FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Do we need a new anthem?

By Roger Childs

The Netball and Rugby World Tournaments have brought national anthems into sharp focus over the last few months and New Zealand does not come out well.

The Diamonds belted out Advance Australia Fair with great gusto before the final of the World Netball Championships earlier in the year. They always sing as if it means something to them.

The Diamonds in full cry

Before the rugby final last weekend the Springboks sang their wonderful two part national anthem with nationalistic pride, and for the coaches and players it was an emotional experience.

Similarly the Welsh and French teams put plenty of patriotic fervour into their renditions of Land of My Fathers and La Marseillaise respectively prior to their semi-final.

The Welsh always sing with passion

Music and words with meaning

What are the common factors accounting for the pride in singing these national anthems? The music is stirring and the words have meaning with references to people, land and history. The American national anthem may have a martial tone and kitschy words, but the music instills plenty of hand on heart patriotism.

How about New Zealand? The music is dreary and the words full of religiosity and outdated symbolism. Only the English anthem is worse with its persistent emphasis on God and his obligations to the Queen.

Need a new one?

A few years ago the National government wasted over $20 million on the new flag campaign while children went hungry, older folk wait for operations and state houses continue to leak.

If we are into spending some money on patriotism, employ a trusted and experienced song writer for $80,000 to come up with a new national anthem. What we need are meaningful words in both English and Te Reo for all New Zealanders, and a stirring tune which is easy to sing.

The only national anthem I can think of that isn’t a dreary dirge is La Marseillaise and the sentiments expressed in it are akin to a haka. A few years ago Malcolm Fraser proposed that ‘Waltzing Matilda’ should be Australia’s national anthem, and I’m sure an equivalent for Aotearoa/Godzone/NZ could be composed.

Absolutely we need to replace that dreadful dirge. I have long thought that the perfect tune for an anthem is the song from Les Miserables, “Do you hear the people sing?” It is catchy, easy to sing, and completely distinctive. Of course, the NZ Government would need to acquire the rights, but that might well cost less than the Flag referendum.
To match the tune, we need appropriate words, words that capture our Kiwi character of self-effacement and modesty. For the first verse, I suggest

Oh, the Kiwis are the best!
Better than Aussies and the rest,
Better than Yanks, and Poms, and Argentines,
And better than the Swiss;
Best at rugby, best at beer,
For the best farmers, raise a cheer,
Better at everything and more
‘Cos New Zealand’s best!

The refrain should of course be in Te Reo, and explain how Māori are better than Tongans and Fijians, and of course way better than Pākehā, who still have not paid for the land they stole. Suggestions for appropriate wording are welcomed.
The second verse begins
Oh, our sheilas are the best!
and goes on to explain that they are best at running the country, best athletes, and of course best in bed (better than the men, obviously).

A new anthem along these lines could unite the country, hold its own at Cardiff Arms Park, and make us all proud of our nation. Incidentally, the anthem would answer a question that puzzled Helen Clark: since we have no founding ethnicity and only a very short history, what distinguishes a New Zealander specifically? As the first verse suggests, a Kiwi is someone who considers that “best” and “Swiss” is a perfectly natural rhyme – nowhere else in the world would that be true.

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