Where did Advance Australia Fair come from?

FOR Australia day I'm taking a look the history of our national anthem and wondering, is it really good enough for our great southern land?

In 1878 a Scottish-born composer named Peter Dodds McCormick sat in a concert hall listening to the anthems of the world being sung by a choir. He was so miffed that there was no Australian anthem that he went home and composed one.

In about a day. The whole thing.

Obviously McCormick wasn't the only one to have that thought, but more on that later.

Advance Australia fair was first performed at a Highlands Society do in November of 1878, but it really got its first work out during the Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when it was belted out by a choir of 10,000 people.

McCormick was rewarded for his work in 1907 with a payment of one hundred pounds. At first I thought he'd been ripped off until I did the math and realised it was as if, today, he'd been paid fifty thousand Australian dollars.

In 1916 Advance Australia Fair had its first recording made as part of a dramatization of the ANZACS in Egypt on their way to Gallipoli.

Unfortunately, 1916 was also the year McCormick died. Rest in Peace mate.


In 1951 we held a competition to pick our own National Anthem for the country's golden jubilee. While a bloke name Henry Krips won with a song called "This Land of Mine", we decided just to stick with God Save the Queen out of sheer laziness.


Fortunately for everyone who actually likes our National Anthem, the copyright ran out in 1966, fifty years after McCormick's death, so the government took control of it.

In 1973 his imperial highness Gough Whitlam decided that we needed a new national anthem to replace God Save the Queen, so the Australian Council for Arts had another competition to see which candidate song would win.

Advance Australia Fair beat God Save the Queen and Waltzing Matilda to be named the official anthem by the government in 1974. A plebiscite in 1977 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed the choice.
It wasn't till 1984 that the Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen gave Advance Australia Fair the official stamp of approval, around the same time that Bob Hawke replaced the rather sexist first line "Australia's sons let us rejoice" with the less idiotic "Australians all let us rejoice".

Then that same year, to continue the tradition of Australian multiculturalism, the orchestral version of our anthem that we're so familiar with today was composed by Tommy Tycho … from Hungary.

While Advance Australia Fair cops a bit of flack, it's still better than the Star Spangled Banner (citation needed).

In 2001 National Party Senator Sandy Macdonald said that the anthem was so boring that 'the nation risks singing itself to sleep'. Craig Emerson agreed, saying on the use of the word girt that "This must rank as one of the worst lines of any national anthem."

So whether or not you agree with the Herald Sun's 2008 assertion that the anthem means nothing for modern Australia, it is our anthem, and as such should be sung in a pub, with beer, and about two dozen drunk mates.

Topics:  australia day Frisky Business kieran salsone opinion

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