – which means it’s completely understandable that Indigenous people don’t recognise it as being representative of them.

And if it’s not representative of the Indigenous team, and it’s obviously not representative of the Maori team, then why bother to play it?

It’d be a bit like playing God Save the Queen before a State of Origin match. I mean, sure, it’s still our country’s royal anthem, but even the most ardent Queenslander would resent likely having to listen to that particular ditty – let alone stand and sing it – before a game between two Aussie states.

In fact, the reason Advance Australia Fair ended up becoming our anthem was because Gough Whitlam recognised in 1973 that a song imploring God to protect the Queen of England probably wasn’t representative of a secular nation on the other side of the world.

Ultimately, the All Stars’ stance will likely spark a larger discussion around the appropriateness of our anthem.

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James is actually hoping for it to happen.

“It’s a good time for the players and the NRL to make some decisions,” he told NRL.com.

“There are a lot of things that still need to be raised and talked about. The conversations have definitely started. It just brings it more to light with the players and all the media around it.”

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Regardless, the easiest thing for the NRL to do is to treat the All Stars match the same way it does a standard club game – just don’t play any anthem.

Offer our Maori guests the opportunity to perform the Haka as an expression of their culture and certainly embrace this week-long exploration of each other’s heritage.

But if singing a song is going to offend rather than unite the team it’s supposed to represent, it seems pretty straightforward that we just don’t play it.