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‘Advance Australia Fair’ – A Song to an Anthem

How Advance Australia Fair Became Australia's National Anthem



‘Advance Australia Fair’ was officially proclaimed Australia’s National Anthem in 1984 more than a century after it was written by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878, 83 years after Federation and seven years after a national song poll.

Australia had a Song but not an Anthem

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in an Australia Day broadcast on 26 January 1973 started the ball rolling for the eventual adoption of Advance Australia Fair as our National Anthem.

“We feel it is essential that Australians have an Anthem that fittingly embodies our national aspiration and reflects our status as an independent nation.  We need an Anthem that uniquely identifies our country abroad, and recalls vividly to ourselves the distinctive qualities of Australian life and the character and traditions of our nation.”

Fair or Unfair

Some Australians now think that Advance Australia Fair is offensive and unfair.  But there’s no reason why the words can’t be changed to take the offensive bits out. They have been before. The original lyrics with the words “Australia’s sons let us rejoice” excluded half the population.  The modern version with the words “young and free” was said to exclude Australia’s long indigenous history celebrating the younger European colonial history instead.

Change did happen again when”ONE” replaced “YOUNG” on 1 January 2021. Despite the word ‘fair’ featuring in the title and repeated throughout, it seems our anthem has never been about fairness. But at least we have a national anthem.

It took decades, if not a century, for Australia to rise above the embarrassment of being one of the few countries in the world to not have their own anthem. Here is some of the history.

Peter Dodds McCormick (1834-1916) – Composer

Writing under the pseudonym ‘Amicus’, Peter Dodds McCormick composed the original version of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, in 1878.  It was described as a “colonial patriotic song” (Wagga Wagga Express, 6 Sept 1879), a simple composition and popular because it had “such a swing in the tune.” (SMH 30 Mar 1890)

Peter Dodds McCormick. Source: 

McCormick wrote the first verse on a bus (horse drawn) while travelling home from a concert at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne where the National Anthems of the world where sung by a chorus with band back up.  It annoyed him that Australia wasn’t represented.[i]  Who could blame him?

But it was over a century before Advance Australia Fair officially became Australia’s national anthem.  In between time it was played to evoke a spirit of patriotic pride at the beginning or end of official functions, for our troops during the world wars, to herald the ABC News until 1952 and as our national song, not an anthem until 1984.

The Australian National Anthem Quest

God Save the Queen (or King) was the national anthem we shared seemingly without question with Britain until Australia Day 1973 when Gough Whitlam spoke about the need for and the search for a new anthem, one that will be a “symbolic expression of our national pride and dignity.” And so began the ‘Australian National Anthem Quest’, 72 years after federation. At stake a $5000 prize for the best lyrics and $5000 for the best tune.

The contest overseen and conducted by the Australia Council for the Arts attracted over 1,300 entries from budding anthem writers none of which were deemed worthy of the prize(s). The Council was left with no choice but to make three suggestions to the Government, the golden oldies – Advance Australia Fair (written 1878), Waltzing Matilda (written 1895) and Song of Australia (written 1859). It was not a vote of confidence in Australia’s modern composers, songwriters and lyricists who Gough Whitlam hoped would shine through.[ii]

A Mini Poll for a National Song not an Anthem

After the uninspiring ‘Quest’ results, and equipped with the Council’s three suggestions, the Australian Bureau of Statistics polled 60,000 Australians to choose which one of the three was their favourite song.  The majority chose Advance Australia Fair. It was soon adopted by the Whitlam Government as the national song – not anthem – to be played and sung on occasions when there wasn’t a regal reason not to. It didn’t stay entirely that way for long.

One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward

The Fraser Government after coming into office at the 1975 Federal Election overturned the Whitlam Government’s protocol and reinstated God Save the Queen for royal, vice-regal, defence and for saluting visiting heads of governments.

No Gold Medal for Waltzing Matilda

Interestingly Waltzing Matilda was chosen by Malcolm Fraser and his Cabinet Ministers as the victory music for the Australian team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics but alas it never got an airing because Australia never won a gold medal.

A National Poll for a National Song but still No National Anthem

Malcolm Fraser took advantage of the proposed Referendum on 21 May 1977 to hold simultaneously a national poll for a national song with the four referendum questions.  Australian voters were given four songs or anthems to choose from – God Save the Queen, Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia. It was to be an optional additional question tagged to the end of the referendum questions and voting would be preferential.

