It was proposed this week that we change our approach to the national anthem – by singing the second verse and not the first. Simon Wilson thinks that's not going nearly far enough.
Why do we have a national anthem? Is it because all the other countries have one? That's not a bad reason: it would be pretty stupid at international sporting contests if we didn't have a tune to play. And now, three minutes' silence for the people of New Zealand.
Don't think so. Also, the Governor-General needs something to listen to. And everyone likes a good singalong, right? Go on, you know you do. What would become of all those old-style school assemblies, formal dinners, grand opening huzzahs and National Party conventions if we weren't required to stand and join in the great fellowship of patriotic song?
• Which is the best national anthem at the 2019 Rugby World Cup?
• Premium - Matt Heath: Let's cut our national anthem in half
• Brian Rudman: Time to rewrite the national anthem
• US singer apologises for 'worst national anthem rendition ever'
But where's the rule that says it has to be a dirgy 19th-century plonk-along, celebrating chauvinism in all its forms, calling on the supposed authority of a militaristic and highly partisan deity? Why, to put it bluntly, is our national anthem a plea to God to save us from war?
Is that the best way to express national pride and togetherness?
And if we do want to acknowledge we are a country forged in war, don't we first have to come to terms with the colonial wars – the Land Wars, the New Zealand Wars – that tore this country apart and did so much to define who we are, in the decades following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi?
In that spirit, we could make Hirini Melbourne's Nga Iwi E our national anthem. With its "e-i-a-i-e" refrain it's easy to learn and thrilling to sing. A clarion call, especially the way Moana Maniapoto belts it out, to young women and young men to rise up, be strong and "hold on firmly to your inheritance and to compassion". Good values. Although it was written for the peoples of the Pacific, not specifically this country.
We're not short of songs about the New Zealand Wars. Rob Ruha's Kariri, performed with Tiki Taane, commemorates the battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā), near Tauranga (Māori victory) and Ria Hall's Te Ahi Kai Po does the same for the battle of Te Ranga, which followed soon after (Māori rout). Tim Finn has The Song of Parihaka, which he recorded with Herbs.
Maybe they haven't got the right stuff to be a national anthem. My list for that: singable, rousing us to both pride and humility, relevant to us, a marker of national values, widely beloved. I'll say one thing for Thomas Bracken's God Defend New Zealand: it's singable.
Although it is also, perhaps, a defence of Māori. Bracken was a supporter of Māori sovereignty and that line about the "triple star" that needs guarding? It could be a coded reference to the flag of Ringatū leader Te Kooti. They don't teach that in many schools.
What do other countries do? Bracken's appeal to heavenly favour is almost universal. "We are the army of God," sing the Sudanese. In Qatar, it's all about "swearing by God, who erected the sky". Serbians, referring to a distant past, appeal to the "God of Justice, Thou who saved us when in deepest bondage cast".
Militarism is very common too. "Mexicans! At the cry of war, ready the steel and the bridle, and the Earth trembles at its core!" Has Donald Trump heard that song yet?
Albanians call on "the flag which in battle unites us", which is possibly something John Key should have thought more about.
To his credit, Bracken was not big on macho posturing. Despite the "shafts of strife and war", we don't proclaim, as Uruguayans do, "Eastern landsmen, our country or the tomb!"
That same sentiment, complete with flag appeal, gets a very thorough workout in Algeria: "We swear by the lightning that destroys, by the streams of generous blood being shed, by the bright flags that wave, flying proudly on the high mountains, that we are in revolt, whether to live or to die."
Countries often like to think they were nobly forged in war, but the truth is invariably more complicated. The Algerian anthem was inspired by the war of independence from France, whose own anthem, La Marseillaise, became the rallying cry of the French Revolution against the outraged monarchies of Europe.
"Allons enfants de la Patrie …," or, "Arise, children of the Fatherland, the day of glory has arrived! Against us, tyranny's bloody standard is raised. Do you hear, in the countryside, the roar of those ferocious soldiers? They're coming right into your arms, to cut the throats of your sons, your women!"
A year later, Robespierre's Reign of Terror was in full swing and the man who commissioned the song had his own head cut off. Not really a day of glory for him.
The more martial the sentiment, the more poetic the language. "We were born at night when the she-wolf whelped," sang the citizens of the failed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. "In the morning, to a lion's deafening roar, they named us. There is no God except God. In the eagles' nests our mothers nursed us, to tame the wild bulls our fathers taught us …"
The song is called Death or Freedom but it was no match for Russian tanks and it's proof, if ever it was needed, that poetry is not an antidote to violence. Those same people born the night the she-wolf whelped have waged a long terror campaign, including the kidnapping of over 1100 children and adults at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in 2004. More than 300 people died in that attack.
