Advance Australia Fair: How the song became the Australian national anthem

The story of how “Advance Australia Fair” became Australia’s national anthem takes place over the span of 106 years, from 1878 to 1984. First written as a patriotic song in the late nineteenth century, it grew in popularity over the years; although not without its detractors.

In its early days, the song attracted criticism from both the republican and monarchist sections of society; some republicans were against it because they regarded sections of it as being too pro-British, whilst there were monarchists who were opposed to its promotion because it was seen as anti-British, as it was viewed as putting up an alternative to the royal national anthem and its use was therefore “disloyal”. However, by the late twentieth century, a two-verse version of the song, without the explicitly pro-British verses, was established as the national anthem.

“Advance Australia Fair” was written in 1878 by Peter McCormick, when he realized that Australians of that time were lacking a national song to express their patriotism; he wrote it under the pseudonym of “Amicus” (Latin for “friend” or “comrade”). It was first sung at the annual St. Andrew’s Day concert of the Highland Society of New South Wales, by Andrew Fairfax, on 30 November 1878 (McCormick was also involved in the concert himself, as musical director). The song was published that same year by James Reading and Co. in Sydney. “Advance Australia Fair” was originally comprised of four verses; however, it underwent several changes over the years, including the replacement of the third verse, until it finally become Australia’s anthem in a two verse version.[1]

The original version of the song was as follows:[2]

Australian sons, 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 hist’ry’s page let every stage
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,
To trace wide oceans o’er;
True British courage bore him on,
Til 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”
“Britannia rules the wave.”
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 English soil and Fatherland,
Scotia and Erin fair,
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;
Britannia then shall surely know,
Though oceans roll between,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep their courage green.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair

Despite its popularity, “Advance Australia Fair” was eclipsed by the leading anthem of the day. “God Save the Queen” was Australia’s official national anthem, which honoured Britain’s monarch and was one of many official links to Australia’s original British heritage; it was sung for Queen Victoria during her reign (1837–1901), although she passed away only three weeks after Australia was federated; it was also sung as “God Save the King” during the reigns of Edward VII (1901–1910), George V (1910–1936), Edward VIII (1936), and George VI (1936-1952); and then reverted back to “God Save the Queen” for the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (from 1952). It is now designated as the Royal Anthem, to be played at those public events in Australia where a member of the Royal family is in attendance.[3]

By the early years of the 20th century “Advance Australia Fair” had undergone several changes. In the third verse, the fifth and sixth lines had been changed to “From England, Scotia, Erin’s isle” and “Who come our lot to share”; whilst, in the fourth verse, the sixth and eighth lines were replaced with “Beyond wide oceans roll” and “Still keep a British soul” (the changes in the fourth verse were added by McCormick at the suggestion of Professor Stuart Blackie, from Edinburgh). A new version of “Advance Australia Fair” was being advertised in 1897. Later on, a completely new verse replaced the third verse. Here are the third and fourth verses from the updated version published from around the time of the First World War:[4]

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands,
To make our youthful Commonwealth
Renowned of all the lands;
For loyal sons beyond the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”
In joyful strains 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;
Britannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide oceans roll,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep a British soul.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair

By at least the 1940s “Advance Australia Fair” was regarded by some as Australia’s unofficial national anthem. It was even played in theatres along with the royal national anthem; however, there were some Australians who did not regard this practice as a virtue, seeing its use as a slight against the position of the then national anthem (“God Save the King”) and as an attempt to undermine the usage and prominence of that anthem.[5] Over the years, the issue was often debated as to what song should be Australia’s official national anthem.[6]

In February 1974, at the request of Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government, an opinion poll was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the popularity of Australia’s national songs, with a view to institute a new national anthem. “Advance Australia Fair” topped the list with 51.4%, “Waltzing Matilda” got 19.6%, “Song of Australia” 13.6%, with others getting 15.4%; however, the poll excluded “God Save the Queen” and was thus seen as flawed by some. Prime Minister Whitlam subsequently declared that “Advance Australia Fair” was the new national anthem, leaving “God Save the Queen” only for royal events.[6]

However, the ensuing Liberal Government of Malcolm Fraser reinstated “God Save the Queen” in January 1976, so that it could be officially played, not only at royal events, but also at vice-regal occasions, at defence events, and for “loyal toast” occasions. The Fraser Government also instituted a system whereby four anthems would be available for use on official occasions: “God Save the Queen”, “Advance Australia Fair”, “Waltzing Matilda”, and “Song of Australia”.[7]

