Call by Aboriginal rugby stars to snub the Australian anthem

Joe Williams

Sports-mad Australians are especially mad about Rugby League. Disproportionate numbers of indigenous players stand out in it and other football codes. And are regularly racially vilified from the standsNow a call is going out for the indigenous stars not to stand up when the Australian national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair” is played before the current season’s grand final game on 2 October in Sydney. Former indigenous stars are urging current NRL players to "take a stance" and protest during the anthem to send a "powerful message" against racism. The rally cry follows the discord sweeping through US sports after San Francisco 49ers Afro-American quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not stand for the playing of the American anthem – The Star-Spangled Banner – before a pre-season game in the NFL.


Polls found half the respondents disliking his protest and Kaepernick says he has had death threats over it. "To me, if something like that were to happen, you've proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now," Kaepernick said.


Former RSL star Joe Williams told Rugby League Week, "I applaud Kaepernick for what he has done and I know he’s copped a lot of flak for it. Imagine if a couple of guys did it on grand final day – what a powerful message it would send to white Australia. 

“It would bring all the racism that’s in the closet to the surface – the racism we have to put up with every day. The way we are treated in shops, the way people look at us on the street and the way the government treats us. It’s time it stopped. And our footballers are role models and the ideal ones to bring about change. 

“They need to take a stance. They are only footballers for a short time . . . but they are black men till the day they die.”

Williams’ views are backed by Larry Corowa, arguably the highest-profile living Aboriginal league star, who was awarded an MBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to sport in 1980. 

“It’s time to send a powerful message to our government, which has not been effective enough in closing the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” Corowa says. 

“And all it would take is one player to do it on grand final day. I wish someone would have the courage to do it – it would be something to see. Imagine if someone with the respect of Johnathan Thurston did it – what a powerful statement that would make.” 

If indigenous players do follow the don’t stand call it would “rock the game”, the magazine’s reporter commented. 

Williams, a Wiradjuri man, did not stand for the anthem when he was awarded “Citizen of the Year” for his work in mental health and suicide prevention. The award was made in the rural town of Wagga Wagga on “Australia Day” (26 January).  

Williams said he felt conflicted about attending the ceremony on Australia Day, which he said was a day of great heartache for Aboriginal people. "January 26 isn't, you know, a day of celebration and showing your face all happy like, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. You know it's widely, widely mentioned that it's a day of mourning and definitely a day of sorrow for our mob right across the country." 

Williams said he decided to stay seated as a mark of respect to his Indigenous ancestors. "I haven't stood for the national anthem for a number of years."

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Cross-denominational Christian churches are calling for participants in a discussion with indigenous leaders on treaty, sovereignty and constitutional recognition on 9 November in Melbourne. Click for details.


Earlier this year the Uniting Church in Australia, a merger of several Protestant denominations, issued a “Survival Day” message, calling for a new national conversation about sovereignty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


In a message released to coincide with Australia Day, the President of the Uniting Church, Stuart McMillan asked Australians to celebrate the resilience of First Peoples and their extraordinary contributions to Australian life.


“Our national day is a good time to see with new clarity the wonderful heritage that is embodied in the nations and clans of this land’s First Peoples,” said Mr McMillan. “Respect for First Peoples is the hallmark of a great nation, and it’s now time for us to follow through on our unfinished business.”


The Uniting Church added a preamble to its constitution in 2010 to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of Australia and to confess the Church’s complicity in their dispossession and assimilation.


Catholic Aboriginal leaders in Victoria have already called for a treaty between First Nations and the invader society. The Victorian government is the first in Australia involved in treaty talks.


"We have the chance right now to move forward the right and proper way by working with Aboriginal people towards the common goal of a Treaty,” a statement in June by Catholic Aboriginal leaders in Victoria said. "Our people have struggled on the fringes of society for far too long. For the first time in this nation’s history, Aboriginal people have true hope, a hope that has never been afforded to us before, to emulate our brothers and sisters from around the globe where their countries have heard their cries. We all know in our hearts that a Treaty is the right and merciful thing to do."


Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander People affiliated with a cross-denominational group, Common Grace, published demands to the Australian government, including for treaty, before the election on 2 July, which kept right-of-centre conservatives in power.


Part of their statement: We see an Australia that is in a mess, in ruins, and in chaos. The Australia we see is one in which Aboriginal children are committing suicide at the highest rate anywhere in the world, a new Stolen Generation is being created with Aboriginal babies being taken from their mother’s arms in 2016, our kinship structures not being recognised, and Aboriginal peoples continue to be thrown in prison at alarming rates.


“The Australia we see is one where our sacred sites are disrespected or destroyed, our cultural objects are not protected and can be sold at auction, the Condamine River is now able to be set on fire defying nature, defying God’s creation, defying what 60,000 years of Dreaming stories has told us. The Australia we live in doesn’t respect us as the world’s oldest living culture, we continue to suffer racism, and the true history of this country continues to be unknown, unacknowledged, unwilling to be engaged with when we think of stolen land, stolen wages, and stolen generations.”

An Aboriginal inmate has been left braindead after an altercation with guards at a South Australian prison, his family says.

Twenty-nine-year-old Wayne Morrison allegedly attacked five prison guards at Yatala Labour prison on Friday while he waiting for a scheduled video-link court appearance.

But Morrison’s sister Latoya Rule disputes the allegation, saying her brother, who was five-feet tall, “was a non-violent fisherman and artist”.

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