A brief history of our national anthem: Advance Australia Fair

A brief history of our national anthem: Advance Australia Fair
Photo: 1966666, Pixabay

A country’s national anthem is the cultural badge by which a nation state chooses to identify itself.

It is one of the most important cultural identifiers a country can have and is obviously a source a great pride for the citizens of said country.

This is no different when it comes to our national anthem; ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

This song is one we would have all grown up singing along to during school assemblies as well as at sporting and political events throughout our lives.

Advance Australia Fair Lyrics:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
“Advance Australia fair!” 

When gallant Cook from Albion sail’d,
To trace wide oceans o’er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
“Brittannia rules the wave!”
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!” 

Beneath our radiant southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!” 

While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We’ll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England, Scotia, Erin’s Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!” 

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;
Brittannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean’s roll,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep a British soul.
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!” 

Let’s learn a little bit more about the song we all know and love:

Origins

The song ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was first written in the late 19th century by Scottish composer Peter Dodds McCormick – whose pen-name was “Amicus” which translated to “friend” in Latin.

Mr McCormick was inspired to write the anthem after attending an exhibition where world anthems were performed and he noticed a lack of Australian attention. He wrote the first verse on the bus ride home and came up with the rest of the song the next day.

The song was first officially performed at a Sydney Highland Society Function in November 1878 by Andrew Fairfax. On Federation Day (January 1st, 1901) Advance Australia Fair was sung by a 10,000 strong choir. It was first recorded in a TV commercial depicting ANZAC troops landing in Egypt on their way to Gallipoli.

Before it became the national anthem a century later, the song was used routinely in news bulletins as well as in theatres at the end of the Second World War.

In 1943 and ’45 the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) held competitions looking for a new national anthem. However, it was not until 1973 that the Federal Government decided the country needed an official anthem.

The Whitlam government launched a national poll to allow people to vote for which of the three songs; ‘Advance Australia Fair’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ by Banjo Paterson or ‘Song of Australia’ by Carl Linger would be the new national anthem. In 1974 ‘Advance Australia Fair’ became the nation’s anthem after narrowly defeating the other two songs.

‘God Save the Queen’ was briefly reinstated as the national anthem in 1976 during the Fraser government. April 19, 1984 is the date the song officially became the national Australian anthem. Since then, ‘God Save the Queen’ has been relegated to ceremonial services involving the British Royal Family.

The song has been altered over the decades to make to more acceptable to modern sensibilities. For example, the opening of the song was originally “Australia’s sons let us rejoice” and this has since been changed to “Australians all let us rejoice”.

Cultural impact and criticism

A brief history of our national anthem: Advance Australia Fair
Advance Australia Fair being sung at the 2017 mid-year rugby union internationals, 24 June 2017, Australia vs Italy at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Photo: davidmolloyphotography, Wikimedia Commons

The anthem has been criticised for not representing indigenous people and that it is a racist glorification of European colonisation. Critics have said that the meaning of “Advance Australia Fair’ is to continue the white colonisation of the nation at the expense of the original indigenous inhabitants.

The anthem has also been criticised for being a mix of modern and archaic language without any consistency. For example, the line “our home is girt by sea” uses the word ‘girt’ which not many modern citizens would know the meaning of.

Others have simply said that the anthem is boring and does not reflect the national spirit as much as its original competitor ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Defends have said that the anthem strikes a perfect balance between international formality and truly feeling uniquely ‘Aussie’.

What do you think about it?