Singing The National Anthem: What Does Advance Australia Fair Mean?

When it comes to proudly singing and talking about our national anthem Advance Australia Fair, Australians are divided on this. Some of us are proud of our national anthem, and some of us not so proud.

Melbourne Central clock. Puts on a show and plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour | Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall.

Melbourne Central clock. Puts on a show and plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour | Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall.

In the 1990s, I went to pre-school in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and don’t remember singing Advanced Australia Fair except at assembly on Fridays. After pre-school, I moved to Malaysia and Singapore for more school. Some years ago, I returned to Melbourne and finished my last years of high school here and my classmates and I never had to sing the anthem at assembly.

On Australia Day, Advance Australia Fair is played during town hall flag raising ceremonies around the country but those of us watching aren’t asked to sing it. Right before the start of our Aussie Rules Football (AFL) Grand Final each year, the national anthem is sung by an entertainer in the middle of the pitch and the 100,000 at the match stand at attention, not all singing. Is singing and hearing the national anthem really a moment of patriotic pride and what does it mean to us?

Australians certainly have mixed feelings about our national song, a song that has changed over the years. Different generations identify with different anthems. God Save the Queen was our formal anthem before 1974 and it was played at international sporting events where Australia won medals before that year. Our current national anthem was voted as the country’s song through a plebiscite in 1977 – the popular feel-good song Waltzing Matilda came in second.

A few years ago, the national anthem was playing on TV at home and I pointed it out to dad. He said, “I thought Waltzing Matilda is the national anthem?” Mind you, my dad is a Chinese-Malaysian migrant who has a good grasp of the English language, follows local politics and has worked in Australia for years. Maybe we don’t sing it often enough and forget the lyrics, and the anthem altogether.

As Australians, we all have different views on nationalism and some national anthem’s lyrics are lost on us. In the song, the line “For we are young and free” might come across as strange to some of us who strongly want a republic (currently Australia still has a British monarch). “Our home is girt by sea” gives the impression Australians live by the sea. I certainly do not live by the ocean, nor do I go to the beach that often.

Reading between the lines, racist undertones seem to nestle within Advance Australia Fair. While it acknowledges “those who’ve come across the seas” in the second verse, there’s no hint of the First Peoples or Aboriginal culture in the song. It’s no surprise some Indigenous school students find it hard to sing the song at school assemblies.

But arguably the positive side of Australia comes across in the song as well. The words “young and free” and “boundless plains to share” touch upon the true-blue, fair dinkum Aussie spirit. There’s also a degree of progressiveness surrounding the song: it’s a song Australians independently voted for in 1977 to formally replace long-standing royal anthem God Save the Queen, in a time when the White Australia Policy which discriminated against non-European immigration was recently abolished.

Sometimes our personal experiences influence our attitude towards our national anthem. Being picked on because of my race by my so-called Caucasian friends in pre-school in Melbourne wasn’t pleasant and I avoided them. Needless to say, Friday assemblies and singing Advance Australia Fair was something I never looked forward to. Today, I don’t mind the song; it does point to Australia’s positive spirit after all.

As Waltzing Matilda plays, the bird and musician figures move left and right.

As Waltzing Matilda plays, the bird and musician figures move left and right.

Singing the national anthem at school in Malaysia and Singapore was a different story altogether. Every morning as my Chinese, Malay and Indian heritage classmates and I watched flags being raised during assembly, we sang Negaraku (My Country) and Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) in respective countries. Up until this day I still remember the lyrics of both songs and the meaning behind them – Bahasa Melayu lyrics nonetheless, a language foreign to me. Perhaps this has something to do with my teachers in Malaysia and Singapore testing and grading my class on singing these two songs and my classmates encouraging me to sing the songs with them. As one. As one culture.

In multicultural Australia, many of us identify with multiple identities and cultures. At the end of the day, we each have a right and a choice on whether we want to sing our country’s national anthem or not, just as we have a choice on deciding what being a citizen of country means to us.

I reckon the high school I went to in Melbourne never got my class to sing Advance Australia Fair because they sadly assumed it wasn’t a song was significant to us: more than half of the school comprised international students and Australians of culturally diverse backgrounds. Just because some of us weren’t Australian doesn’t mean we’re not interested in the anthem. Nevertheless, so many of us clamoured at the canteen to buy sausage rolls for recess on numerous occasions. How Australian.

There are certainly more ways to show our love for our country than singing a song.

Did you sing the national anthem at school?

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153 thoughts on “Singing The National Anthem: What Does Advance Australia Fair Mean?

  1. I grew up with God Save the Queen as our national anthem. In 1974 I was in the second last year of high school. I can sing Waltzing Matilda but I dont know the words of Advance Australia Fair. I got married in Japan and several of my relatives came to the wedding. In true Japanese style, us “Aussies” sang Waltzing Matilda to the guests – our unoffical National Anthem.

    You are right – different age groups have different experience with the Australian National Anthem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember a story from the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. Some children thought the opening line of our anthem was “Australians all eat ostrich” instead of “Australians all let us rejoice”.

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    • Thanks for sharing, Charles. I haven’t heard many people claim they can sing Waltzing Matilda. It probably is a generational thing. However, quite a few of my (gen-Y) friends in Asia are familiar with Waltzing Matilda and see it as an iconic Australian song. If you slow down the tempo, it sounds really beautiful. Your wedding sounds fabulous.

