This small lyrical change is another step towards the independence and inclusivity of Australia.
“We are Australian” by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton is a popular Australian song that cekbrates the diversity of Australian society through the line “I am, you are, we are Australians”. In 2020, we are one, but we are also many.
In 1900, after years of drafting and debating, Australia’s Constitution was passed by the British Parliament and given royal assent by Queen Victoria in July; Australia’s six British colonies were destined to become one nation on 1 January 1901.
It had been determined that the ceremony proclaiming the Inauguration of the Commonwealth would occur in Sydney.
In 1901, Australia considered itself a ‘young’ country that was still tightly bound to Britain in terms of its people, economy, military and politics. Over the past 120 year’s Australia has matured as a nation and, as our Prime Minister announced today, we are no longer ‘young’.
Today Britain stepped away from the European Union. If Brexit is now a reality, surely it must be time for Australia to ‘cut the apron string’ with Britain and Ausexit.
In 1901, there were close to 4 million people living in Australia and none had ever seen a party like the one held on Tuesday, 1 January 1901. Huge crowds gathered in the cities to take part in celebrations.
In Sydney, an eight-kilometre procession made up of brass bands, floats and important citizens wound through the city streets, which were lined with half a million people waving the Union Jack. A crowd of nearly 60,000 people gathered in Sydney’s Centennial Park to witness the proclamation of the Federal Constitution, uniting six former British colonies as one Commonwealth of Australia.
Centennial Park, Sydney. 1 January 1901.
As part of the ceremony, Queen Victoria’s official proclamation was read by Australia’s first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, and Federal ministers were then sworn in after a twenty-one gun salute. Australia’s first prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton, declared ‘A continent for a nation and a nation for a continent’
1 January 1901 was the first day of Australia as a nation and the first day of the new century. The significance of the day was clear to all Australians. The day was one long celebration, with spectacle, parade and festivities.
Advance Australia Fair was adopted as the national anthem for the second time thirty years ago on 19 April 1984 by Bob Hawke’s Labor Government. It had first been chosen by the Whitlam Government in 1974 and later rejected by the Fraser Government.
Previous to this, the Australian national anthem was “God Save the Queen”. Like many things, it took a second attempt before the reform took hold.
In 1973, a competition was held for a distinctively Australian national anthem.
The Australian National Anthem Quest was run in two stages by the Australia Council for the Arts. The first stage for lyrics attracted more than 1,400 entries. The second stage for music received 1200 entries. A prize of $5,000 was offered for each stage.
However, the judges decided the entries did not meet the high standards of Australia’s traditional songs Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia. The Australia Council for the Arts recommended the final choice for the national anthem should be made from these three songs.
The Bureau of Statistics ran a national poll of 60,000 people. Advance Australia Fair was favoured by 51.4% of people surveyed, followed by Waltzing Matilda at 19.6%.
But the decision did not stick. A change of government brought God Save the Queen back into use.
In May 1977, the Fraser Liberal Government had the Australian Electoral Office conduct a poll, or plebiscite for the national anthem in conjunction with a referendum. Advance Australia Fair was the clear favourite with 43.3% of the vote, ahead of Waltzing Matilda with 28.3%, and God Save the Queen at 18.8%, and Song of Australia on 9.6%.
Yet even that overwhelming vote did not see an Australian anthem restored — until 19 April 1984.
Just why Australian governments are so slow to assert Australian independence is hard to fathom. There was no popular mandate for God Save the Queen, just as there is no popular mandate any more for the constitutional link to the British monarchy. But time will catch up with even the slowest urge to reform.
Australia is now in every sense a nation, with our Parliament fully in control of our affairs at least since the Australia Act of 1986, when the ability of the UK Parliament at Westminster to legislate for us was finally ended, as was legal appeals to the Privy Council in Westminster.
One reform remains.
We need our own head of state — someone who represents us, our national values, character and identity. The Queen does this for the UK, but that is her full time job and she can’t ever hope to truly represent modern Australia. And neither will her heirs, even if they so wanted to.
It will, likewise, take a second attempt to cut Australia’s final Constitutional link to the British monarchy, to reflect the full independence that Australians already feel in their hearts.
The question is not whether this will happen, but when.