'New' anthem verse raises inclusive questions

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At most Australian events, whether they are sporting or otherwise, there's always a murmur when people are asked to stand for the national anthem.

OPINION: By Felicity Evans from PROJECTeye

At most Australian events, whether they are sporting or otherwise, there's always a murmur when people are asked to stand for the national anthem.

I'm not saying that Australian's are unpatriotic, however the length and convoluted nature of the Anthem does not really capture the national spirit.

This World Youth Day, Australian Catholics will be singing the national anthem with pride, with the addition of an extra 'Catholic' verse.

Through research, this verse appears not to be entirely new, however. It has appeared sporadically through time with claims that Peter Dodds McCormick included it in his original poem. This poem, which forms the basis of the anthem, is significantly longer than the one that we sing today.

As featured in the Pilgrims Liturgy Guide, the extra verse opens as, 'With Christ our head and cornerstone, we'll build our nation's might'.

Despite the fact that written above this a disclaimer explains, 'This is not the official verse, but a Catholic adaptation of the Australian National Anthem', the inclusion of the verse reads as a distinctly Christian message within a secular nation.

What is more worrying is there is little knowledge of where this 'Christian verse' came from. While most copies of the anthem include four verses, there is little to no evidence that this verse was a part of Peter Dodds McCormick's original creation.

This 'missing' verse is becomes quite mysterious after looking into it. Somehow the verse has made it into the history books, with no evidence of who wrote it or where it came from.

However, the origins of this mysterious verse are hardly the issue at hand. The fact of the matter is that it represents a Christian-focused perspective of Australia. Not a multicultural perspective, not a multi-faith perspective and therefore not a truthful perspective.

With all the talk of freedom of expression, it seems a little risky to be adding Christian verses to the national anthem, even for World Youth Day. Surely this is pushing the bounds of religious freedom?

If Catholic pilgrims and Australians alike are to be considered important enough for laws to be made protecting them, shouldn't every religion should be afforded this right? Adding a Christian verse to the national anthem inherently excludes all other faiths.

From a logistical point of view however, this addition is even more worrying. In the protocol section on the Australian Government's website entitled 'It's an Honour: Australia Celebrating Australians', a clause states:

"The Australian national anthem should not be modified and alternative words should not be used."

Until 1974, the national anthem was 'God Save the Queen' (or King). The one we use currently was only introduced in 1984, so it is difficult to dismiss Christianity entirely from our nation.

However the inclusion of this new or at least long lost stanza takes our Christian roots a little far. A national anthem that explicitly proclaims Christ as our head and cornerstone is pushing the role of a national anthem.

In Kevin Rudd's welcome speech yesterday he stated, "Australia is deeply shaped by and proud of this nation's Christian heritage and future. We honour deeply the great Catholic heritage of Australia as well, deep in its tradition and vital in its future."

Fr Gregory Woodward, an Australian priest now working in the United States said of the anthems temporary verse, "It's in tune with what Prime Minister said yesterday, that Australia does have Christian roots, so I think it's pretty good."

This seems to conflict with the idea of Australia being a multicultural, multi-faith country. Adding a Christian verse appears exclusionary at best.

"I think it goes together, I think it's pretty good, it rhymes, you've got the rhyme scheme" said Father Woodward.

ProjectEye is a content partner for SBS providing critical news coverage of WYD08 from a youth perspective.
Source: SBS