Hawke's Bay Today

All Stars clash inspires change

- Brad Walter

The national anthems performed before Friday night’s All Stars clash in Melbourne will highlight how much more establishe­d Ma¯ori culture is within New Zealand and the power the game has to influence change for Australia’s Indigenous communitie­s. While the first verse of the New Zealand anthem is now commonly sung in Ma¯ori, it only gained acceptance after a heated public debate over Hinewehi Mohi’s performanc­e of E Ihowa¯ Atua before a 1999 Rugby World Cup match between the All Blacks and England at Twickenham. Mohi had previously performed the Ma¯ori version before a Kiwis test but it had never been sung at an All Blacks match and officials ensured God Defend New Zealand was only sung in English at the team’s remaining World Cup fixtures because the players didn’t know the words. Fast forward 20 years and the singing of the New Zealand anthem in both languages is as much a part of the prematch experience at All Blacks or Kiwis tests as the haka, while Ma¯ori is widely taught in schools and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants to make it compulsory. NRL officials had hoped an Indigenous version of the Australian anthem could also be performed before the All Stars but protocol requires it to be sung in the language of the traditiona­l custodians of the land on which AAMI Stadium sits and Advance Australia Fair has never been translated into Woiwurrung. The Australian anthem was performed in a variety of Aboriginal languages at matches during last year’s NRL Indigenous Round and the positive response demonstrat­es how the game has been helping to change attitudes since the introducti­on of the All Stars concept in 2010. That same year the Australian anthem was sung in Darug before State of Origin at ANZ Stadium and attracted a backlash from some fans — much as Mohi’s performanc­e of God Defend New Zealand in Ma¯ori had in 1999. “That’s what this game tries to do. It raises questions, it highlights issues, it celebrates success and it generates conversati­ons,” NRL senior manager Indigenous strategy Mark Deweerd said. “A lot of the change, particular­ly in rugby league, is a direct result of the success of All Stars and that’s backed not only by the NRL being prepared to raise those questions but the players getting behind and driving it by being part of the community events.” RLPA chief executive Ian Prendergas­t told players at last weekend’s NRL Indigenous cultural leadership camp that All Stars gave them an opportunit­y to influence community attitudes and said the way Ma¯ori culture was entrenched in New Zealand provided an example of what could be achieved. “If you look at the way they respect the Ma¯ori culture and why it is important through the anthem, the haka and the way it is ingrained in their education system, there is a lot we can learn,” Prendergas­t told NRL.com. “They have got much more understand­ing, respect and empathy for the Indigenous people of their land and I think that is a good starting point to influence positive change with respect to how we work with our Indigenous people. “By bringing the two teams together for this match, we have an opportunit­y to share stories and learn about how we can use rugby league as a really powerful for change.” The Indigenous All Stars will perform the war dance which players have been developing since 2014 and hope will eventually be adopted like the haka has been in New Zealand. The most significan­t difference between the two countries is the fact New Zealand has the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed in 1840 with the intention of protecting Ma¯ori rights over their land, forests, fisheries and treasures. In contrast, the only treaty negotiated with Aboriginal­s in Australian colonial history was between John Batman, the European founder of Melbourne, and a group of Wurundjeri elders in 1835, which was immediatel­y voided by Governor of NSW, Richard Bourke. However, the Ma¯ori population face similar issues to Indigenous Australian­s, such as higher unemployme­nt, greater rates of imprisonme­nt, poorer health conditions and lower life expectancy than other New Zealanders. New Zealand Ma¯ori Rugby League president John Devonshire said the inclusion of the team in All Stars was a boost for Ma¯ori communitie­s in New Zealand and Australia. “We played in 2008 at the World Cup in Sydney, we played 2010 at Mt Smart against England and this is the first opportunit­y we have had to play since then,” he said. “Our coach Stacey Jones has never donned a Ma¯ori jersey, [assistant coach] Nathan Cayless is the same, you have Adam Blair, our captain, saying that this jersey will be one he gets framed because it has special meaning and a young guy like Kalyn Ponga is gaining an understand­ing of what it means to be Ma¯ori. “What this game is doing in our communitie­s is creating a connection and it gives our younger people an aspiration.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand