Nine-year-old Brisbane student, Harper Nielsen, has discovered at a remarkably young age, how naively out-of-date national anthems can be.

Harper drew the ire of Queensland senator Pauline Hanson and earned a detention from her school principal for refusing to stand for the playing of Advance Australia Fair at school the other day.

She said both the title and the phrase "we are young", ignored the obvious, that indigenous Australians were not "fair" and had lived there for more than 50,000 years before Captain Cook appeared on the scene.

Even if she was, as some critics have suggested, coached by her parents, it takes guts to carry out such a lone protest in front of the whole school.


I couldn't help imaging the field day she would have with our National Dirge if it turned out she was part of the Kiwi diaspora in Queensland, and was quickly deported back across the Tasman for her sins, as part of the expanding wave of Kiwi "unsuitables".

She'd quickly discover that as far as inclusiveness goes, God Defend New Zealand is no better than its Aussie counterpart.

"Men of every creed and race/ Gather here before they face," does cope with the little problem of the previous inhabitants. Well it half does, because in that old 19th Century habit of lumping women into the collective "Men" category, it in modern eyes, excludes half the population. Both indigenous and later. In the week we celebrate the long fight for universal suffrage, it's hard to ignore.

The other major flaw is it's a hymn to a God of Nations that at the 2013 Census, 41.9 per cent of New Zealanders said they didn't believe in.

In other words, our national anthem, is an appeal to a God that, I suspect, the 2018 Census will reveal, once someone gets around to counting it, a majority of New Zealanders do not believe even exists.

Yet in all seriousness, we're expected to stand to attention and plead in song to this mythical being to amongst other things, "defend our Freeland ... from the shafts of strife and war", to "make her praises heard afar", to defend her "from dissension, envy, hate and corruption", and to "put our enemies to flight!"

In an increasingly post-God world, this is not only a nonsense, it's a reckless abdication of our responsibility to attend to these civic duties ourselves.

Unfortunately, our anthem doesn't even have the saving grace of the French La Marseillaise which at least has a rollicking good tune.


Browsing through Papers Past, the wonderful online cornucopia of old New Zealand newspaper clippings, it appears that God Defend became our anthem by default.

The words are by Irish-born Thomas Bracken, who arrived in Dunedin in 1869 and combined a career in journalism with stints as a parliamentarian.

He was also a 19th Century Sam Hunt, a prolific versifier, who filled halls reading his own poems. God Defend New Zealand, was published in the New Zealand Saturday Advertiser in 1876 along with a prize of 10 guineas for the composer of the best tune to accompany this "National Hymn".

John Woods, teacher and Tuapeka country clerk, won. Promoted by music publisher Charles Begg, it wasn't until 1938 that the National Centennial Council proposed it become the "National Song". Support wasn't universal.

A disgruntled correspondent to the Dunedin Evening Star called for something "worthier" saying that the argument that it had been around for years could also be used for "Daisy, Daisy, give me yer answer do", which, he argued, "is a far more popular song ... and its musical merits ... are certainly not less."

In 1940, the Government bought the rights to God Defend, and hoped it would become the "national song of the Dominion", though it took until 1977 to gain equal status with God Save the Queen as a national anthem. I look forward to a local Harper Nielsen to suggest it's long past its use-by date.

Even rewriting the doggerel would be an improvement. The recent Māori version – one verse only – is certainly different from the original. But they both share the major flaw of addressing an all-controlling God, at least 50 per cent of us don't believe exists.