Senators Have Their Say

Before this could happen however certain procedures needed addressing in Parliament, namely the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Modification Bill 1977 which was read in the Senate for a Second time on 23 March 1977. This was a ‘machinery’ bill, a technical and perhaps somewhat boring type of bill to allow the same ballot boxes and booths used for the Referendum questions to be used for the Plebiscite question which wasn’t so boring.

The Bill, while machinery in nature and agreed to by both sides of politics, wittingly or unwittingly gave Senators the chance to argue for the tune they wanted. A chance not to be missed by someone like Senator John Button, a man of mischievous wit and sharp intellect.

To start there was some huffing and puffing by ‘old’ Senator Reg Wright (LIB TAS).  He said that the Bill introduced “a little music into the rather jarring tones of a 4-pronged referendum” after which he outlined his serious concerns that a song was to be determined at the same time as matters of high constitutional importance. On this note, Senator Wright was quickly accused of “talking in the wrong key”.

Senator John Button

Senator Button then stood to join in the chorus and the full text of his speech follows where he argues for Australia to be the first country in the world to have a national song without words.

John Button (1933-2008) ALP Senator for Victoria 1974-1993. Circa 1988. Source:


The cacophony of sound which we have heard from our colleague Senator Wright does not have very much to do with the legislation which is before the Senate. The Senate is debating the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Modification Bill 1977. That is a mouthful which simply means that machinery measures are being introduced to alter an Act of the Parliament so that ballot papers indicating a choice for a national song can be placed in the same ballot box as the ballot papers for the referenda which are to take place on 21 May. If Senator Wright’s point was that there may be some confusion and that the national song might come out as No, No, No, No and the answer to some of the referenda as Advance Australia Fair, that would be a good point. But I did not apprehend that he actually made that point. There may have been confusion in his speech but that was not a confusion to which he drew attention. The purpose of this legislation is explained quite clearly in a statement made by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) although, in my view, it is not made clear in the legislation. The Minister stated:

Concurrently with the referendums all electors are to have the opportunity to express on a voluntary basis their wishes as to the tune of the national song. The poll will be conducted on the basis that God Save the Queen is the national anthem to be played on regal and vice-regal occasions, but that on other occasions it will be appropriate for a national song to be played.

I might interpolate there that the choice which is offered to the electors is, of course, Buckley’s choice, because it is assumed that the national song for all regal and vice-regal occasions should be God Save The Queen. There is no choice offered in that respect. The statement goes on:

For this purpose electors will be asked to express their preferences for the following tunes:

God Save the Queen, Advance Australia Fair, Song of Australia, Waltzing Matilda.

The Government believes that it is desirable that all electors should be able to indicate their wishes as to which of these tunes should be adopted for our national song and the holding of the referendums to alter the Constitution on 21 May will provide an ideal opportunity for this purpose.

It states further that electors in the Territories will have the opportunity to vote on the issue of the choice of a national song but on nothing else, which is a strange irony of the Australian Constitution as it stands at present. The expression which somewhat puzzles me in the Minister’s statement and in the Bill itself –

Senator Withers (LIB WA – Leader of the Government in the Senate):

It is the Attorney-General ‘s statement.

Senator BUTTON:

The Attorney-General’s statement – I do not want to do Senator Withers any injustice. I look forward to giving him his just desserts in due course. However, the words which bemuse me in the Bill itself and in the Minister’s statement are ‘for the purpose of choosing the tune for a national song’. I would have thought that there was some difference between the word ‘tune’ and the word ‘song’ and I hope that that is not going to be a problem which confuses the electors who vote on this issue on 21 May. The definition of ‘tune’, for example, is ‘the giving forth of a musical sound ‘. There are other definitions of the expression ‘the giving forth of a musical sound’. One of the definitions refers to the giving forth of a musical sound which has no relationship with normal speech. Thus we might have a statement from the Clerk of the Senate which could be described as a tune but not a song, or a statement from the President of the Senate which could likewise be described as a tune but not a song.