Hondurans approach the violence of their past with something close to magical realism. "Like an Indian maiden you have been sleeping," they sing of their country when it was invaded by Spain in the 16th century. "Lulled by the resonant song of your seas, when, set in your golden valleys, the bold navigator found you; and on seeing, enraptured, your beauty, and feeling your enchantment, he dedicated a kiss of love to the blue hem of your splendid mantle."
Yes, that's exactly what rapacious invaders do. There are eight stanzas in the anthem and Honduran students have to sit exams based on it.
There's a curious subset of militarist anthems that focuses on not being dead yet. "Poland has not yet succumbed," sing the Poles. Turkey extols its citizens to "fear not and be not dismayed", while in Ukraine they insist their country's "glory hasn't perished, nor her freedom".
You can always be thankful for something.
In China, optimism is official: "Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves," the national anthem begins – and is, presumably, mandatory before breakfast in the Uighur "re-education" camps.
In Belize, they sing much the same: "O, Land of the Free by the Carib Sea, our manhood we pledge to thy liberty! No tyrants here linger, despots must flee, this tranquil haven of democracy." Belize genuinely is a parliamentary democracy, which is more than many countries who express this sentiment can say.
It's very hard to find an anthem where the poetry is not pressed into service to celebrate military effort. In the Canary Islands they begin, "I am the shade of an almond tree ... I am history and future, a heart that illuminates the dawn, over our islands that are set, for sailing towards hope." Which is splendid, although they also sing of their "fighters in nobility".
The South African anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, is a worldwide favourite on account of its history and beautiful melody. It also, magnificently, uses five languages: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English.
The lyrics themselves are a bland prayer to God to bless and protect the country and its people, although there is a larger sentiment – we are one – which is the same as in our own Tutira Mai Ngā Iwi.
That waiata oozes feelgood singability and is a deserved standard for schools and powhiri, but it does lack anthemic heft.
In Denmark they get all romantic about Freya, ancient goddess of war, death, beauty, sex and various other important things: "There is a lovely country, it stands with broad beech trees ... Its name is old Denmark and it is the hall of Freya."
The gods wore armour and did great deeds. Nowadays, they proclaim, "the country is still lovely" and Danes themselves are "noble women, beautiful maidens and men and brisk swains". You have to be brisk because it can get quite cold.
And what to make of Slovenia, whose anthem, written in 1844, doubles as a drinking song? "Friends, again the vines bore well! Let sweet wine liven our veins and clear our hearts and eyes ..."
And later, when it calls on God: "Let lightning out of the clouds strike down all our people's foes. Let the home of the Slovenes be as free as once it was for our fathers."
It's not clear which fathers they are referring to with such clear eyes: until 1991, the Slavic peoples of what is now Slovenia have been ruled by others since Bavarian warlords put them and their non-Christian religion to the sword in the 8th century. As for the song's author, he died of alcohol-induced liver disease five years after writing it.
What would be our equivalent? Hello Sailor's Gutter Black? It's already halfway to national anthem status, courtesy of Outrageous Fortune.
Even better, there's the Exponents: I'll Say Goodbye (Even Though I'm Blue). Wouldn't we feel a whole lot better about Rugby World Cups and the Warriors and Cricket World Cups and just cricket full-stop, if we all stood up and sang that before the big game? A certain local rugby team could buy the rights.
It'd confuse the Aussies no end and it's way more singable than Don't Dream It's Over, although Neil Finn's song does have that authentic Kiwi semi-optimism: we'll be back, somehow, someday, won't we?
Maybe better to go with Wandering Eye by Fat Freddy's Drop: we could just sing for ages and ages and not get round to playing the game at all.
The thing is, it's not a bad idea at all to have a new anthem, but could we agree not to have warfare in it? Why have any kind of jingoism? Why not celebrate what we actually love?
There's a rich tradition in New Zealand songs to draw from and Ten Guitars is only the beginning. In 1960, in Down the Hall on Saturday Night, Peter Cape sang, "I got a new brown sports coat, I got a new pair of grey strides, I got a real Kiwi haircut, bit off the top and short back and sides ..." Too blokey? How amazing, though, despite the 1970s and 80s, that the haircut hasn't gone out of style.
There's also Howard Morrison's My Old Man's An All Black: why don't we sing that before the game?
