Australians will sing a different version of their national anthem from 1 January after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a change to the words on Thursday. The anthem will no longer refer to Australia as “young and free” in an attempt to reflect the country’s long indigenous history. The announcement was a surprise but welcomed across the government.
Mr Morrison said he hopes the change will create a “spirit of unity”. People inhabited Australia for tens of thousands of years before it was colonised by mostly white English settlers in the 18th Century. The line to be removed in the anthem, which is called Advance Australia Fair, is “For we are young and free”. Instead people will sing “For we are one and free.” Earlier this year, the leader of New South Wales state, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, suggested the change, saying the current wording ignored Australia’s “proud First Nations culture”. The move had been previously floated to better recognise Indigenous Australian history, which spans back tens of thousands of years, but the conservative leader had not flagged the change until announcing it late on Thursday night.
Australia is a country still reckoning with its colonial past and inequality facing its First Nations peoples, with Indigenous children twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday, according to official statistics. Earlier this year, large protests were held in several cities around the country calling for an end to deaths in custody of Indigenous people — which number more than 400 in the last three decades. No prosecutions have been brought despite dozens of investigations, inquests and in some cases video evidence of abuse.