Advance Australia Fair doesn’t do justice to the nation we have become and where we have all come from. It’s a vision of Australia through rose-tinted glasses, smudged over with vaseline to block out all the hard truths. We are a nation built on convicts and colonisation. We are a nation that spans 40,000 years. We are a nation of hot summers and cold winters, of dry lands and hopeful rains. But our current national anthem doesn’t speak of that. It speaks of feigned hope:
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
Indeed, I understand why we have accepted this as a national anthem. It’s grandiose and uplifting, just how most national anthems are. Take, for instance, the US national anthem, Star-Spangled Banner. It has that grand tune, matched with mighty lyrics:
Oh, say can you see,
by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed
at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled
banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
and the home of the brave?
But the US national anthem speaks the truth about the nation. It still has the rose-tinted glasses, of course, but it doesn’t go so far as adding vaseline to cover the truth. The US is a nation built on war. But the story of their anthem doesn’t just tell that truth, it unifies it through their national flag. War has given freedom to the US, and that’s what the anthem celebrates.
In the Australian anthem, we hear words like “young and free” being mixed with a glorification of our land, as if that’s what unifies us. But we are a massive country, with long coursing deserts, rugged and robust coastlines, snow-capped mountain ranges, tropical norths and cold and windy souths. In fact, 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline, with a majority of them within 50km of a national city. The rest of us live in the outback, which is a different backdrop to what most Australians are used to seeing. As with the words young and free, it’s quite apparent that we are not. Our history spans 40,000 years and not all of us are really free. We have people locked up in detention centres for the crime of seeking refuge, we have a welfare state that strickens the poor, our first nation people are still fighting for a treaty, and we have a rising cost of living, with most Australians losing hope of ever owning a home. It’s impossible to unify people through falsehoods.
There’s a shared ideal that a national anthem must evoke a grand tune matched with powerful lyrics, but I think Australia can break away from that. Do all the songs we listen to — whether pop, rap, rock or RnB — really need a strong tune to make us emotional? I know songs that can make me cry with happiness without holding a strong tune. One of them is by The Seekers and is titled “I Am Australian”. And I would like to see it as our next national anthem.
The lyrics are evocative, they unify through our various cultures and nationalities; whether native to the land or from overseas. Indeed, it is not a grandiose tune; it doesn’t capture through clanging brass or mighty trumpets. But it does captivate with powerful lyrics. In saying that, it can be made louder. The opening could be a mixed melody of didgeridoos, natural ambience and perhaps a clanging brass or two. I Am Australian is a worthy substitute for our current national anthem.