The singer and songwriter of the iconic Australian song ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ said earlier today he was “very disturbed” to learn his music had been used by protestors from Reclaim Australia yesterday to promote “ignorance and intolerance”.
A cover of the song – full title ‘I was Only Nineteen (A Walk In The Light Green) – was played live at the Reclaim Australia rally on the Gold Coast yesterday, one of at least 16 events staged around the country purportedly to protest the ‘Islamification’ of Australia and halal food.
John Schumann, lead singer of the popular 1970s and 80s band Redgum wrote and released ‘Only 19’ in 1983. It remains one of the Top 30 highest selling Australian songs of all time.
Schumann said he was “very, very disappointed” that a song which promotes peace would be used at a Reclaim Australia rally, particularly given his entire body of musical work has been about “understanding, compassion, tolerance and inclusiveness”.
“’I was only 19’ was written to help ordinary Australians understand the plight of our Vietnam veterans,” Schumann told New Matilda in a written statement this morning.
“Australians are, fundamentally, a fair and decent people and I was confident that once they reflected on their lack of understanding and compassion, they would have a change of heart and bring these young men home.
“They did – and in October 1987, Australia finally welcomed our Vietnam veterans home in a very emotional parade through the streets of Sydney.
“In the 30 years that has followed, ‘19’ has become an anthem for veterans and serving ADF personnel alike. I am very proud of this.
“So you will understand that I was very disturbed to learn this morning that ‘I was only 19’ had been performed at at least one Reclaim Australia rally.
“All of my work, ‘19’ included, is about understanding, compassion, tolerance and inclusiveness. I am very, very disappointed to see my work co-opted by what I, at my most charitable, consider to be a very confused “patriotic” movement.”
Schumann took aim at Reclaim Australia’s attack on Muslims, a religion whose adherents, he said, have always treated him with great kindness.
“There are many ways in which genuine patriots can improve Australia. Isolating and demonising one section of our community, in ignorance and intolerance, is not one of those ways,” Schumann said.
“I have travelled throughout Muslim countries and I have been treated as an honoured guest – not once but many times.
“As a stranger I have been taken in, fed and nursed when I was sick. I will be forever grateful to those people.
“I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslim Australians look in unmitigated horror at the behaviour of the extremists in their community – just as we look in unmitigated horror at the behaviour of the extremists in ours.
“I will not be persuaded otherwise.
“I was only 19” honours all those Australians who have put themselves in harm’s way in our name.
“It is not to be used to advance ignorance and intolerance, especially as we approach the centenary of Anzac.”
The fall-out from yesterday’s Reclaim Australia rallies continues, despite very modest turnouts around the country.
Sydney appears to have been the largest protest march, but at several locations anti-protest protestors outnumbered Reclaim Australia protestors.
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