The definition of ‘song’ is quite a different matter altogether. It is described as ‘the act or art of singing, the result or effect of this being vocal music’ and so on. It is also defined as ‘the musical utterances of certain birds’.  So, for example, Senator Walters when making a speech in this place, might give forth a song whereas the Clerk of the Senate would give forth a tune. This confusion should be of concern to the Senate because the confusion is there in the legislation and may be there for the electors when they vote on this issue on 21 May.  It is my own pious hope that the Government’s intention is that we have for an Australian national song, as it is called, a tune – that is to say, a song without words – and if we do that we will be the first country to have a national tune without words and without all the cant, hypocrisy and chauvinism which goes with the words of most national songs.

Senator Cavanagh (ALP SA):

Birds would not be allowed to sing it.

Senator BUTTON:

Of course, Senator.  I say with some regret, because it involves on my part a recognition that singing as a popular art form in public and in crowds is in decline. For example, we no longer live in the age of great Welsh choirs leading mass singing.  We no longer live in the age, fortunately, of people at Nuremberg singing in crowds Deutschland Uber A lles (translates Germany Above Everything). We no longer live in the age realistically of people in Albert Hall in London singing Elgar’s great song Land of Hope and Glory. That is a reality we have to face up to. There is a great danger in a country like ours singing a song which involves some form of respect to a mythical and unreal tradition or to some distant monarch in whom we have no particular interest.

I refer now to the songs which we are asked to consider in this ballot that is to take place on 21 May. I venture the suggestion that few Australians know the words of Song of Australia; very few Australians know the words of Advance Australia Fair, quite a lot of Australians do not know the words of Waltzing Matilda; and quite a lot of Australians, a fact for which I am personally glad, do not know all the words of God Save The Queen. This is just as well when one looks at the words of those songs because they are all chauvinistic, pompous, inappropriate for a modern world and crassly vulgar in many verses. Look at the trouble which songs such as Rule Britannia brought the British Empire to and songs such as Deutschland Uber A lles brought the German people to, because of the emotive connotations which they carried and the sorts of things they represented in terms of national chauvinism. For those reasons I believe that we should come down very strongly in favour of a tune, as I have called it, rather than a song with words. This is an issue which should unite us as Australians rather than divide us. I make an appeal to Senator Young, who is laughing. I appeal to him as a semi-intelligent Liberal senator from South Australia to unite with me on this issue so that we might be the first country to have a national song without words.

Let us look at the words of some of the songs in respect of which we are invited to make a choice. First of all, I turn to Song of Australia. I do not suppose that many honourable senators know the second verse of Song of Australia. It is:

There is a land where honey flows,

Where laughing corn luxuriant grows

The Senate obviously –

Land of myrtle and the rose, land of the rose,

On hill and plain the clustering vine,

Is gushing out with purple wine,

And cups are quaffed to thee and thine.

Australia! Australia! Australia!

That is a verse of a proposed national song which would divide this country right down the middle. I wonder what the Carlton United Brewery would have to say about excise duties on beer and wine when it heard played as our national song:

On hill and plain the clustering vine,

Is gushing out with purple wine,

And cups are quaffed to thee and thine.

That is the sort of thing which is right through Song of Australia. It goes on:

There is a land where treasures shine,

Deep in the dark unfathom ‘d mine,

For worshippers at Mammon’s shrine,

Where gold lies hid, and rubies gleam,

And fabled wealth no more doth seem

The idle fancy of a dream.

Australia! Australia! Australia!

Just think about the implications of the expression ‘Mammon’s shrine’. Are we in the Senate who say prayers every day before we commence our deliberations to have a national song where we talk about worshipping at Mammon ‘s shrine? Of course, there is also reference to the mining industry, but I do not want to get involved in that subject because it would be described as political and, as I said at the beginning, I want to make a non-political and uniting speech on this issue. The last verse says:

And Freedom’s sons the banner bear,

No shackled slave can breathe the air

That is a pretty poor outlook for prisoners in Australian Government prisons.

I repeat:

No shackled slave can breathe the air

Fairest of Britain’s daughters fair,

Australia! Australia! Australia!

That is an insult to the other nations of the Commonwealth. It is an insult to Canada, New Zealand and all the nations of the British Commonwealth when we describe ourselves as the ‘Fairest of Britain’s daughters fair’. So much for Song of Australia. I believe that very few senators knew the words of that song. Let us look at the other suggested song, Advance Australia Fair.

