Head teacher drops gay from famous Kookaburra song

A kookaburra
Image caption The kookaburra is an Australian icon

An Australian head teacher is under fire after removing the word gay from the famous song Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.

Garry Martin told pupils at Melbourne's Lepage Primary to substitute the word fun for gay in the chorus: "Laugh, kookaburra, gay your life must be."

"I knew if we sing 'Gay your life must be' the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter," Mr Martin told a local radio station.

"I wasn't trying to insult gay people."

But after a local newspaper reported his change to the campfire classic, Mr Martin began receiving angry e-mails from readers and criticism from gay rights groups.

The school principal admitted he had probably been "hypersensitive", but said the word gay was commonly used as a playground insult and he was keen to minimise disruption in the classroom.

"Seventy years ago when the song was written gay meant you are happy. Nowadays we know it's got all sorts of different meanings," he said.

"I just suggested to kids, 'Nowadays that can mean different things, so let's just sing fun'.

"It wasn't any sort of school policy. It wasn't me being dictatorial or banning the word. All it was at the time was a behaviour management strategy... to stop them giggling."

In hindsight, he said he should have simply explained the meaning of gay as another word for happy, and told the children it should not be used disparagingly.

Crusader Hillis, of the gay and lesbian advocacy group The Also Foundation, said the change of lyrics was an overreaction.

"It sends a signal to people that just because a word has two meanings, that one of those meanings is unacceptable and that's really putting us backwards," Mr Hillis said.

Kookaburra, penned for a 1935 Girl Guides jamboree, has been in the news this year after a judge found its tune was ripped off in Men At Work's Down Under, a global hit in 1981 and an unofficial Australian anthem.

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