Prime Minister Scott Morrison surprised Australians on New Year’s Eve when he announced a small tweak to the lyrics in the national anthem.
The original line “for we are young and free” has been officially changed to “for we are one and free”, in an acknowledgement of tens of thousands of years of First Nations history and the continuation of one of the oldest cultures in the world.
In a statement, Morrison said “Changing ‘young and free’ to ‘one and free’ takes nothing away, but I believe it adds much.” He said it was a change for all Australians.
Australia’s national anthem is not one that is infused with tradition and lyrics have been changed before. Advance Australia Fair has only been the country’s official song since 1984, when then Prime Minister Bob Hawke replaced God Save The Queen.
While the latest change is only small and symbolic in nature, the shift in lyrics can, and should be, the first of many deliberate steps towards greater inclusion and equity in outcomes for First Nations people.
As opposition leader Anthony Albanese suggested, the symbolic change is “common sense” but concrete action, like constitutional recognition and a First Nations voice to parliament, is necessary.
“Changing a single word in the national anthem, while First Nations people aren’t even recognised in our national constitution, is simply not good enough,” Albanese said. “It doesn’t change the important power problems which First Nations people face.”
Senator Lidia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal senator for Victoria, said the change in lyrics provided a moment to tell the truth about Australia’s history and suggested it was time for a treaty.
“If all Australians are to be ‘one and free’, the only way to do this is via a treaty process that includes telling the true history of this nation before and since invasion,” she said.
In the sporting world, where Advance Australia Fair is sung before most major events, the change in lyrics can be a catalyst for greater change too.
In the early hours on January 1, Olympic champion Cathy Freeman posted her reaction to the news.
“What a way to start the year!!! A phone call from our Prime Minister to say that we are “One and Free”! Thank you!!!” she wrote on social media.
What a way to start the year!!! A phone call from our Prime Minister to say that we are “One and Free”! Thank you!!!— Cathy Freeman (@CathyFreeman) December 31, 2020
In sport, the singing of the national anthem has become a point of contention and source of hurt for Indigenous athletes over many years.
In 2019, Indigenous NRL players Cody Walker and Josh Addo-Carr refused to sing the national anthem at the opening State of Origin.
In 2020, the Australian Rugby League made the call to not have the national anthem before the State of Origin. The decision was quickly overturned after the ARL’s CEO David Sneddon received a call from Scott Morrison, who insisted it must be sung.
And in early December, performing arts student Olivia Fox sang a rendition of the Advance Australia Fair in the language of the Eora Nation before the Wallabies’ Tri-Nations test against Argentina.
Efforts of greater inclusion and compassion are desperately needed in Australian sport, and the change in national anthem lyrics, while just a small gesture, can be the start of greater and more substantial improvements for Indigenous players in sport.
Wiradjuri man and former professional sports person Joe Williams has suggested that a fresh start is needed to unite the nation.
Williams likes a revised anthem written by Judith Durham, Kutcha Edwards, Lou Bennett, Camilla Chance and Bill Hauritz. It is performed below by Kutcha Edwards during the KAGE Team of Life theatre production.
It includes the lyrics, “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.”
“Our land abounds in nature’s gifts to love, respect and share, And honouring the Dreaming, advance Australia fair.”