Senator O’Byrne (ALP TAS):

Cut that out; that is my song.

Senator BUTTON:

That is Senator O’Byrne ‘s song. It is interesting to note, as he interjects, that that song was first published in a publication called The School Magazine on 1 September 1928. That was about when Senator O’Byrne was doing his matriculation for the fifth time. The words to this song go on in much the same sort of way as the words to the last song I mentioned. It states:

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, Britannia rules the wave

In joyful strains then let us sing Advance Australia Fair.

Again, there is this sort of insult to the other nations of the British Commonwealth and again we have the implication that Britannia rules the waves. The song goes in the next verse to say:

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.

To suggest in 1977 that all of us in Australia still keep a British soul is an insult to our ethnic communities which I hope Senator Lajovic will speak about in a moment. That is the second choice which we are offered as a national song.

The third choice is God Save the Queen. We all know the first verse of God Save the Queen, but for goodness sake, let us have a look at what the third verse says.

Senator Maunsell (NCP QLD):

The second is bad enough.

Senator BUTTON:

I agree that the second verse is bad enough. But let us look at the third verse which I know appeals to many members of the Liberal Party of Australia and to this Liberal/National Country Party Government at this moment of history because it says:

O Lord our God, arise,

Scatter Her enemies

And make them fall

Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hope we fix

God save us all.

I know that that is sung at the beginning of Liberal Party meetings every Wednesday morning and the singing is led by the present Treasurer, Mr Lynch. I repeat:

“Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hope we fix

God save us all.”

Of course, that appeals to certain sections of the community and particularly to the present Government. But we must ask ourselves in all reality in 1977 whether we can afford to have a song and words like that as a national song in a country with pretensions to being a modern political democracy.

The fourth song is Waltzing Matilda. It is a song about which I share some sentiment with the present Prime Minister. I suspect that it is the only sentiment which we have in common. Let me tell the Senate something of the origins of the song Waltzing Matilda. I quote from the Australian Encyclopaedia where it discusses the origins of the song Waltzing Matilda:

On the song copy of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ published by Allan & Co. Pty. Ltd, Melbourne, the tune is attributed to Marie Cowan. She appears to have been the wife of a Sydney tea-merchant, who arranged the setting for her husband to distribute in the late 1890s as an advertisement for his tea.

Honourable senators will recall the words of the song indicate that once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong and he boiled his tea by the billabong –

Senator Maunsell:

No, he boiled his billy.

Senator BUTTON:

I am sorry. He boiled his billy by the billabong. Senator Maunsell is more familiar with this than I am. The Australian Encyclopaedia continues:

The words used in the song copy differ considerably from those published by Paterson. It is probably that the alterations came about gradually as the song was passed from singer to singer in the outback and, in the main, they have improved the lyric by making it more racy and easier to sing.

The lyrics given below are those of the song version and are reproduced here by arrangement with Allan & Co. Pty. Ltd:

The only point I make about this is that the references to Waltzing Matilda are not offensive in any way to any section of the community. Nobody has any violent opposition to tea drinkers. Nobody has any violent opposition to tea merchants and all honourable senators should have more confidence and more concern that we should be known internationally as a nation of tea drinkers rather than a nation of wine drinkers. We should be known as a nation with its own peculiar culture and certainly the words of Waltzing Matilda are peculiar to foreign visitors to this country. We should be known not as a people which has a national song filled with the sort of chauvinism of the other 3 songs which I have mentioned.

I think it is very important that we draw a distinction between the 4 songs in question and that in relation to all of them, when we go on the hustings on this vitally important matter – important compared with the other referenda questions on 21 May – we are advocating a national song without words. If I may indicate a personal preference at this stage, if it has not emerged earlier, that song should be Waltzing Matilda. Waltzing Matilda does have important historical connotations.

Senator O’Byrne:

The squatter on his thoroughbred –

Senator BUTTON:

That is right. As Senator O’Byrne interjects, ‘The squatter on his thoroughbred’. In a sense, although this matter unites us and we are all concerned about it, we all come to the Senate representing different traditions in Australian political life – the swagman, whom Senator Douglas McClelland and Senator O’Byrne could represent, and the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred. There are not many of them in this chamber. But there are in the other place. They are represented in the 2 main political streams of Australian political life. I think it is important we reflect that element in the national song we have. The point I am trying to make is that none of these words really stands up in any of these songs.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. I think it is very important in deciding what Australia’s national song should be – there have been numerous attempts to do this – to consider some of the history of the matter. I refer briefly to the Australian Encyclopaedia on that question. It states:

“Although the official national anthem of Australia has always been ‘God Save the King (or Queen)’, many efforts have been made to find a substitute, or a subsidiary, more directly expressive of Australian sentiment.”

