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Kris Swales STRAAAYA FUCK YEAH
Artist unknown ; this piece of street art has since been defaced.

Kris Swales

‘STRAAAYA: FUCK YEAH!

My first thought when the car bearing Victorian plates and flying one of those baby Australian flags rolled into Redfern on the day before Australia Day? “Fucking great, the bogans are massing for the weekend.”

And for once, that’s not just me being a judgmental jerk. The last flag-waving car I saw driving the mean streets of South Sydney was filled with four shirtless youths, spreading their particular brand of joy by hurling racist abuse at Asian pedestrians through the car’s open windows. So please, cut me some slack for leaping to conclusions.

But I got this latest car all wrong. They slowly drove past me motioning at the parking spot on the other side of them, the campervan on their tail started to work its way into it, and it became clear that these were overseas tourists waving our flag as a source of pride in where they were.

Yet the guy who’s lived here all his life immediately suspected the worse, which is as good a summary as any of the growing confusion of national identity when it collides with white middle class guilt. Add a bit of blackfella to my blood and the whole thing becomes a bit of a mess. I’ll let you know when I work it all out.

Australia Day seemed pretty simple as a kid – you watched cricket, you played cricket, or you talked about watching or playing cricket. If the traffic on my Facebook feed on January 26 can be taken as a representative sample of the 20-40 demographic, it’s now a quagmire of ideologies.

Of people trying to assert their Australian-ness through such well-worn turns-of-phrase as “fuck off, we’re full” and “if you don’t like it, leave”.

Of symbolic verbal flag-waving copy-and-pasted from someone else’s status update so they didn’t have to define their Australian-ness themselves.

Of those closer to the left agitating about flags and national anthems and Invasion Day.

And those like me who aren’t entirely sure what to make of it, but saw the above piece of street art I snapped in Glebe and were left gob-smacked at the subversive simplicity of it all.

And let’s not forget the crews dedicating the day to music, specifically the Triple J Hottest 100. To all of you scoffing at the chart-topping worthiness of Thrift Shop due to its novelty value, be warned – I’ve taken your names and you’ll be copping a red card if I ever see you getting down to Bust A Move.

My counterpart Dan Condon (hi Dan!) had the right idea though – a party with nothing but Australian music encrypted into shiny black vinyl discs on the menu. Who were the first band that sprang to my mind? Midnight Oil, natch.

Now I don’t have a problem with Advance Australia Fair per se, but a lot of people seem to. So if we’re going to fly the flag for a new anthem to fly our flag to, allow me to suggest The Power And The Passion.

(And if we really want to take that shit to the next level, let’s roll out the d’n’b version that the Resin Dogs were rocking live circa-2007, because an Australian swimmer pulling a bassface when they’re top of the podium in Rio de Janeiro is a pretty good representation of what the youth of this fine nation get up to in their spare time.)

The trumpet refrain that drives this masterpiece to its conclusion is Australia’s answer to the end of Hey Jude, and don’t even get me started on the drum solo. Zeitgeist = captured, bagged and tagged.

But it’s in the middle of Peter Garrett’s lyrics about a country which maybe isn’t quite to lucky as it thinks it is that the Australian spirit is captured by a phrase that’s not an entirely original one: “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

That’s why Indigenous Australians are still fighting for their rights after the atrocities that they’ve copped over the past 225 years; that’s why asylum seekers completely abandon what was once their life in search of a new beginning on something other than a water-logged tent city on Nauru; that’s why Steve Smith continues to try his hardest whenever someone dresses him in an Australian cricket uniform.

That’s what I’d like to think being Australian is all about – getting in there and having a good fucking crack, and respecting everyone else’s right to do the same.

And if you don’t like it? Leave.

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