The Perth Mint has released its annual Australian Citizenship $1 Coin for 2016. More than 30,000 of these coins are purchased annually by individuals and also by local governments which offer them as mementos to participants at Australian Citizenship Ceremonies.
As well as taking the pledge of commitment to Australia, people formalizing their Australian Citizenship at these ceremonies also sing Advance Australia Fair, which was first performed on this day, 30 November, in 1878 at the St Andrew’s Day concert of the Highland Society, NSW.
Patriotic song to national anthem
It took an extraordinary 106 years for the patriotic song Advance Australia Fair to be officially proclaimed Australia’s national anthem. The original composition was written by Scotsman Peter Dodds McCormack, who migrated to Sydney in 1855. A teacher and prominent church elder who was passionate about music, he organised many church and school choirs while also writing and publishing his own songs.
McCormack was inspired to compose Advance Australia Fair after attending a concert where national anthems were sung. Irritated that there was “not one note for Australia”, he began devising words for the new work on the bus home! After its initial public performance, the Sydney Morning Herald described the music as “bold and stirring”, while its words were “decidedly patriotic”.
Sporadic attempts to have Advance Australia Fair proclaimed as Australia’s national anthem were made during ensuing decades. Despite being sung by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and on many other public occasions, God Save The Queen (King) continued to fulfil the role.
But in 1973, the Government backed the quest for a uniquely Australian anthem. Competitions were held for both lyrics and music. Despite a large number of entries, the judges could not be persuaded that any of them were better than the existing three traditional songs: Banjo Paterson’s famous bush ballad Waltzing Matilda; Song of Australia, which won the Gawler Institute competition for a patriotic song in 1859; or Advance Australia Fair.
The following year, a public opinion poll was organised to determine the relative popularity of the three ‘unofficial’ anthems. Of the 60,000 people sampled, 51.4% favoured Advance Australia Fair, followed by Waltzing Matilda on 19.6 per cent.
The decisive result, however, was still not enough to cement McCormack’s song as the official national anthem. In fact the Government decided that Waltzing Matilda should represent Australia at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal! (As it happened, Australia failed to win a single gold medal, leaving the decision somewhat pointless.)
Debate over the anthem continued and in the following year a direct national poll included a question on the topic. Over 7 million of the 8.4 million people on the electoral roll chose to vote. Again, Advance Australia Fair was the preferred song, followed by Waltzing Matilda, God Save the Queen and Song of Australia. Even so, it took another seven years for the decision to finally be proclaimed!
Since 1984, Advance Australia Fair has been an unequivocally important national symbol and a public expression of joy and pride in being Australian – guaranteed to make all new Australians choke with emotion at their Citizenship Ceremony!