I hope that is the exercise we will be about on 21 May. I continue to read:

“One of the earliest attempts seems to have been made in 1826 by John Dunmore Lang(q.6.), who published an ‘Australian Anthem’ and an ‘Australian Hymn’ in his Aurora Australis. The first anthem produced complete with music was probably ‘Advance Australia’, described as ‘The Australian National Anthem ‘.”

It was first performed in the Sydney Town Hall –

The poetic merit of the words is indicated by the following lines:

“Hail to thee, Happy Queen, sweetest that earth has seen,

Dear to thy country as chief to his clan.”

They are the sort of words that could have been uttered by Sir Robert Menzies as long ago as 1955. It continues:

“Although this song was given a cordial reception by the people of Sydney, apparently it was soon forgotten, for a few years later the Sydney council of the Australasian League decided to conduct a competition for a national anthem. The judges’ decision made in the following year, was attacked and their choice did not live long.”

Nathaniel L. Kentish, who called himself ‘The Amateur Poet Laureate of Victoria’, also issued in 1851 a national anthem, on a broadsheet without music as did W. S. Jenkins in 1858. In 1854 S. Nelson, a visiting English singer, composed a national anthem, but his effort, too, failed to gain popularity.  In 1860 Carl Linger of South Australia composed ‘The Song of Australia’ which had a more lasting success . . During the 1890s a wave of Australian nationalism developed; many patriotic poems were written, but no anthem set to music was very successful.

The article goes on to record further competitions and states that in 1908 a national competition was held for a national song. The prize was 2 guineas.

Senator Douglas McClelland (ALP NSW):

C. J. Dennis was in that competition.

Senator BUTTON:

I am reminded by Senator Douglas McClelland that C. J. Dennis took part in that competition. The article continues:

A special prize of one guinea was awarded to C. J. Dennis for his ‘Real Australian Australaise’, which he appears to have submitted as a joke. The Bulletin said his entry was the only satisfactory battle song submitted and was quite Australian.

Senator O’Byrne:

Recite it.

Senator BUTTON:

I will recite it, senator. The song is to be sung to the tune of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. I gird my loins in anticipation of a point of order from Senator Walters. I think that the only way that the song can properly be recited is if I use the word ‘bloody’. It is said that the verse and chorus of the song are to have the blank spaces filled in according to taste. I do not know what the taste of the Senate is, but if honourable senators listen to the song as I read it, interpolating the word ‘bloody’, one might get the feeling that the taste of the author involved some other word than the word ‘bloody’ which more satisfactorily fits the gaps which are left. The song is this:

Fellers of Australier,

Blokes an ‘ coves an ‘ coots,

Shift yer bloody carcases,

Move yer bloody boots,

Gird yer bloody loins up,

Git yer bloody gun,

Set the bloody enermy,

An ‘ watch the blighters run.

The chorus is:

Git a bloody move on,

Have some bloody sense,

Learn the bloody art of

Self de-bloody- fence.

At the time that was seriously suggested as a national song for this country. I put it to the Senate that though those words seem funny, if one examines the words of ‘Song of Australia’ and Advance Australia Fair’ and so on in 1977 in a serious sense they are just as silly and just as funny. One other matter in the article to which I want to refer is this:

On 11 April 1933 J. T. Lang, Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, rebuked the people at a gathering at Lidcombe, New South Wales, for not removing their hats . . . when a band played ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

It continues:

Lang claimed that ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was not a song or a hymn, but a national anthem, and should be respected as such; he did not say, however, who had made the song the national anthem of Australia.

So just as in 1977 and 1973, I think it was, the politicians tried to make the national anthem of Australia so J. T. Lang was doing it in 1933.

