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"Anthem dispute signals troubles in paradise"
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"Anthem dispute signals troubles in paradise"

Jake Elson

Norfolk Islanders are refusing to change their national anthem in what Jake Elson, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, describes as a clash between official rules and cultural tradition.

It’s another saga of Norfolk Island’s long and often tumultuous history. Recently the Australian-appointed administrator, Mr. Gary Hardgrave, wrote to the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly requesting it stop singing “God Save the Queen”.

He claimed that it was surely wrong to continue, given the mainland changed its anthem in 1984. Naturally, as this is the island’s national anthem, the locals were irate. In response, many sang “God Save the Queen” at an agricultural festival in defiance – some even flying Union Jacks. You may think it is crying over spilt milk. However, it’s just the tip of the iceberg

Norfolk Island is a small piece of Eden, located halfway between New Zealand and the French-governed New Caledonia. Formerly a notorious penal colony, it was abandoned several times until 1856 when 194 settlers, with the blessing of Queen Victoria, colonised the island. In an ironic twist, the island was handed to the recently-federated Australia. The island was granted responsible government in 1979, with similar powers to those of any self-governing British territory.

The tourist-based economy was shattered during the global financial crisis, sending the island into economic depression. The islanders, having no federal income tax, don’t receive Medicare or other government assistance. As a result, combined with increasing out-migration, the Norfolk Island government and the Australian government agreed to a plan which would allow the island to receive government benefits in return for paying tax.

Although some have called for the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, claiming its incompetence was the main cause of the island’s economic woes, many islanders have been extremely defiant. Mr. Snell himself believes Norfolk Island can become independent and be successful. Indeed, the row over the official anthem shows how patriotic the islanders are about their small island and their culture.

The clash over “God Save the Queen” may seem a small and petulant one, however it a significant symbol. Islanders see the it – not “Advance Australia Fair” – as their anthem. They see it as representative of their culture and their ties to Britain. To them this request, no matter how politely intended, is an insult to their heritage, which is a mixture of Tahitian and British, with a language that can only be considered compatible to English. They perceive it as Australian interference with the island’s way of life.

Mr. Hardgrave, formerly a shock-jock, child television host and Coalition member of Parliament, was appointed the 37th Administrator of Norfolk Island by the ruling Coalition Government and assumed the role in July this year. In less than four months, he has not exactly endeared himself to Norfolk islanders. On top of the “God Save the Queen” row, in August he used his veto role to reject a Legislative Assembly-approved act permitting the cultivation of medicinal marijuana. Norfolk Islander Robin Adams called the move “a concern”. One has to think – had that been done to an Australian law by the Governor General, or the Queen herself, how would Australians react?

In a short frame of time, Mr. Hardgrave has unnecessarily ruffled feathers among the Norfolk Island community. It can be argued he is ignoring a Machiavellian principle – that is, ruling the island but allowing the island to maintain its system of government and culture (Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, Chapter five, Conquered Free States, with their own laws and orders). Even though the island is in dire financial straits – although there have been recent and encouraging signs of improvement – it is unwise to go about with reform that the community would strongly and bitterly oppose. Indeed, these actions have prompted Chief Minister Snell to accuse the federal government of trying to implement a system of government similar to that of Christmas Island. In other words, reducing the Legislative Assembly’s powers to merely that of a shire council.

Regardless of whether the economy goes down with the ship or rises from the ashes, the will of the Norfolk Islanders needs to be respected. It also must be remembered that just because the island is small in geography and population does not mean it can’t go it alone. Trifling with such a cornerstone of Norfolk culture as their national anthem will only intensify resentment towards the Australian government. It should be left as it is. This writer says, may they continue to sing “God Save the Queen”!

photo credit: House of Hall via photopin cc

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About me:

I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day. I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.

I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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