Changing *One Word* In The National Anthem During NAIDOC Week Is Not Enough

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has backed a campaign to change the national anthem to recognise Indigenous Australians but First Nations people say “it’s a no from me, dog.” Here’s why.

I’m gonna be real: Australian politicians’ gestures towards Indigenous Australian communities lately have really not been It, and today’s version of ‘politician attempts to recognise Indigenous Australians meaningfully’ is no different. In the middle of this year’s NAIDOC—National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee—Week, a week that’s meant to honour and celebrate the achievements, history and culture of First Nations people, the Australian federal government voted against displaying the Indigenous flag in the Senate chamber. In the same week, the Northern Territory Government introduced legislation to fast track the expansion of three Dan Murphy’s liquor stores within walking distance of three dry Aboriginal communities.

And now, politicians are patting themselves on the back for backing a campaign to change one (1) word in the Australian national anthem to recognise Indigenous communities, in part erasing the diverse multitude of different cultures, languages and communities that make up our First Nations peoples. 

Yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian spoke to the ABC about how she understood the Australian national anthem doesn’t recognise the 60,000 year long history of our First Nations people, backing a campaign to change the beginning of “Advance Australia Fair” from “we are young and free” to “we are one and free.” 

“If we say we’re one and free, it acknowledges we’re not really young as a continent,” Berejiklian said. “We’re tens of thousands of years old when it comes to human inhabitants, and we should recognise that.”

“I feel for Indigenous Australians who don’t feel the national anthem reflects them and their history. It’s just a small gesture.”

While Berejiklian adds that it’s nothing but a “small gesture” to recognise our nation’s first peoples, the proposed phrase also disrespect the over 250 different and diverse Indigenous Australian communities, cultures, customs and languages that make up tribes across Australia. As the below TikTok from Indigenous activist and MUA Meissa explains, Indigenous Australia is made up of hundreds of different communities with their own cultures and languages. Simply unifying them as “one” erases those individual communities. It’d be like calling the entire of Europe Europeans instead of acknowledging the various cultures, ethics and customs of each country and region. 

And, as far as Goreng Goreng woman, designer and artist Rachael Sarra is concerned, Berejiklian’s decision, like so many other politicians and corporations during NAIDOC Week who make grand gestures about commemorating Indigenous Australians without actually doing the hard work to fight for their rights, comes as mere performative activism.

“So you’re trying to tell me that changing the word ‘young’ to ‘one’ is acknowledging First Nations people as the longest continuing culture in the world,” she wrote. “It’s a no from me dog, we aren’t ‘one’ either.”

“While our people are still dying in custody, our sacred sites are being destroyed, our children are still being taken and we still ‘celebrate’ on January 26 there will always be division,” she continued. “If we’re serious about this conversation then we need to acknowledge that the whole anthem perpetuates the colonial oppression of our culture and our countries.”

“Simply expressing that we should embed traditional language into the anthem also raises the question of whether or not we truly understand that we are a nation of nations. But glad we’re talking about it.”

As Nakkiah Lui, a Gamilaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, comedian, co-writer and star of ABC’s Black Comedy put it best: “Okay Gladys, since you’re really into this changing the anthem thing, how about we compromise: 1. Change “Advance Australia Fair” to “Give Blacks their Land Back” (to the same tune obvs) and 2. You give us our land back. Keen?”

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If you’re following us, we’re gonna take a guess that you’ve probably seen a #NAIDOC2020 post by now. There are so many amazing events, talks and programs that people are getting behind this week and it’s fantastic to see. But what happens after this week? ⠀ ⠀ A reminder: the origins of NAIDOC (the organisation that the week takes its name from) were not about reconciliation. Its roots are activism and resistance, especially to the ongoing structural racism and systemic violence Indigenous people still face. With that in mind, we’re flagging a few key things to remember during this week, and ways to support Indigenous folks beyond it, head to the #linkinbio for more. ⠀ ⠀ #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe #IndigenousLivesMatter #StopBlackDeathsInCustody

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Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.