Forced display of patriotism has never been the Australian way

FALL INTO LINE: These North Korean soldiers are very patriotic. And they're showing it perfectly.
FALL INTO LINE: These North Korean soldiers are very patriotic. And they're showing it perfectly.

No sooner had this column speculated that Australia was flirting with the US path of division and hatred, than up pops proof of how close we’ve come, and how dangerous that can be.

A nine-year-old girl in Brisbane refused to stand during the national anthem and somehow we know about it, many miles away, as the adults pile on in anger.

Pauline Hanson and Mark Latham joined the conga line of reactionaries to say the usual radical things to the conservative media.

How dare she, kick her out, what a brat, etc etc, as if it’s okay to abuse a kid if it’s in the name of patriotism. When did this madness grip us?

Since when do Australian adults froth over how a nine-year-old displays her patriotism, like they’re drunks at the Big Day Out demanding people kiss their flag?

At school in the 1980s, I sometimes stood for our (rather boring) anthem, sometimes didn’t. It wasn’t an issue.

It was the same at sporting events. People stayed seated if they felt like it.

As far as I know, playing the anthem is still not compulsory at schools, let alone doing any particular thing while it’s on.

Unchained by forced public patriotism, we grew up having a chuckle when the Poms or the Yanks went over the top with it.

But we can be pretty sensitive about it – particularly when it comes to indigenous people.

My psychologist mate might say it’s because Australia has some unresolved tensions about our colonial past. Which was the nine-year-old’s point.

It’s not a coincidence that some Australians have become more fervent about patriotism over the same period as the country’s cultural and demographic makeup has shifted, particularly in cities. 

Do you think Hanson and Latham are really troubled by a nine-year-old’s ideas? Of course not. But what an opportunity for some grandstanding. 

Back in 1775 a pom named Samuel Johnson declared that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and Hanson and Latham fit the description nicely.

My opinion is that a school student can do whatever they want during our national anthem, as long as they are basically respectful.

But my opinion of what a kid does during the anthem doesn’t matter. Nor does yours. Or that of the conga line. She’s nine.

It’s a dangerous route when people are forced to show the right patriotic behaviour at the right time, or risk denunciation.

And it’s never been part of my Australia.

Ben Langford is a Fairfax journalist