The recent behaviour of Harper Nielsen, the nine-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to stand for the national anthem, puts those of us who wish to defend the Anthem in a difficult position. On the one hand, we don’t relish the idea of attacking a little kid; on the other, it is galling to see a destructively divisive agenda emerge from one so young and with her parents’ enthusiastic blessing to boot, as repeated media appearances made clear.
The reason Harper gives for not standing is that the Anthem is about fair-skinned Australians — ‘Advance Australia Fair‘, thus excluding dark-skinned Australians. Many would see Harper’s parents remiss in not correcting her misinterpretation, and that perspective grows darker on the strength of her father’s statements not only in support of his daughter but also endorsing her protest. Meanwhile, her school has become the focus of unsought attention while the Aborigines for whom she feels such empathy are cursed with yet another widely propagated victimhood myth to obscure both that community’s genuine problems and the best ways to solve them.
Had Harper been my child, I’d have sat her down and explained that, first of all, pupils have neither the responsibility nor right to decide which school rules they are going to comply with; they must obey them all or find another school. Secondly, that she has a lot of history to learn (or unlearn). Beyond that, how her comprehension skills need a little work before she sets out to opine on the best way to set the world straight. Finally, that it’s not for a nine-year-old to decide on national anthems or to pose as a protector of Aborigines’ interests. They are perfectly capable of doing that for themselves.
Harper should have been taught in class, at home and/or both that “fair” in our Anthem does not mean white-skinned; rather, it means gentle and/or just and/or benevolent. And the Anthem is right to say that Australia is a young country — another of Harper’s objections — as our history since Federation has indeed been relatively short. That is not an insult to the hundreds of “nations”, as Aborigines now call their ancestors’ tribal groupings, any more than it insults the colonies which existed as independent polities before federation. None of them were “Australian” either, when you get right down to it.
We are used to the hypocritical virtue signaling of academics and their PC brigades, but it is not often children are thrust into the spotlight to further the cause of common room positions and passions. Meanwhile, there are real consequences to such ill-advised and, to be frank, inane admonitions.
For starters, the school had to expend time and teaching capital to maintain discipline amongst pupils who can’t be blamed for wondering which rules they might flout, just as Harper did when she disrupted the weekly assembly. School administrators must now take time away from teaching to fend off all the media requests and inevitable criticism coming their way. It’s trouble no matter how they react to Harper’s stunt. Lift her suspension and the school will cop it from her detractors. Stay the course and it will be more of the same from those who take a little girl’s nonsense seriously.
Beyond that, and contrary to her intention, Harper has actually insulted Aborigines by implying they need the help of a nine-year-old white kid to combat the Anthem’s alleged racism, which they hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. Where did she get such a patronising premise, I wonder? Whatever its origin, be it in the playground or at the kitchen table, her risible reading of the Anthem plants a suspicion that the Anthem, contrary to its lyrics, might indeed exclude them! “Australians all let us rejoice,” it proclaims, not ‘white Australians”.
Furthermore, this issue and the publicity it has spawned can only do further damage to Australia’s already much-slandered reputation overseas. Foreigners who learn of the incident can’t be expected to investigate the validity of Harper’s silliness by determining the facts for themselves. No, via the media they will learn only of a moppet bravely defying a nation run by racist white bullies. This will come as no surprise to any who read Maureen Dowd’s recent, glib and staggeringly ill-informed appraisal in the New York Times of the country she visited for mere days. And it will mesh nicely with the Greens’ efforts to convince the world that Australia has all but killed the Great Barrier Reef, tortures illegal aliens in concentration camps and seeks to cause a planetary meltdown with our exported coal.
Harper’s parents really should take their little girl aside and discuss the real meaning of “fair”, both in general and in context.
That is, of course, if they grasp the meeting of the term themselves.
John Dawson is a Melbourne writer. His book Washout: On the Academic Response to the Fabrication of Aboriginal History was reviewed at Quadrant Online in 2010