Words by Kleoniki Cruse Art by Ty Foley
At the end of last semester, I wrote a research essay about how free speech in Western democracies is not a concept available to minorities and yet is allowed to be exercised freely by majorities.
This is just another way in which minorities are bound by invisible rules that say that they need to be grateful and deferential to the paternalistic, powerful majorities who are generous enough to house them in their country. Pfft.
Europe was terrible, America was cooked, but Australia is pretty damn disgusting.
Indigenous Australians, Muslims, refugees and asylum seekers, women, people from low socioeconomic classes, LGBTQIA+ people and so forth, have all been historically mistreated in Australia. But the reason for my utter disgust with Australia’s treatment of minorities is because we Aussies tell ourselves a series of complex lies to absolve ourselves. Things like Multicultural Day at primary school, Waleed Aly winning a gold Logie, South Sudanese players in the AFL, and our National Anthem…
But in reality, these showy displays of multiculturalism and inclusivity are laced with white privilege and historical injustices or inaccuracies.
Here are a few of the more painfully ironic lyrics from our very own National Anthem, Advance Australia Fair:
“For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share”
White Australia Policy was only fully dismantled in 1973. Until then, there was legislation which forbade the immigration of non-European people to Australia. Not so “boundless” IMO.
Also, according to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s website, there’s currently just shy of 2000 asylum seekers in some form of detention, including offshore detention centres which have widely been condemned as inhumane and squalid. The “boundless plains” sure aren’t for persecuted minorities like the Rohingya of Myanmar or Sri Lankan Tamils, or people escaping war from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“For we are young and free”
That’s a really interesting one. Cos Australia’s actually really old. Indigenous Australians are the oldest living civilisation in the world. Indigenous Australians were here for tens of thousands of years before British Colonisation, they had complex belief systems, sophisticated agricultural practices, and spoke hundreds of languages.
Speaking of “free”, I guess it depends on your definition but I think the subjugation of Indigenous Australians at every single turn, in every single sphere of society, is not particularly free. Unless of course your definition does include forced removals, mass incarceration and murder. Or poor health and education outcomes caused by generations of systemic racism. Or being on the receiving end of racialised slurs because you celebrated a goal with an Aboriginal war dance, like Adam Goodes. If that’s freedom, I don’t want any part of it.
“ Our land abounds in nature’s gifts Of beauty rich and rare”
To imply that we care about our natural wonders is a joke. Adani’s Carmichael coal mine has been approved, which means that billions of litres of precious groundwater (in a drought-prone country) will be used commercially by the mining giant for free. Adani’s coal ships will tear repeatedly through the Great Barrier Reef–the largest coral reef in the world—which has lost half its coral cover since 1985. Eventually, Australia’s inaction regarding climate change and renewable energy will soon start to irreparably damage our apparent “nature’s gifts” too, so there’s that to look forward to.
“Wealth for toil”
This line is making reference to the abstract Australian dream, rooted in our apparent egalitarianism. The idea, marketed to generations of new Australians, is that you get the reward for the work you put in. It just so happens that you have to work a lot harder if you’re an immigrant, a woman or poor. If you’re Indigenous, those opportunities for “wealth for toil” will be withheld from you entirely. If you’re young and trying to buy a home, you can expect to save for a deposit for over a decade. You will be the target of vitriol that suggests you don’t know the meaning of hard work. Despite being part of a generation that has to pay exorbitantly for higher education, without at least a degree you won’t even be considered for employment. And you’ll still have to do swathes of free work and on top of it all, the generations before you will chastise you for being lazy.
Turns out, Advance Australia is not so fair.