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God Defend the National Anthem

God Defend the National Anthem

By Lyndon Hood

Earlier in the week Labour leader Andrew Little said – deliberately, I think – that he didn't like New Zealand's national anthem and many New Zealanders preferred to sing along to the Australian one.

He's not proposing to change it. This is, at least, consistent with his stance on the flag referendum and I'm sure kiwi voters will be interested in this new platform of not fixing problems and liking Australia better.

I am fond of God Defend New Zealand and not just because it gives me a good laugh every time I try to sing it. The Māori version is actually quite nice. But what I really approve of is the sentiment. The overarching theme – summarised in the title – is that if we want to be a proper country divine intervention is our only hope.

When we sing

From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
it is an admission that, so far, the deity has fallen down on all four of the guarding parts and both the bits about making.

It's a brilliant plan for preventing jingoistic nationalism in people that might otherwise end up walking down the street wearing the national flag as a cape, chanting the country's name over and over, and beating up people who aren't white. And because it's in the national anthem, the ones most at risk of that syndrome are the ones most exposed to the effect.

God Defend has also adapted to the times. For example:

But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host
At first 'a mighty host' probably meant 'a big army'. Rather than someone who would offer assailing foes any spare beers that were lying around, make sure they knew about blowing on the pie and then cut a sweet trade deal and sell them some investment real estate.

In the same way, "Guide her in the nations' van" probably didn't refer to touring Europe in a VW Kombi and "In the bonds of love we meet" probably didn't refer to SEXTs. But when both in their turn became popular national traditions, the timeless power of Thomas Bracken's poetry was ready.

The Australian anthem has no observable anti-jingoism effects and there is definitely not a Māori version. In fact its second line ("For we are young and free") seems to have missed more than 40,000 years of Aboriginal settlement.

That is, of course, in line with longstanding local tradition. But can Advance Australia Fair move with the changing times, like its nimble kiwi cousin? Compare the second verse (my emphasis):

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
...with this, produced by their actual Government:

They keep singing that bit anyway.


I was talking about this on Twitter yesterday. If I've inadvertently plagiarised anyone's contributions there I obviously apologise but its seem to be the done thing these days.

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