Okay, we can do better. The pantheon of beloved local songs contains many certifiable shining stars. First among equals is surely Pokarekare Ana, which celebrates the feats of the beautiful Hinemoa who defied her family to swim to her lover Tūtānekai. There it is, the New Zealand spirit a nutshell, with a sporty achievement built-in.
Home Land and Sea is totemic but profoundly unsingable, unless you actually happen to be Warren Maxwell. Neil Finn's Together Alone is a lament for a departed lover but it works as a metaphor for love of country, has verses in Māori, and is so singable, I've heard a whole primary school do a magnificent rendition.
The Finn brothers also have the catchy Only Talking Sense: "There's a wild thing in the woolshed and it's keeping me awake at night." Who doesn't know what that feels like?
Too dark? But that's who we are – have you seen a New Zealand film? If you like your lullabies more comforting, there's Hine E Hine, sung to a darling girl before bed, known to all as TV2's closing-down theme music.
Something more aspirational, more resonant of the mythic splendour of living in glorious Aotearoa? Don McGlashan's Bathe in the River: "I'm gonna bathe in the river, gonna hold my head up in the river, not gonna worry anymore, gonna reach that golden shore."
Mind you, getting a whole stadium of rugby fans to sing like Hollie Smith at her gospel finest could be a little bit challenging. Maybe we should opt for that other song of aspirational McGlashanism: the Blam Blam Blam hit There is No Depression in New Zealand.
Speaking of which, for the heart and soul and musical chops of this country, does anything compare to Poi E? The Patea Māori Club's response to the closure of the local meatworks and the economic devastation of their town in 1984 has great melodic hooks, universal recognition, pride, beauty and deep meaning. A genuine claim to greatness, right there.
If this feels like the wrong way to choose an anthem, it's not. God Defend New Zealand got the nod because it was popular in music halls and on special occasions. It's a hymn and hymns were a thing, once.
Popularity today? The biggest-selling New Zealand song in the world used to be OMC's 1996 hit How Bizarre. If we could work out how to sing it, those sports stadiums would totally rock.
But we have a far bigger song now. Drum roll ... it's Lorde's Royals. There used to be a bus in Auckland with the lyrics written all over the ceiling and that was fabulous. But is it anthemy enough?
What about, instead: "We live in cities you'll never see on screen, not very pretty but we sure know how to run things. Livin' in ruins of a palace within my dreams, and you know we're on each other's team"?
Nailed it, the New Zealand psyche right there and a great anthem sentiment too. We're on each other's team. But Team is also hard to sing, and in a stadium what would happen when we got to the line "I'm kind of over gettin' told to throw my hands up in the air"?
There are people who would say the New Zealand psyche was already nailed when Dave Dobbyn sang "Aaaaaaasian cigarettes ..." but if we're going the Dobbyn route, he does have one or two more aspirational options.
Welcome Home: "Tonight I am feeling for you … Welcome home from the bottom of my heart. Out here on the edge, the empire is fading by the day, and the world is so weary in war, maybe we'll find that new way."
It's already an anthem, and at every pressure-point moment these days when we stand up proud and humble and determined, and in half the celebratory moments too, Welcome Home gets sung. Dobbyn himself and many schools have also popularised it in Te Reo.
He's also got Loyal, except you'd have to say America's Cup yachting unites the country rather less than its promoters like to think. But Slice of Heaven, sung with Herbs and beloved throughout the land, that's another genuine contender. "Her love shines over my horizon ..."
If we really were going to change our national anthem, though, my vote would go to another Dobbyn song. It's his celebration of the deep joy that comes, when we're in a good space, from feeling connected to this land and this sea. Dawned On Me, quoted here in full because it's summer:
There's a black blue front, stole the west horizon
Under ocean song hear the tolling bell
On the seventh wave ride my aspirations
They will break for sure, all my dreams to tell
It dawned on me, it dawned on me, it just dawned on me
This must be what your heart reveals.
Blood red bloom, pōhutukawa
The black dunes hiss with the grasses' breath
I'll gather my driftwood and light a beacon
It's for you I cry, it's for you I burn
It dawned on me, it dawned on me, it just dawned on me
This must be what your heart reveals.*
Blood red bloom, pōhutukawa. How fine that is.
In truth, I do foresee a problem with making this song the national anthem. If anyone ever managed to get the whole crowd and all the players to sing it in a stadium, we'd all break down in tears, game abandoned, our hearts and minds all gone to the beach.
* Dave Dobbyn/Native Tongue Music, reprinted with permission.