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  2. Our kids (who are incidentally in a pretty multicultural school in outer eastern Melbourne) sing Advance Australia Fair every Friday at assembly. All the school stands, including any parents, and two verses are sung- Eek! Lots of parents have only learnt the second verse since their kids started at the school! I don’t love it – feels a little American to me somehow? I sneak out if I can before that part…naughty mum!

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    • Oooh, very cheeky of you to sneak out during the national anthem! 😉 It’s very encouraging to hear that your kids’ school gets them to sing the second verse too. I have a feeling the second verse is lost on a lot of Australians.

      Personally, I think Advance Australia Fair sounds quite regal. So many singers have performed the last note by belting it out, it can come across as intimidating to sing (but I think this applies to other anthems too, but definitely not the ones in Malaysia and Singapore). Very fan-fare like, and as you suggested, American.

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  3. Interesting, Mabel! I honestly have no idea what the national anthem of Australia is.

    However, I can sing the Canadian national anthem in both English and French. I don’t know it is the norm now or not, but when I was in high school, it was played each day, after morning announcements and before class. We would stand up by our seats and listen to a version of the song each day.

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    • And I honestly have no idea what the national anthem of Canada is 😀

      You are like Sue below, who also said that she sings the Canadian anthem in two languages. I never knew your national anthem had a French version…but then again, lots of French arrived in Canada a long time ago.

      It was very respectful of you and your class to stand up when your national anthem is played. When I was studying in Malaysia and Singapore, when the national anthem played at assembly, the school gates would be locked and the late students stood awkwardly outside looking in.

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  4. What? “Advance Australia Fair”? … I have been thinking all this time that the Australian National Anthem was that “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” song.

    ” … the tyranny of distance ..” that part always got to me : )

    You should give a listen to the American National Anthem. The “Star Spangled Banner”
    … it is a song about war … with Great Britain … our closest friend …

    Great for football games.

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    • Six Months in a Leaky Boat was a popular rock song by a New Zealand group but it did do very, very well on the Australian music charts 🙂

      When I was a kid, I had a piano book that had the sheet music to The Star Spangled Banner. It’s a pretty easy song to play, and I always liked how it sounds.

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  5. Of course I did in school, there’s no way for us to NOT sing it in school. I suppose you know as you schooled in Malaysia before. In fact, I was a prefect for a couple years, and one of my job was to take note of anyone not singing to the song and get him/her into trouble after the assembly! 😀

    If you ask me today, obviously it is a load of bollocks to assume that singing the national anthem equals to being patriotic. Recently they even tried to play the national anthem in the cinemas right before a movie starts. Thankfully they canned it after a few weeks. It caused a lot of disgruntlement among the locals and confusion among the foreign tourists.

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    • Exactly. In Malaysia (and Singapore), you cannot NOT sing the national anthem during assembling. I hope you got to weed out those who were just moving their lips 😀 In Singapore, it was the teachers who spied on the students each morning and picked out those who didn’t sing loud enough.

      Suppose you also remember that we had to recite the Rukunegara too around once a week after the national anthem too – with the palm held up, facing outwards. Once my fingers were splayed out and my teacher walked over to me and pushed the fingers together.

      National anthem played at cinemas before the movie starts? That’s odd. You would be inclined to stand up from your cushioned seat once you hear the national anthem.

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      • Exactly, that was what we were expected to do, stand up when the national anthem was played. Well, I think many people ignored that directive, and they can’t really round up people for not standing up, so they canned the initiative themselves.

        Oh yes, I definitely remember Rukunegara! 😀

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        • Well, if you’re comfortable in your cushy cinema chair, you probably wouldn’t want to stand for the national anthem. People probably rebelled by sitting down and eating their movie snacks, as you said, ignored the directive.

          As a kid in Malaysia, I had trouble saying the second half of the Rukunegara because it sort of goes faster (in terms of syllables, tongue twister in a sense) towards the end 😀

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  6. Hi Mabel,

    Attachment to National Anthems comes naturally though I have never pondered over the emotion, the pride is probably connected to our impressionable years, when we didn’t even understand the meaning and the import of the words we repeated every day till high school! It is only after we grow up that we start comprehending why NAs are so respected, what are the sentiments attached to them

    I have felt the words seep through my skin when the National Anthem of my country is played at the international sports events, the feeling is quite inexplicable!

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    • Wise words from you once again, Balroop. As a child, we can only understand so much and barely know the history of our country, hence the detachment towards our national anthem. In Malaysia and Singapore, we were thought the national anthem(s) in music class in our first year, though. But I really didn’t understand the meaning behind them until I was older.

      You sound proud of India and its national anthem. It’s funny how the audience – and world watching – goes rather silent and watches another country’s national anthem at an international sporting event, right after post-medal presentation.

