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Australia Changes National Anthem To Honor Its Indigenous History

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's a new year, and Australia has a new national anthem - well, a slightly newer one. Here's the original.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR")

NATIONAL ANTHEM BAND: (Singing) Australians, oh, let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

NOEL KING, HOST:

So as you heard, the song starts - Australians let us rejoice, for we are young and free. In the new version, they'll sing - we are one and free. It's a small but significant change, says Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison. He announced it on New Year's Eve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Our anthem is about us - who we are and who we hope to be as well.

KING: Morrison says by changing that one word, Australia is paying tribute to its long and rich Indigenous history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRISON: We live in a timeless land of ancient First Nations peoples. And we draw together the stories of more than 300 national ancestries and language groups.

KING: He hopes the change will create a spirit of unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRISON: It's a change for all Australians.

INSKEEP: Now, this move has been popular, but there is some debate about how it was made. Megan Davis says Indigenous people should have been consulted. She's a professor of law at the University of New South Wales and identifies as Aboriginal. She says the process was disappointing and added, everything about us without us. Australian Indigenous leader and rights advocate Warren Mundine supports this change. He spoke with 7NEWS Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN MUNDINE: I like the idea of one, like we are one nation. We are one people. Australia is such a great, incredible place, and it's about unifying us. So the premise is right in regard to that. It's about unifying us.

KING: The anthem is called "Advance Australia Fair." It was composed almost 150 years ago, and it became Australia's national anthem in 1984.

INSKEEP: Criticism of that anthem intensified in recent years. Some Indigenous athletes refused to sing or stand while it was being played. And last month, before a rugby match between Australia and Argentina, this happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLIVIA FOX: (Singing in non-English language).

INSKEEP: That's musician Olivia Fox singing the Australian national anthem in an Indigenous language for the first time at an international sporting event. Behind her, rugby players linked arms and sang along.

KING: Indigenous leader Warren Mundine said that performance really moved him.

MUNDINE: It really got me proud and passionate about being Australian.

KING: Now, the first public performance of Australia's new anthem is expected to happen at a different sporting event. Morrison said it could come at a cricket test match that's scheduled for this Thursday, as long as a COVID surge in greater Sydney doesn't get in the way.

MUNDINE: This is a simple change, I think. It's a change that I think is very much in accord with where Australians feel about these things. It's not pretending to be anything more than it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR")

NATIONAL ANTHEM BAND: (Singing) We'll toil with hearts and hands to make this commonwealth of ours... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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