Advance Australia Fair

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Advance Australia Fair
Advance Australia Fair.png

National anthem of  Australia
LyricsPeter Dodds McCormick, November 1878
MusicPeter Dodds McCormick, November 1878
Adopted19 April 1984
Audio sample
"Advance Australia Fair" (instrumental)

"Advance Australia Fair" is the national anthem of Australia. Created by the Scottish-born composer Peter Dodds McCormick, the song was first performed in 1878 and sung in Australia as a patriotic song. It replaced "God Save the Queen" as the official national anthem in 1984, following a plebiscite to choose the national song in 1977. Other songs and marches have been influenced by "Advance Australia Fair", such as the Australian vice-regal salute.



"Advance Australia Fair" was published in early December 1878 by Peter Dodds McCormick under the pen-name "Amicus" (which means "friend" in Latin).[1] It was first sung by Andrew Fairfax, accompanied by a concert band conducted by McCormick, at a function of the Highland Society of New South Wales in Sydney on 30 November 1878 (Saint Andrew's Day).[2][3] The song gained popularity and an amended version was sung by a choir of around 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In 1907 the Australian Government awarded McCormick £100 for his composition.[4]

In a letter to R.B. Fuller dated 1 August 1913, McCormick described the circumstances that inspired him to write "Advance Australia Fair":

One night I attended a great concert in the Exhibition Building, when all the National Anthems of the world were to be sung by a large choir with band accompaniment. This was very nicely done, but I felt very aggravated that there was not one note for Australia. On the way home in a bus, I concocted the first verse of my song & when I got home I set it to music. I first wrote it in the Tonic Sol-fa notation, then transcribed it into the Old Notation, & I tried it over on an instrument next morning, & found it correct. Strange to say there has not been a note of it altered since. Some alteration has been made in the wording, but the sense is the same. It seemed to me to be like an inspiration, & I wrote the words & music with the greatest ease.[5]

The earliest known sound recording of "Advance Australia Fair" appears in The Landing of the Australian Troops in Egypt (circa 1916), a short commercial recording dramatising the arrival of Australian troops in Egypt en route to Gallipoli.[6]

Before its adoption as Australia's national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair" had considerable use elsewhere. For example, Australia's national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, used it to announce its news bulletins until 1952.[7] It was also frequently played at the start or end of official functions. Towards the end of World War II it was one of three songs played in certain picture theatres, along with "God Save the King" and the US national anthem.[8]

Competitions, plebiscite and adoption[edit]

In 1973 the Whitlam government decided that the country needed an anthem that could represent Australia with "distinction" and started a competition to find one that could replace the existing anthem, "God Save the Queen". This decision by Whitlam was driven by the desire to forge a new nationalism separate from the United Kingdom. In January of that year, Gough Whitlam dedicated an entire Australia Day speech to the search for a new anthem, referring to it as a "symbolic expression of our national pride and dignity."[9] The Australia Council for the Arts organised the contest, which was dubbed the "Australian National Anthem Quest". The contest was held in two stages, the first seeking lyrics and the second music, each having a A$5,000 prize for the winning entry. On the recommendation of the Council for the Arts, none of the new entries was felt worthy enough, so the contest ended with suggestions for "Advance Australia Fair", "Waltzing Matilda" and "The Song of Australia".[10]

In 1974 the Whitlam government then performed a nationwide opinion survey to determine the song to be sung on occasions of national significance. Conducted through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the survey polled 60,000 people nationally.[1] "Advance Australia Fair" was chosen by 51.4 % of respondents and, on 9 April of that year, Whitlam announced in parliament that it was the national anthem.[1] It was to be used on all occasions excepting those of a specifically regal nature.[1] A spokesman for Whitlam later stated that the Government regarded the tune primarily as the national anthem. During the 1975 election campaign following the dismissal of Whitlam by Sir John Kerr, David Combe proposed that the song be played at the start of the Labor Party's official campaign launch on 24 November 1975 at Festival Hall, Melbourne. Whitlam's speechwriter Graham Freudenberg rejected this idea because, among other reasons, the status of the anthem at that point was still tentative.[11]

On 22 January 1976 the Fraser government reinstated "God Save the Queen" as the national anthem and should be used for royal, vice-regal, defence and loyal toast occasions.[1] Fraser stated that "Advance Australia Fair", "Song of Australia" or "Waltzing Matilda" could be used for non-regal occasions.[1] His government made plans to conduct a national poll to find a song for use on ceremonial occasions when it was desired to mark a separate Australian identity. This was conducted as a plebiscite to choose the National Song, held as an optional additional question in the 1977 referendum on various issues. On 23 May the government announced the results, "Advance Australia Fair" received 43.29% of the vote, defeating the three alternatives, "Waltzing Matilda" (28.28%), "The Song of Australia" (9.65%) and the existing national anthem, "God Save the Queen" (18.78%).[1][12]