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  7. Mabel I, like Constance, can sing the national anthem in English and French. It is very commonly heard here and people often sing along at all kinds of events. I love your Dad’s thoughts on what the Australian anthem was. 🙂

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  8. I think you have to remember that the song was written in a very different time. Australians weren’t proud to be Australian. We loved living here, but we also felt a cultural cringe. there was that view that anything Australian was rubbish. Many people still feel that way. There is no reference to the indigenous population because back then people didn’t want to know about them. They were all “drunk” apparently and couldn’t help themselves, so why should we. I can remember my grandmother saying that she had no time for them. That goodness that has changed, though I think the feelings are still there but people keep them to themselves now.
    I think the song implies that we are all different, just because you might be from Asian cultures doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to you, everyone, as you said, the song doesn’t have reference to the first peoples here, so it is all about coming here from another place.
    The line girt by sea is meant to mean our home is surrounded by sea, and it is, Australia is completely surrounded by sea.

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    • Oh yes, forgot to say having Walzing Matilda as our national anthem would be like the americans having Yanky Doodle Dandy. It is a folk song about a homeless hobo who steels a sheep, not very representative of our nation, then or now.

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    • That is a very important point Leanne, that Australia’s national anthem was written in a time we weren’t proud of our country and we couldn’t define what Australia is. Thank you for bringing that up. Maybe it’s a reason why some of the lyrics to Advance Australia Fair were re-written.

      Really is a shame that there is no reference to the First Peoples or Stolen Generation. But the least we can do is appreciate the song for its positive spirit – as you mention, the song implies that we’re all different. No reason why we can’t join in in Australian culture.

      Many other countries and nations are surrounded by sea, which is why I find the line “girt by sea” not uniquely Australian.

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      • There aren’t that many countries that are completely surrounded, we are sort of unique, like there is New Zealand, Japan, but nearly every other country borders with another one. I can also remember growing up how it was said we were the largest island on the plant, I don’t hear that being said any more. Really what you find is a nation struggling for an identity and not really knowing what we were. I think in many ways we still don’t. I think that song really reflects that.

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        • Well said. I think the term “island” tends to be thought of as a small nation these days, a nation where you would vacation. So perhaps that is why many Australians aren’t fond of calling Australia an island – we have realised how vast geographically it is (but really any land is an island).

          It really is hard to pinpoint a clear identity since Australia is so diverse in terms of people, food, culture, sport and so on. And so I reckon you are right in saying that about our national anthem.

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  9. In Germany the anthem is never sung in school and the same applies to Finalnd I guess. Nearly all national anthems are very nationalistic and often just swim in racism. This is also the reason why the first two verses of the German anthem was forbidden after the Second World War however leaving all other countries in Europe still with their sometimes very crazy sounding compete anthems :p

    These days the German anthem is only sung on special occasions such as big sport events or during the National Day/ unification day

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    • Very interesting to hear from someone who didn’t sing the national anthem in school because, well, it’s not part of school life in Germany. I’ve never heard European national anthems before, but I take your word that they are crazy sounding.

      Surely those in Germany would learn their national anthem at some point…if not in school, then perhaps elsewhere.

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  10. I was thinking I couldn’t care less about national anthems, being quite sceptical about nationalism, which so often exploits people’s racism and xenophobia, and then I read one of the comments about it ‘seeping through’ the skin and I remembered getting teary at times hearing our national anthem, to the point where I couldn’t even sing it myself. I really can’t explain that either, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the actual words.

    Perhaps somehow it helps focus attention on connection to the land we live in, and as it’s usually sung at times when we’re surrounded by other people at special events, it can also focus our attention on our connection to other people. Or maybe I’m just suggestible. I feel the same way about the Qantas song, ‘I still call Australia Home’. Especially when I’ve heard it played on a Qantas flight on my way back to Australia from overseas.

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    • The Australian national anthem does stir up conflicting emotions within us. Though we may criticise and not agree with some of the sentiments of Advance Australia Fair, somehow we always stand at attention or shush when it’s played. It’s an unexplainable feeling, yes. It’s also interesting to note that everyone no matter which country their from tends to stand silently in awe when another country’s anthem is played at the medal presentation ceremony.

      “sung at times when we’re surrounded by other people at special event.” Great observation, Maamej. The national anthem isn’t just about words, but the people singing it together too, no matter in tune or off-key. A sense of “we’re all in this together” manifests.

      I’m not too sure how I feel about “I Still Call Australia Home”. I like the song, but not the Qantas advertisements.

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      • Music really moves us in quite subliminal ways.

        I think I heard ‘Still call Australia home’ before I was very aware that it was an ad. But it was also something about getting on a Qantas plane and hearing Australian accents after 2 months living in a poor country that really got to me – reinforcing how much I do call this place home 🙂

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        • “Music really moves us in quite subliminal ways.” Perfect way to put it. Certain chords and lyrics will resonate with us deep down, touch us in ways we cannot explain.

          To be honest, I only vaguely remember hearing “Still Call Australia Home” at some point before the Qantas ad. It’s quite a stirring song, especially the last verse. No matter Australia’s flaws, you really do love Australia, Maamej, do you 🙂 I think we all have something positive to say about Australia at the end of the day.

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  11. I was in grade 4 when we changed from singing God save the Queen to Advance Australia Fair. It may not be perfect but IMHO it is orders of magnitude better than Waltzing Matilda. WM is about the person who steals a sheep and prefers suicide over being caught by police and facing justice.

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    • I don’t think many of us really know the meaning behind Waltzing Matilda. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. People seem to like the song for its melody and tune. That’s what it’s known for, I suppose.

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  12. Interesting post. How about the “British” national anthem which, in its long version, has the line “crush rebellious Scots?” No surprise that we sing “Flower of Scotland” at sporting events. A national anthem that is anti it’s own people!

