On Saturday evening I went to the Rugby League World Club Challenge final, Sydney Roosters vs. Wigan, and as with any good international play-off we began the evening with hearts on our chest as we sung our national anthems with pride. Except for the first time in a while, I felt anything but pride when these awkward lyrics somehow stumbled off my lips. Instead I felt hypocritical, nauseous and confused as I sung lyrics that had been taught to me since I was in Kindergarten.
There is no doubt our beautiful, resource-rich country is advancing, but where is it advancing to? Perhaps a country of increased prosperity for the wealthy class of Australians privileged to be born in a country by no means of their own? Or a country with increased border protection so we can ensure our abundance of natural resource and opportunity stays with Australians who “deserve” everything our country has to offer? These are both places we are steadily marching towards, but is this where you’d like to be as an Australian? What does our anthem promise not only us, as Australian citizens but every human, man woman and child who weren’t born on our soil? I thought I’d deconstruct parts of the first two verses of our anthem, to remind myself and fellow Australians, all that our beautiful country should be living up to.
“Australians all let us rejoice” – we have so many reasons to rejoice as a country; we have freedom of speech and religion, continuous prosperity, some of the best education facilities in the world and plenty of natural resources yet has all of this made us greedy and complacent? How can I rejoice when I know our doors are closed, our shores are locked and our money is securely hidden? You only need to do a quick Google search to discover the many criticisms Australia has received not only from its own countrymen but from international players such as the UN for the processing and treatment of asylum seekers (example from SBS) or seen the dismantling of AusAID and our aid commitments that we agreed to in 2000 to realise that there’s a lot we can’t rejoice about.
“For we are young and free” – sadly, half of this was true for Reza Barati, an Iranian asylum seeker that will remain forever young, losing his life on Manus Island at 23 years of age, but never seeing through the
opportunity for freedom. Our freedom is a huge privilege and one that is so easily taken for granted. Reza was born in Iran the same year I was born in Australia. Whilst I was born into a decade of peace and prosperity, Reza was born into a decade emerging from a war killing 1 million Iranians and 95,000 Iranian child soldiers. Why do I deserve freedom any more than Reza? I don’t and I mustn’t begin to take it for granted. 60% of asylum seekers in the past year were 30 years of age or younger, an entire generation of intelligence, creativity and passion that deserves to thrive in peace and freedom.
“In history’s page, let every stage” – we’re at a momentous time in history. America has an African-American president, Asia is striding forward economically like never before, and for the first time, the end of extreme poverty is truly in our reach. Why tarnish this era of history with the smearing of blood of asylum seekers? This is perhaps the modern equivalent to Lincoln’s slavery issue of the 19th century. Now is not the time to grow quiet on this injustice.
“We’ve boundless plains to share” – if you listen to our government or media you’ve perhaps begun worrying that Australia is quickly running out of space and resources to house the huge influx of asylum seekers reaching our shores, yet take a look at the latest figures and you’ll see that Australia receives a measly 3% of asylum seekers around the world (compared to the USA – 17%, Germany – 13% and France 11% to name a few countries. Our fear of other cultures and religions should not limit our capacity so share… although I wonder how Australia even become ours to share in the first place?
“With courage let us all combine, to Advance Australia Fair” – I can agree with this lyric for one reason: it’s going to take a hell of a lot of courage to stand up for the rights of those who’ve lost their voice and we need to have this courage together. I joined with thousands of Australians yesterday evening for Get Up’s #lightthedark Candlelight Vigil and was invigorated with a fire in my belly for an issue I won’t back down on. Australians from all walks of life were represented across the country – this isn’t just an issue for twenty-something Greens supporters, this is an issue for all Australians and I urge you to keep up the fight with me.
I long for the day we can welcome these people with open arms, and together sing our national anthem with pride and purpose. Do you?
Note: there are so many wonderful organisations you can get involved with to join us in the fight, and I’ve listed a few of the contributors to #lightthedark below. Later this year I’ll be opening my home to a refugee for a meal through a great initiative by World Vision and Welcome to Australia. Why don’t you do the same? Sign-up for the program here.