Bracken – from god-laden anthem to racist poem

Thomas Bracken wrote the words that have become the lyrics of New Zealand’s second national anthem, which is laden with references to God and Lord’.

“Our anthem is so focused on religion it’s not funny! Get away from all the god talk and start talking about something that actually means something to everyone in this country. Make it even easier, have it in our native tongue – Te Reo Māori!”

– Hemi Ruru, Papakura

Bracken also wrote a racist poem – it was about Chinese people. If he was found to have written something racist about Māori the maybe there would be an outcry and calls to condemn everything he wrote, like the religist anthem.

Michael Tull: Anthem writer Thomas Bracken’s anti-Chinese rhetoric ‘racist to modern eyes’.

There’s a danger in elevating historical figures to demigod status.

Last week’s editorial ‘Our anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’ is a radically subversive challenge to tradition’ veered close to elevating New Zealand national anthem writer Thomas Bracken to a similar inviolate status.

Its staunch defence of his lyrics was, in part, a response to a discussion I started earlier this month on social media about whether it’s appropriate to have an undisguised Christian prayer as our anthem.

What I proposed was a revision of the lyrics, in order to address the religious elephant in the room.

Removing 13 direct references to ‘God’ and ‘Lord’, plus a further eight indirect references (such as ‘thee’ and ‘thy’) would underline the separation between church and state which is fundamental in a modern democracy.

While the anthem is often criticised there is no apparent drive to deem it as inappropriate and dump it.

Revising the lyrics might also make the anthem more relatable to, and reflective of, the increasingly multi-cultural and multi-faith mix of people who make up our country.

Bracken wrote at a very different time.

It would need more than ‘revising the lyrics’ – it would have to amount to a major re-write.

But Bracken, while a good man by most accounts, was no paragon of virtue, and his works are not time-proof.

Another of his published poems, Chinee Johnny, is so racist to modern eyes that strict limits were set on which bits can be quoted here.

Written in a mock Chinese accent, it includes lines like “cook him puppy in him pan”, “steal him fowley nighty come”, and “Chinaman no wifey bling/ No good women, all same ting/ Play on tom-tom, ching, ching, ching!”

Okay, let’s be kind and say perhaps this was “of its time”.  But even by the kindest interpretation, it still reads like the worst Benny Hill sketch ever.

More viscerally, Bracken’s poem sits mightily uneasy in the modern world.

Couldn’t the same thing be said about baking a prayer into the song through which we express our national pride?

If Bracken had written something that was as racist against Māori as is his his poem against Chinese then it would lead a modern movement to have a relevant anthem.

 

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23 Comments

  1. This reminds me of some local history. Chinese immigrants were significant contributors to the Otago gold rush and especially to ongoing prospecting. There are still remains of signs of their labour in herringbone rock piles.

    Until lake Dunstan flooded them in the 1990s there were still remains of a Chinese settlement beside on the Kawarau riverbank beside the Cromwell township.

    There’s a story of a Chinaman who appeared in court.

    Judge: I find you guilty and fine you ten shillings.
    Chinaman: Me no understand.
    Judge: I find you guilty and fine you one pound.
    Chinaman: But you just said ten shillings!

    Reply
  2. sorethumb

     /  September 23, 2018

    Remember that people tend to ethnocentrism (except the New World Order White Left who look down from above on lesser beings). You cannot become a citizen of China.

    Reply
  3. david in aus

     /  September 23, 2018

    When is it time to update the Anthem?
    We had ‘God Save the Queen’ for a while and currently ‘God Defend NZ’. Anthems are not forever and frankly, it sounds like a Hymn. Today is Sunday and even most Churches have updated their song lists.

    Time to refresh: Jazzy, ElectroPunk or a nice melody with no lyrics for the Olympics. We are not a demonstrative nation, perhaps, we could do without the histrionics.

    Reply
    • david in aus

       /  September 23, 2018

      To add, “God of Nations….” line, seems to be limiting. How about, ‘God(s) of the cosmos’?

      ‘Hear our voices we entreat’ – that is particularly pathetic. Who uses the word entreat these days? How about ‘Listen, Listen’?