"Advance Australia Fair", with modified lyrics and reduced to two verses (see development of lyrics), was adopted as the Australian national anthem on 19 April 1984 by a proclamation by the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen,[13] on a recommendation by the Labor government of Bob Hawke.[1] "God Save the Queen", now known as the royal anthem, continues to be played alongside the Australian national anthem at public engagements in Australia that are attended by the Queen or members of the Royal Family.[10][14] Even though any copyright of Peter Dodds McCormick's original lyrics has expired, as he died in 1916, the Commonwealth of Australia claims copyright on the official lyrics and particular arrangements of music. Non-commercial use of the anthem is permitted without case-by-case permission, but the Commonwealth government requires permission for commercial use.[15]

The orchestral arrangement of "Advance Australia Fair" that is now regularly played for Australian victories at international sporting medal ceremonies, and at the openings of major domestic sporting, cultural and community events, is by Tommy Tycho, an immigrant from Hungary. It was commissioned by ABC Records in 1984 and then televised by Channel 10 in 1986 in their Australia Day broadcast, featuring Julie Anthony as the soloist.[16][17]


The lyrics of "Advance Australia Fair", as modified by the National Australia Day Council, which were officially adopted in April 1984, are as follows:[10][18]

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young 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.

Development of lyrics[edit]

Since the original lyrics were written in 1878, there have been several changes, in some cases with the intent of increasing the anthem's inclusiveness and gender neutrality. Some of these were minor while others have significantly changed the song. The original song was four verses long. For its adoption as the national anthem, the song was cut from four verses to two. The first verse was kept largely as the 1878 original, except for the change in the first line from "Australia's sons let us rejoice" to "Australians all let us rejoice".[18] The second, third and fourth verses of the original were dropped, in favour of a modified version of the new third verse which was sung at Federation in 1901.[19]

The lyrics published in the second edition (1879) were as follows:[20]

Australia's sons let us rejoice,
For we are young 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 hist'ry's page, let ev'ry stage
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Til 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.

While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We'll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England soil and Fatherland,
Scotia and Erin fair,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

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,
Though oceans roll between,
Her sons in fair Australia's land
Still keep their courage green.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

The 1901 Federation version of the third verse was originally sung as:

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make our youthful Commonwealth,
Renowned of all the lands;
For loyal sons beyond 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!


The song has been criticised for failing to represent or acknowledge Australia's Indigenous peoples and the country's colonial history. The lyrics have been accused of celebrating British colonisation and perpetuating the concept of terra nullius, with the second line of the anthem ("for we are young and free") criticised in particular for ignoring the long history of Indigenous Australians, who have inhabited Australia for at least 60,000 years.[21][22]

Australian author and academic Christopher Kelen has argued that the repetition of "fair" in the chorus celebrates the "civilising" mission of European colonists, in the tradition of the "white man's burden" described by Rudyard Kipling. Kelen suggests that the word "fair" – which he takes to mean "beautiful', "just" or "white" – reinforces terra nullius, and that the anthem fails to acknowledge a time before European colonisation and the genocide of much of the Indigenous population.[23]

In recent years, public debate about the anthem has increased. In 2015, Aboriginal Australian soprano Deborah Cheetham declined an invitation to sing the anthem at the 2015 AFL grand final after the AFL turned down her request to replace the words "for we are young and free" with "in peace and harmony". She has advocated for the lyrics be rewritten and endorsed Judith Durham and Kutcha Edwards' alternative version.[24] Boxer Anthony Mundine stated in 2013, 2017 and 2018 that he would not stand for the anthem, prompting organisers not to play it before his fights.[25] In September 2018 a 9-year-old Brisbane girl was disciplined by her school after refusing to stand for the national anthem.[26] Her actions were applauded by some public commentators (e.g. Indigenous elder Sam Watson and musician Shane Howard of Goanna) and criticised by others (e.g. politicians Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson).[27] In 2019, several National Rugby League football players decided not to sing the anthem before the first match of the State of Origin series[28][29] and before the Indigenous All-Stars series with New Zealand.[30] In February 2019, NRL coach and celebrated former player Mal Meninga supported the protesting players and called for a referendum on the subject.[30][31]

Political sentiment is divided. Craig Emerson of the Australian Labor Party has critiqued the anthem,[32] former MP Peter Slipper has said that Australia should consider another anthem,[33] in 2011 former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett suggested "I Am Australian",[34] while former Australian Labor Party leader Kim Beazley defended it.[35] In 2017, the federal government under then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull granted permission for Vickery's lyrics to be sung at certain occasions as a "patriotic song", but said that before making any official change to the anthem, "The Government would need to be convinced of a sufficient groundswell of support in the wider community".[36]

The fourth line of the anthem, "our home is girt by sea", has been criticised for using the so-called archaic word "girt".[37] Additionally, the lyrics and melody of the Australian national anthem have been criticised in some quarters as being dull and unendearing to the Australian people. National Party senator Sandy Macdonald said in 2001 that "Advance Australia Fair" is so boring that the nation risks singing itself to sleep, with boring music and words impossible to understand.[38]