The article goes on to say that there was another competition in 1951 and that the winning entry was ‘This Land of Mine’ written by John Wheeler. The photocopy from which I am reading is somewhat blurred. I am hoping to hear from Senator Wheeldon in a moment. I am surprised, if he wrote it, to see that it was written in 1951. I thought that ‘This Land of Mine’ was in fact written by Senator John Wheeldon when he was Minister for Social Security in 1975. The article states that the song by John Wheeler was set to music by Henry Krips but unfortunately no official sanction has been given for this work. The article continues:

The question of a national anthem was raised persistently prior to the holding of the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. The two songs most energetically advocated were Advance Australia Fair’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’. However, in a speech in the House of Representatives in May 1955 the Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, reviewed the whole matter of the Australian national anthem and stated quite definitely that there was only one, ‘God Save the Queen’, adding that his Government had no intention of substituting any other.

Just as Senator Wright pointed out that the Fraser Government changed its views about the referendums for 21 May, so Sir Robert Menzies and his successors in this Government changed their views about the national song for Australia and in 1977 recognised that the people of Australia should have a choice and not have that tribute to a distant monarch imposed on them as a national song as it has been in the past.

I again stress the importance and my own very firmly held view that we should advocate in the campaign which is to culminate on 21 May the introduction of a song without words for Australia and that the preferable music – I am in dispute with my leader, Senator Wriedt about this – for such a song because of its evocation of a genuine Australian tradition is ‘Waltzing Matilda’. We should go forth from this place and campaign on that basis on this very important issue together with the other important issues which are to be decided on 21 May.

Senator WITHERS (LIB WA – Leader of the Government in the Senate):

I thank honourable senators for their support of this simple Bill which allows the ballot box to be used for the other purposes. I am starting to worry. I have always believed in Waltzing Matilda but it seems terrible that I am on the same side as Senator Button. I agree with Senator Button that most of the words are inappropriate.

Senator Douglas McClelland:

The tune is a Marlborough war song.

Senator WITHERS:

That is right. The origins of most tunes often are lost in antiquity. Tunes have all sorts of origins. As stated in the Bill the poll will be held for the purpose of choosing a tune for a national song. It is the music which is to be chosen, not the words. It was all very funny to hear Senator Button tonight. I enjoyed his speech and all the quaint words which were written with such great enthusiasm and fervour 50 years ago, maybe 100 years ago. I suppose the only thing Senator Button has to look forward to when he is the same age as Senator Wright and is performing as Senator Wright was performing tonight is to be looked upon as quaint, elderly, archaic and out of touch with modern society. That happens to us all. The words which Senator Button thought were so quaint and which were written by our ancestors or our predecessors, if that is the better word – will seem lust as quaint to his successors in time. Tastes change from decade to decade. It is a matter of judgment. Each generation has its own views, its own tastes, but some things do endure, and they are tunes.

I was interested to hear Senator Button say that public singing has disappeared. My office happens to be above the Senate Records Office and I would hardly think that the custom has died out in this place after midnight at the end of each session. There is still a great deal to be said for people getting together and singing at the top of their voices.

Senator (Reginald) Bishop (ALP SA):

You have not heard Senator Douglas McClelland yet.

Senator WITHERS:

Well, there are some things! It is well known around the Parliament that Senator Devitt, who is not here tonight, has one of the most pleasant singing voices in the Parliament. I think people still get a great deal of enjoyment out of singing in unison.

Senator Missen (LIB VIC) interjected at one stage that some of the songs to be presented are unknown. I suppose they are to some extent. Honourable senators will recall that on the day when this session of the Parliament was opened we saw the magnificent parade outside. If honourable senators are tone deaf like me and have no capacity at all for recognising music they will have noticed from reading through the program that the 3 Services used ‘Song of Australia’, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as marching tunes. I think the combined Services band there on that day showed that the tunes can all be fitting marching tunes. I would think, with my non-existent knowledge of music, that there is a capacity for bands, orchestras arrangers or whoever to do all sorts of things with those tunes. One of the better things one sees occasionally on television is the Duntroon Band slow marching to Waltzing Matilda. I think they do it quite magnificently. I thank honourable senators for their warm, sincere, wholehearted support of this Bill, and again I thank them for giving it such a speedy passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.”[iii]

Plebiscite Result

Advance Australia Fair was the most popular choice with 43.29% of the vote, followed by Waltzing Matilda (28.28%), God Save the Queen (18.78%) and Song of Australia (9.6%).

