Change in Australia’s National Anthem to Reflect Indigenous Heritage

Posted by Speakeasy News > Thursday 07 January 2021 > In the News Shine Bright Lycée

Australia started the new year with a change in its national anthem designed to be more inclusive of all Australians.

On 31 December, Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the change of a single word that is heavy with significance. The words of “Advance Australia Fair” included the line “For we are young and free”. This was supposed to reflect the relative youth of the Australian nation, only founded in 1788. But many people felt it ignored the importance of Australia’s Indigenous cultures: the continent is believed to be home to the longest continuous human civilisation on earth, going back more than 60 thousand years.

Morrison announced the line would now read “For we are one and free”, adding a note of unity.

The anthem, written in 1878, was adopted in 1984, after a national referendum chose it to replace “God Save the Queen”.

In December, the Wallabies national rugby team sang the national anthem in an Indigenous language for the first time. The team sang in the language of the Eora nation – a group of peoples from the Sydney area – before performing the anthem in English (see photo above).

The change had been suggested last year by the Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian.

The announcement was welcomed as a symbolic gesture by Aboriginal groups such as The First Nations Foundation, whose chairman and Yorta Yorta man Ian Hamm said, "Symbolism is important, real action and change is important. If you do one or the other, you only get half the job done."

Ian Hamm from the FIrst Nations Foundation.
Ian Hamm from the FIrst Nations Foundation.

However some pointed out that it would have been better to consult the people the change is supposed to recognise: the 3.3% of the population who are Indigenous.

Joe Williams a Wiradjuri man, and an associate professor at the School of Psychology, University of Queensland, wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian, saying, “I haven’t read anything that states the PM sat with First Nations people, or a representative of some sort, to discuss what would be the best way to make the anthem inclusive. If the views were to be inclusive, why not talk to the very people you are hoping to include?"

Australian and Aboriginal flags fly on Australia Day.

Invasion Day
Logically, one of the first occasions the new wording will be used is at Australia Day celebrations on 26 January. But that date itself is a subject of tension with Indigenous groups, as it marks the beginning of European settlement. Many refer to it as “Invasion Day”.

Luke Pearson, a Gamilaroi man who edits the IndigenousX platform, reacted to the symbolic word change, saying, “This, from the same political party who every Invasion Day assure us that Indigenous peoples aren’t interested in meaningless symbolic gestures like Australia no longer throwing a party on the anniversary of invasion, are now confident that Indigenous peoples will be so excited about this meaningless symbolic change that presumably we will no longer refuse to sing it at national sporting events.”

Rewriting Culture
Several years ago, a group of songwriters both from Indigenous and European origins, Judith Durham, Kutcha Edwards, Lou Bennett, Camilla Chance and Bill Hauritz, rewrote the anthem entirely in the aim of being more inclusive. Support is now growing for this new version to be adopted. Here it is sung by Indigenous singer Kutcha Edwards.

It would be interesting to have students compare the two versions. This is the traditional version of the lyrics with the new word change:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are one and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

And these are the lyrics of the proposed new version:

Australia, celebrate as one,
With peace and harmony.
Our precious water, soil and sun,
Grant life for you and me.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
To love, respect and share,
And honouring the Dreaming,
Advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.
Australia, let us stand as one,
Upon this sacred land.
A new day dawns, we’re moving on
To trust and understand.
Combine our ancient history
And cultures everywhere,
To bond together for all time,
Advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.
Australia, let us strive as one,
To work with willing hands.
Our Southern Cross will guide us on,
As friends with other lands.
While we embrace tomorrow’s world
With courage, truth and care,
And all our actions prove the words,
Advance Australia fair,
With joyful hearts then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.
And when this special land of ours
Is in our children’s care,
From shore to shore forever more,
Advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing,
Advance . . Australia . . fair.

Webpicks Useful websites and online tools for classroom use
> Australia Digital Resources
> Sorry Day Teaching Resources