On New Year’s Eve, the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison made a surprise announcement: the government will remove a reference to the country being “young and free” in the national anthem.
The move comes weeks after Glady’s Berejiklian, the leader of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, had urged the country to make changes to its national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair”, particularly the line “we are young and free”, which Berejiklian had said dismissed centuries of indigenous history.
“Advance Australia Fair” was written in 2878, but it became the official national anthem only in 1984. Critics say the words in the second line read, “For we are young and free”, obliterate more than 50,000 years of indigenous history and is an attempt at historical revisionism.
Critics say that word “young” in the national anthem had implied that Australia’s history only starts with colonisation. Australia marks January 26 as the date when the “First Fleet” sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788, carrying mostly convicts and troops from Britain. But many indigenous people in the country refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day”.
The change that takes effect on January 1st is the first amendment to “Advance Australia Fair” since 1984. Now the lyrics will read: “Australians all let us rejoice/ For we are one and free.”
While some indigenous Australians, particularly political leaders, have welcomed the change, there have been others; who have criticized what is essentially a symbolic move. Following Morrison’s announcement, Luke Pearson who edits “IndigenousX” and online platform explained in a blog post why the change to lyrics does little for the community.
Pearson wrote, “Changing the anthem from ‘young’ to ‘one’ is not only problematic because it’s symbolic tokenism aimed at silencing dissent that completely; misses the nature of the dissent in the first place, but it’s also problematic because; it’s the same wrongly labelled ‘one’ as the one made famous by ‘One Nation.”
Critics of the national anthem have said it isn’t only one; that is problematic, but rather, most of it. In 2019, in a segment of the Australian News satire series “The Weekly with Charlie Pickering”, indigenous rapper Briggs; had broken down each line; of the national anthem to show how it wasn’t just a matter of one or two phrases; or sentence that needed to be changed.
In an interview with Australia’s Daily Telegraph, Brigs had criticised the inclusion of the word “wealth”. “We don’t see much of that wealth. Only one in 10 of us are financially secure,” Briggs told the news publication.
The national anthem also has a line “Our lands abound in nature’s gifts”. But Briggs had explained why the indigenous community found it problematic: “You see that just reminds us that our land was our land before our home was girt by you lot.”
The reaction to change has been mixed across the country. Many in Australia’s political circles have welcomed the move, saying it was long overdue.