Waltzing Matilda was the hot favourite in the ACT, possibly because it’s a Territory of tea drinkers, a hangover from Canberra’s early years when the Territory was ‘dry’.  Understandably, Song of Australia was South Australia’s choice.  In fact Song of Australia would have been better named Song of South Australia.   It was the winning entry written by a South Australian for an exclusive South Australian competition run by the Gawler Institute in 1859.  Mrs Caroline J Carleton wrote the winning words while sitting on a bench in the West Terrace Cemetery while her children played nearby.[iv] She then invited Mr Carl Linger to put her words to music.  They both won ten guineas. South Australians were very familiar with the song as it was sung in South Australian schools for many years.  It was less familiar in other States.

Referendum Results

With regard to the important constitutional changes, three questions were resolved in the affirmative; casual senate vacancies were to be now filled by someone from the same political party as the vacated seat; voters in the ACT and the Northern Territory could now vote in referendums and judges were now required to retire at 70 years of age.  A majority of States did not agree with allowing simultaneous elections of the House of Representatives and the Senate although a majority of voters did. It was therefore lost. The 1977 Referendum was the last time any questions have been resolved in the affirmative.

National Song Poll Result

Voting in the poll was not compulsory.  Voters were asked on the ballot paper:

“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.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Australian_referendum

State On rolls Ballots issued God Save the Queen Advance Australia Fair The Song of Australia Waltzing Matilda Informal
Number % Number % Number % Number %
New South Wales 3,007,511 2,537,805 348,885 15.32 1,169,421 51.35 121,456 5.33 637,795 28.00 260,248
Victoria 2,252,831 1,951,160 352,603 20.68 683,451 40.09 110,591 6.49 557,991 32.73 246,524
Queensland 1,241,426 1,056,804 204,453 21.38 438,929 45.90 61,234 6.40 251,609 26.31 100,579
South Australia 799,243 706,392 114,477 18.07 152,507 24.07 215,085 33.95 151,434 23.90 72,889
Western Australia 682,291 487,879 113,054 23.17 183,159 37.54 75,524 15.48 116,142 23.81 68,394
Tasmania 259,081 253,525 47,346 22.38 88,825 41.98 21,091 9.97 54,329 25.68 23,934
Australian Capital Territory 120,875 22,136 1,448 6.65 7,857 36.11 1,863 8.56 10,593 48.68 375
Northern Territory 38,209 2,951 423 14.93 1,143 40.35 413 14.58 854 30.14 118
Total 8,401,467 7,069,046 1,182,689 18.78 2,725,292 43.29 607,257 9.65 1,780,747 28.28 773,061


NSW Vic Qld SA WA Tas ACT NT Total voters
National Song (Song with most votes) Advance Australia Fair Advance Australia Fair Advance Australia Fair Song of Australia Advance Australia Fair Advance Australia Fair Waltzing Matilda Advance Australia Fair Advance Australia Fair


A National Anthem at Last

On 19 April 1984, seven years after the National Poll, the Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephens, on the recommendation of the year-old Hawke Government, proclaimed a modified Advance Australia Fair the official National Anthem.  Some words were changed and the number of verses was halved from four to two. God Save the Queen was now referred to as the Royal Anthem only to be played at engagements when the Queen or members of the Royal family were present.

The word sheet for the National Anthem can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.


Australians all let us rejoice,

For we are one 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.[vii]

“Girt” is a word people say is archaic but  it’s not irreplaceable.  The major problem will be finding a replacement word for “fair”.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_Australia_Fair

[ii] Mr Whitlam, in a press release on Australia Day 26 January 1973, said: “I hope the scheme will result in some distinguished collaboration between our composers and poets, and some imaginative entries from members of the public.”

[iii] https://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770323_senate_30_s72/#subdebate-43-0-s2

[iv] http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/culture/community/display/50747-song-of-australia

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Australian_referendum information from the Standing Committee on Legislative and Constitutional Affairs (1997) Constitutional Change: Select sources on Constitutional change in Australia 1901–1997. Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra.

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Australian_referendum information from the Standing Committee on Legislative and Constitutional Affairs (1997) Constitutional Change: Select sources on Constitutional change in Australia 1901–1997. Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra.

[vii] https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/pmc/Honours/anthem_words.pdf


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