Unease on anthem
AS A child of the ’ 80s my educational experience included regular recitation of the national anthem.
I learned a distorted and idealised version of the past where Captain Cook “settled” Australia and original inhabitants were primitive, nomadic, hunter gatherers.
With coming of age, my identity as a Torres Strait Islander empowered me to rebuff this version of events that undermined my place in society.
Nowadays, I am grateful for literature such as Henry Reynolds’ Why Weren’t We Told? and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, which challenges these misconceptions and details evidence of sophisticated agricultural practices before European contact.
At the recent Burdekin Writers Festival, Warren Mun- dine AO argued that Indigenous Australians are conservative.
I wanted to disagree but couldn’t. After all, how has cultural, environmental and scientific knowledge otherwise been passed down some 3000 generations, if not for the conservation and preservation of sophisticated spiritual and kinship practices?
This fortnight a range of contrasting and provocative views have entered the media courtesy of Anthony Mundine and Senator Ian Macdonald.
Mundine polarised the community by announcing he wouldn’t observe the national anthem at his next fight.
Senator Macdonald drew criticism with his suggestion that Torres Strait Islanders be sent to Manus or Nauru where there are medical resources not ordinarily available within Torres Strait communities.
It got me thinking about the commonality of issues between Manus and the anthem.
Upon the basis of race, I have lived experience of having three generations of my family forcibly removed from Thursday Island.
What is to prevent a repeat of those past protectionist policies? Seemingly unrelated, the fragility of democratic rights evoked a mix of emotions.
Conservatives would argue that our founding document, the Australian Constitution provides a modest and moral framework to protect our rights. However unlike the US we don’t have a Bill of Rights and the Australian Constitution does not declare all Australians equal.
You see, protectionist race powers of that era refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the “inferior and coloured peoples” and empowered the very laws and policies that displaced us and denied us equal wages, voting and property rights.
Powers that have allowed parliament to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act on three occasions in recent decades to exercise control over our affairs. The most recent occurrence for the Northern Territory Emergency Response 11 years ago. So with this in mind, the Manus Nauru medical suggestion is not inconceivable.
What is required is constitutional reform and the 2017 Constitutional Convention has attracted widespread support from Indigenous Australians for this to occur.
When considering there are more Indigenous Australians than Tasmanians, our current framework does not provide an adequate voice for Indigenous Australians.
As second- classed citizens, parliament at any time ( without consultation) can make decisions about us, without us. Is this the point Anthony Mundine wants to make? A perspective for us all to ponder when next hearing the anthem.
A national conversation is required to address the inequalities still faced by Indigenous Australians. Is our current democracy fair or equal? Is our nation young and free? And how can we possibly unify our nation without a fuller version of history taught in schools?