The Australian national anthem is a symbol of ongoing colonialism and occupation. Even though the words ‘young and free’ have been replaced with ‘one and free,’ the anthem is and always will be rooted in racist and problematic assumptions.
After 233 years of colonial occupation, now is the right time to change one word that doesn’t fit well with current political attitudes? The statement ‘young and free’ assumed that Australia started with colonisation in 1788 and the ongoing racist myth that Australia was an empty land.
First Nations people have endured 233 years of failed racist policies and legislation, and have been treated as second class citizens. How could we now assume that we are all one and free? This is not the case.
As First Nations citizens in Australia, we continue to experience pain and suffering from current and previous discriminatory policies that have failed to properly raise our standard of living and quality of life.
We suffer high rates of disadvantage across all social and economic indicators as well as intolerably high levels of institutional racism and mass incarceration.
Changing one word in an anthem that was written by white colonialists will not address 233 years of colonial invasion, dispossession, genocide, and racial segregation in Australia. The changing of one word does not address the racial injustice and hurt Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to experience.
According to Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, the change to the national anthem is supposed to be seen as a symbolic gesture to bring true Reconciliation. However, there has been no consultation with First Nations people about this matter.
This symbolic gesture may be an attempt to heal wounds after the Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody protests and indeed before Invasion Day protests, but it feels empty and tokenistic given that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t even have a constitutionally enshrined voice.
As an attempt to reconcile differences and to bring black and white Australians and people of colour together, it fails.
I acknowledge that some First Nations people have applauded the change as a positive step. This small change hasn’t made any real change to the lives or to the economic wellbeing and political futures of First Nations people in Australia.
First Nations people are not yet represented in the Constitution, nor has the Australian Government attempted to enter into a Treaty or to respect our existence as original custodians of this continent and land.
If we are truly going to move forward as a nation, reconcile our past and bring First Nations people, non-Indigenous people, people of colour, and descendants of settler Australians together, we need to speak honestly about our shared past.
We must begin to engage with First Nations people at a grassroots level. Consulting a small, handpicked group of First Nations people to serve as the voice for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not enough.
We need a new national anthem altogether that recognises the long and rich history that First Nations people have in this continent as well as the stories of new Australians who have migrated here.
We need to design a new Australian flag that is truly reflective of our history as the First Peoples of this land, as opposed to representing only our colonial history.
We also need to remove colonial statues and tributes to people who have committed atrocities against First Nations people. Restoring the original First Nations names of places that have been renamed after murderers would also bring our nation closer to Reconciliation than changing one lyric of the national anthem ever could.
What we really need is truth-telling to address unfinished business.
We need to talk honestly about occupation and the entrenched colonial violence that displaced First Nations people off of their lands.
We need to talk about segregation, the effects of assimilation policies and the intergenerational trauma this has caused.
We need to talk about healing and bringing back language and culture, so that all Australians can enjoy and share our history of well over 60,000 years on this continent.
By Simon Jovanovic
Simon Jovanovic is the Founder and CEO of the Byamee Institute.