Australia modifies national anthem in nod to indigenous people

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says decision to change a word was taken to reflect country's spirit of unity

The Australian flag is seen in a halo around the sun, an optical phenomena produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, in Melbourne on December 30, 2020. / AFP / William WEST

Australia changed one word in its national anthem to reflect what the prime minister called "the spirit of unity" and the country's indigenous population.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on New Year's Eve announced that the second line of the anthem, Advance Australia Fair, was changed from "For we are young and free" to "For we are one and free".

The change took effect on January 1.

“It is time to ensure this great unity is reflected more fully in our national anthem,” said Mr Morrison, who described Australia as the “most successful multicultural nation on Earth".

“While Australia as a modern nation may be relatively young, our country’s story is ancient, as are the stories of the many First Nations peoples whose stewardship we rightly acknowledge and respect,” the prime minister said.

“In the spirit of unity, it is only right that we ensure our national anthem reflects this truth and shared appreciation.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said that he had been asked about the change and had given it his support.

Mr Wyatt, the first indigenous Australian elected to the federal Parliament’s lower house, said the one-word change was “small in nature but significant in purpose".

“It is an acknowledgement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures date back 65,000 years,” he said.

The change came less than two months after New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian expressed support for indigenous Australians who said the national anthem did not reflect them and their history.

University of South Wales law professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam nation in south-west Queensland state, criticised the lack of consultation with indigenous people about the change.

“This is a disappointing way to end 2020 and start 2021. Everything about us, without us,” she wrote on social media.

Last month, Australia's national rugby team, the Wallabies, became the first sporting team to sing the anthem in an indigenous language before their match against Argentina.

Advance Australia Fair was composed by Peter Dodds McCormick and first performed in 1878. It was adopted as the national anthem in 1984.