September 2nd, 2010
11:01 AM ET

In Aussie school, Kookaburra sits in gum tree - but isn't gay

The principal of a school in Australia sparked quite a firestorm on the web after asking students to stop using the word "gay" when singing the classic "Kookaburra" children's song - though he told media on Thursday he never intended to offend anyone.

Garry Martin, principal of Le Page Primary School, had instructed kids to sing the words "fun your life must be" instead of "gay your life must be."

Martin had said he changed the words because the meaning of the word "gay" had changed since the song was first penned about 75 years ago.

As soon as the first stories started coming out on the Internet, users took to comment sections of articles, Twitter and Facebook with ire that the school was seemingly trying to ban the use of the word gay. An Australian gay and lesbian advocacy group called the Also Foundation has called the ban absurd.

Now, Martin now wants to make clear - he was never trying to start any kind of trouble - or say that there was anything wrong with being gay.

"All I was doing, relatively innocently, was substituting one word because I knew if we sing 'Gay your life must be' the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter," Martin told Fairfax Radio.

Martin did acknowledge that some kids in the school already use the word in a disparaging way, so he was just trying to eliminate that going further.

"For example, if a boy is not particularly good at sport, they will refer to that child as gay," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "They have a vague idea how it can be used but they don't really know the full extent of it."

Many of those commenting on story, which has been picked up around the globe, seem to think drawing attention to the word at all was Martin's biggest problem.

It appears, Martin too, now shares the sentiment.

"Political correctness is very much to the fore in schools — what's appropriate and what isn't — and sometimes we rightly or wrongly err on the side of caution," Martin told 9 News. "I guess that was hypersensitive of me."

soundoff (253 Responses)
  1. Brian I'm birdophobic too!

    September 3, 2010 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. C

    Try walking into a classroom and saying, "He's such an ass" and listen for the reaction.
    Language changes. Meanings change too. Martin did the right thing.

    September 3, 2010 at 3:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Adam

    I wonder how many people just read this and complete disregarded it because they have the mental capacity to understand that any word is just a word. Its you ,the individual that gives a word the power to be offensive. Here's a bold new strategy...ignore it.

    September 3, 2010 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ken

    Calling attention to the double meaning is a sure way to encourage kids to think about it. It would have been wiser to just allow that "sleeping dog to lie". Which in the more contemporary case could mean literally a canine version of a slumbering dog, or an unattractive person. Obviously, you wouldn't have thought of the second meaning (Most likely), if I hadn't brought it to your attention.

    September 3, 2010 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. flyfysher

    First Mr. Martin, you tried to do what you thought was right but like most people in life learn, let no good deed go unpunished. Second, you've got your 15 minutes of fame or in this case infamy. Don't worry, people will get over it rather quickly. One always finds insults if they're looking for one. Even if none is intended.

    September 3, 2010 at 4:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. PAPilot

    *double facepalm

    I was listening to a radio show this morning (Michael Smerconish, one of the few liberals who can actually stay on the air) where they were talking about how we're corrupting our children's minds with hyper-protectionism and an overabundance of caution. This is a good example of training children to be hyper-sensitive and incapable of dealing with life's problems.

    September 3, 2010 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Biff

    Definition of Gay: To be happy.


    I feel very gay today.

    Today is a gay day.

    That guy seems gay.

    Why are you so gay?

    I want to help you feel gay.

    September 3, 2010 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sam

    So next week, are they going to change the childrens books about Dick and Jane and Spot? I mean, we can't have kids running around saying "See Dick!" now can we! And then we need to ask anyone whose name is "Dick" to only refer to themselves as Richard. Just how narrow-minded can we get here?

    September 3, 2010 at 6:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      You are right Sam. It is narrow-minded... more like shallow-minded. Although, I guarantee you that you are going to see a phasing out of the nickname "Dick" too because parents know that the association will be there in this day and age. All the little boys who are named Richard are going to be called, Rich, Richie, Rick, Ricky etc... Our society is perverted and shallow. I am ashamed to admit that.

      September 3, 2010 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kim

    I see both sides of the coin here. Hear me out... I am a classroom music teacher and I too changed the Kookabura word. I said, "... glad your life must be" because I seriously got tired of controlling the giggles and distraction that resulted from the word "gay." Even when telling them that "gay" meant "happy" they still could not concentrate on the main objective... making music. It is a sad state of society that kids laugh at that. I certainly have no problem with "gay" in ANY context whatsoever. But, from a classroom management perspective, it really was easier to change the lyrics. I look at it the same way as religious text in music. We are in a day and age where we have to be careful with those lyrics too, regardless of how traditional or culturally appropriate the song is. For educators, I don't think it is "overprotecting" it is just making our jobs more manageable. Kids get confused, parents get upset... I think educators are just following suit with the "let the parent's touch that one" philosophy. Would it be a fair and responsible thing for me to draw attention to the word "gay" it and give them the intended definition. Sure... but my objective in the short 40 minute class they get per week was to sing a song in a round, not have a vocabulary lesson or give a lecture on social appropriateness. They can learn the words "gay" and "God" and anything else at home with their hopefully responsible and open-minded parents.

    September 3, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. Saiki

    Hey, I definitely side with the principle. I work with 1,000 junior high school students. The original definition of the word doesn't matter much. The kids know what it means, BOTH definitions. It doesn't really matter to them which sense of the word it originally intended. They'll still point to each other and laugh when they sing the word, thinking they're being quite funny and cute. It's the age. This educator knows his kids. Lay off him.

    September 3, 2010 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • B1975

      My thoughts exactly.

      September 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Oscar

    Instead of trying to manipulate his students' experience of learning, this teacher should have taken more time to talk about the word "gay", and also discipline the kids who use the word to bully and disparage others.

    September 3, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Nasqua

    Watch this if you dare:

    September 3, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. Nasqua


    September 3, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. Steven

    This is just another attempt at bigots having ago, for heavens sake, this the 21st century,not the 1st. I wish the bigots and the Fred Niles of the world would buggar off, and leave us alone, yeah I an gay, and PROUD

    September 4, 2010 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Reuben Jacob

    Big Dave, your post made me laugh, though from far and away. This I admit even though I'm a grown-up, a gay grown-up. By all accounts this teacher's response to classroom laughter was misguided, but not malevolent.

    Having experienced bullying in school, I admit that, to this day, a direct or indirect remark or reference to "gay" in the subway, the workplace, the mall, or wherever, still makes me red in the face. I can't help it – I've been conditioned to respond. The word can be used innocently or disparagingly, deliberately or offhandedly, I still feel I should either proclaim myself or shroud myself.

    September 5, 2010 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
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