The history of the Australian national anthem is one with many turns and metamorphoses. In 1866 Scottish immigrant Peter Dodds McCormick wrote the lyrics and composed the tune for 'Advance Australia Fair'. In 1879 the music and lyrics were published by W J Palings & Company.
More poignant to our purpose is that an amended version of this song, entitled "Federated Australia" in the official programme, was sung by 10,000 public school choristers, followed by the singing the National Anthem "God save the Queen", Queen Victoria being the monarch, at the Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia held in Sydney on the 1st January 1901
Of historical importance, as early as 1916 the song and words for "Advance Australia Fair" were used in the archival film "The Landing of the Australian Troops in Egypt" as Australian forces are shown disembarking for their first engagement in World War 1.
Upon McCormick's death, also in 1916, his obituary mentions his composing Advance Australia Fair and prophetically opinions "which has come to be recognised as something in nature of an Australian National Anthem" and until 1952 Advance Australia Fair was used to announce ABC news broadcasts.
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced a competition for the National Anthem and in spite of over a thousand entries none was considered more appropriate than the suggestion for "Advance Australia Fair" and a later ABS poll encouraged the announcement of it being seen as the national anthem. The following Frazer government conducted an extensive national plebiscite to choose a national song with "Advance Australia Fair" again successful. The following Hawke government instructed the Governor General to proclaim that the Australian national anthem shall consist of the tune "Advance Australia Fair" with words that had been amended for the official version.
Earlier changes to the original lyrics had deleted references to gallant Captain Cook who upon landing on Australian shores raised "Old England's flag" and other British references were omitted. There was the need for gender changes like "For loyal sons across the seas" to "For those who've come across the seas" and there was the need for gender changes from "Australian sons" to "Australian all", and to amend the historical timeframe "To make our youthful Commonwealth" to "To make this Commonwealth of ours", all changes reflecting that the amendments were considered necessary to ensure a separate inclusive national identity.
It is little understood that whilst this "Commonwealth of ours" today assumes an all-inclusive Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of 1901 included only six states and ignored the Commonwealth of Aboriginal Nations. Would a contemporary Commonwealth be more inclusive with representative delegates from the Commonwealth of Aboriginal Nations, attending the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)?
The issue for most is not what words or sentiments meant in the past but, in an evolutionary sense, what do they convey today.
Regardless, the debate has initiated a smorgasbord of reactions and alternative suggestions from Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham, a trained opera singer and composer, refusing to sing the National Anthem at the 2015 Australian Rules grand final because it "ignores the generations of Indigenous life on this continent." yet, accepting the alternative sentimental lyrics written by Judy Durham of singing group fame The Seekers. Mindful that even a 'Poet laureate' of the likes of Les Murray couldn't please everyone when he was given the poison chalice to pen a preamble to the Australian Constitution, so 'Cobblers stick to thy lasts' in the area of proven expertise as it is rather presumptuous after 2,500 comparable lyrical submissions for the national anthem were found to be inappropriate to the overall population of Australia.
Even former Senator Amanda Vanstone, a most capable Minister in the Howard Government, a decade ago tried her hand at a poetic alternative for the Australian national anthem entitled Under the Southern Stars to the recognisable tune Land of Hope and Glory, but for goodness sake, when being sung at an international sporting arena the crowd would think it was the football cheer squad from Wembley or English rugby supporters at the Centennial Stadium in Cardiff,Cymru.
From an unexpected source the, Hon Craig Kelly MP, entered the debate and insightfully said that words of the anthem are not "carved in stone" and that if the offending word were agreed to be changed then "let's change that" and his suggestion would be to replace "young" by "strong" with the enlightened caveat to first seek Aboriginal input. Whilst his need for change was acted upon, his alternate word suggestion was not accepted and, regrettably, his caveat not heeded.
In light of the above and in response to the recent amendment to the Australian national anthem, in the immediate context, there is a very simple but profound way in which a change can be truly inclusive, historically honest, and remain the recognisable and loved clarion call for the nation to confirm its affirmation for fairness and freedom at every stage of its past and future history.
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