The Story of Advance Australia Fair

The Story of Advance Australia Fair




The change to Australia’s national anthem with “For we are young and free” amended to “For we are one and free” has met with mixed results for varying reasons with some for, some against, others not bothered and with some wanting a new anthem altogether. 
However, what the change has done is to make people realise that Australia’s national anthem actually has no legal basis.  There is no act of Parliament and other than several surveys and a confusing poll in the 1970s which voted on a tune and not the words, there has been no formal plebiscite whereby the people, whose national anthem it is supposed to be, have been given an opportunity to vote both before the adoption of a sanitised song was announced in 1984 or when it was amended in 2021.
One year after taking office, in 1973 the Whitlam government decided that “God save the Queen” should be replaced as the country’s national anthem.  A contest was conducted but none of the entries were deemed to be suitable.  The nineteenth century songs "Advance Australia Fair", "Waltzing Matilda" and "The Song of Australia" were therefore shortlisted and in 1974 a nationwide survey was held polling 60,000 people 51.4% of whom selected "Advance Australia Fair" which was then announced in parliament by Gough Whitlam to be the national anthem.  
This decision was rescinded by the Fraser government in 1976 which decided that a vote had to be held on several songs including the existing anthem “God save the Queen”.  A non-compulsory plebiscite was held as an optional additional question in the 1977 constitutional referendum.  That referendum posed four questions, three of which passed and was the last time any proposed change to the Australian Constitution succeeded.  
The proposals were:
  • To alter the Constitution to ensure that senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections. (not carried)
  • To alter the Constitution to ensure as far as practicable that a casual vacancy in the senate is filled by a person of the same political party as the Senator chosen by the people and for the balance of their term. (carried)
  • To alter the Constitution so as to allow electors in the territories, as well as electors in the states, to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution. (carried)
  • To alter the Constitution so as to provide for retiring ages for judges of federal courts. (carried)
The question asked in regard to an anthem was: “Against the background that ‘God Save The Queen’ Is the National Anthem to be played on Regal and Vice Regal occasions, electors may indicate their preferences as to which of the tunes of the songs listed below they would prefer to be played on other occasions.” 
Advance Australia Fair received 43.29% of those who voted. However, since the vote was not for the wording of a national song but only for the tune, many people thought they were voting for music to be played on sporting and other such occasions and that God Save the Queen would continue as the national anthem, as seemed to be indicated in the question, which is why it received only 18.78% of the vote. It is interesting that electors in the ACT voted 48.68% for Waltzing Matilda.
As it happened, God Save the Queen was sung on most occasions until 1984 when the Hawke government arbitrarily announced a rewritten version of Advance Australia Fair as Australia’s national anthem. The Fairfax press wrote “Canberra – Federal Cabinet has made ‘Advance Australia Fair’ the official national anthem, relegating ‘God Save The Queen’ to occasions when members of the Royal Family are present. (SMH 12/4/84)”
The fact that there has been no Act of Parliament in this regard means that any government can change Australia’s national anthem in any way it may wish and at any time as it has no legal status.  Although two Governors-General have signed papers they are not legally binding on the people.
The words and music were composed by a Scottish immigrant, Peter Dodds McCormick, who came to Australia in 1855.  He was the son of a Glasgow seaman and on his arrival in Australia worked as a joiner and stonemason whilst studying eventually becoming a teacher. He was also a talented composer and published around 30 patriotic and Scottish songs. He also wrote Advance Australia Fair but under the pseudonym Amicus (Latin for 'friend') feeling aggrieved that there was no song for Australia. He was a devout member of the Presbyterian Church, becoming choirmaster and also convenor of his church assembly committee. He died in 1916, aged 83 in Sydney. 
Whilst Wikipedia says the song was first sung by Andrew Fairfax at a function of the Highland Society of New South Wales in Sydney on 30 November 1878, the Oxford Companion to Australian Music states that it was first performed at a Loyal Orange Lodge ceremony in Sydney on 12 July 1878 which is undoubtedly correct.
An amended version of the song was sung by a choir of around 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In 1907 the Australian Government awarded McCormick £100 for the use of his composition.
The original 1878 verses of Advance Australia Fair are below. An unofficial portrayal of the original song can be viewed here. Our thanks to the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia.

Verse One
Australia's 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 history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
"Advance Australia fair!"
Verse Two
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!"
Verse Three
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!"
Verse Four
Shou'd 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 the let us sing

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  • Eunice Roberts
    followed this page 2021-01-11 15:57:27 +1100
  • Scott Farrell
    commented 2021-01-10 15:10:57 +1100
    I cannot believe they have once again changed our National Anthem! So every time someone objects to something, we change our history and culture so as to not cause offense?! Outrageous!
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