Monday, February 05, 2007

Under Southern Stars rates well under 5 stars

Vanstone tries to tune into reality Amanda Vanstone's freshly penned patriotic song is several stars short of a Southern Cross to me! Under Southern Stars just rings hollow to me and I would be disappointed to see it infiltrated into schools.

So here's my uninvited and likely unwelcome critique:
Home to first Australians / Joined from near and far / Shining light for freedom / Under southern stars
This is a nice acknowledgement that "first Australians" existed before being joined from near and far, but it doesn't make it clear WHO they are. If I was a five year old learning this song I would wonder to myself why it had been worded so strangely and what was the point of explaining that Australia is home to the first Australians. Isn't that a tautology, I'd think, in concept at least since it would be a while before I'd learn words like 'tautology'! When I turned seven or eight, if I was lucky enough to have good teachers I'd have come to understand the first verse refers to indigenous Australians and that "first Australians" is a politically neutral term to disguise the fact that we are talking about black people who weren't legally considered equal humans until sometime in the late 1960s. If I didn't have good teachers I'd no doubt still be imagining the "first Australians" as dashing young sailors running up the Union Jack alongside eleven boatloads of smelly convicts exported from the UK.
Nation made of many / Bound in hope as one / Building for the future / Under southern sun
Let's face it. Nationaly unity is a kind of mythology politicians use to their political advantage. Australians on the whole are well educated and therefore smart enough to know that diversity is as much a strength as unity and that in Australia we constantly are trying to strike a balance between those two forces. But that doesn't come through in these words.
Free and friendly nation / Born of our own hands / Peace our greatest virtue / Mighty southern land
Free and friendly? It's a rich thing coming from our former immigration minister to say, being privy to what was going on in Baxter, Villawood and Nauru, and presiding over the department that deported Vivian Alvarez/Solon (whatever her name was) and imprisoning Cornelia Rau.

Amanda Vanstone cartoon by Wilcox
For most citizens, free and friendly are the reality, but for muslims or non-white people I doubt it rings true. The old "land of opportunity" does ring true however. I feel like Australia is a country where if you have citizenship or have been granted permanent residency or permanent protection then pushing will get you everywhere! If have a strong enough ambition, you probably can fulfil it.
Valiant in to battle / Courage to the end / Standing firm for freedom / Loyal southern friend
Yes Australia did participate in both world wars and the Aussie diggers apparently did earn a reputation for "bravery" and "mateship". That will do, though it would be nice to talk about the bravery and courage of non-military citizens...
Nature's earthly heaven / Glory for our eyes / Ours alone these treasures / Under southern skies
I like the fact that Vanstone's version doesn't overdo the "nature's gifts" description of Australia, which is completely fair, but who's to say that Iran isn't just as naturally beautiful? What I mean is that it's not a feature unique to Australia.
Shining light for freedom / Under southern skies
Vanstone's summary[1] of her composition was: "Indigenous Australians were here first, we are an immigration country, freedom is what we've enjoyed all our lives and we are under southern stars – everyone knows the Southern Cross." Fine, why not say it like that in your lyrics then? You've done a 3-star job, Amanda, but more effort required on the lyrics. That said, good on you for trying.

Also, I find the repetitive tune majestic but dull. It is derived from Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1"[midi] which is a bit more exciting than this watered-down version, but still very British to its core. Why can't an Australian composer produce a majestic musical composition which is stirring like 'Pomp and Circumstance' or 'God Save the Queen', yet not dull like 'Advance Australia Fair'?! I believe the capability and creativity is all there; the talent just needs to be focused in this direction!

Vanstone image courtesty of National Indigenous Times (13 July 2006).
Vanstone cartoon by Wilcox via Gary Sauer-Thompson's philosophy (20 May 2005).

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Anonymous jair said...

Being too involved in my own work recently, I've neglected current events. However, this is the kind of point that makes me think the Americans did at least do one thing right - put people into political positions who have an idea about the portfolio they're provided (apologies after alliterating atrociously).

Vanstone - Education (that was a nightmare to live with, just glad I started uni in '96 before her HECS policies began), immigration (I think you've covered that a number of times, and better than I could), now whatever the hell she is, and poet? Bugger that. We've got at least tens of thousands of artistic people, poets, musicians and the like who should now be called upon to create something that captures Australia in song, not some politician's attempt to make herself famous.

Let Australians change the anthem. Not the politicians. Yes, it will be expensive and time consuming, but at least that way we have a chance of creating something that we can really appreciate, not just trot out when it's necessary. Otherwise, leave the anthem as it is - it's really not that bad (apart from the third verse).

February 06, 2007 1:26 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

" whatever the hell she is..."

Open secret is that she's apparently to become Australian Ambassador to Italy come June this year... Let's see...

February 06, 2007 3:36 pm  
Anonymous jair said...

Oh thank [insert deity of choice].

Wait, that does mean she'll be living there, away from the country, right? I mean, it's a shame to have such a person representing our country internationally, but surely she can do less harm there? Right?

February 08, 2007 1:08 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

Nice analysis, Lisa :)

The 'free and friendly' thing really got me. It would be frigging hilarious simply for the size of the lie that particular line encompasses except for the terrible impact that the policies of the government she is part of have had on so many peoples' lives.

I did have a bit of a giggle at the 'standing firm for freedom/loyal southern friend'- I imagine that's the line John Howard will be singing to himself when he tries to get 'romantic' with Janette. Enjoy the nice mind-pictures that arise with that scenario...

February 09, 2007 9:34 am  
Blogger spew-it-all said...

Nice piece Lisa

I had a chuckle when the news on sbs brought this up.
Should we suggest her to be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame?

February 09, 2007 10:16 am  
Anonymous Marcus said...

Under Holden Cars (in six minutes)

Home to true Australians
Living all as one
In harmony with nature
Under a southern sun

And now these true Australians
Live in burned out cars
Banished from society
Under Holden Cars

They came at first from England
Home of a foreign queen
And claimed the land as empty
No “people” ever seen

Now Little John’s in power
Ruling with all his might
And each and every Australian
Knows he’s so far right

April 28, 2007 12:18 pm  

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