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    • Interesting to know that about the “British” national anthem. I don’t think many Australians are familiar with it. I’m guessing some Scottish aren’t huge fans of “Flower of Scotland”. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

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  13. We did sing for national anthem at school in Indonesia. I still remember it by heart. When in the Netherlands I know the anthem as well and despite I am not a Dutch national, I always feel touch to listen to Dutch anthem when the Dutch athlete receiving their winning medals in some sport competition 🙂
    Well written post Mabel 🙂

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    • Awww, you still remember Indonesia’s national anthem after all these years. As Maamej said in her comment, maybe it’s because we’re drawn to music that we like to listen to other country’s national anthem. It could be a respect thing, as in your case with the Dutch national anthem and Netherlands is in a sense a second home to you too. However, it could also be because we want a reason to say how there is a better anthem than our country’s 😀

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      • I guess so 🙂 Oh, I can’t help to keep remembering Indonesia’s national anthem by heart. During my school days in Indonesia, we had national flag ceremony every Monday morning and sang along the national anthem when the flag was going up 😀 not sure if it is still in practice nowadays. I was raised in dictatorship government, Soeharto back then.

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        • Just like my school days in Singapore and Malaysia, only that the flag raising ceremony was every morning at 7.15. Very, very early in the morning and I remember most of us mumbled the anthem half asleep. Good times 😀

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  14. yeap, absolutely, i know Negaraku by heart during my school days. even now, i can recall most of it. during assembly, our HM, who is a very keen music teacher, will give the chord, and away we go …
    Negaraku, Tanah tumpahnya darahku …. as the flag is hoisted by the head prefect. great memories.
    thanks for reliving it, mabel.
    ken

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    • I too still know Negaraku. Yes, it’s all coming back to me word for word. Your headmaster sounds very spontaneous, expecting you lot to sing at the sound of the first chord. Along with Negaraku, you might also remember the Rukunegara. As I mentioned to CL in the comments, it was something we had to say after the national anthem at least once a week.

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        • Oh yes. Monikers and nicknames for the headmaster and teachers. Those were the days. Some things we’ll always stick with us. All that practise singing the anthem and reciting the Rukunegara, they are embedded deep within us.

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  15. Interesting topic Mabel.
    I had no idea how Australians felt about their national anthem, but I can totally understand why… the lyrics are a bit weird 😦
    In Brazil we love our anthem, and I used to sing it at school… and we all sing it very proudly at a football game.. have seen how Brazilians sang the anthem during the World Cup? Amazing 😀
    Anyways… we always had the same anthem, in case of Australia it changed, so it might be difficult too to adopt another one.

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    • Yes, the lyrics to Australia’s national anthem are rather weird. It focuses quite a bit on describing, or trying the describe how Aussie land looks like.

      Football is a big part of Brazil, right? 😀 Actually I haven’t noticed the Brazilians singing their song at the World Cup, but I will have a closer look next time.

      Didn’t know you watch football too! I love watching the World Cup once every four years, and over the last few tournaments Australia has been in it 😀

      And I suppose Brazil’s national anthem is in Brazilian language, Portugese.

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      • Yes, football is very important to Brazilians, especially during the World cup 😀
        Look it up on youtube some time, it is very beautiful how people kept singing the Anthem even after the song stopped. Our anthem is really long, so they never play it all on games, etc.. and yes it is in Portuguese 😀

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        • That is amazing, and so patriotic of Brazilians to sing their national anthem even after the song has stopped playing. Nothing like this in Australia, or Malaysia or Singapore. Lots of pride for their country and they must feel like one big happy family singing together at the World Cup 😀

          Australia’s full national anthem isn’t that long, two verses. But we only sing the first verse, leaving out the second. Some might say we sing the national anthem half-heartedly.

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          • Ohh I’m sorry about that! Do you prefer the God save the Queen one or would it be better if the made a new one?
            Must be different, to have this feeling about your own national anthem.
            Oh well, Brazilian are mostly patriotic during the World Cup, on a daily basis we only complain about the country hahaha

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            • I actually am not too sure how God Save the Queen goes. All for having a new national anthem for Australia or a re-write of the current one. It’s true, I think a very different feeling compared to how Brazilians feel about their national song. There are Australians who want the country to be a republic (free from monarchy), and others no.

              Brazilians know how to come together on the world stage. Sport certainly unites your home country!

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              • Ohh that is a difficult situation right? 😦 I hope with time things resolve in your country and people can agree with an anthem and about republic or monarchy. What really matter is that Australia is a peaceful country! 😀

                Yes, sport really pull us Brazilians together!! Politics separates us 😦

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                • Australians are very divided when it comes to nationalism and politics too. It’s a no-no to talk about these subjects usually when we’re socialising with peopel we don’t know well. Generally we’re a peaceful country 😀

                  Hope to visit Brazil someday and see a happy country proud of their culture!

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                  • I think politics is always a sensitive subjects right? In Brazil it is especially veeery bad at the moment as the country is divided, some want impeachment other dont! Oh well, despite this, I think we are a happy country 😀
                    I also want to visit Australia someday!! And when I go I have to enjoy and stay at least 1 month, there must be so much to see and do 😀

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                    • Oh yes. Politics is always a sensitive topic. We always seem so angry when we talk about it!

