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Australia Amends National Anthem to Acknowledge Indigenous History

Members of Australia's team lock arms during the national anthem before their semifinal match against Spain in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

More than 140 years after it was first composed, Australia's national anthem is being changed in a move the government says reflects a "spirit of unity." There have been calls for Advance Australia Fair to better reflect the long history of Indigenous peoples.

Australia shared a national anthem, God Save The Queen, with Britain, its former colonial power, until 1984, when the song was replaced by Advance Australia Fair.

“Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.”

However, Advance Australia Fair is not universally popular. It was written in 1878. To many Indigenous Australians, it is a colonial song that ignores their history. They have complained the anthem fails to recognize thousands of years of aboriginal culture.

Now, the second line of the song will change from "For we are young and free" to "For we are one and free."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is a small but significant amendment.

“It is a change that I think is very much in accord with where Australians feel about these things,” he said. “I think it has been well received across the country. There will be those who do not think it goes far enough and those who think it goes too far. Well, that is democracy.”

Some Indigenous leaders have welcomed the change that acknowledges their history that dates back at least 65,000 years. They believe the symbolism is important.

Australia’s opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese says it is an empty gesture, though.

“Changing a single word in the national anthem whilst First Nations people are not even recognized in our national constitution is simply not good enough,” he said.

Some Aboriginal communities sing Advance Australia Fair in their own language.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand has two national anthems of equal standing -- God Save The Queen and God Defend New Zealand, which is sung in both English and Indigenous Maori.