National rugby players sang an Indigenous version of Australia’s national anthem for the first time on Saturday, a move that won widespread praise and spurred calls to make it a permanent feature at Australian sporting events.
Performing arts student Olivia Fox sang a powerful rendition of the national anthem, first in the language of the Eora Nation – a group of Indigenous clans from the Sydney metropolitan area – and then in English, before Australia’s’ Tri-Nations test against Argentina at Western Sydney Stadium.
Fox, a Wiradjuri woman, was supported by the 23 Wallabies players, who were wearing their First Nations jerseys with an Indigenous design for only the second time this year, and could be seen belting out the words behind her.
“We were practicing it during the week and we were very proud to have that opportunity to do it, and I think it sounded pretty good too,” said Australia captain Michael Hooper, according to Reuters.
“Wearing an indigenous jersey and singing that was great to be a part of.”
It was the first time Australia’s national anthem – Advance Australia Fair – had been sung in an Indigenous language at a major sporting event and prompted an outpouring of pride and praise.
Former Wallabies player Matt Giteau said on Twitter that it was a “Special moment in Australian sport.. well done Wallabies.”
Australian rugby journalist Christy Doran called the anthem “spine-tingling.”
“The finest rendition of the Australian national anthem. That was brilliant. Never felt more proud of our anthem,” he posted on Twitter.
Other nations have Indigenous languages as part of their national anthems – New Zealand’s anthem, for example, is sung in both Maori and English.
CNN sports anchor Alex Thomas said on Twitter: “A long way to go for Australia to connect with its indigenous culture in the same way as NZ but hats off to the Wallabies.”
Australia’s controversial national anthem
But Indigenous National Rugby League star Latrell Mitchell criticized the version performed on Saturday, saying the anthem still had the same flawed meaning, according to CNN affiliate Seven News.
“When will people understand that changing it to (an Indigenous) language doesn’t change the meaning!” he reportedly wrote on Instagram.
Many Indigenous people in Australia consider the anthem to be racist and there has been pushback against the phrase “for we are young and free,” given that Australia is home to one of the world’s oldest known civilizations.
“We aren’t young and free. We’re the longest-living culture in the world,” Mitchell, who has been a long-time critic of the Australian anthem, previously said, according to Seven News.
There is entrenched discrimination against Australia’s Indigenous population.
While the country’s Indigenous population makes up just 3.3% of its 25 million people, they account for more than a quarter of its prisoners. Indigenous Australians are also almost twice as likely to die by suicide, have a life expectancy that is almost nine years lower, and have higher infant mortality rates than non-Indigenous Australians.
The Black Lives Matter protests in the US, and around the world, this year once again brought these issues to the fore in Australia, with protests demanding an end to Indigenous deaths in custody.