The anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” has been tweaked to recognize the country’s Indigenous history and communities, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced late Thursday, hours before 2021.
The first line, “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free,” will now end with “one and free.”
“In the spirit of unity, it is only right that we also now acknowledge this and ensure our national anthem reflects this truth and shared appreciation. Changing ‘young and free’ to ‘one and free’ takes nothing away, but I believe it adds much.”
Peter Vickery, the founder and chair of the non-profit Representation In Anthem, has been campaigning for a more inclusive anthem since 2016. “Many of our indigenous people found it difficult, if not impossible, to sing the exclusionary words of ‘Advance Australia Fair’,” Vickery said Friday. “We simply can’t have an anthem which causes hurt to its own people.”
“Frankly, I’m elated,” Vickery said. “It does achieve a major objective of our work, which was to convert words of hurt or exclusion to words of inclusion, and embrace a multicultural society of the 21st century.”
But it was also met with skepticism from some who called it insubstantial, and more symbolic than effecting any real change.
Vickery openly acknowledged such criticisms, saying the campaign’s symbolic power “can never be a substitute for substance.” But, he added, the anthem was still “a critically important first step.”
The unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is more than 4 times the national average.
Ian Hamm, chair of the Indigenous organization First Nations Foundation, praised the changed lyric — but also highlighted other, more concrete actions that need to be taken.
For instance, Australia still doesn’t have a treaty between its government and its Indigenous people — unlike other Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand and Canada. The Australian constitution also doesn’t explicitly mention the country’s Indigenous population.
“I think it’s a good step, but after all, it’s just one step, one thing,” Hamm said. “And the anthem in itself is just that — it’s a song. There’s a whole bunch of other initiatives and changes and efforts to be done to create equity of opportunity for Aboriginal people, and equity in life outcomes for Aboriginal peoples.”