History of the Words of the Australian National Anthem

 Here is a summary of the history of the words of the Australian National Anthem.

1878 Colonial era original tune and words

The original lyrics were written by the Scottish born colonialist, Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878 (published 1879), only 100 years after the First Fleet landed in Port Jackson, Australia from Portsmouth, England. It was a very different era: “When gallant Cook from Albion sailed” ... “From England soil and Fatherland”…and when once "Britannia rules the wave"…

The music and lyrics published in 1879 included the cover below which recorded the writer and composer, Peter Dodds McCormick by his name ‘Amicus’, and dedicated the piece to “The Sons and Daughters of Australia”.

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Verse 1

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

Verse 2

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.

Verse 3

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.

Verse 4

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.

 

1901 Federation era modifications for the new Commonwealth of Australia

Shortly prior to 1901, Peter Dodds McCormick wrote a ‘Federation version’ to celebrate the birth of the new Commonwealth of Australia. The original third verse was deleted. A replacement the third verse was composed and sung as:

New Third verse

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.

 

c1907  Modifications to Emphasize Commitment to Britain

In about 1907, and prior to the death of Peter Dodds McCormick in 1916, changes were made to the last verse of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ by Professor Stuart Blackie. He was a classical scholar at the University of Edinburgh. This change to the lyrics reinforced Australia’s commitment to Britain. It occurred against the backdrop of a naval arms race which had developed between Germany and Great Britain. From 1902 to 1910, the British Royal Navy embarked on a massive expansion to keep ahead of the Germans as the world prepared for war..

The last verse as written by Peter Dodds McCormick was originally sung as:

Should foreign foe e'r sight our coast etc

Britannia then shall surely know

Though oceans roll between

Her sons in fair Australia's land

Still keep their name serene

 

This was changed by Dodds McCormick at the suggestion of Professor Stuart Blackie to sing:

Britannia then shall surely know

Beyond wide oceans roll

Her sons in fair Australia's land

Still keep a British soul

 

The change was acknowledged as an ‘improvement’ by Peter Dodds MCormick, who noted "The author of this song ... is indebted to the late Professor Stuart Blackie, of Edinburgh for improvement in last verse".

This is was the last change to ‘Advance Australia Fair’ until about 77 years later, in 1984.

 

1984 Twentieth century era modifications to replace ‘God Save the Queen.’

The lyrics were further and very significantly modified by the ‘National Australia Day Committee’ (the predecessor to the present ‘National Australia Day Council’) as part of the process to replace God Save the Queen prior to official adoption of a further modified form of Advance Australia Fair as the National Anthem in 1984. The National Australia Day Committee had been appointed by the Fraser government in 1979 and comprised the fourteen members set out below in the Cabinet Minute dated 28 August 1979:

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The 1984 amendments were the most substantial changes made to the words of Advance Australia Fair since it was first written in 1878.

The first change was to reduce the original four verses written in 1878 and revised in 1901 by Dodds McCormick to two verses. In this way, the 'Rule Britannia' references were removed. For example, Verse 2, which included the line Britannia rules the wave and Verse 4, which included the lines Britannia then shall surely knowThough oceans roll betweenHer sons in fair Australia's land, Still keep their courage green, were removed.  

The result is that, following the 1901 Federation version which replaced the third verse, the only surviving verses of the original compositions are remnants of the first and third verses. 

The National Australia Day Committee made further changes to the lyrics to make them gender neutral. The Committee also attempted to make them more inclusive.

The Verse 1 of the original version was changed by deleting the words Australia's sons let us rejoice and replacing them with Australians all let us rejoice.

Next, Verse 3 of the 1901 version was adopted as the second verse.

Changes were also made to Verse 3 (the new Verse 2). The word youthful in the words To make our youthful Commonwealth, was deleted and replaced with the line To make this Commonwealth of ours. Further, the new Verse 2 was made gender neutral by deleting the words For loyal sons beyond the seas and replacing them with For those who’ve come across the seas. This phrase was intended to reference and include immigrants to Australia.

However, even in 1984, the Anthem was not made inclusive by continuing to make no reference to our First Peoples, in spite of specific reference being made to immigrants who’ve come across the seas. Further, Australian values which evolved and became entrenched in the 20th century were not referenced. 

The 1984 changes were introduced in the context of a process to replace God save the Queen as the Australian National Anthem. This was the principal focus at the time. We now have a very different social context with a more sharply defined set of values.

With these changes, the Australian National Anthem was officially adopted by Proclamation on 19 April 1984 and remains in this form to this day to be sung as follows:

 

Proclaimed Australian National Anthem

Verse 1

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.

Verse 2

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.

Score of Advance Australia Fair by Peter Dodds McCormick (with revised Federation Verse 3, C 1901)

 National Library of Australia, Trove eResources Catalogue

National Library of Australia, Trove eResources Catalogue