Stand up for sitting down
When a 9-year-old Australian girl decided to sit, rather than stand, during the playing of her country’s national anthem, Aussie politicians told her she was a ‘‘brat’’ and said she should be kicked out of school.
Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson was so incensed at Harper Nielsen’s one-girl sit-down during the national anthem that the One Nation founder said she wanted to give the girl ‘‘a kick up the backside’’.
This side of the ditch, you wouldn’t get away with Hanson’s knee-jerk reaction and uncouth call to administer corporal punishment. After the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act (the so-called ‘‘anti-smacking law’’), Kiwi children can no longer be smacked or ‘‘kicked up the backside’’ for the purposes of correction alone.
When interviewed about her decision not to stand for the anthem, Harper said her objection lay with the line ‘‘Advance Australia fair’’, which completely disregarded indigenous people. She also said the phrase ‘‘we are young’’ dissed indigenous Australians who pre-empted white Australians by 50,000 years.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who has been appointed by the latest Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, to the position of special envoy on indigenous affairs, also waded into the argument, saying he thought it impolite not to stand for the anthem.
For her protest pains, Harper was given a detention but has learnt an invaluable lesson in the power of peaceful protest and button pushing. Controversies rise and fall, but Harper may forever be known as ‘‘that sit-down girl’’, and be unable to remove the stain/glory of her political protest from her lifelong CV.
Perhaps, like NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the American national anthem to protest against police brutality, Harper might eventually get taken up by a famous footwear company. I don’t see Aussie bootmaker RM Williams approaching a 9-year-old to become the face of their iconic hooves any time soon.
Harper’s father, Mark Nielsen, expressed pride over his daughter’s actions, saying he was amazed at her capacity for seeing things that don’t feel right and having the strength to try to right them.
Extreme youth awards such a portal of pure clarity, and it remains to be seen whether Harper’s protest will become habit-forming. But even if her drive to expose injustice is short-lived, it is inspiring to see one small semi-recumbent bottom take on those high on their hind legs mouthing the comforting words of colonial self-congratulation.
Here, where we just celebrated Maori Language Week, we get a real kick out of feeling vastly superior to Australia’s racist past and present, even though we ourselves are not without sin.
Calls by Australia’s senior politicians to beat a child and kick her out of school for having the temerity to question the sentiments and accepted notions enshrined in an old-fashioned anthem seem over the top, out of step and downright Dickensian.
Our national anthem, God Defend New Zealand, might be equally fuddy-duddy and antiquated, but at least it is inclusive (except towards women, polytheists, atheists etc) when it rhymes, ‘‘Men of every creed and race, gather here before thy face’’.
National anthems are important rallying cries and it is good to stand and sing together in unison. However, we should not be forced to put our soul signatures to sung verse that gives a lie to, or is a gross representation of, our shared histories.
For those who feel deeply uncomfortable with nationalism dictated in the dirge of a ditty, then surely they should be able to quietly sit it out without fear of condemnation or retribution.