Our xenophobic national anthem better reflects national mood.

My tweeter feed this morning reflected the news that the transfer of Asylum Seekers to Malaysia has been delayed by the High Court.  One such tweet by Mia Freedman stated:

Remember our national anthem “For those who come across the land we’ve boundless plains to share”

While I agree the sentiment, unfortunatley we can’t really use the National Anthem as a glowing example of Australians’ willingness of sharing our plains.  The Australian National Anthem was first performed in 1878 and was composed by Peter Dodds McCormick , a time when basically being Australian was being British.  The song has in all five verses.  Officially now the Australian Anthem has kept two, but the discarded ones are telling.


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.
Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
“Brittannia rules the wave!”
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

Interesting here the concept of ‘our shore’.  Obviously the Eora people who lived in the Sydney area for thousands of years didn’t really count.  But it gets better.


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, Scotia, Erin’s Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

It’s clear here who Australians want. “England, Scotia, Erin’s Isle” everybody else can get stuffed and we don’t want you.   But just in case you haven’t got the message the clincher is in verse five.

Shou’d 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;
Brittannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean’s roll,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep a British soul.
In joyful strains the let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

I don’t think further explanation is needed.

But perhaps we can say that this is a song ,which basically is an exultation to the White Australia Policy,  reflects values of an old Australia.  Before Federation, before the wars, before air transport before immigration from continental Europe.  And of course it’s right.  However I do wonder whether for many Australians, perhaps exemplified by those commenting in the Herald Sun, would love nothing better than the return of a White Australia Policy, and that all those years in the 70’s 80’s and dome of the 90’s where multiculturalism was supported by both major parties and Australia changed to be more culturally pluralistic basically accounted for naught. That basically Australia still secretly (and not so secretly) wants to hark back to the days where most migrant were British, if not at least Christian and white.

What other conclusions can I draw when we have both the Coalition and the ALP clambering over each other to devise the harshest anti Asylum Seeker policy possible?  Maybe we should sing the whole five verses.  Maybe it would be more honest to show the world how we really are.

Verse Four
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, Scotia, Erin’s Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”


Filed under Musings, Politics and Current Affairs

4 responses to “Our xenophobic national anthem better reflects national mood.

  1. Alex

    Hi Guido,

    Thanks for the post – the deleted verses were quite interesting, although it should be noted that they were written at a time when Australia (or, more accurately, the states that would later make up Australia) was English colonies, so an anthem reflecting this isn’t wholly unreasonable.

    As to anti-Asylum Seeker sentiment, I know we have discussed this a lot, but there is a lot more to questions surrounding what to do with Asylum Seekers than simple questions of xenophobia. This isn’t to say that xenopohobia isn’t a part of some people’s responses to the issue, but it is very possible to want to put up deterrents to people arriving by sea in unregistered vessels without going through registered ports without either racism or xenophobia being issues. While I haven’t followed the current policies, when I last did there was talk of swaps with Malaysia. The ethnic makeup of those they take out of refugee camps from Malaysia may not differ too much from those they are swapping with, and, in either case, you’d expect they wouldn’t be white.

    This doesn’t excuse the comments (although I only read the first 20 or so). I should say that, while fairy inaccurate and unfair terms like “invader” were used, I didn’t read anything that was actually complaining about the asylum-seekers’ ethnicity. If those 20 were representative of the general tone, I think you could fairly question their compassion, but I don’t think that it is fair to accuse them of racism, much less of wanting a return to a White Australia Policy. While I didn’t count, my impression was that there is far more on the costs, the impact on the economy and related issues, and far more criticising the organisations bringing the court actions for “interfering” than there was about directly xenophobic issues.

    • Hi Alex,

      Yes, I agree that for many Australians the issue is not xenophobia, but a sense of fairness that some are ‘jumping the queue’. But it can also be argued that if someone is desperate and can afford it he/she may try the quickest way possible.

      • Alex

        It is important to remember that the point of asylum is to get people out of a dangerous place, not to get them in to a desirable one. To that end (unless we are talking Malaysian refugees!) the “Malaysia solution” still maintains the point of having refuge, avoids “jumping the queue” and puts up a deterrent to what is, let’s face it, a dangerous practice. Whether it is right and/or legal is another matter, but it does at least seem to do what it says on the tin.

  2. Aaron Webber

    Using the National Anthem as a barometer to measure level of xenophobia or entrenchment of particular attitudes in a nation is a little daft really. Examine almost ANY national anthem and you will find traces of some form of jingoism, or lack of attentiveness to important social, or cultural, or internationalist messages. The history of the text and the tune is often fairly arbitrary, but has the effect of freezing in time the commission of a royal or a prime-minister from a bygone age. If the song was imbibed every day by every school child and in every workplace and on every street corner then one might have a case as to it’s possibly having a measurable impact on social attitudes. But in countries where the tune is belted out only on very special, ceremonial, and usually quite daft, occassions, i really wouldn’t waste time getting your knickers in a twist over it. Find something more constructive to analyze, something of muc more direct and specific relevence to the social cause you are championing. Because the same comments, mutatis mutandis, apply to the national anthems of almost every country in the world; and this detracts considerably from what you are attempting to demonstrate true about Australian society, per se.

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