                      I hope you visit Australia, then we can go exploring together. And I hope to visit Germany someday soon and see all the towns you’ve been talking on your blog!

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                    • True, people really get angry over this topic!!

                      Ohh I thought of you last night as I watched the football game of Germany x Australia 😀 They sang the national anthem and it reminded me of our conversation 😀

                      Yesss, I do hope we meet someday, here or there! 😀 That would be veeeery cool!

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                    • Awww, sooo nice of Allane to think of little Mabel 😀 You must be proud of Germany’s national anthem too now that you have lived there for a long time!

                      I think I would be speechless if I met you, very famous travel Brazilian blogger living in Germany ❤

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                    • hahahaa you are too sweet little Mabel 😀
                      Yes, I am also proud of the German national anthem, though I got to say that I still haven’t learned it 100% hahaha… but I promised to myself that by the end of the year I would learn it all!
                      Awnnn I would be speechless too to meet a famous Australian writer, one of my favourites 😀
                      I hope you had a lovely weekend!!

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                    • Hehehe, you learning the German national anthem because little Mabel inspired you to 😀 To be honest, I only know Advance Australia Fair, and don’t know the previous Aussie national anthems. Learning national anthems is usually a great history lesson, though.

                      I don’t know of any famous Australian writers personally, so I can’t introduce you to them 😀

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                    • hahahahaha while I was in Canada for 1 year I learned their national anthem, so shame on me for not having learned the German one after 3 years living in the country! It’s time I give it a try hahaha.
                      To me you are already a famous writer 😀

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                    • Hahaha. Canada’s national anthem comes in English and French, so I suppose that is one of the harder anthems to learn – two versions! Awww, you are too kind, Allane 😀

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  16. Stunning shots of that beautiful clock Mabel. As far as anthems are concerned, I think I had my fill when I was in school. They were boring. Now, if they would put more beat into it, I might learn to like it. 😆

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    • Thank you, Sophia. The original photos had reddish tones all over, and it took me a while to make it more cool-toned.

      I suppose if you sing the national anthem everyday in school, you can get bored of it. In fact, it can become routine and you might even forget what you’re singing about. So I don’t blame you for saying it was a boring experience for you.

      When we celebrated National Day at school in Singapore, we had four flag beareres who carried the Singapore flag to assembly, which made singing the national anthem all the more entertaining.

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  17. Since Canada was a British colony, our anthem was God Save the Queen which I did sing in public school at beginning of each day. O Canada became official anthem…which is sung at sports games, etc. Its birth…actually started in Quebec!

    However “O Canada” anthem adoption probably became increasingly adopted long before 1980. After Canada adopted its own national flag (with red maple) in 1965, there was a slow informal movement to adopt O Canada.

    One also hears it sung in French. I used to know words a bit in French for lst few lines. But have forgotten them.

    I entered into school in 1964 and thereafter…so I have memory of major pivotal historic times in Canada, on our symbols and identity, plus when we changed. The support for O Canada gathered momentum 1966 when in 1967 was the 100th anniversary of Canada as an independent country.
    http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/o-canada/

    To me, Canada’s anthem does speak to the geographic “stretch” (7,000+ km. from west and east coast) of the country and admittedly to me, I sing the anthem willingly, regardless of its little flaws.

    I feel incredibly blessed to have been born in Canada and to experience the benefits of being Canadian.

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    • You do sound like a very proud Canadian, Jean. Thank you for that link to O Canada. It’s very informative to know how the song originated and came to become your country’s anthem.

      I thought most Canadians know the French version as well (as Constance and Sue have mentioned). So maybe not all Canadians then.

      It does sound like Canadians agree on their national anthem and are supportive of it, for most part. Of course, there will be some of us who will find something to pick about it – but we all have our opinions and have varying degrees of nationalitsic pride and showing that.

      Unlike Canada, Australia is still under a monarchy and it’s probably why a lot of us still associate God Save The Queen as our true anthem.

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  18. Such a gorgeous clock, Mabel. I don’t remember singing the national anthem when I went to school in England. I had to teach my South African pupils the national anthem, but the black pupils refused to sing the last verse which was in the Afrikaans language, and the white pupils didn’t like singing the Zulu first part, so it was usually a very halfhearted affair. 🙂

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    • It is a gorgeous clock isn’t it? It’s located in a busy shopping mall in the city. Every hour on the hour, tourists will stand around it to watch the show the clock puts on. It really is iconic.

      Oh dear, I imagine that your South African students grumbled all the time at singing their national anthem apart from singing it half-heartedly. Hopefully at some point, maybe when they are older, they do learn the messages behind the song and what it stands for.

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  19. Growing up in Hawaii, we learned the American anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner” and our state song “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī” in Hawaiian, so I think I just grew up thinking in a diverse and unique way (from the rest of the United States). Any singing of the anthem now would just involve me trying to remember the words, sometimes I would mouth it because I can’t sing very well.

    In Thaiand the anthem is played at 8am and 6pm everyday on TV, over PAs, etc. They also play it before movies in the movie theatre. It’s kind of weird. You kind of feel inundated by it here.

