[Published at Independent Australia]
The anachronistic words of our national anthem are finally getting a bit of attention. Denise McAvaney has done a good job on this site of laying out reasons why we should no longer grovel to Britain. She was triggered by Scott Morrison’s ridiculous and typically ill-informed rant demanding that all children should be forced to sing the current words. Denise also refers to Deborah Cheetham’s decision not to sing the anthem at the AFL grand final because she considers the words to be offensive to indigenous people. Susanna Duffy has posted some more thoughts and versions here. There may be others.
I was provoked a couple of years ago by an episode of the TV series Redfern Now, in which a young indigenous lad gets into trouble for refusing to sing the official anthem. I conceived the idea that we can just start writing new words. Anyone can have a go, there need be no competition and no prize. If a version catches on, then it might eventually replace the old words, by popular acclaim. So I wrote my own version, to kick the process along. It appears below.
The original version of Advance Australia Fair was written by Peter Dodds McCormick and first sung in public in 1878. You can see an account of its history and several versions here. My own objections to the old words overlap along with Denise’s:
- no mention of the First Australians
- too redolent of old British Empire attitudes: we have to be better than everyone else, rah rah!
- the land is to be owned and used, rather than being a wonder we preserve and a provider we care for and pass on
- the antiquated phrasing (and not just “girt”: “joyous strains”, etc.)
- the rank hypocrisy of “we’ve boundless plains to share”.
By the way, the words championed by Deborah Cheetham are not her own, as she makes clear. They were written by Judith Durham in consultation with Muti Muti singer-songwriter Kutcha Edwards. Those words are a vast improvement. Personally I still find them a bit too long on general sentiment and perhaps too sugary. We could have words that more obviously refer to this unique land.
More importantly, I don’t like the old title. Advance is too redolent of conquest and mindless “progress”, at a time when we must seriously reconsider the goals of our society and its driving materialistic economy. Fair is far too ambiguous. It can mean beautiful or worthy, but of course it can also mean fair of complexion, a meaning that would certainly have resonated with the author of the lyrics and his 19th-century audience.
By the way, it would be good if there was a web site that collected alternative versions, as there are sites that collect alternative flag designs, here and here. If anyone feels motivated to set up and manage such a site I think that would hasten the demise of the old words
So my own version follows. It is public domain, I would just like my authorship of this particular version to be noted, so that any variations or alternative versions are not presumed to have my approval.
Australia We Share
(Geoff Davies, 30 April 2013)
An ancient land from Rock to sand
A Dreaming old and wise
White, brown and black from other lands
New ways from old arise.
From whips and chains through gold and fleece
Innovation, sweat and care
A new refrain to grace the world:
A fair go and fair share.
To Dream together, old and new,
Australia we share.
A wilful land of flood and fire
Of forests lush and tall
Of rivers slow and jewel reef
And creatures fit for all
This land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare
From aeons past a heritage
For us to take due care.
We all are now custodians
Australia, we care.