      Does anyone think NZ’s national anthem is any good? We just have indoctrinated from childhood to think it is a worthy ditty but is lacking in so many ways. The author seems to be an unpleasant fellow but the song stands on its own. Just because Issac Newton was an alchemist doesn’t mean his physics and calculus weren’t brilliant.

      We have more talent now to come up with a better anthem. Furthermore, all new anthems should have an expiry date.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 23, 2018

        I like the one we have.

        If it’s sung at a reasonable speed, it swings along.

        We all know it. Most anthems don’t stand up to nitpicking scrutiny. Australia’s one is a bit dreary and hardly great literature. France’s anthem incites bloodshed and celebrates mass murder,

        Leave the anthem alone.

        It’s Isaac Newton, not Issac,

        Reply
        • david in aus

           /  September 23, 2018

          Correction: it should be Sir Isaac Newton.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 23, 2018

            Yes, but he is usually just referred to as Isaac Newton.

            Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 23, 2018

            As is Winston Churchill.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  September 23, 2018

              Quite right madam. Titles are so yesterday. And these days they seem get handed out willy nilly to old butcher and pony tail puller.
              🐧 Sir Gerald 🐧

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 23, 2018

              In writings about them, they are often Sir….the first time they are named and not after that.

            • david in aus

               /  September 23, 2018

              Or Izzy to his friends or for Sir Winston Churchill, Copperknob. But I digress to irrelevant trivia. Back to national anthems, they are only used in ceremonies and is not very important.
              How about having a national dance instead, with an accompanying tune: a cross between the HAKA and Makarena. This is only half in jest.

  4. Zedd

     /  September 23, 2018

    Both the anthem & the Parliament.. have been obsessed with NZs ‘Christian history’ that is really no longer applicable in 21st century. :/

    at least speaker Mallard, seems to accept other religious groups; recently had Mr Baksi & others.. read prayers from other religions & in other languages; Ka Pai 🙂

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  September 23, 2018

      Here it is in English:

      Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand.

      Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand.

      Frankly, I think Almighty God is not listening. 😕

      Reply
  5. artcroft

     /  September 23, 2018

    “There’s a danger in elevating historical figures to demigod status.

    Last week’s editorial ‘Our anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’ is a radically subversive challenge to tradition’ veered close to elevating New Zealand national anthem writer Thomas Bracken to a similar inviolate status.”

    So I went to the article to search for the part that elevated Bracken to status in anyway, let alone demigod status. Naturally it wasn’t there. This article is ….Fake News.

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  September 23, 2018

      Fake news is like fake colts, Arty. They look the same at a distance..until it’s time to draw.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 23, 2018

        Fake colts ? A fake horse would be very obvious.

        A fake Colt might not be.

        Reply
  6. Corky

     /  September 23, 2018

    So, Hemi Ruru of Papakura is sick of all this god talk. He reckons it’s time for some tikanga

    Things is Maori culture is build around spirituality. You cannot have Maori culture without gods. You cannot have Maori culture without magic. You cannot have Maori culture without church and god and spirits.

    Ole Hemi must be one of those urban Maori. Maori that traditional Maori don’t like. Plastic tikis… too much pakeha atheism.

    Reply
    • david in aus

       /  September 23, 2018

      You can buy Tikanga from the souvenir shops on Queen Street. It doesn’t have to be plastic, buy a Greenstone tiki and then intersperse Maori words in your sentences. As in Radio NZ, you can emphasize your Tikanga-ness by saying Kia Ora and making bird noises. Bird-noises are optional but it has the added benefit of elevating your general Left-wing bona fides.

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  September 23, 2018

        And these Lefties have the cheek to talk about Righties climbing the corporate ladder.

        Reply
  7. Griff.

     /  September 23, 2018

    Refused to sing it in school back in the seventy’s .
    I dont believe in gods why would I sing a song to one?
    The rest of you can think it has significance .
    To me its meaningless waffle.

    Reply
    • MaureenW

       /  September 23, 2018

      Meaningless waffle to me too, however I preferred this (marginally) to God Save The Queen.

      Reply
  1. Bracken – from god-laden anthem to racist poem — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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