Australian National Anthem: Traditions of the World Series.



In this weekly series, we will look at together traditions of the world which may be categorised as either sacred or secular. We will explore the tradition/s, the origins and other interesting information about that tradition/s.

Naturally, this links very well with both my living life series, the power of Music and other series on the blog, as the interconnection between them all is most often Music and/Spirituality. It is that integration between life and Music that I feel so inspired.  Let us begin our post:


 Australia Day is celebrated in Australia on 26 January each year, so as I am an Australian, I wish to share in today’s post something relevant to every country- its National Anthem.


Why is the national song calling an Anthem you may be wondering? Why not just call it a song?  What is an anthem?

An anthem by definition is a song which has special significance for a particular country, group of people or organisation.  It is usually sung on special occasions. It is a song which represents the values, ideals and aspirations of a particular country, group of people or organisation.

An important point to make here about Music generally and its categories is that most music has at least two  categories, and yet, although the category is important because it provides an umbrella under which this music stays, many categories actually mean the same, but will have different names for different reasons, or different styles or different periods in history.

Usually we describe music broadly as either sacred or secular (first broad category) then as vocal or instrumental (second broad category) and then within each of those categories are subcategories such as opera, symphony, concerto, oratorio, hymn, psalm to name a few.

The term anthem is a case in point.  Synonyms for the word anthem include: Canticle, Carol, Hymn, Psalm or Spiritual.

Each of these words musically speaking have their own nuance.

In the case of the word Anthem, it can also be used to describe a psalm or hymn sung antiphonally or responsively. In other words, an anthem can be a sacred piece of music (hymn or psalm) which is sung alternately by different sections of a choir or congregation.

Yet when we talk about a National Anthem it may embrace some similar characteristics of the second definition musically but we are usually referring to it by the first interpretation of the meaning of Anthem.

That is all in one word- Anthem.!!  Hope you are not confused.


"Advance Australia Fair" is the Australian National Anthem. Created by the Scottish-born composer Peter Dodds McCormick, the song was first performed in 1878 and sung in Australia as a patriotic song.

It replaced the anthem known as " God Save the Queen” as the official national anthem in 1984, following a vote by Australians in 1977 to choose the National song.

 Advance Australia Fair" was composed by Peter Dodds Mc Cormick in the late 19th century by under the pen-name "Amicus" (which means "friend" in Latin). It was first performed by Andrew Fairfax at a function of the Highland Society of New South Wales in Sydney on 30 November 1878.

It became popular and as a result an amended version was sung by a choir of around 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In 1907 the Australian Government awarded McCormick £100 for his composition.

Since the original lyrics were written in 1879, there have been several changes, in some cases with the intent of increasing the anthem's inclusiveness. Some of these were minor, while others have significantly changed. The original song was four verses long.

For its adoption as the national anthem, the song was cut from four verses to two. The first verse was  mostly the 1879 original, except for the change in the first line from "Australia's sons let us rejoice" to "Australians all let us rejoice". The second, third and fourth verses of the original were excluded, in favour of a simplified version of the new third verse which was sung at the occasion of Federation in 1901.

The Christian Verse:  A variant of the national anthem penned in 1988 by Sri Lankan immigrant Ruth Ponniah and sung in some Christian schools replaces the second verse with the Christian verse. It was sung at a ‘‘Jesus rally’’ in Canberra in March 1998 and World Youth Day in 2008. Because of these events, it became more widely known.  It took a life of its own, so although strictly not written by Dodds McCormick became accepted in Christian backgrounds to sing it because of its Christian sentiment.  It also took on a life of its own in society with a strong push to get it included officially in the anthem. 

However, as our society became more multi-cultural and less spiritual i.e. very secular, despite the strong lobby of the Christian communities and other people who had no problem singing or hearing about God/ Jesus in this context, this verse has not been officially recognised as part of the national anthem.  Some disappointed Australian people felt that it was just another example of the Christian voice being told to shut up.

However, Christians and some Catholics have continued to use it at big occasions as well as in parishes to engender some Christian perspective. Others say it is dishonest of Christians to use it because it was not written by Dodds McCormick.

My personal view: I have no problem playing/singing it which I have done every Australia day since 2006, because, although not written by Dodds McCormick, it was written by an immigrant and therefore reflects something of a welcoming Australia and in that sense is inclusive. The lyrics of this verse also represent a Christian perspective, something in my view our country needs. 

Click the link here for the lyrics of Australian National Anthem. For those interested in seeing the lyrics of the Christian verse click here.


When a composer writes a song/ composition they choose a structure to use, which in musical terms we know as Form   There are a number of forms in music and it is one of the important elements of music.  

Anyway just think of a piece of music having a structure- just like when a house is built, there are many elements (rooms) but we know the overall structure to be called a house.

 In the case of the Australian national Anthem, the structure is a verse followed by a refrain.
It is usually played with a short introduction at big/small events as a performance guide to singer/s or congregation.

 The tempo (speed) of it may vary when it is played in bigger venues because of acoustical and other performance considerations. However, the overall characteristic of the national anthem should not be altered.

In more recent years, when a modern vocalist sings it at the football, they sing it with their own modern style and interpretation.

Although I am a musician and appreciate other musician’s skills in music, I feel saddened that the practice of doubling the length of the note values near the end of the last verse.  It not only creates extra bars of music, thus upsetting the overall structure of it (like adding a renovation which is not in keeping with the style of the house) but presumably it is done to create a ‘‘ritardando’’ (gradually becoming slower).

 Note values in my view do not need to be altered or extra bars created to create a slowing down effect towards the end.  A classical trained musician knows s how to keep the note values accurate, whilst gradually slow down. but being faithful to the composer’s intentions, whilst keeping the overall rhythm and note values accurate.

It is one of my pet aversions and cringing moments.  My musical hope for this Australia day is that this unfortunate practice will be less. 


Understanding Music is essential, so I always teach Music Theory from day 1.  Being able to understand what is on the written page is important in being able to interpret and to put our own stamp on how it is played. Knowing its meaning and why symbols are there is vital, as these are signs/symbols which communicate more about the music.  We cannot speak without knowing our alphabet nor can we read.  In music, learning Music Theory is, in my view essential from the first music lesson.  It opens the student up to the language of Music.

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