Unofficial variants[edit]

Several alternative versions of "Advance Australia Fair" have been proposed to address the exclusion of Indigenous Australians. Judith Durham of The Seekers and Mutti Mutti musician Kutcha Edwards released their alternative lyrics in 2009, replacing "for we are young and free" with the opening lines "Australians let us stand as one, upon this sacred land".[39]

In 2017 the Recognition in Anthem Project was established and began work on a new version, with lyrics written by poet and former Victorian Supreme Court judge Peter Vickery following consultation with Indigenous communities and others.[40] Vickery's proposed lyrics replaced "we are young and free" with "we are one and free" in the first verse and added two new verses, with the second verse acknowledging Indigenous history, immigration and calls for unity and respect and the third verse adapting lines from the official second verse. It was debuted at the Desert Song Festival in Alice Springs by an Aboriginal choice.[41] Former prime minister Bob Hawke endorsed Peter Vickery's alternative lyrics in 2018.[42]

In 2011, about fifty different Christian schools from different denominations came under criticism for singing a version of the song written by Sri Lankan immigrant Ruth Ponniah in 1988. The song replaced the second verse with lyrics that were explicitly Christian in nature, with the opening lines: "With Christ our head and cornerstone, we'll build our nation's might". Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth Peter Garrett and chief executive of the National Australia Day Council Warren Pearson admonished the schools for modifying the lyrics of the anthem, and the Australian Parents Council and the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Association of NSW called for a ban on the modified song. Stephen O'Doherty, chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, defended the use of the lyrics in response.[43][44]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Australia Through Time (5th ed.). Random House Australia. 1997. pp. 56–57, 439, 446, 451, 479. ISBN 978-0-09-183581-1.
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  3. ^ "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 November 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 30 May 2020 – via Trove (National Library of Australia).
  4. ^ Fletcher, Jim (1986). "McCormick, Peter Dodds (1834–1916)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 10. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 17 April 2018 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
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  6. ^ The Landing of the Australian Troops in Egypt from National Film and Sound Archive, at australianscreen online
  7. ^ "Media Resources – Images and Audio files for Download". National Film and Sound Archive. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. (1943 – The Majestic Fanfare by Charles Williams, the ABC radio news theme)
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  11. ^ Graham Freudenberg, "We've been sacked", The Sunday Age, 6 November 2005, p. 13
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  13. ^ "Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia – National Symbols". Parliament of Australia. 21 September 2005. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. (proclamation by Governor-General dated 19 April 1984)
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  16. ^ "Tommy Tycho—Arranger". Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2011.[better source needed]
  17. ^ "Australian composer Tommy Tycho dies". ABC News. 4 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  18. ^ a b "The Australian National Anthem". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
  19. ^ "Digital Collections – Advance Australia Fair (1901–1919)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  20. ^ "Digital Collections – Advance Australia Fair (1879)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
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  23. ^ Kelen, Christopher (July 2002). "How fair is fair? The colour of justice in Australia's official anthem". M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture. 5 (4). Archived from the original on 28 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  24. ^ Cheetham, Deborah. "Young and free? Why I declined to sing the national anthem at the 2015 AFL Grand Final". The Conversation.
  25. ^ "Anthony Mundine won't stand for anthem". SBS News. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  26. ^ Siganto, Talissa (12 September 2018). "9yo refuses to stand for national anthem because it's for 'white people of Australia'". ABC News. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  27. ^ McFadyen, Warwick (16 September 2018). "Advance Australia Fair is an anthem that is racist at so many levels". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  28. ^ "'This song sucks': Rapper slams anthem". 5 June 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  29. ^ Pengilly, Christian Nicolussi, Adam (28 May 2019). "Cody Walker to remain silent during Advance Australia Fair". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  30. ^ a b Meninga, Mal (16 February 2019). "Australia needs referendum on national anthem". National Rugby League. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  31. ^ "Australian lawmakers attack 9-year-old girl who refused to stand during their national anthem". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  32. ^ "Advance Australia Fair strikes a sour note". The Australian. 2 January 2001. Retrieved 20 December 2007.[dead link]
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  34. ^ Grant McArthur (11 February 2011). "Jeff Kennett wants national anthem change". The Advertiser. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
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  37. ^ Campbell, David (22 April 2008). "Time girt went down the gurgler". Herald Sun. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  38. ^ Barbie Dutter (27 June 2001). "Call to scrap Australia's 'dull' anthem". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney). Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  39. ^ "Judith Durham's new anthem: 'Lyric For Contemporary Australia'". NITV. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  40. ^ "New call to update the National Anthem". NITV. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  41. ^ Power, Julie (13 September 2019). "We are 'one', not 'young': Change to national anthem proposed". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  42. ^ "Milestones". Recognition in Anthem. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  43. ^ "Schools under fire for 'Christian' national anthem". ABC News. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  44. ^ "Christian schools re-write Australian national anthem". The Daily Telegraph. Sydney. 2 October 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2017.

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