All tragic to the moon

Another Australia Day has come and gone. Picture poor old Shirley, sitting like patience on a monument, smiling at her disappointment.

Another Australia Day has come and gone. Picture poor old Shirley, sitting like patience on a monument, smiling at her disappointment. No republic, no good national anthem, no national flag that represents us properly.

Life’s disappointments in one month’s hit. I had also believed, when young, that religion would be a niche interest by my life’s end. How wrong could a girl be? But I don’t think I am wrong about a republic. Many Australians share that disappointment. If it has to entail a referendum and agreement by major parties to sponsor it, and becomes the subject of the sort of extreme political abuse we have seen in and out of the parliament recently, we’ve got Buckley’s. Don’t even go there. You’ll just get the tosh about, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – a foreign expression, to add insult to injury, to insist on Australia’s being tethered to a monarchy. The national flag for me will always be the beautiful blue and white flag of Eureka. Not much hope all will adopt it. Any change to the flag immediately brings up “Men (and women, if they remember) fought and died under our present flag”. End of conversation. It is too touchy a subject while there are still young people being sent to fight and sometimes die “for their country” overseas. Too hard, the flag. Another lifetime perhaps. Though Canada did it. And now PNG is talking about it. So that leaves the anthem, or national song, as I prefer to call it, since anthem is usually an address or appeal to God. God is always being badgered to defend or save or something. Or God-Understood called upon to advance us… But who says that has to remain the case? Let’s talk about a song to be played to represent our nation. Not only on the podium, but when we feel our hearts stirred by our ancient, lovely, threatened land. Surely no one is going to go to the barricades for the present dirge about girt. For me and many other people, the real national song exists, and is our national song simply because it is what we sing when we are most moved by love of country, (and yes, it is sung by soldiers); whose first notes always find spines to send a shiver up, whose atmosphere is mysterious, whose subject… is different. But it speaks volumes about our land. As a national song it will be esoteric, enigmatic. Not militaristic or belligerent. God, as they say, forbid that. We should have the confidence as a nation by now to make Waltzing Matilda our national song for all occasions, to hold our head high and embrace the folk tradition of our music. Tough call. I fear it’s the swaggie that most upsets urban elites, though Dennis O’Keeffe, in a 2012 book, Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song (Allen and Unwin), points out that swagman, when the lyrics were written by Banjo Paterson, and the music adapted by Christina Macpherson, meant an itinerant rural worker. A matilda was the blanket swaggies carried. Waltzing Matilda is much more than ‘a simple song about a petty thief stealing a sheep’. Then look at the alternative. There is one poem with one phrase that always pulls me up sharp and makes me think of my feeling about my country. It is a cry, almost a passionate wail: “Core of my heart, my country.” Dorothea Mackellar was a good sort. In what is known now as I Love a Sunburnt Country, she really set out her spiritual feelings about Australia. ‘A stark white ringbarked forest / all tragic to the moon. / The sapphire-misted mountains / The hot gold hush of noon…’ A child can understand and be moved by this. And I would think so could every Australian. ‘Her beauty and her terror…’ Advance Australia Fair is nothing compared to it. I know there are musical settings of the poem, some of them lovely, but perhaps not robust enough for a national song. Yet the possibility is there. ‘Core of my heart….’ Wonderful stuff: and a challenge for our wonderful contemporary composers. …. I know perfectly nice and smart people who talked last year about those who govern us with a vehemence that shocked me. Politicians were being de-humanised to make this level of abuse possible. It doesn’t make sense. We elected them. There was a choice. We have a freedom that is the envy of the world. It must be scary to be the focus of everyone’s discontents. No wonder politicians get carried away in the Parliament. It is certainly dangerous for our democracy to allow political conversation to become abuse. And don’t blame the internet. You can escape Twitter and the like if you want. What you can’t escape is a mouthful or a hideous poster. Stop it. Celebrate our freedom. Don’t trash it.

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