Awhile back I found "I Was Only 19," a song told from the perspective of an Australian Vietnam veteran, while doing research for another project. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I soon came across another song, "I Am Australian."
It's by a band called The Seekers. iTunes, at least in the U.S., does not have the song, or else I would buy it. It's a beautiful song that does justice to the difference cultures that made Australia (the Aborigines, the convict settlers, the gold prospectors, and others) while at the same time promoting a united Australian identity. Although I'm not familiar with Australian political culture, I do know a little bit about the country's history and it's somewhat similar to our own--they're a British settler colony, but the population is not exclusively British in origin or in culture and the country has attracted immigrants from all over. Like them, "from every land on Earth we come."
I wonder if a similar song could be written about the United States? "We are one, but we are many" applies to the U.S. too. Heck, it's our motto and its on our coins--e pluribus unum, "out of many, one." You can acknowledge the contributions of different groups (and marginalized ones) without indulging in rootlessness, anti-patriotism, and cynicism.
*Instead of the Aborigines, you could start with the Native Americans. Perhaps a specific individual like Squanto, or the tribes who helped the Pilgrims in general?
*Instead of the convict laborers, perhaps poor (European) indentured servants or African slaves. It parallels the convicts who "fought the land" and "endured the lash" and acknowledges that things weren't always great for everybody without wallowing in self-flagellation.
*We had our Gold Rush too, so instead of "the daughter of a digger,"a 49er? Alternatively, since they would have come at the same time and to emphasize the "freedom from political oppression angle" that's so strong a part of our identity, we could have those fleeing the repression of the European revolutions of 1848? It was liberal Germans who played a major role in abolitionism and the defeat of the Confederacy. Perhaps they could be combined--a German political refugee who becomes a gold miner and later fights the Confederates at Glorietta Pass? I'm sure someone like that existed.
*The song references several well-known Australians, including the outlaw Ned Kelly and the Aborigine artist (and trailblazer in many ways--he was the first Aborigine to get Australian citizenship) Albert Namatjira. I'd rather not glorify the Confederate die-hard Jesse James, but perhaps one of the Founding Fathers instead? They certainly stuck it to The Man, in that case the British Empire. Not sure about an artist analogue to Namatjira (although Emanuel Leutze did paint the iconic "Washington Crossing the Delaware"), but if you want to go with the civil-rights angle, Martin Luther King?
Apparently a lot of Australians want to make the song their national anthem. I'm disinclined to change ours from "The Star-Spangled Banner," but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate other songs like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA." An American version could rise alongside it.
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