School’s insistence on standing for anthem compared to enforced assimilation

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
A SA school is under fire for forcing Indigenous students to stand during the national anthem.

When Elaine’s 11-year-old daughter was asked to rise as the national anthem was played during a music class at her school in regional Port Augusta, South Australia, the girl refused.

It was a stance the primary school student felt strongly about, after growing up knowing the history of her Indigenous relatives, including Elaine’s grandmother, who was a member of the Stolen Generation.

“We’re not disrespectful, we just quietly sit aside and let the song pass,” says Elaine of her family’s response to hearing the anthem played in their presence.

Elaine says her grandmother was physically beaten if she didn’t participate in the anthem in the institutions she was forced to live in as a child in outback South Australia.

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“And if they spoke their language, their mouth was scrubbed with the scrubbing brush,” she says.

Her daughter’s attitude to the song, that Elaine says was written at a time when First Nations people had no rights in their own land, is a testament to the fact that her children are “strong in their culture”.

But when the girl, along with another 12-year-old Aboriginal student, chose to sit down and not acknowledge the anthem, Elaine says the school’s response was to write both children’s names on the board in front of other students, and to give the girls a lunchtime detention to serve the next day.

Instead, Elaine’s daughter did not go to school that day and did not end up serving the detention.

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Seaview Christian College has denied any disciplinary action was taken in relation to the anthem, although the other girl involved says she did attend the lunchtime detention.

Taking a stand – to sit the anthem out

To avoid future issues, Elaine says she contacted the school to request that her children don’t participate in the anthem.

The school sent an emailed response advising that, although Elaine’s daughter and other children were not required to sing the anthem, they would have to stand.

“Students will not receive any repercussions for not singing the National Anthem,” the email from February stated, but also advised that “we do ask that at formal events, such as assemblies or town events, when we are asked to stand, that students simply stand to respect the formality of the event”.

For Elaine, being asked to stand was still unacceptable, and she wrote back explaining that she disagreed with their directive and that standing to the anthem “would be the same as singing the anthem”.

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In another email, she explained it was “non-negotiable” that her children would “sit silently out of respect for school” during the anthem.

School referred to signed contract around honouring college leadership

Subsequent emails sent by the school reinforced their position – making it clear to Elaine that her wish for her children to not participate in the anthem was not viewed positively.

“The enrolment of every child at Seaview Christian College requires a signed enrolment contract where families commit to fully supporting the college and to respectfully honour the college leadership and their decisions.

“If at any point you find that you can no longer maintain the commitments made in the enrolment contract, we kindly request that you notify us so that we can initiate the process of disenrolment.”

Elaine says she felt pulling her children out of the school was her only choice.

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Protocols around the anthem are set by the Commonwealth and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which state that “when the anthem is played at a ceremony or public event, it is customary to stand”.

But with no formal policy regarding the anthem in South Australian schools, Elaine says her family regarded the school’s stance as a form of “assimilation”.

“You either assimilate or you get out of their school,” she says.

“There’s no room for discussion, there’s no room for negotiation, you either do that or you just get out.”

Cultural regulation

Elaine has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, the Independent Schools Association and the Education Standards Board in South Australia.

In Port Augusta, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders comprise 20 per cent of the population, compared to the nationwide average of three per cent.

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Seaview Christian College’s 2022 annual report reveals nearly half of the school’s students identified as Indigenous, yet no Indigenous staff were listed.

SA’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People April Lawrie described the school’s behaviour as “alarming”.

“I think the response from the school doesn’t seem to fit the issue, it’s not proportional,” Commissioner Lawrie said.

The commissioner also said more needed to be done to ensure Aboriginal families in the education system were listened to.

“That they are not made to feel ashamed, are not made to feel belittled, or embarrassed, or treated harshly for standing up and leading with their cultural identity,” the Commissioner said.

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“What I see here is definitely not cultural safety.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]