In an attempt to sort out the national anthem situation, Prime Minister Fraser arranged for a national vote to be held on 21 May 1977, to determine the nation’s preferences, with four songs listed on the ballot papers to be voted upon. The result of the vote was:[8]
“Advance Australia Fair” 43.61% 2,940,694 votes
“Waltzing Matilda” 28.45% 1,918,103 votes
“God Save the Queen” 18.65% 1,257,335 votes
“Song of Australia” 9.68% 652,836 votes
Total formal votes 100% 8 395 627 votes

However, debate raged hotly back and forth on the issue and the matter was never fully resolved. “God Save the Queen” was designated as the national anthem and “Advance Australia Fair” as the national tune.[9]

Seven years later, Bob Hawke’s Labor Government decided to move ahead with changing the national song to “Advance Australia Fair”, although only using the first and third verses. As part of the official adoption of the new anthem, some changes were made to three lines in the text; the reasoning being that the government wanted to avoid language that could be regarded as particularly outdated or sexist. The first line of the first verse was changed from “Australia’s sons, let us rejoice” to “Australians all, let us rejoice”; the third line of the third verse went from “To make our youthful Commonwealth” to “To make this Commonwealth of ours”; and the fifth line of the third verse was altered from “For loyal sons beyond the seas” to “For those who’ve come across the sea”. The cabinet decision to make the change was reported in the Australian newspapers on 12 April 1984, with its official status being enacted a week later.[10]

From the date of its proclamation, on 19 April 1984, “Advance Australia Fair” became Australia’s national anthem. “God Save the Queen” retained a place in the nation’s iconography as the royal anthem, to be played at those public events where members of the Royal Family are in attendance. For all other occasions, “Advance Australia Fair” is to be played. The 1984 version, the national anthem, is as follows:[11]

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.

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.

“Advance Australia Fair” has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1878. Now sung by school children across the country, belted out at sporting events, and played on official occasions, it has become part of the shared experience of all Australians.



References:

[1] Jim Fletcher. “McCormick, Peter Dodds (1834–1916)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography [Australian National University] (accessed 30 October 2011)
Advance Australia Fair original lyrics homepage”, Lachlan Cranswick (accessed 30 October 2011)
Latin word for friend: Amicus”, Latin Word List (accessed 30 October 2011)
Advance Australia Fair”, Wikipedia (accessed 2 November 2011) [The Wikipedia article quotes from a letter of 1 August 1913 sent by McCormick to R. B. Fuller, wherein he gives his reasoning on creating an Australian song; it refers to a listing in the National Library of Australia for the Letters of McCormick which includes a notation which states “Includes a letter containing an explanation of the composition of Advance Australia fair and a discussion of Australian patriotism”, however there is no scan or text of that letter on view.]
Highland Society of New South Wales” [advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Wednesday 27 November 1878, page 2 (1st column)
New Music.—“Advance Australia Fair.”” [advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday 6 December 1878, page 10 (1st column)
News of the day”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Thursday 5 December 1878, page 5 [re. the 1878 annual St. Andrew’s Day concert]
New Music.—Advance Australia Fair”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday 13 December 1878, page 10 (2nd column)
Music books, and stationery.—James Reading and Co.”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday 13 December 1878, page 10 (2nd column)

[2] Peter Dodds McCormick. “Advance Australia fair : Patriotic song” [music], Reading & Co., Sydney [1879?], National Library of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)
Advance Australia fair: Patriotic song, The Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW), Saturday 13 September 1879, page 3

[3] “God Save the King”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Wednesday 30 January 1901, page 8
List of Australian_monarchs”, Wikipedia (accessed 30 October 2011)
National Anthem”, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, February 2011 (accessed 30 October 2011)

[4] Peter Dodds McCormick. “Advance Australia Fair” [music], [P. McCormick?, Sydney?, 1915?], National Library of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)
[“The author of this song, Mr P.D. McCormick (Amicus) is indebted to the late Professor Stuart Blackie, of Edinburgh, for improvement in last verse”]
Peter Dodds McCormick. “Advance Australia Fair: Australia’s national song” [music], W.H. Paling & Co., Sydney, [1910-1919?], National Library of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)
New music”, Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW), Saturday 6 March 1897, page 35 [advertises a new version of “Advance Australia Fair”]
P. J. McCormick.(“Amicus”). “Advance Australia Fair!”, The Canberra Times (ACT), Wednesday 26 January 1938, page 1

