How can the Australian anthem capture the nation's diversity?
Luke Briscoe

21 Jan 2016 - 12:05 PM  UPDATED 22 Jan 2016 - 4:31 PM

Australia's cultural diversity is one of the many things celebrated on Australia Day. At home, Australians speak more than 300 languages. Around 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are still in use, not to mention the many dialects therein. 

But as the sounds of Advance Australia Fair ring out around the country on January 26, it's worth asking, how relevant is this anthem to the people of Australia and our traditional and contemporary make-up? 

This question was raised in 2015, following the decision of Yorta Yorta woman and soprano Deborah Cheetham AO not to perform the Australian anthem at the 2015 AFL Grand Final. Speaking to NITV News Ms Cheetham said that the Australia needs to "embrace its maturity."

'to sing the word 'young' in relation to our country is really to perpetuate this idea that, of terra nullius'

"I've really come to understand that to sing the word 'young' in relation to our country is really to perpetuate this idea that, of terra nullius really - that everything was built when the British arrived."

'Rise up beautiful country'

But what if the anthem were translated into one of the hundreds of other mother tongues of our peoples? How would that change it?

In a stirring moment in the two-part documentary The Logan Project (screening January 26, 8.30PM, SBS), two local Logan girls, Manu Fabila and Tiarna Gibbons, sing the anthem as translated into the traditional Yugambeh language. The Yugambeh and the Yuggera (or Jaggera), originally inhabited the lands surrounding Logan and make up the two major Aboriginal language groups of the area. 

The symbolism is unmissable: the diversity of the community against the people's love for the anthem is a picture of cohesion, where myriad cultures and beliefs come together to sing as one. 

But the translation enriches the anthem even further. In Yugambeh language, 'Advance Australia Fair' becomes 'Rise up beautiful country.'

"That's just so inspiring compared to Advance Australia fair," the choral director Cath Mundy says in the doco. 

We're not all there yet

Gudgu Gudgu, a traditional owner and elder from the Yindiji nation located in the Cairns region, says that in 2015 his request to sing the anthem in language was refused. 

“I felt very sad when [they] said we couldn’t sing the national anthem in language” Gudgu Gudgu said.

"Advance Australia Fair isn't advancing anything. I'm in mixed feelings as Australia Day is meant to reflect fairness but its only one sided.

“If the national anthem is about instilling pride in people it needs to start with the First Peoples of Australia. You look at other countries like New Zealand and Fiji they sing the anthem in their traditional language."

Similar to Ms Cheetham, Gudju Gudju says that the lyrics of the anthem should be changed that words like 'fair' favour a select few.

"They didn't include Indigenous people in drafting the constitution and that's not fair," he said.

'is it fair that our Indigenous peoples have the highest incarceration rates in the country?'

"Also, is it fair that our Indigenous peoples have the highest incarceration rates in the country? The health system for Indigenous people definitely isn't fair."

"I want to see every Indigenous nation from across Australia come together to write this anthem that we are proud of. If the Yindinji nation was to write an anthem we would sing about the spirits of our ancestors, the land and our sea, and celebrating 60,000 years of our culture.

“These three points reflect the love we have for this country and this could be a start for a national conversation with other Indigenous nations to unite and create a new anthem.” 

The Logan Project, a two-part documentary series on SBS, charts the journey of the city's aspiring singers and musicians as they work together to create a new, positive narrative for their city.

Survival Day | 8.30PM | SBS | #TheLoganProjectSBS