Australia Day 2016: Joe Williams defends decision to stay seated during national anthem

RAW EMOTION: Joe Williams accepts the city's highest honour in an Australia Day ceremony on Monday, where he refused to stand for the national anthem.

RAW EMOTION: Joe Williams accepts the city's highest honour in an Australia Day ceremony on Monday, where he refused to stand for the national anthem.

JOE Williams says he will never stand for the national anthem, declaring Australia could “never move forward” under a song he believes divides black and white.

Williams – Wagga’s new Citizen of the Year – said he stayed seated as the national anthem played at the city’s Australia Day ceremony on Monday because he felt the song alienated Aboriginal people.

“I’ve been asked to sing the national anthem at national tournaments of touch footy. It was something I did because it’s what I’d been taught in school … then I was corrected,” he said. “What does Advance Australia Fair really mean? I was told by an Aboriginal elder that it meant advance Australia – for fair-skinned people.”

Williams said reconciliation could never be achieved as the race question loomed large on Australia’s national identity.

“How can we move forward together while we have this hanging over our heads,” he said.

“I don’t believe the national anthem represents me as an Aboriginal man, and I’m not the only one. Aboriginal people are far from free.”

Williams admitted feeling uncomfortable as he accepted Wagga’s highest honour in a stirring ceremony, but said he would never shy away from his beliefs.

“What is Wagga council going to do; take the award off me?” he said. “If I don’t stand up and speak up on what’s happening – who will?”

Kendall locks in behind Williams

Wagga mayor Rod Kendall said he stood by Williams.

TIME FOR REFLECTION: Wagga mayor Rod Kendall urged locals to reflect on why Joe Williams decided not to stand during the national anthem.

TIME FOR REFLECTION: Wagga mayor Rod Kendall urged locals to reflect on why Joe Williams decided not to stand during the national anthem.

“Perhaps as a people we should be asking why does Joey feel this way?” he said.

“Why do Aboriginal people feel this way? When we can answer those, we might be able to move forward as a nation in a stronger way.”

Cr Kendall said he had faith the community could recognise a diversity of views. 

“It’s basically everything we stand for,” he said. “I think we are a mature enough society to respect the right of a person to express how they feel about a particular issue.”

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