To Advance Australia Fair

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Written by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa


While on exchange in Prague, a Bulgarian backpacker hijacked my laptop and typed in 'Sarah Kay', exposing me to the world of spoken word poetry. I am passionate about the performing arts as it provides a platform to confront social, political, and cultural issues, but never had I been exposed to such a powerful medium to express oneself.

I believe the most courageous act is to be yourself; to be true inside and out. Only when you stand up for who you are can you stand up for what you believe in…I feel writing or performing poetry is an effective tool to creatively present your perspective on issues. My writing surrounds stories of the Sikh diaspora, cultural confusions, and gender issues which aren’t confronted in my community.

'To Advance Australia Fair', questions the audience on what it means to be Australian and why we fear the ‘other’. This piece introduces the pioneering Sikhs of Western Australia and the symbolic meaning of the turban [and] encompasses how my faith, Sikhism, has kept me grounded in my core beliefs of standing up for justice, serving others and positively contributing to society.

More of Sukhjit’s work can be viewed on her YouTube Channel, Contemporary Kaur.

To Advance Australia Fair (words):

“If you’re not in Australia, where the bloody hell are ya?”
Remember the Bingle jingle?
Inviting the world to mix and mingle?
Where ‘a fair go’ was your welcome mat,
Unless you’re of caramel descent,
Then ain’t NObody got tiiiime for dat!

Rockin’ up for my first job at Coles,
Was like a scene from Border Patrol.
Her plastic tag read ‘Dorothy’,
Glasses corded, she hawked, “Do you have a visa, honey?”
Caught, in a truck’s light, I was a squirrel, digging for my MasterCard?
Caught, at my job interview, with a question off guard.
She repeated again, this time slowly so I could follow,
“We don’t want no illegal workers here in Straya” Bravo!

What makes you Australian?
Is it a Southern Cross tattoo?
Or wombat stew crumbled with a dunkaroo?
As if my Aussie passport is temporary or my birthplace a mistake, For all those Dorothys out there allow me to firmly iterate:

 “For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”

Upon hearing these lines
do you think of a time 
When Australia has learnt to share and care 
And dare to wear its heart on its face 
Fully aware that most of us in this place 
Are no longer fair 
But brown and black and slow to attack
 But quick to embrace.
 A warm Australia. 
A handmade Australia. 
Not a ‘shooing’ Australia.

When idiots spit ‘Osama’ at my brother - I’m confused as to why? 
On Australia Day when the night sky spews bigot bile - I’m traumatized. 
When a teen rips off my Uncle’s turban - I’m an enraged flame of pain and shame, 
and sorrow. 
For tomorrow, when a hooning Ute throws a rotten peach at my Dad and screams 
 I will plead to you Lara: where the bloody hell are we?  

My people, the Sikhs Yeah, we have an identity 
Just like you and her and him Like Pru, and Fleur and Jim

See this hair 
It’s long and preened and seen
 It stands for me and my choices  

See that turban 
It belongs here in suburban 
Sydney to Perth 
And says mate we’re all equal on earth

Dorothy, you’ll be happy to know, I fish. I vote.  

If it’s really a competition, 
Well maybe I’m more ‘Aussie’ than you 
If Aussie means equality ‘cause 
That turban it’s noble from start to end 
It’s worn to defend 
You and you and you and you 
“You can trust me” It says.  

Sikhs in turbans came here in 1860 
With camels and carts and courageous hearts 
And look at the maxi taxi 
We’re still driving and steering this country 
In the office and farm and hospital….. even on stage 
To Advance Australia Fair, page by page  

Bring on the slurs and curs and scars and burs 
Take it for the team 
Bring the racists into high beam 
Let them spew their poison in my direction 
So another won’t have to cop this disaffection

Shut the gate on the hate state 
When I’m told to go home to where I came from 
I reply with a smile, tongue in cheek
Mate, we’ve been right at home for the past 150 years
I’m not the one who’s the freak, I’m fully Sikh!