the price of freedom

Australia was attacked in the Second World War by Japan through bombing raids on Darwin. Japanese midget submarines also crept perilously into Sydney Harbour. Apart from British colonisation, this is the extent to which modern day Australia as been “invaded”.

As my national anthem espouses, my sunburnt country is girt by sea. We share no land borders with our neighbours, New Zealand and Indonesia. We do not live under any credible threat that at any time we could be invaded by one of these neighbours. I can’t see New Zealand tossing sheep at us in an attempt to make us change our pronunciation of “fush end chups” any time in the near future. 

I started attending Anzac Day dawn services a few years ago because I realized that as an Australian, we have so few cultural events that instill a sense of national pride that aren’t tied to a sporting event. I am not against any sporting competition. I can bellow “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oy Oy Oy” with the best of them, particularly when Jelena Dokić is returning to centre court at the Australian Open. But we have so few events that we can draw upon to proclaim our national identity. Granted, there is still debate as to what defines a national identity for Australia.

Standing for the past two days at Lauluväljak (Tallinn Song Festival Grounds) I have been surround by the expression of the nationalistic pride of the Estonian people through Laulupidu XXV Song Celebration Festival. It has been two days where people from all over this tiny country come together and sing with one voice. To breathe as one people.

Estonia has by far the largest and oldest collection of folk music than any other country on earth. Laulupida is an event that only happens every five years. This festival represents more than just singing. All around me people proudly wave the blue, black and white of the Estonian flag. At first, this may appear to be yet another standard gesture of nationalism found anywhere in any country of the world.

I’ve never had to think about the consequences of raising up my own country’s flag as a symbol of my Australian pride. In the period between 1939 and 1991 Estonians could see themselves imprisoned for just that same act under the U.S.S.R. regime. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to be able to sing freely Advance Australia Fair or even Waltzing Matilda without suffering severe consequences.

But in 1989, when Laulupidu was in its twenty-first year, Estonians took the opportunity to boldly raise their flag, and to raise their voices in nonviolent protest. They sang their unofficial national anthem, Mu Isamaa, On Minu Arm, they gave them a sense of hope and national unity.

So I stand amongst these people who twenty years later still sing this song with the fervour and gusto of that moment when the tide began to turn, and they sang their way to freedom!

And I am beginning understand what it means to sing Mu Isamaa On Minu Arm … Land of my fathers, land that I love.

Mu isamaa on minu arm, Land of my fathers, land that I love
kel südant annud ma. to whom I have given my heart.
Sull’ laulan ma, mu ülem õnn, To you I sing, my greatest happiness
mu õitsev Eestimaa! my flowering Estonia!
Su valu südames mul keeb,
Your pain boils in my heart
su õnn ja rõõm mind rõõmsaks teeb, your pride and joy makes me happy,
mu isamaa, mu isamaa! my fatherland, my fatherland!


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