Australia's Song | Part I
So, here's a thing I've been thinking about a lot this past month or so: Australia's national anthem was written by a Scottish-born fella in the 1870s, and he was working as a teacher in New South Wales at the same time as the White Australia Policy was emerging.
Recent history included the Victorian Gold Rush and the associated influx of all them Chinese folks. Queensland cane growers were "blackbirding." In 1873 Aboriginal people were the victim of a violent "incident" at Palmer Goldfield, and there was a massacre the same year that Truganini died and the extinction myth was born.
In keeping with the times, Advance Australia Fair was an anthem for white men. The original opening lyric was "Australian sons, let us rejoice." A line from the second verse was "For loyal sons across the seas, we've boundess plains to share."
Anglo! Anglo! Anglo! (Men! Men! Men!)
After many boring years of disinterested debate the colonies decided to federate in 1901. The song was sung at the celebrations, while the flag representing English Christian-ness (Union Jack, southern cross) was hoisted for the first time.
Seventy six years later a referendum saw Advance Australia Fair selected as the national song out of four options, one of which was God Save The Queen. It was adopted as the anthem in 1984 after a couple of lyric changes ("Australians all..." "For those who've come across the seas...") and we've been half-remembering the lyrics at footy finals ever since.
Advance Australia Fair was written during a time and for a time which has long passed. Duh. We don't get it. It sounds racist, sexist and ignorant. There is entire line dedicated to the fact that we are actually - get this - an island.
But there are some gems amongst the gravel, so I've picked the lines that speak to me and changed the melody to one which can only be sung from some wonderful soul place, down deep. And, like the song's composer, I sang it in a classroom after my students had gone home.
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