OPINION

When the national anthem subtly excludes you, it's not really fair

An early copy of Peter Dodds McCormick's Advance Australia Fair, Reading & Co, Sydney, 1879. Photo: courtesy National Library of Australia

An early copy of Peter Dodds McCormick's Advance Australia Fair, Reading & Co, Sydney, 1879. Photo: courtesy National Library of Australia

Change, I think we can all agree, is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes change is for the better, sometimes for the worse; sometimes we have a say, sometimes we don't.

But objecting to change itself - in principle - is, well, ridiculous. Especially if that change benefits other people and costs you very little.

Let me think of an example.

Umm...how about if there was a song that people sing a lot, purporting to be about a group you belong to, but it uses language that leaves you out.

Let's just pretend you're a woman and the song uses the term 'men', or 'sons', say.

You'd be unimpressed, at least, and maybe you'd even question whether it was the right song for the job. And anyone who insisted you sing along anyway, well, you'd wonder about their intelligence.

You know, the first line of Advance Australia Fair used to go like this: "Australia's sons, let us rejoice..."

But they changed it in the '70s, back when Gough Whitlam first touted the popular song as a national anthem.

I bet there were a bunch of people who thought it didn't need to change. They probably said, "The word 'men' includes women, anyway - everyone knows that. Why change it? This is how it's always been."

There were also most likely some people who didn't have a problem with the original verses, one of which went like this:

"Should foreign foe e'er sight our coast, or dare a foot to land, we'll rouse to arms like sires of yore, to guard our native strand; Britannia then shall surely know, though oceans roll between, her sons in fair Australia's land still keep their courage green."

Militant, colonialist and sexist, all in one verse!

Fortunately, it was the view of the majority, and the government, that changing the original words was a good thing to do. That fourth verse got the boot as well.

Other countries could probably take a leaf out of our book.

Germany is stuck with their Deutchlandlied, which celebrates "German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song" (to be sung by men, apparently).

The French have La Marseillaise, and a bloodthirstier, more bellicose ditty you would be unlikely to find. Of course, it was written as a marching song for soldiers in 1792. Its current relevance at sporting events and state occasions is debatable.

A quick flick through the words of most national anthems will find many similar problems. There are some that imply (or even demand) obeisance to a particular religion, others that push a political agenda.

I would respectfully suggest they do something about it...but that's their issue.

Our issue, right now, is one little word in the second line of Advance Australia Fair.

"We are young and free" is only accurate if you start counting from, let's say, Federation in 1901. But there were people living here for a goodly while before that (65,000 years, according to best guesses). And using the word 'young' is a) dismissive of their history and b) wrong.

You could argue that - as the Australian national anthem - the song only has to celebrate us since nationhood, but I think it should do more than that.

It should accurately draw on our history and our culture to represent us to the world.

So let's change the word 'young' to 'one', as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian suggested this week, or - preferable in my opinion - 'strong' (it scans better).

The suggestion has caused a lot of pushback, along the lines of other issues (the Union Jack on our flag, the date of Australia Day) that rile those who resist change, even though it would cause them little or no harm and actively benefit those who presently feel left out

I don't think we'd need a plebiscite to pull this off. Just someone with some power make the change and we'll all move on.

Perhaps then we can start the discussion about the word 'fair'...