"Tie me kangaroo down, sport" an extremely well known Rolf Harris song is a great favourite of the
gang and is often sung several times over in the course of a session. Having learned this song by heart way back in the 1960's and sang it to my kid sisters, I was intrigued to notice that the verse about aborigines which Rolf sang so gaily in those times had been dropped in the version found in G'Day 20 All Time Favourite Aussie Songs
(printed in 1991). The controversial verse which goes
"Let me abos go loose, Lew,
Let me abos go loose
They're of no further use, Lew
So let me abos go loose."
can be found in Australia's 5 of the Best
(undated, but after 1988).
So what do we learn from this, dear surfer? In the (good?) old days of global isolation, every songwriter and singer wrote and sang to their hearts' content on other races, minorities etc. for domestic or even private audiences never dreaming that decades or centuries later their efforts would be subject to the scrutiny of a global village. Today it is virtually impossible to say anything at all, however innocuous, without insulting someone, somewhere at sometime on this mad planet.
My advice is tolerance, tolerance and more tolerance. I say to the performers, do not wittingly offend your audiences and when singing examples of the above, give your broadest smiles showing that no offence is intended. And I say to those on the receiving end of such examples, smile, take no offence, you are not personally meant. Re-writing old material to make it politically correct for present-day audiences diminishes that material. I generally find sanitised lyrics boring and prefer not to sing such songs at all or only to those selected circles where I can either explain the lyric's origin or explanations are not necessary.
I never met Rolf Harris or know him personally. Deep in my bowels however, I feel certain that when that verse was penned no malice was ever intended and the verse could even be construed to be an expression of his affection and endearment for his fellow darker skinned native Australian compatriots.