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    • Wow, two national anthems you sung at school and you were aware of two cultures from a young age. How can some of us not… 😉 To be honest, I think a lot of us don’t know all of the words to our national anthem, primarily because it’s not a song we sing everyday and naturally the lyrics can eclipse us.

      I had no idea the national anthem was played in cinemas before the movie starts. What are the movie-goers supposed to do, stand up? As CL mentioned, recently in Malaysia they tried playing the anthems in cinemas but nobody paid much attention to it, and so this was canned.

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      • Yes, everyone stands up. If the anthem is played during “walking street” or when there is a weekly street fair, then everyone must stop until the anthem is finished. The tourists love it because it’s so weird and it’s like time has stopped.

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      • In Australia in the 1960s i remember a short film of a brass band playing the National Anthem was screened before the main feature or supporting short films. Everyone would stand up while the national anthem. But remember in the 1960s a large proportion of Australian population – were of English origin and our place in the British Commonwealth was far more prominent.

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        • Interesting to hear. If the Australian national anthem was played before films in cinemas in Australia today (as per the other comments, this is common in some countries), I wonder if we would stand for it. This might not be a case since times have changed and many of us are all for standing up for what we individually believe in.

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  20. We sang the US anthem sometimes in school, but it’s notoriously hard to sing. Professional singers murder it regularly before ball games. So, in school we often sang the more melodious “America the Beautiful.” At least it has “and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea” as a last line — a friendly thought, and typical of the day in including the sisterhood among “man”kind. – Sandy, only slightly kidding…

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    • “America the Beautiful”. Now that’s a song I’ve not heard of, I’ll need to YouTube it and check it out. This is the first time I’ve heard of the US anthem being hard to sing. Maybe it’s a song that you’re meant to belt out and that’s why. Many singers singing the Australian national anthem tend to hold the last note at the end for a bit, so it can be hard to sing along to this song.

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  21. Chiming in on the impossibility of singing the US national anthem.
    It’s set to the tune of an English drinking song, Anacreon in Heaven, that’s for openers. It has an octave range of probably three or four octaves (feels like six). It celebrates a battle.
    A MUCH better choice would have been America the Beautiful. (The words happen to have been written by a president of the women’s college I graduated from, but objectively speaking they’re beautiful.)
    The choice of it as national anthem is not hallowed by time immemorial; it was only chosen in 1931, that’s just three years before I was born! And although it may seem so, I am not an ancient of days.
    It was one of many mistakes made in the Thirties, and I wince whenever I hear it in an arena or on TV.
    As far as multiculturalism goes — the US is an immigrant country and so is Australia. What I say is: Long may we wave!

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    • Really, the US national anthem is hard to sing? Okay, then Sandy must be telling the truth 😀 I played it on the piano as a kid and thought it had a nice melody.

      Never knew it was a battle song. Now I know, thank you for explaining that. America the Beautiful sounds like a wonderful song, and written by a woman, that is impressive. It sounds like a song that’s still familiar with Americans these days.

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  22. I went to school in South Africa, and we never sang the national anthem at school. We did, however, have to say the Lord’s Prayer at assembly, which is another whole can of worms. Nationalism certainly has its dark side and perpetuates many stereotypes.

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    • “Nationalism certainly has its dark side and perpetuates many stereotypes.” Well said, BB. It’s a heavy and sensitive topic many of us do actively try to avoid, no surprise there.

      I suppose the Lord’s Prayer was a short verse you recited in South Africa in regards to faith. At school in Singapore and Malaysia, most mornings I had to say something called The Pledge, which is an oath of allegiance to the country, with hand or fist over our heart.

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  23. During my school time, student and teacher were compulsory to sing Indonesia Raya (the national anthem) every Monday morning as opening for raising flag ceremony.

    Everyone must sing the song, so most of the student were half-heart when singing the anthem because we should arrived at school one hour earlier than normal days. six o’clock sharp in the morning before ceremony started.

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    • That is early, arriving at school 6am sharp on Monday mornings. No wonder many of you sang the song half-heartedly…and tiredly too, I’m guessing. And you wouldn’t want to be late as there might be some punishment or detention for that.

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  24. Interestingly Canada’s national anthem is being criticised for not being gender neutral. It is the line “True patriot love in all thy sons command” that is coming under attack. Some people suggest that instead of “thy sons” it be “of us.” As you say it’s our choice whether to sing the anthem or not. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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    • Interesting to hear a gender take and perspective on the national anthem. A valid and convincing argument that the word “sons” refers to men and not women. I suppose at the end of the day we can take that line to mean what we want it to be, and if we don’t believe in that line, then don’t sing it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Leslie. You say it so well. National anthems usually are written in a specific moment in time, and the words draw on victories and courageous and nation-building acts at a point in time.

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  25. It’s an interesting reading, Mabel. I feel like I’m learning a bit about Australia culture, history, people from your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. 🙂

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    • Always honoured that you read what I write, Amy. Last year I felt like I haven’t shared that much about Australian culture, hence more of such posts of late. Really appreciate your support and you’re always so kind 🙂

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      • You write these articles with your sensitivity; importantly, you bring up the facts and history information. And, you always present them graciously. I know these sensitive topics are difficult to write, but you keep challenging yourselves and are getting a lot of echoes. I admire you, Mabel.