[5] “Advance, Australia Fair”, Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), Tuesday 24 March 1942, page 5 [the article says: “A bright prelude to the radio news from Canberra is “Advance Australia Fair” — now recognised as Australia’s national anthem”]
Public opinion: It can’t be true”, The Advocate (Burnie, Tas.), Wednesday 24 October 1945, page 8 [this letter to the editor from an ex-POW refers to “Advance Australia Fair” as “our own Australian National Anthem”]
To-day’s radio”, Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.), Monday 26 January 1931, page 3 [this article appears to refer to “Advance Australia Fair” as the “Australian National Anthem”]
Australian news in brief… Australia’s National Anthem”, Army News (Darwin, NT), Saturday 9 May 1942, page 1
Professor Walter Murdoch. “National anthems: A humble suggestion”, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 15 July 1944, page 4
No Australian Anthem, Says Musician”, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday 27 January 1943, page 5
Manners” [three letters to the editor], Albany Advertiser (WA), Thursday 2 August 1945, page 3
Song and two anthems: Theatres Agree to Request”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tuesday 30 November 1943, page 4
Advance Australia Fair”, Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 12 March 1944, page 4
The sound that is Australia”, The Age Thursday 22 January 1976, page 9

[6] “An Australian national anthem”, The Geraldton Guardian, (WA), Saturday 23 August 1919, Page 4
Our greatest loyalist — perhaps!” [letter to the editor], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Wednesday 14 June 1933, page 6
National anthem” [letter to the editor], The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 23 May 1949, page 2
Waltzing Matilda? No!: New search for Australian Anthem”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Wednesday 11 May 1955, page 2
A quest for a national anthem”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday 26 January 1970, page 20 [re. Fellowship of First Fleeters want a new anthem]
Anthem competition to be considered”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Wednesday 11 October 1972, page 12

[7] Jo Gorman. “They won’t have a bar of Matilda”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Wednesday 28 January 1976, page 2
Back to one anthem, eventually”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Thursday 22 January 1976, page 3
Govt advances ‘Aust Fair’ as anthem”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tuesday 9 April 1974, page 1
National anthem poll”, National Archives of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)
“Australia poll on anthem rejected”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday 7 December 1973, page 14
John Jost. “Advance Australia Fair – it’s official”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Tuesday 9 April 1974, p 1

[8] “The Australian National Anthem” [Fact sheet no. 17], Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1997; reproduced at: “Advance Australia Fair official Australian Anthem: year 2000 text from Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Factsheet 17”, Lachlan Cranswick (accessed 30 October 2011)
Back to one anthem, eventually”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Thursday 22 January 1976, page 3
Fraser brings back ‘God Save the Queen’”, New Straits Times (Malaysia), Thursday 22 January 1976, page 24
Phillip McCarthy. “Era of ‘take your pick’ pomp and pageantry”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday 26 January 1976, page 9
Australia’s national anthem – Fact sheet 251”, National Archives of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)

[9] “National Song Poll”, Australian Electoral Commission, 6 June 2011 (accessed 30 October 2011)
Australians reject ‘Matilda’ as anthem”, Montreal Gazette (Canada), Tuesday 24 May 1977, page 38

[10] “Roll out the anthem” [editorial], The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Friday ‎20 November 1981, page 13
Tom Ormonde. “Students To Sing The National Something”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), ‎Thursday 19 November 1981‎, page 1
Any advance on girt by sea? ”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), ‎Thursday 12 April 1984‎, page 6
Ken Haley. “Australians all, rejoice in new non-sexist anthem”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), ‎Thursday 12 April 1984‎, page 1

[11] “‘Advance Australia’ lacks official words”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Friday 5 February 1982, page 5 [“the words of the original version have been criticised as sexist and too pro-British for an Australian anthem”]
Ken Haley. “Australians all, rejoice in new non-sexist anthem”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), ‎Thursday 12 April 1984‎, page 1
Timeline for Australian national anthems” [PDF], Discovering Democracy: Middle Primary Units, Curriculum Corporation, c2002 (accessed 30 October 2011)
Australia’s national anthem – Fact sheet 251”, National Archives of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)

[12] “Australia’s national anthem – Fact sheet 251”, National Archives of Australia (accessed 30 October 2011)
National Anthem”, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, February 2011 (accessed 30 October 2011)

16 November 2011

Speak Your Mind

*