The songstress Senator

Am Vanstone
I’m sure Amanda Vanstone will make a fantastic ambassador to Italy, if that rumoured deal comes off. Well, certainly a better ambassador than she was immigration minister. But she will be missed, because Senator Vanstone has long been the most likeable of Howard’s ministerial team. Sure, it may not be so hard to come over as nicer than Tony Abbott or Philip Ruddock, she has always had a wonderful sense of humour. And she’ll need it, given the amused reaction to the new patriotic song she’s written for Australia, Under Southern Stars.

I’ve seen this mentioned elsewhere today, but I think that when a former Minister of the Crown puts pen to paper, their efforts deserve close scrunity. I sincerely hope that future generations study this effort in their English classes, because it is a truly special piece of poetry. Forget your Banjo Patterson, forget your Les Murray, for it is Amanda Vanstone will go down as our finest bard.

The full lyrics in all their patriotic glory are here, but let me highlight some of my favourite bits.

Home to first Australians,

Joined from near and far,

She starts by recognising indigenous Australians? I know she’s a relatively wet Lib, but come on. That’s positively Greens-esque No wonder John Howard doesn’t feel she’s got a future in the party. But if she really wants to recognise the Aboriginal experience, “Joined from near and far” isn’t gonna cut it. “Exterminated from near and far” is far more accurate.

Then there’s “Shining light for freedom”. An odd lyric to be written by someone who’s best known for locking people up. But let’s take it on its merits. This reads as an uncomfortable hybrid of Chifley’s “light on the hill” – yes, that’s right, another Leftist notion – and George Bush’s idea that a democratic Iraq would serve as a “beacon” in the Middle East. I’d steer well clear of the idea that our freedom shines a light elsewhere, if I were her. And certainly not repeat it at the end of the song, leading everyone to suspect I’d run out of lyrics.

Nation made of many,

Bound in hope as one,

This is a bit more Howardian. Everyone has to come together and assimilate nicely together, so we can start “building for the future” – presumably Meriton apartments.

Then she starts getting a bit mixed up on us, a little like one of her famous multicoloured dresses :

Free and Friendly Nation,

Born of our own hand,

Peace our greatest virtue,

Mighty Southern Land.

Valiant into Battle,

Courage to the end,

Standing firm for freedom,

Loyal southern friend.

So we’re free and friendly, but in case any terrorists reading are emboldened by “peace being our greatest virtue”, she immediately reminds them that we’re awesome at going to war. And look, I know Australia’s armed forces are quite good given our tiny size, but would you really call us “mighty”? Worst of all, though, is “loyal southern friend” sounds awfully like that cringeworthy John Howard deputy sheriff stuff.

What’s more – geez, does she have to mention that we’re “southern” the whole time? It sounds like a synonym for “a bit crapper, but still not that bad.” She uses the adjective six times.

Having made a hash of the whole peace/war thing, she then waxes poetic about our natural environment:

Nature’s earthly heaven,

Glory for our eyes,

Ours alone those treasures,

Under Southern Skies.

Australia is heaven on earth? Overstating things a bit, surely. Yeah, it’s nice, but personally I’ll take a Thai island resort any day. Anyhow, she finishes by emphasises that we’re not sharing our treasures with anyone from overseas because they’re “ours alone”. No wonder John Howard has said he likes the song.

My favourite aspect of her work, though, does not relate to her lyrics. What I like is her choice of music. This song is supposed to be a patriotic song to sing on Australia Day and other dinky-di occasions, to play alongside Hey True Blue and Waltzing Matilda. And so she sets it to Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1, for which the best-known lyrics are “Land of Hope and Glory”. That is, the patriotic anthem of England – and unofficial theme song of the Conservative Party.

So, in an attempt to invest occasions with “gravitas”, as she terms it, she has stolen a song from England, and whacked in some shonky quasi-American lyrics about freedom. That seems a fairly accurate summary of contemporary Australia, and as such I heartily recommend the song be played on all formal occasions.

To pay her some credit, though, her lyrics are considerably better than most Aussie hip-hop. It seems a shame she apparently won’t be “under Southern skies” for much longer, because I’d certainly rather listen to Amanda rock the mic than most of the local rappers they play on Triple J.

Above all, though, I commend the Senator for doing something to enhance Aussie patriotism that I thought would never be possible – making Advance Australia Fair seem like a good national anthem.

I only have one major concern. Did this song, with its hackneyed imagery and substantial repetition, really take her six years? By this rate, she won’t be releasing her whole album until 2079.

Dominic Knight

Photo of Amanda Vanstone rocking the mics: David Mariuz