Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the second line in the national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, would change from "For we are young and free" to "For we are one and free."

An Australian Aboriginal man blows into a shell as an indigenous man from the Torres Strait Islands performs in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2017.
An Australian Aboriginal man blows into a shell as an indigenous man from the Torres Strait Islands performs in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2017. (Reuters)

Australia has amended its national anthem to remove reference to the country being "young and free" amid calls to recognise that its Indigenous people are the oldest continued civilisation in the world.

The change to "for we are one and free" took effect on Friday.

"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," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"And our anthem should reflect that. The changes we have made and we have announced today, I think, achieve that goal."

Australia has struggled for decades to reconcile with Aborigines, who arrived on the continent some 50,000 years before British colonists.

READ MORE: Australia admits 'national shame' of failing to help Aboriginals

Calls for change

Each year Australians have a national holiday on January 26, marking the date the “First Fleet” sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788, carrying mainly convicts and troops from Britain. Some indigenous people refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day.”

There is now a renewed focus on Indigenous empowerment amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

The idea to change the wording was floated in 2020 by New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian who had said the current wording ignored Australia’s "proud First Nations culture."

The proposal was welcomed by several lawmakers, including federal minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt as well as firebrand rightwing One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson.

When asked if he would want to be the first person to sing the new national anthem, Morisson said: "I think singing by prime ministers is the same as public exercise by prime ministers – it is best done in private."

 Australia is a country still reckoning with its colonial past and inequality facing its First Nations peoples, with Indigenous children twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday, according to official statistics.

Earlier this year, large protests were held in several cities around the country calling for an end to deaths in custody of Indigenous people – which number more than 400 in the last three decades.

No prosecutions have been brought despite dozens of investigations, inquests and, in some cases, video evidence of abuse.

Source: Reuters