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Roger Clarke's Waltzing Matilda as Anthem

Waltzing Matilda and the National Anthem

Roger Clarke

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1995-2003

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Australia's 'Royal' Anthem

Australia has a royal anthem which is played whenever the Queen is in attendance. That's 'God Save the Queen' (which is, of course, also the national anthem of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England. I'm not sure what some Scots, Welshmen, Northern Irelanders and Cornishmen think of that, though).

Australia's 'National' Anthem

Australia also has a national anthem, which, from federation until 1901 until 1974, and from 1977 until 1984, was 'God Save the Queen'. Gough Whitlam's Labor Government, backed by a poll of 60,000 people, changed it to 'Advance Australia Fair' in 1974. The next (Tory) Government changed it back to 'God Save the Queen' in 1977. But (for reasons that escape me!) 'Advance Australia Fair' was reinstated in 1984, and remains, as the (official) national anthem. See Arthur Sale's Flags and Anthems page.

'Advance Australia Fair' is a dreadful dirge with archaic expressions like "Australians all let us rejoice", and "Our land is girt by sea". In these days of political correctness, the second verse has had to be excised to spare our blushes - see the official version. My mate, Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society 1996-97, even offers Real Audio and AU versions of the awful thing.

There have been other attempts to come up with some words that are less embarrassing, or at least more appropriate. The one I like the best appeared in a letter to 'The Australian' by Mark Weeks, of Potts Point, N.S.W., about September 1996. (No-one seems to have noticed yet that we could just use a tune, without words; or even do without a national anthem altogether ...).

Why Not 'Waltzing Matilda'??

There have been plenty of suggestions over the years that the national anthem should be 'Waltzing Matilda'. In 1996 at least, the Premier of the largest State, New South Wales (Bob Carr), appointed the head of the Tourism Council of Australia (Bruce Baird), to chair a Committee to negotiate the replacement of 'Advance Australia Fair' with - you guessed it - 'Waltzing Matilda'.

This was, of course, just be another of those silly little divertissements for which Australian politics is justifiably famous. On the other hand, the Sydney 2000 Olympics ("the most successful Olympics ever", unquote Juan Samaranch) were won by Bruce Baird and his team, and were run by Bob Carr's Government .... Moreover, the Prime Minister, John Howard, has candidly admitted that he voted for 'Waltzing Matilda' in the 1977 poll. However, five years later, we're all still waiting.

The logic was well-explained by, of all people, a Kiwi, in a Letter to the Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald published on 10 September 2003: "It's hard not to agree that a song about a sheep-stealing vagabond is more representative of Australian culture than a song about being fair" - Steve Hawke, Waikanae, NZ. (This was in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup - which Kiwis think is important. During the previous couple of years, 'Waltzing Matilda' had been performed, sometimes very badly, just before international rugby matches in Australia. Apparently some official decided that it shouldn't be played before matches during the World Cup in October 2003, even when Australia is playing).

'God Bless Australia'

There have been various attempts to compose words, to the tune of 'Waltzing Matilda', to provide a national anthem, Soon after Australia was formed on 1 Jan 1901, some bloke called Jack O'Hagan - apparently a noted singer / songwriter in the early 1900s - wrote an anthem set to the Marie Cowan / Victorian version of the Waltzing Matilda tune. The words are below (and, in the approved style of anthems, fairly ghastly, and far removed from contemporary political correctness!).


Here in this God given land of ours, Australia

This proud possession, our own piece of earth

That was built by our fathers who pioneered our heritage

Here in Australia, the land of our birth


God bless Australia, our land Australia

Home of the Anzacs, the strong and the free

It's our homeland, our own land, to cherish for eternity

God bless Australia, the land of the free

Here in Australia we treasure love and liberty

Our way of life, all for one, one for all

With a peace loving grace, but should danger ever threaten us

Let the world know, we will answer the call

(Hum matilda with a bit of an upbeat as you read the words, and add a bit of flourish at the end, you'll find it falls into place quite nicely)

It's not easy to find much information about this piece, but Ian Carver had the words transcribed from a video by the Screen Sound branch of the National Archives. They had to transfer it from a film-theatre ad that was run during the 1960's by the then Australian petrol company, Ampol. It has an introduction by Brian Henderson (who's been a TV personality since the 1960s, and in 2001 is still a news-reader). The current copyright holders are Caltex (the American company that bought out Ampol). They have given approval for limited (but non-commercial) copies to be given to interested parties.

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Created: 11 February 1995 - Last Amended: 10 September 2003 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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