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Opinion

Up and anthem: Nduwimana brings the chills, while the Blues go all Kendall Jenner

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Editor
2nd November, 2020
37

It’s just as well the Wallabies decided against taking a knee for the singing of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ prior to Bledisloe 3. They would have looked pretty silly.

Not because, as Nick Farr-Jones bizarrely declared, we don’t “have a major issue in relation to discrimination of coloured people” in this country.

Nor because of the embarrassing on-field performance the Aussies dished up.

Rather, because if the hairs on the back of your neck are at attention, it’s pretty hard for the rest of your body to be doing anything else.

And how could you not be genuinely moved by David Nduwimana’s performance of a song that isn’t even his official national anthem?

A few cynics likely saw an African man take to the microphone and wondered if this was a shameless means of silencing the Black Lives Matter discussion that had reared its head in the weeks leading up to the game.

Then Nduwimana filled the stadium with the sounds of a song I almost didn’t recognise.

The Burundian refugee – who recently was granted permanent residency here in Australia – graced us with the most spine-tingling rendition of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ of all time.

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I’ve long argued that our anthem is pretty naff because, generally speaking, it is. The musical focus on pomp and pageantry makes it hard to get excited to sing along.

By comparison, America’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ began life as a drinking song. Granted it’s even more controversial than our own at the moment, but when they get onboard, the Yanks holler out their anthem both because they are far more jingoistic than us and because it’s a song that was made to be sung loud, proud and with your arm draped around the strangers either side of you (possibly slopping lager onto one another).

You can’t do that with ‘Advance Australia Fair’. Well, I didn’t think you could. But Nduwimana sang our song with talent, training and – most important of all – ticker.

Julie Anthony, due respect, you’ve officially been replaced. This young man is now the gold standard.

It doesn’t solve the problem with our anthem’s lyrics and certainly doesn’t make our fractured nation a healed whole.

Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies

Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies . (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

But for those of us who called bullshit when Scott Morrison said ‘Advance Australia Fair’ is “rallying for the country”, Nduwimana made it much harder to argue.

That song, the one Nduwimana sang, is one the whole nation would be proud to rip in to.

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Well, almost. Because even if we can get the spirit right and bring the enthusiasm, there’s still the matter of the lyrics.

They’re not unsalvageable, but “we are young and free” continues to rankle when Australia is home to the oldest continuous civilisation in the world.

It’s not a page-one rewrite, with suggestions of “strong and free” or “one and free” instead, and the PM himself said adjustments are not off the table.

“Many years ago Bob Hawke changed it from ‘Australian sons’ to ‘Australians all’ so there’s precedent for these things,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

Change a single word. Seems so easy.

But it highlights the importance and power of words, especially in an anthem, which is a lesson that the knuckleheads at the NSWRL have forgotten of late.

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

On Saturday, Blues coach Brad Fittler was quoted saying that the issue of whether the anthem should be sung before Origin was “distracting”.

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“A lot of [the players] were sidetracked last year over this issue. It wasn’t just the boys not singing it, everyone was asked. As of today, this will be the last time we comment,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Then the very next day, the Blues announced on their website that they’ve got a new… anthem!

Of course, this announcement (which featured the word ‘anthem’ 12 times, FYI) came with quotes from the coach, such as, “Blues fans never fail to celebrate, cheering loud and proud. Now they will be armed with a new anthem.”

Freddy, if you don’t want to talk about the actual anthem, don’t go around talking about a different one the very next day.

As for the song itself, it’s called ‘We All Bleed Blue’ and, while not quite as ham-fisted as Pepsi’s infamous ‘protest’ ad featuring Kendall Jenner, surely I’m not the only one who reckons the concept is tone-deaf when anthems have become a political issue worldwide used to highlight racial inequality.

As for those who would argue it’s just a bit of fun – rather than a huge corporation cashing in on a movement that has genuine, society-altering stakes, a la Pepsi and Kendall – I’d point out that the song is performed by The Star Blues Choir.

And the main reason I’m inclined to believe this is an attempt by a casino group to achieve maximum advertising cut-through by leveraging a hot-button topic, rather than a carefully considered part of a long-term marketing plan, is that the lyrics are just toilet.

