The hurt caused by the first verse of the Anthem in its present form is this: The words “For we are young and free” with reference to “Australians all” excludes those Australians whose ongoing culture and connection with our land is not young at all, but ancient. This is reinforced by the complete absence of any reference to our First Australians in the Anthem. Their occupation of the Australian continent and adjacent islands for more than 60,000 years is ignored. The omission is compounded by the express reference in the present second verse to ‘For those who’ve come across the seas.’
Further, the words “For we are young and free” were first written in 1878 in the colonial era. They were the product of a time when the myth of terra nullius supported profoundly unjust and discriminatory attitudes leading to many examples of horrific violence directed to our First Australians. The Eumeralla Wars of the mid nineteenth in western Victoria provide a notable and tragic example. This was largely due to the mind-set of the day flowing from ignorance. As Sir William Deane, Governor General of Australia pointed out in an address in Melbourne in 1997: “The cultures and traditions of the original inhabitants of our continent stretch back into the Dreamtime of 60,000 years ago. When the first Europeans arrived in 1788 to establish a militarily run penal settlement, they made little sustained effort to understand the nature or the content of those cultures and traditions, or the strength of the bonds between the Indigenous peoples and their land or territory. Nor was there any real understanding of the extent to which the Indigenous belief in the supernatural enriched the lives of the Aborigines, provided continuity with the past while explaining the present, identified and regulated relationships, provided the context and content of aspirations and regulated almost all aspects of life and conduct.”
In this context, our First People were simply ignored in ‘Advance Australia Fair’. Against the background of this colonial history, the word “For we are young and free” for many Indigenous citizens lingers to symbolise exclusion of our First People – and literally continues to have this effect.
For these reasons, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people find the words “For we are young and free” hurtful and offensive, and find it difficult, if not impossible, to stand or sing the Anthem with these words.
Our National Anthem needs to be inclusive of all Australians and restored to what it always should have been – a truly inclusive ‘national’ hymn. Here is an opportunity to make a positive contribution towards restoration of pride in the cultural inheritance and identity of our First People. The case for urgent change is surely overwhelming and beyond question.
At the same time, many feel that the words of the present Anthem, first written in 1878, need to be revitalised to properly reflect who and what we have become as the Australia of the 21st century – a country which proudly celebrates its unity in diversity as the leading multicultural society of the world.
Further, the words of the present Anthem, having been first written well prior to WW1, ignore the defining role of the ANZAC Digger in forging the Australian spirit of ‘mateship’ – which has come to be recognised as a core value of the Nation.
The second verse of the present National Anthem is rarely sung in public and few know the words. For practical purposes, it has largely fallen into disuse.
Today we live in a very different social environment. We are moving forward as a leading, inclusive, multi-cultural society of the 21st century which embraces all of its citizens.
Perpetuation of hurt has no place in our national hymn.
In this context, it would surely serve us well as Australians to speak through our National Anthem of who we are, what we stand for in our core values, and everything we celebrate in this great country of ours.
We live in an era of great change. There is considerable value in recognising and entrenching our values for the future, as enduring constants.
We need a discussion about giving to all Australians the National Anthem we deserve.
The re-vitalised Australian National Anthem proposed by RAP for the 21st century and beyond is offered for consideration as a means to achieve these ends – something in which we can truly rejoice.