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        • Thank you, Amy, for the feedback. Honestly I feel that I’ve strayed from the downright sensitive topics, feeling like I’m repeating myself. Then again, that shows I believe in something…but I could always use different opinions and thoughts like yours 🙂

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  26. Interesting topic, Mabel! I of course have never heard the Australian anthem. Australia has an interesting history to pull from, so it’s not surprising that its anthem would, too. Here in the States, I used to sing our anthem at school, but these days? I can’t remember the last time I sang it personally. I guess I’m not that patriotic. 😛 Then again, that’s not surprising.

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    • It’s true, Jess. When we’re done with school, there aren’t many occasions where we have to sing the national anthem and no surprise we forget the lyrics. Even if we’re encouraged to, we may not want to because we’re self-conscious of how our singing voice sounds!

      I’m sure you love your country, just that you don’t show it in song 🙂

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  27. Very interesting Mabel, never thought about it I must admit. here in the states when I was in school we sang the national anthem at the start of every day with our hands over our hearts and were immensely proud to be Americans. Then of course came the Vietnam War and our pride slowly eroded as we disagreed more and more strongly with our government’s actions. Today I’d say patriotism is a bit of a mix – much like Australia we have people who are extremely patriotic while others question whether our country is doing its best to handle the things most important to them, especially minorities and recent immigrants. It’s a crazy world out there so I suppose what songs we sing and when has become an indication of who we are and what we love. When in doubt, attend a baseball or football game and you’ll see everyone singing along – all part of the fun!

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    • Thanks for sharing, Tina. Interesting to hear the changing sentiments towards the American national anthem. I always had the inkling that Americans are more patriotic about their country than Australians are to Australia. For instance, Americans do not seem hesitant waving their American flag. In Australia rarely will you see anyone with the flag on celebratory occasions.

      I would love to attend an American baseball or football game someday. Sounds there’s a very much inclusive atmosphere at these events.

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  28. I grew up singing the National Anthem, always at the school assembly in Primary school, not very often at all during my high school years. I attended a private school for years 5, 6 & 7, and we had a huge drama/music culture, so it was always lots of fun. I dont really think I have ever thought about what the song means, and we could do sooooooo many other things, but but I liked singing and enjoyed that we as a group we were all honoring our country.

    Another thought provoking post Miss Mabel. 🙂

    PS: Sorry I havent been over to your blog for a few weeks, I am blown away at the way the days are zooming. It’ll be Christmas before we know it. ARGH!

    Happy Monday, hope you are having a swell day. 🙂

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    • It seems that as we grow older we sing the national anthem less and less. It does make me wonder what place the Australian national anthem has in our country. As the other commentors have brought up, in some countries the national anthem is played in the cinemas.

      You are right. we can interpret our national anthem in many ways. Maybe we should all agree to disagree and focus the moment we’re singing it – together, a sign of solidarity for a few seconds.

      Always happy to see you drop by, Anna. Life can be busy, but make sure you live the moment and enjoy it 🙂

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  29. Very interesting topic indeed ! In Belgium, it’s very complicated, because the country is divided into 3 different regions, so we have a lot of national anthems (a Flemish, and French and a German one). The unified anthem is not very popular in schools, but in sports groups, they keep singing it before a game (espeically in football). Have a nice week !

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    • Oh my, 3 national anthems. That is quite a few of them, and a lot of lyrics to memorise as well. But it seems that there is an anthem for each region as you said, so sort of something for everyone. Something each of them can relate to and feel proud of. Very, very fascinating and thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  30. I think maybe sometimes we can not go to choose our life, such as work, school or other life planning, parents have a lot of time and perhaps make plans for us, we are unable to choose and make decisions, but regardless there even is a national, as well as identity and integration environment is the best way, although this is difficult to start, or to remember where it came from their own, do not forget you father is Chinese, I hope you do not have of ambivalence.
    In my childhood, every morning must sing the national anthem at school, but now I’m not sure.

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    • “do not forget you father is Chinese”. Very wise, and thank you for reminding me that. No matter where we are from, we are all descendents of not only a country but a heritage and culture too. Sometimes a national anthem can exemplify and show this.

      Interesting to hear you used to sing the national anthem at school each morning. It seems to be the way for most of us who studied in Asia when we were younger. I heard it’s still this way today.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Anything is better than God save our Queen, long may use reign over us…etc… Mindless crappy song. Advance Australia song relates to Australia racist or not. Sounds like a lot of country’s anthems are old and outdated. But I kind if like the tune.I grew up with Gid save the Queen, my kids with A A Fair… Seems like progress. Perhaps the next version will be Goanna’s Solid Rock!!!

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    • I have to agree with you. that Advance Australia Fair has a bit more relevance to God Save The Queen, though I suppose the former was more relatable to many Australians many years ago.

      Don’t know about kids these days, but I always felt the AAF was hard to sing, especially the last note at the end. The note sounds triumphant, but still…

      I like your idea of the next version of our anthem. How cool is that 😀

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  32. Growing up in the States, we use to sing the National Anthem at sporting events and since sports makes up such a big part of our culture it is a song I think everyone is familiar with…and it is funny as the tune itself is the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club who basically loved to drink. So it is funny to have this as part of our anthem.

