Sunday, June 26, 2005

a mild attack of nationalist fervour

E Ihoa Atua,
O nga Iwi Matoura,
Ata whaka rongona;
Me aroha noa.
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau to atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
Since moving to Australia I have used the Rugby Union Tests between New Zealand & Australia as a kind of barometer for my nationalistic feelings. Both national anthems get sung before the game; & I see which one moves me the most.

New Zealand has always won – the Anthem Test, not the rugby ones. There was a time, in the nineties, when the Australian one came close, but that was in the days of Paul Keating as Prime Minister of a Labor Federal Government. Keating was a visionary, who looked towards the future not the past. Even after he was voted out, even though the N.Z. anthem still moved me more, I might have taken out Australian citizenship if the referendum to become a republic had been carried.

It was defeated, in a skilful piece of political gamesmanship. The question that was not asked was "Should Australia become a republic & have its own head of state, not the Queen of England as it currently is?" If that would have been asked, then the Commonwealth of Australia would probably now be the Republic of Australia. The problem for those advocating the republican side of things was that there was great disagreement on how the new head of state should be appointed – election by the people, or election by the members of Parliament. & so the referendum then ended up with three options, & the option of retaining the status quo received the greatest support.

Since then, since the election of John Howard's conservative Liberal Party in coalition with the Nationals (once called the Country Party), Australia has moved inexorably to the right. & Labor, without a Paul Keating at the helm, has become powerless. At the last election, the conservatives managed to win, for the first time in several decades, an absolute majority in the Senate, the Upper House in Australian politics, the house of review which must also pass bills before they can come into force. The combination of Labor, the Greens & the Democrats had managed to block most of the reactionary bills that the Coalition had put forward. Now it's open house for individual contracts to replace the collective bargaining power of the Unions, for the national Telco to be completely privatised, for universities to be told what courses they can offer.

So the gap between the National Anthems widens. & the fact that the Australian Rugby Board have chosen Waltzing Matilda as a sort of unofficial national anthem to follow the official one widens it even further. Even though I find it easier to live in Australia, my heart is much more firmly in New Zealand. Politically it is an easy choice. Even the right wing of N.Z. politics is probably further left than the Australian Labor Party. It is a country that chose not to line up with the U.S. in invading Iraq; it is a country that refuses entrance to U.S. warships – the official line is that ships carrying nuclear weapons are forbidden, & since the U.S. refuse to admit if their warships are or are not carrying them, then they are denied access; it is a country that has taken in many of the refugees that Australia wanted to leave in its off-shore, paid-for, detention camps.

& it probably also helps that the last five or so years have seen an acknowledgement of my part in the history of N.Z. poetry, that the forgotten man – silence is such an unforgiving thing – is now admitted to have been a significant influence in the sixties in moving N.Z. poetry away from its narrow transplanted Anglophile tradition. I have the editors of Big Smoke to thank for the revision.

So I listen to the N.Z. national anthem, & enjoy it more now that Maori has joined English as the joint official languages, that this is now also the national anthem of Aotearoa. I sing it as the crowd sings it, & my heart – even though I do not go so far as to stand & place my hand over it – joins in.

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