Advancing Australia for 30 years

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The royal travelling sideshow rolled into Brisbane on Saturday, 19 April but there were other receptions and celebrations happening on this day that deserve much more recognition, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

Thank goodness, on Saturday, 19 April I flew north from Brisbane to Townsville to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with our gathered clan.

After our own exclusive reception, we took a stroll along The Strand, rather than a mere 100 metres at South Bank. Let’s face it, 50 years of marriage deserved more recognition than the grand-descendants of our head of state happening to be in town.

However, 19 April was also the 30th anniversary of Australia finally getting a national anthem of our own, when Advance Australia Fair replaced the use of the British anthem. It’s rather ironic, in a way, that the anniversary of the removal of the British anthem occurred on the same day British royalty returned to Brisbane (albeit briefly).

Advance Australia Fair was adopted as the national anthem for the second time thirty years ago on 19 April 1984 by Bob Hawke’s Labor Government. It had first been chosen by the Whitlam Government in 1974 and later rejected by the Fraser Government.

Previous to this, the Australian national anthem was “God Save the Queen”. Like many things, it took a second attempt before the reform took hold.

In 1973, a competition was held for a distinctively Australian national anthem.

The Australian National Anthem Quest was run in two stages by the Australia Council for the Arts. The first stage for lyrics attracted more than 1,400 entries. The second stage for music received 1200 entries. A prize of $5,000 was offered for each stage.

However, the judges decided the entries did not meet the high standards of Australia’s traditional songs Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia. The Australia Council for the Arts recommended the final choice for the national anthem should be made from these three songs.

The Bureau of Statistics ran a national poll of 60,000 people. Advance Australia Fair was favoured by 51.4% of people surveyed, followed by Waltzing Matilda at 19.6%.

But the decision did not stick. A change of government brought God Save the Queen back into use.

In May 1977, the Fraser Liberal Government had the Australian Electoral Office conduct a poll, or plebiscite for the national anthem in conjunction with a referendum. Advance Australia Fair was the clear favourite with 43.3% of the vote, ahead of Waltzing Matilda with 28.3%, and God Save the Queen at 18.8%, and Song of Australia on 9.6%.

Yet even that overwhelming vote did not see an Australian anthem restored — until 19 April 1984.

Just why Australian governments are so slow to assert Australian independence is hard to fathom. There was no popular mandate for God Save the Queen, just as there is no popular mandate any more for the constitutional link to the British monarchy. But time will catch up with even the slowest urge to reform.

Australia is now in every sense a nation, with our Parliament fully in control of our affairs at least since the Australia Act of 1986, when the ability of the UK Parliament at Westminster to legislate for us was finally ended, as was legal appeals to the Privy Council in Westminster.

One reform remains.

We need our own head of state — someone who represents us, our national values, character and identity. The Queen does this for the UK, but that is her full time job and she can’t ever hope to truly represent modern Australia.

And neither will her heirs, even if they so wanted to.

The public repudiation of Tony Abbott’s knights and dames decision showed that Australia has moved on from the old colonial way of thinking. So, amongst the media fawning and frenzy over visiting British celebrities, don’t mistake goodwill for the cringe of earlier decades.

As ARM national director David Morris wrote said week, in a media release:

Australia has moved on from the old colonial cringe. We can of course have affection for Britain and its celebrity Royals, but affection does not mean allegiance.’

The royals represent Britain, but cannot represent us or unite us as Australians.

We can of course have goodwill for Britain and its celebrity Royals, but we have our own identity as Australians. Australians believe in freedom and equal opportunity — not that some are born to rule over others.

Australians do not want to turn the clock back to the days of the cultural cringe — the days when we were defined by our allegiance to the British monarchy. Those days are long gone. Australia today is one of the world’s great nations with a bright future that must be 100 per cent in the hands of the Australian people.

We are ready to move on from our colonial past and become a fully independent nation with fully Australian national institutions, including our own head of state and our own national honours system. Our national institutions should be in the name of the Australian people — not someone on the other side of the world.

Mr Morris continued:

The British Royals are welcome to visit as representatives of Britain. We look forward to the day when the British people and their Royal Family will warmly welcome a visit by the first Australian Head of State.’

It seems unimaginable today that Australia did not have its own national anthem until the 1980s. It will seem unimaginable to future generations that we delayed adopting our own head of state for so long after coming of age as a nation.

It will, likewise, take a second attempt to cut Australia’s final Constitutional link to the British monarchy, to reflect the full independence that Australians already feel in their hearts.

The question is not whether this will happen, but when.

Find out more about the Australian Republican Movement here. Read also Dr Benjamin Thomas Jones' latest piece 'And now for yet another royal tour'.

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