National anthem: Advanced, Aboriginal & Fair?

Written in 1879, Australia's national anthem hasn't been adapted to include Aboriginal people. Should it be updated? And what do Aboriginal people think about it?

Close this Cover of Aboriginal Culture Essentials

Wishing you knew more about Aboriginal culture? Search no more.

Get key foundational knowledge about Aboriginal culture in a fun and engaging way.

This is no ordinary resource: It includes a fictional story, quizzes, crosswords and even a treasure hunt.

Stop feeling bad about not knowing. Make it fun to know better.

Sold! Show me how No, thank you

Aboriginal alternatives to the national anthem

Singer Judith Durham sought Aboriginal feedback to the national anthem, Advanced Australia Fair, when she was working on rewriting it [1]. "It was alarming to be honest because so many just felt alienated," she says of Aboriginal people's reaction.

Most could not relate to the anthem nor sing it. This reluctance found its way into episode 5 of the mini-series Redfern Now where Joel, an Aboriginal teen, struggles to follow the school's direction of singing the anthem every morning.

The Australian anthem says: "For those who've come across the seas
 / We've boundless plains to share..." but you’ll find no mention of stolen land – everything is young and new.

In 2018 school girl Harper Nielsen got into trouble and sparked a national debate when she refused to stand for the Australian national anthem during school. She took offence with the line "for we are young and free" as its depiction of the country as new, or a young nation, diminishes the long history of Aboriginal people. [2]

A national song should unite all people. But Australia's anthem was written at a time when Aboriginal people were brutally fought and most people thought of them as a race to die out soon.

Durham consulted Mutti Mutti man Kutcha Edwards to find the final version of a rewritten national anthem.

Here's her suggestion for a more inclusive anthem:

Australia, celebrate as one, with peace and harmony.
Our precious water, soil and sun, grant life for you and me.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts to love, respect and share,
And honouring the Dreaming, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

Australia, let us stand as one, upon this sacred land.
A new day dawns, we’re moving on to trust and understand.
Combine our ancient history and cultures everywhere,
To bond together for all time, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

Australia, let us strive as one, to work with willing hands.
Our Southern Cross will guide us on, as friends with other lands.
While we embrace tomorrow’s world with courage, truth and care,
And all our actions prove the words, advance Australia fair,
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

And when this special land of ours is in our children’s care,
From shore to shore forever more, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance ... Australia ... fair.

To give Judith some feedback on her new lyrics, please contact Michele Morris at [email protected]

Sometimes we feel that we are being punished, undermined, manipulated and assimilated in our own country called Australia. Why do we sing "advance Australia fair"? — Yalmay Yunupingu, Aboriginal artist and teacher [3]

Australia's history's black

Following is another alternative version of Advance Australia Fair, written by a reader of the Koori Mail newspaper and offering the Aboriginal perspective [4].

Aboriginals, we can't rejoice for we are not quite free,
Those golden soils that once were ours now prohibited to you and me.
Once flourishing with nature's gifts given so abundantly.
With deep regret we can't forget our life in misery.
With saddened voices we proclaim
Australia's history's black.

Before they came and brought us down we roamed this country wide.
Nurturing land through Dreaming Lore we walked with strength and pride.
Our spirits won't be broken now, our light burns bright today
We will move on from strength to strength the Aboriginal way.
With saddened voices we proclaim
Australia's history's black.

All is not lost we have a flag defining unity,
Black, red and yellow lead the way for all the world to see.
We flaunt our colours with great pride boosting our self-esteem,
With deadly passion we insist we will pursue the dream.
With saddened voices we proclaim
Australia's history's black.

Invasion Day

Clem J Collier, "a Whitey who has empathy", found new lyrics for the national anthem with regards to Invasion Day [5]:

They came and took our land away and they won't give it back.
Upon a pole they hung this cloth they call the union jack.
They've raped our land & poisoned it all in two hundred years.
We loved the land but now it dies we watch it through our tears.
You can't eat coal iron ore or gas so leave it where it is.

Australians want a republic so they'll divorce the Queen
Who only comes here now & then so she can say "I've been"
So come on now change is in the air show indigenous that you care
And have a heart then we all can sing "Advance Australia fair"
So have a heart then we all can sing "Advance Australia fair".

Thank you Clem for sending me your version of the anthem!

Aboriginal anthem stings rugby league fans

Non-Aboriginal people can become very racist when the national anthem is sung in an Aboriginal language. When "Advance Australia Fair" was sung first by a member of the Eora Nation (Sydney region) and then in English at the annual State of Original rugby league series, some whitefellas made comments such as "In Australia we speak ENGLISH. Deal with it or piss off I say." [6]

This only goes to show the entrenched, yet hidden, racism in much of Australia.

Here's a video of the event:


View article sources (6)

[1] 'Seeking a new anthem', Reconciliation News 8/2009 p.10
[2] 'Australian Politicians Threaten Schoolgirl Over National Anthem Protest', NY Times 13/9/2018
[3] 'A Keynote Speaker: Human Rights and Social Justice Award', Yalmay Yunupingu 24/6/2014
[4] 'Australia's history's black', Koori Mail 410 p.24
[5] Personal email, 2/3/2015
[6] 'Aboriginal Anthems', pol.neilennis.com/index.php/aboriginal-anthems/, retrieved 18/2/2013

Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, National anthem: Advanced, Aboriginal & Fair?, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/national-anthem-advanced-aboriginal-fair>, retrieved 25 August 2019

Knowledge is better when your friends know too.
Whom can you help today?

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it." — Margaret Fuller

Join more than 14,564 Smart Owls who know more!