Stand up for sit­ting down

The Southland Times - - Opinion - Jane Bowron

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.

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