We've Boundless Plains to Share


I live over the road from Williamstown Primary School. The original school was built in the 1880s, of bluestone. The roofs are of slate; there are spires, an ornate weathervane, a belltower and heavy pediments. For all their faults, the Victorians set great score by education.

There is a war memorial – a plaque on the wall on the front of the main building – to pupils who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, 1914-18. THE GLORIOUS DEAD. I doubt if any of the children have noticed it.

Each morning, and at playtimes, some office genius plays the Beatles over the loud speaker system and the children run into the classroom to the tune of – We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine … Sometimes, to ring in the changes, they play Dean Martin, singing Volare or Doris Day, singing Que Sera, Sera. But I’m a fan of the Beatles; there’s something anarchistic about them. (George W Bush doesn’t like the Beatles – he prefers the Beach Boys.)

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

It’s a ghastly thought that the person in charge of education in Australia is Brendan Nelson, with his Bradmanesque, xenophobic view of things and his preoccupation with ‘Australian values’. No Beatles for Dr Nelson, I should imagine.

There’s a catch about children. When, for example, did John Howard become John Howard? When did Phillip Ruddock become Phillip Ruddock? I’ve got a picture of Joseph Stalin when he was one, or thereabouts, and he looks like a nice little baby to me. There’s that opening line in Graham Swift’s wonderful novel, Waterland, which goes:

‘And don’t forget,’ my father would say … ‘whatever you learn about people, however bad they turn out, each one of them has a heart, and each one of them was once a tiny baby sucking his mother’s milk…’

In these uncertain times, the children at Williamstown Primary School still run about the asphalt playground – kicking footballs, skipping, climbing ruined trees, laughing, screaming and shouting. They are not concerned about Al Qaeda.

Recently, our Treasurer, the smirking Peter Costello, visited Sylvan Primary School in outer Melbourne to present the staff and children with an Australian flag. It was, presumably, part of the ‘Australian values’ campaign. (I understand that no Muslim children attend the Sylvan Primary School and that the school building is painted green and gold.)

The time came for the national anthem. Everyone sang lustily, but no one could get past the first verse. I looked the words up, and here is verse three (emphasis added):

Beneath our radiant southern cross,

We’ll toil with hearts and hands;

To make this Commonwealth of ours

Renowned of all the lands;

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing

‘Advance Australia fair!’

and the last verse (composed especially for John Howard and Kim Beazley):

Shou’d foreign foe e’er sight our coast,

Or dare a foot to land,

We’ll rise to arms like sires of yore

To guard our native strand;

Britannia then shall surely know,

Beyond wide ocean’s roll,

Her sons in fair Australia’s land

Still keep a British soul.

In joyful strains then let us sing

‘Advance Australia fair!’

I think no country in the world has a better national anthem, and that all school children should learn the words of all the verses – especially Muslims. There should be a test, and all those children who fail should be deported, or put into camps.

When I was at primary school, some sixty-odd years ago, there were ‘seasons’. I’m not sure if they have them now. No one knew how they started – it was, I suppose, all part of the magic of childhood. Suddenly, someone brought to school a bag of marbles, a wooden spinning top or a skipping rope (girls only). And for several weeks, the boys would play marbles in the dirt under the pine trees, while the girls skipped. Then just as suddenly and mysteriously, the ‘season’ ended. The marbles, spinning tops and skipping ropes were put away for another time.

Mine was an Anglo-Celt childhood, when the national anthem was God Save the King and the values were colonial British – the last verse of Advance Australia Fair.

Much has happened since my school days. There is a pathetic and hopeless attitude behind Brendan Nelson and his ‘Australian values’ – the example of Gallipoli and Simpson and his donkey. It’s Down Memory Lane stuff, of little more relevance than a knife made in Sheffield, rather than China.

Despite it all, there is, thank God, something magical about school children rushing out to play.

And the sound of the children at Williamstown Primary School keeps me going on a bad day.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.