I’m not claiming to be Lester Bangs but you don’t really need to be to recognise an ordinary effort when it comes to the ‘words’ part of ‘words and music’.

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Especially when we’re talking about an anthem. Because the whole point of such a song is to identify with and uplift a specific group of people.

But the words to ‘We All Bleed Blue’ are almost exclusively about Queensland!

It starts: “It was 40 years ago today/On a patch of hallowed grass/Artie took a swipe at Mick/And sat him on his arse
“From Tommy down to our mate Boyd/It’s been a journey long/We bring our humble song to you/So you can sing along”

So New South Welshmen are supposed to open our rallying cry by calling the Lang Park turf “hallowed”, then reminisce about how a Queenslander beat up on one of our own? Look, Beetson belting Cronin is how Origin began, there’s no hiding from that, but it’s not exactly a proud moment south of the Tweed.

Brad Fittler

Blues coach Brad Fittler (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Tommy Raudonikis and Boyd Cordner are then name-checked, although no chat about their actual achievements, followed by the laziest form of musical filler: acknowledging this song is indeed a song and you should sing along (it’s more cliché than lyrics about a party where people drink Bacardi).

The second verse is even more Maroon-centric:

“Now beware of slippery cane toads/Or they’ll slip in for a try/Smith or Thurston or Billy the Kid/They could make a Blatchy cry
“Well it wasn’t all that long ago/The blue skies turned maroon/No matter how well our team played/Our hopes and dreams seemed doomed”

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In this three-verse song, the entire second verse is dedicated to how much better the opposition are. I guess the night is darkest before the dawn and the hero’s journey isn’t worth recounting if he just wins the whole time?

Okay, so how are they going to bring it home?

“Then one day a chap named Freddy/He’d learned a thing or two/It’s not for me or the team we play/But the fans that bleed for you
“And from brick veneers and fibro shacks/From Bondi Beach to Bourke and back/Freddy heard a distant sound/That grew and grew ‘til it shook the ground”

It’s generally more filler, but read the critical part again: “It’s not for me or the team we play/But the fans that bleed for you”.

What is that even supposed to mean? Did Fittler get fans to bleed? Does the Integrity Unit know about this?

Or is it a David Brent situation and the audience is meant to just know that all of a sudden Fittler is the song’s narrator and he’s saying that line to the team (“The video would have shown it”)?

I… I just have no idea what is going on.

Luckily, I’ve got the Star’s chief marketing officer, George Hughes, to help out:

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“This anthem allows all Blues fans to unite and shine a spotlight on the rich history of rugby league and the Blues. The anthem is a symbol of what makes NSW great and our collective love for the game.”

Right. So did he actually listen to the song or even glance at the lyrics?

It starts in Brisbane as Artie Beetson punches Mick Cronin, then Tommy Raudonikis and Boyd Cordner receive the Ken McGuinness treatment – named but don’t get a run.

We continue by recounting how good Cam Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater were, and how generally crap NSW was for over a decade. Then it’s all brought home by acknowledging Brad Fittler is the coach at the moment and there are fans that live in different kinds of housing.

Oh and the Queensland mascot, the cane toad, gets a mention but nary a cockroach in sight, let alone a cattle dog – and everything rhymes with ‘dog’: hog, flog, jog, nog (it is getting close to Christmas).

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What about Turvy leading the Blues’ first-ever series win in 1985? Nah. Joey and the greatest performance of all time in 2005? Nope. Gal’s dogged determination finally paying off with a drought-busting series win in 2014? En. Oh.

The fans, though. They have blood. So, yeah, this song shines a real spotlight on all that rich history and is an obvious symbol of what makes NSW great.

Look, I’ve been wrong about this stuff before – I sat in the nosebleeds at ANZ for Origin in 2016 and ridiculed the idiots with buckets on their heads, then got the train back to the city and made a beeline for KFC.

You may yet find me at the craps tables in Pyrmont come mid-November.

And, in fact, by acknowledging its existence I’m giving this whole campaign oxygen. Feeding the monster, if you will.

But my prediction is that when anyone decides to play this ridiculous ‘anthem’ – with its rush-job words that are a celebration of the other team, all in service of a massive gaming corporation – Blues fans will take a knee.