Coon cheese campaigner’s next target

 

EXCLUSIVE

The indigenous activist who led the successful campaign to rename Coon cheese due to claims its brand was racist has a new target in his sights - a top tier AFL club.

Stephen Hagan has called on Carlton Football Club to change the tune of its club song describing it as one "one of the most racist songs of all time".

But Carlton management have said they have no plans to compose a new song and the lyrics "effectively removed the original song's racist connotations".

Dr Hagan said the club told him that several indigenous Carlton players past and present, had backed the club's stance which left him "absolutely shocked".

Indigenous activist Dr Stephen Hagan was instrumental in getting Coon cheese renamed. Now he wants Carlton to change it’s “racist” club song.
Indigenous activist Dr Stephen Hagan was instrumental in getting Coon cheese renamed. Now he wants Carlton to change it’s “racist” club song.

Lily of Laguna tune panned for racism

If Carlton beat the Gold Coast Suns in Saturday night's clash at Metricon Stadium, the players and supporters will celebrate by singing We are the Navy Blues.

The almost century old ditty was said to be written around 1929 by Agnes Wright and her cousin Irene McEldrew who ran a boarding house in the inner Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn where Carlton players lodged.

The lyrics, which mostly revolve around Carlton's winning ways, are not offensive, Dr Hagan told news.com.us.

What is offensive, he said, is the tune those lyrics are sung to.

Ms Wright and Ms McEldrew wrote the words to the tune of Lily of Laguna, a song penned by English composer Leslie Stuart.

The original lyrics concern a black man pining after a Native American women. It was frequently performed in black face.

Lily of Laguna contains several slurs and was considered so racist that by the 1940s popular singers of the day, such as Bing Crosby, sung a new version shorn of its most troubling lines.

 

"The song is one of the most racist of all time with the opening verse including the n-word and 'coon' and Carlton has adopted that music and propelled it into notoriety," Dr Hagan said.

"Lily of Laguna is said to be one of the greats coon songs ever," he added.

"Coon song," was a genre of music popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that caricatured black people.

Dr Hagan said Carlton should keep the words but compose an entirely new tune that didn't hark back to Lily of Laguna.

"The words used in the Carlton theme song are not racist, there's no reason to change them.

"But surely it wouldn't be too onerous a task for Carlton to commission an original musical arrangement without changing a single word of the team song?"

Sheet music cover for
Sheet music cover for "Lily of Laguna". Picture: National Library of Australia.

A rendition of the original song is below, as well as the current Carlton song, so you can compare them. If you don't want to hear some racist lyrics it's best not to press play on the original version.

 

 

Carlton Football Club responds

A spokesman for Carlton told news.com.au the club had long been aware of the tune's troubled history. However, it questioned whether the song that inspired Ms Wright and Ms McEldrew was even the version with the racist lyrics.

"The lyrics to the original song were changed 80 years ago to remove the racial origins, which is around the time the club first penned its lyrics to the theme."

In the statement the club said the lyrics of the Carlton theme song "do not in any way resemble" the words used in the Lily of Laguna song.

"In the process of writing the lyrics of the Carlton Football Club theme song, the creators of the song effectively removed the original song's racist connotations.

"The Lily of Laguna lyrics are of no relevance to the lyrics that were penned in good faith for the club."

Carlton said the club was committed to providing a "culturally safe environment" for players, staff, members and supporters.

"We will continue to consult and listen to indigenous elders and key advisers, including players, as we have already done in regards to this particular discussion, to maintain and improve on our culturally safe environment."

We are the Blues has been the club song since the elate 1920s. Picture: AAP Image/Dylan Burns.
We are the Blues has been the club song since the elate 1920s. Picture: AAP Image/Dylan Burns.

Indigenous players back current song

As well as triumphing, after many years, in his drive to get Coon cheese renamed, Dr Hagan led a long running campaign to rename the ES "N****r" Brown stand at a stadium in Toowoomba.

"It took me 10 years to get the name of the stand changed and now I'm doing the same for another sporting club."

Dr Hagan said Carlton had told him its decision to not alter the tune was partly based on feedback from its indigenous reconciliation action plan committee including several players. Carlton confirmed that Eddie Betts was one of those players consulted.

"I'm absolutely shocked they would defend the racist theme song music rather than fight against the clearly racist origins of the melody," said Dr Hagan.

"It doesn't make the song any less racist that a couple of Aboriginal players who are very loyal to the club defend it."

Asked whether the song needed to be changed, given precious few supporters or players would even realise the tune derives from an 1898 song with racist lyrics, Dr Hagan said that didn't matter.

"How do you think Jewish people would feel if Collingwood's song was based on propaganda music from the Hitler Youth?"

Coon cheese will be Cheer by the middle of this year.
Coon cheese will be Cheer by the middle of this year.

In January, Canadian owed Saputo Dairy, the current owners of Coon cheese, announced the brand would be changed to Cheer by the middle of 2021.

The brand was named in homage to US cheesemaker Edward Coon.

But Dr Hagan, along with others including comedian Josh Thomas, had argued that the racial slur was far more widely known than the cheesemaker and the brand should be amended.

Lino Saputo, the chair and chief executive officer of Saputo said it was a "challenging" decision to rename, because Coon was such a well-known brand in Australia.

"It was important for us to understand that name did not please other consumers," he said.

Mr Hagan also backed a recent move by Lake Macquarie Council, on the NSW central coast, to change the name of Coon Island.

The small island does indeed have a connection to the racial slur. The council has agreed to a name change but has yet to decide what that night be.

Originally published as Coon cheese campaigner's next target



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