July 29, 2009

Horse 1020 - What the National Anthem Says About Australia

What does a nation's national anthem actually say about the nation? Can you learn anything from it? Do for instance "the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air" imply that the United States likes blowing things up? Is "God defend New Zealand" implying that anyone can just walk in and steal the place? What then for Australia?

Verse 1
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
Does this mean that we're all a bunch of gormless teenagers? We're rejoicing about being young? Surely someone's having a laugh.
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
And we're all lazy bozos who can't be bothered doing work for ourselves. Golden soil? I've seen red, black, brown but not golden.
Our home is girt by sea;
Yay, we're an island... and we didn't fail Year 1 geography.
Our land abounds in Nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
It's a good thing that nature is gifting us things, because we said earlier that we aint working for them.
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
"Advance Australia fair!"
Joyful Strains? The anthem openly admits that it's too hard to sing.

Verse 2
When gallant Cook from Albion sail'd,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
This is clearly an admission that we don't know our own history. Cook was on a mission to observe the transit of Venus across the sun and then of conquest. To be perfectly honest, Cook didn't exactly deliberately set out to "land" here either, he sort of bumped into it and then tried to go around; even then he had trouble doing it.
Then here he raised Old England's flag,
The standard of the brave;
This is a point from my chair in Pedant Corner. Cook sailed under the Union Flag, not England. England didn't exist by itself as a separate entity from 1707 onwards.
With all her faults we love her still,
Her faults? What of ours? History certainly repeats itself, doesn't it?
"Brittannia rules the wave!"
Only one? Which one? The Mexican Wave? The New Wave? The Royal Wave?
In joyful strains then let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"

Verse 3
Just to prove that we don't even know our own national anthem, the whole thing is 6 verses but most Australians only sort of half know the first, generally don't know the second that's sung (which is the third), and only a very small number know about the existence of the other four.
Beneath our radiant southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
In verse 1 we said that we had wealth for toil. Why are we now toiling in verse 3? Has that wealth now run out?
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;
I think that that this is actually a pretty good exposition of what our intended immigration policy was. We've boundless "plains" to share. That's right, the immigrants can have the scabby bits in the middle, we'll keep the edges.
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"

Verse 4
While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
Really when does this happen? Only at the Olympic Games and even then only for about the first 3 days when the swimming medals are the first handed out.
We'll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
Now we're getting just plain pompous here. Not to mention that there actually is no Southern Star. Polaris or the North Star doesn't have a Southern Hemisphere equivalent, the Southern Cross points the way to the South Pole, but in the celestial South Pole, it's just blank space.
From England, Scotia, Erin's Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Where's Wales? Actually when you think about it the Union Jack is a composite of the four constituent parts of the UK. The Cross of St George for England, the Cross of St Andrew for Scotland, the Cross of St Patrick for Ireland, and Wales' bit... Jack!
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"

Verse 5
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;
Actually when in 1942 this was tested, the radio operators in Darwin didn't believe the warning and we did nothing at all. There was no rousing of arms either, half of the Australian Army was already in North Africa fighting off Rommel.
Brittannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean's roll,
Her sons in fair Australia's land
Still keep a British soul.
This was also tested. How Appropriate in an Ashes series:
The Aussies love the English, you might find it quite strange.
'Cos we sent them all down under, with only balls and chains.
And when they see the English, they always shout and scream.
But when they had the chance to vote they voted for the Queen.
In joyful strains the let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"
Indeed. After 5 verses I'd be straining too.

What you mightn't know is that the Advance Australia Fair was written by a Scotsman called Peter Dodds McCormick (who went under the pen-name of Amicus). The December 1st 1878 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald called the song "decidedly patriotic" and that it was "likely to become a popular favourite" (I guess the Herald knew what tit was talking about). The song itself was sung at the Federation ceremony on Jan 1, 1901 and at the opening of the Parliament House in Canberra in 1927 but wasn't declared official until 1984.

What's even worse is that a sixth verse which was well known before 1930 seems to have been unceremoniously dropped on the quiet. An anthem if you track the definition of the word comes from the Greek ἀντίφωνα (antiphōna) which means "the opposite voice". The word originally meant a song sung as two parts of a Psalm or other Hymn.

With Christ our head and cornerstone,
we'll build our Nation's might,
Nice sentiments I'm sure, but is that really the case?
Whose way and truth and light alone,
can guide our path aright.
This is entirely true, but if you look at successive governments whose policy it's been to erode things like the Family Law Act, and the Marriages Act quite recently, I really wonder which path the nation is headed down.
Our lives, a sacrifice of love,
reflect our Master's care
95% of the time most Australian's are looking out for number on. Considering that we've been told in the other verses that we're lazy, then making a sacrifice? Perhaps in times of extreme hardship but not generally.
With faces turned to heaven above,
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair

What have we learnt from all this then?
The national anthem itself affirms that Australia is British, that Australians are lazy, that they don't really know their history and that we're as pompous as those we hate in Britain. Also I don't think that it's much of a stretch to declare that because it was written by a Scotsman whilst he was in Scotland, that the song isn't Australian, certainly isn't National, and doesn't really qualify as an anthem under the definition of the word.

No wonder we don't really know it... it speaks so much about us as a nation.


TGbR said...

there are a few spelling mistakes, but the analysis is appreciated...and is generally correct

Rollo said...

For me to have spelling mistakes is a horrid thing, so I did an F7 check in Word.
Apart from "favourite" and "Brittannia" and "e'er" there weren't any.

"Brittannia" is exactly as it appears in the original text, so I have to quote it to the letter.