“It was fantastic and a great performance. It was a real acknowledgement of Aboriginal culture.”
The version sung by Fox, which has been sung by other indigenous singers and choirs at events but never at a national sporting team fixture, was in the ‘the Sydney language’, which was traditionally spoken by the Eora and Dharug peoples. It is not a direct translation of Advance Australia Fair.
Much of the strong response centred around a desire to see a dual-language anthem used permanently but a major hurdle is the Sydney language is one of over 260 indigenous language groups across Australia.
Asked whether it could be a regular occurence, however, Gary Ella said the events at Bankwest Stadium can not only spark a potential conversation about Australia adopting an anthem with indigenous language involved, but how to make it happen, too.
“There’s more than 260 language groups across Australia … so I’m sure with discussions with the right people we can come up with some sort of agreement on which language it’s sung in,” Ella said. “The version on Saturday night is one of my favourites.”
One dissenting voice in the conversation was Indigenous NRL star Latrell Mitchell, who eventually deleted a post on social media that read: “When will people understand that changing it to language doesn’t change the meaning”, before a facepalm emoji. “Be proud but understand what you’re being proud of.”
Perhaps in a subtle reference to Mitchell, Gary Ella said: “We do have a few people who have issues with the words to the national anthem and maybe there is a time to have that conversation, and have that conversation about singing it in languages as well. It happens with the New Zealand national anthem, it happens with the South African national anthem. The words are important, regardless of what language it’s sung in.”
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, who invited Fox to perform at the Test match after she sang at a function to launch the Wallabies’ indigenous jersey, said the governing body was keen to do it again before Wallabies games.
“If our Indigenous leaders could somehow agree on one Indigenous version – because there are so many different dialects – that all Australians could sing, that would be really powerful for all Australians,” McLennan said.
“I think our Indigenous leaders, perhaps led by Gary Ella, should get together to see how we can incorporate a version into the national anthem. It would go a long way to building bridges with our amazing Indigenous community.
“I’m actually not surprised but delighted by the universal support for it. This is something we should strongly consider for the future. We’ll be making a massive statement about our support for our Indigenous culture in our 2027 Rugby World Cup bid.”
Glen Ella echoed his brother’s feelings, saying he got goosebumps when he heard it at Bankwest Stadium. He joked it was even better than the rugby itself.
“I reckon you do the Aboriginal version and then follow it with the English version,” he said. “I just thought it was a good initiative to do it in language. There is no right or wrong answer here.”
Wallabies No.10 James O’Connor said the playing group practised every day in the lead-up to their match and is “100 per cent” keen on it happening again.
“We put in a huge effort,” O’Connor said. “We’re being inclusive. We’ve got so many nationalities in this group. We sing a lot. We have a Tongan song, a Fijian song, a Samoan song, Cook Islands song, a Maori song and now the Aboriginal one.
“We feel it’s a huge part of our history and our culture. We want to represent Aboriginal people. They’re one of the oldest civilisations and it’s a part of us. There’s a lot of buy-in there. It was beautiful.”
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald