National Anthem or National Apathy?

The Australian National Anthem

The Australian National Anthem

I watched both the State of Origin and Rugby Union in the last week and watched as our national anthem played. People in the grandstands weren’t singing along. Our players appeared to barely know the words themselves. It’s got to be the least well known anthem, or maybe it’s not ‘cool’ to know the words, a concept I have been wrestling with for a while. It was first performed in 1878, although it didn’t actually become the ‘official’ anthem of Australia until 1984, beating out both ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in a vote.

Is it possible that the anthem’s language has made it irrelevant to the current population? Watch teenagers at a school assembly try and work out what ‘girt’ means. When I watch NFL (Gridiron), I see American citizens standing, hats off, and hand over heart, singing along with gusto. Why are we so different? Are we embarrassed? Do we know the words and choose not to sing them? Or do we simply not care?

And how many of us know the second verse by memory, no prompting needed? I am ashamed to admit that I don’t. But wait: did you know there are technically FIVE verses? I hade no idea until I researched the Anthem for this piece. I knew there were 2, but 5? No way.  And if you were wondering what verse 5 was, wonder no more:

‘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;
Britannia 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
“Advance Australia fair!”

I personally like our national anthem (first and third verse, which we actually think is the second verse) and I think it describes Australia well, although there will always be those who wish to see Australia as a republic have their feathers rustle at the line “To make this Commonwealth of ours renowned of all the lands.”

And of late, those who would like to ‘Stop The Boats’ must cringe in parliament when they sing: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.” (Ironic much?)

In an age where the Star Spangled Banner is both a call to arms AND a rock song (Thanks, Jimi Hendrix) is it time we looked at finding a more contemporary way to celebrate this wonderful country of ours?

Is the current Australian anthem relevant? Would you prefer something more modern?

A cheeky take on the National Anthem by Comedian Adam Hills:

  • John James

    I was in the Olympic Stadium the night Cathy Freeman won the 400m… hearing the National Anthem sung with gusto that cold night… by tens of thousands of people… well, since then I’ve just loved our national anthem…

    I agree with you about the Origin crowd… but that’s a strange crowd…

    I disagree with you about the Rugby though… the boys might not sing along, but the looks on their faces… you can see how important it is to them…

    I do think there’s a problem with how the Anthem is presented in pubic – the “intro” that has been tagged on to the beginning of the anthem in the pre-recorded public version… it just seems to get longer and longer… and the arrangement is getting cheesier and cheesier… I think that’s one reason why we don’t like singing along.

    Also, I think the thing about Australians is that we’re just not public singers… the Anthem can still feel important to us, but many of us just think singing the anthem is a bit naff… but when we want to, like that night I sang myself hoarse to celebrate Cathy’s win, we can belt out our anthem with the best of them…

    So let’s not change the anthem… it’s a bit lame and silly, but it’s ours… :)

    • Melissa Savage

      I’m with you JJ. It’s one thing at the beginning of a footy game, quite another when it’s celebrating an Olympic gold medal (especially at a hometown Olympics).

  • Tamsin Howse

    I don’t particularly like the anthem, just because I don’t really like it as a song. While I enjoy Waltzing Matilda I don’t really think that is an appropriate anthem either – a guy stealing a sheep who then kills himself? Probably not what we want on a world stage.

    But I do like I Am Australian and another song that I can’t remember right this moment because I haven’t had coffee yet and got 5 1/2 hours sleep last night.

  • Maryann

    I think Australians have a very different attitutde to our anthem and patriotism in general than Americans. I always feel uncomfortable with what appears to be the blind patriotism of Amercians with the the hand on heart and reverence of the President. However, I do concede that Australians may be a little too laid back.

    I also agree with JJ that the arrangement of the anthem can be poor and the song is a little lame. But at least we no longer have God Save the Queen!

    • Tamsin Howse

      Hear, hear!

      • Maree Talidu

        Oh no, I feared it: I’m an out and proud monarchist. I love me the royal family! I love being part of the Commonwealth, it’s a fun and exclusive club? Or maybe not, but I still love the Queen and I get that she has very little to do with anything that actually happens here, but I think she’s cool.

        • Tamsin Howse

          I like the Queen too! But that anthem isn’t really suitable to us.

    • John James

      God Save The Queen was the first Australian Anthem I ever learnt to sing…

      • Maryann

        Me too but we have moved past God Save the Queen, we are not a colony anymore. All we need to do next is become a republic.

  • Maree Talidu

    I vote ‘Great Southern Land’ by Icehouse!

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