Australia

Mal Meninga, Indigenous All Stars captain call for national anthem referendum

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Friday's NRL All Stars game sparked calls for a more inclusive national anthem.

The NRL's inaugural Indigenous All Stars versus Maori All Stars game turned political on Friday, with several Indigenous players not taking part in singing Advance Australia Fair.

The move sparked calls for a more inclusive anthem, with Indigenous captain Cody Walker and Australia coach Mal Meninga going on to urge Australians to rethink its national song.

During the pre-game celebrations in Melbourne, a camera pan revealed only a handful of Indigenous players were singing the anthem.

This was in stark contrast to the New Zealand team singing their national anthem, God Defend New Zealand, which has verses in both English and Maori.

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Indigenous All Stars team during national anthem
Indigenous All Stars team during national anthem

After the game, Indigenous All Stars captain Cody Walker said the anthem "doesn't represent myself and my family."

“It just brings back so many memories of what happened [in Australia’s past].

"We as a group need to come together, as a country ... and make some sort of decision together [around the anthem]," he added.

Indigenous All-Star coach Laurie Daley agreed with his captain and said the discussion around the national anthem "will happen".

"It is an issue Australia is facing and I am sure tonight is one of the reasons why we will have a discussion going forward about what we do," he said.

An anthem referendum?

On Saturday, NRL legend and Australian coach Mal Meninga said the All Stars game showed it was time to as the country what they think.

“I can’t see any reason why we can’t ask all of Australia once again what is a true and contemporary song for Australia now. Let's have a referendum,” he wrote on NRL.com.

“Times have changed since the last decision was made. We’ve had major decisions around Indigenous Australia such as native title recognition and cultural heritage being revived. We’ve had the national Sorry Day so Australians – all Australians – are very aware of our national history, maybe more aware than they were before.”

Mal Meninga poses for a photograph on the Gold Coast.
Mal Meninga poses for a photograph on the Gold Coast.
AAP

He added that the anthem doesn’t need to include an Indigenous language, but a song that is all inclusive.

“New Zealanders sing their national anthem in Maori first, before singing in English. However, there are more than 230 indigenous languages in Australia representing the multitude of nations before colonisation,” he added.

“But what I’m saying is any new anthem doesn’t have to be sung in an Indigenous language. It could be a song all Australians want and not a distinction between just two cultures – the Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

Fans react

During and after Friday's game, many fans on social media called for the anthem to be like the New Zealand anthem and include a verse in an Indigenous language.

Others said the anthem should not have been played at all.

Others on social media were "disappointed" not everyone took part in the anthem.

The debate follows former NRL player and boxing legend Anthony Mundine's long-term protest against the anthem.

He recently said, before his fight against Australian Jeff Horn in November, the anthem was a "theme song for the White Australia policy".

"If they play the anthem, I'm sitting down man. I can't stand for that, it's a white supremacy song," he said.

"The constant everyday injustice to Indigenous people has got to stop, we're getting raped and pillaged in different ways."

Saying he'll ignore the anthem is a path Mundine has trod several times before - declaring he would snub it before a re-match with Daniel Geale in 2013 and prior to his second fight with Danny Green in 2017.

SBS News has reached out to the NRL for comment.

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