    I guess I sing the anthem quite a bit, as when I am in the States I attend a few events and they almost always sing the anthem. Hand over heart, look at the flag and think about the men & women who give there life for the country (defending our freedoms and liberty)…wow, I really do that 🙂 and believe it 🙂

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    • The tune of a gentlemen’s club – what an interesting fact about your national anthem. And interesting to hear you say you think of those who fought for their country when singing it. I don’t think we think of that at all when singing the Australian anthem. Most Australians probably think the opposite then – how lucky we are to be living in Australia.

      Sports. National anthems. They seem to go hand in hand with our national identity, something which is similar around the world.

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  33. Pingback: The Wall | My Atheist Blog

  34. I don’t remember singing the national anthem in school. We said the pledge of allegiance to the flag everyday before class started.
    We of course sing our national anthem before baseball games and other sporting events. It seems odd that our time to be patriotic is when two teams are getting ready to “fight”each other!

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    • Interesting to hear you didn’t sing your anthem too often at school. Never knew the Americans has a pledge of allegiance like those in Singapore and Malaysia, which I was asked to say despite being Australian.

      Would love to experience one of your baseball games someday. As you say, it’s a patriotic occasion. And sounds fun.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, that “Pledge of Allegiance.” I do not like it, I never did, and yes, most schools require it every morning: hand over heart, facing the American flag. Originally, the arm was straight out, like Nazi salute (!), and that is what the pledge reminds me of — swearing unthinking allegiance to a government. Since that idea is the absolute antithesis of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the origins of the government of the United States, I find it appalling. Even worse, in the 1950’s, the words were changed from “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” to “one nation, under God,” which runs afoul of our vaunted separation of church and state.

        There are ongoing courtroom skirmishes between schools and parents/ students who do not want to say the pledge. Yet it persists.

        I much prefer “The Star Spangled Banner,” with its soaring melody and ambiguous lyrics to a pledge that borders on fascism!

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        • I had no idea that there was a Pledge of Allegiance in the States. This is the first I’ve heard of it – maybe it’s something every country has, but it’s not something all schools in each country preach students to know by heart.

          I suppose if any of us do not want to say the pledge, the least we can do is put our hand over our heart – or wherever it’s meant to be depending on country – and stay silent. In Malaysia, the pledge was in Bahasa Melayu. Sure, practically all of us knew Malay but not all of us were that fluent and sometimes mumbled the pledge.

          Liked by 1 person

  35. Really thoughtful entry Mabel! The love for home country is so natural to me that I never question myself whether I want to sing national anthem or not. Experiencing many cultural environments is not only a advantage but also a challenge but I think with all countries you have been through, your love for them is precious and sincere 🙂

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    • Very interesting to hear. I am beginning to think many countries have had several versions of national anthems. Perhaps sometimes the nation’s values change and the song changes, or it can be political.

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  36. Every time the Olympics would roll around, the subjects of national anthems would come up. Australians in my American office would say, “Yeah, ours is…something, I don’t remember what. It’s not “Waltzing Matilda,” but everyone thinks it is.” So I appreciate the chance to find out more about “Advance Australia Fair.” (Also, you should definitely cut your dad some slack, because he was not the only one mistaken.)

    As hard as it is to sing, I love “The Star Spangled Banner.” When it is done right (Whitney Houston’s rendition is one of the best), that song soars like no other. Too bad it is hardly ever done right! And yes, the melody comes from a popular pub song back in the day — when your singers and audience are drunk, no one notices if the tricky high notes are hit. While “The Star Spangled Banner” does describe the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, the last few lines are timeless, wistful, and contain a certain amount of ambiguity. I think it is the ambiguity that enables even those Americans who loathe their country’s current foreign or domestic policy to keep singing:

    “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/
    Over the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

    For me, the song is less about “yay, we’re awesome and our flag is still flying” and more of a challenge to Americans today:

    “Well? Are we still the land of the free? And if not, get back on it, people!”

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    • That is so interesting to hear that some of your Australian colleagues aren’t familiar with the Aussie anthem. It really is probably a generational thing, Advance Australia Fair ends of on a bit of a long, belting-out note so it’s tricky to sing in some aspect. And who doesn’t gravitate to a simple, easy-to-sing song we can all sing (like Waltzing Matilda, which is in time of a waltz). “Free” seems to be a common theme among many national anthems.

      Thanks for explaining and taking me through The Star Spangled Banner. As a kid, I played it on the piano and thought it was a very noble, courageous sounding song. Like American anthem, Advance Australia Fair has the word “free” in it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  37. Certainly when I was at school we never sang the National Anthem, Mabel. Nor did we raise flags. In fact, to this very day, the people of England, Scotland and Wales never celebrate St George’s, St Andrew’s or St David’s Day, whereas in Ireland (and most other parts of the world), St Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated and is a national holiday for the Irish people.

    I get the feeling sometimes that we seem to go out of our way not to celebrate who we are, especially in case it offends other people. Any kind of racism should be stamped out with force, but I do believe we should all celebrate what nationality we are without being told that it may offend others.

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    • So interesting to hear you didn’t sing the national anthem growing up. I suppose there are other days in England where you show your support to the nation. I don’t know. All I know that the Queen’s Birthday is a rather big occasion over there and the monarchy is representative of the country. the Queen’s Birthday is a public holiday in Australia.

      National anthems can be certainly divisive. I suppose for most countries, the anthem is merely a song, one song encapsulating certain patriotic sentiments, and many realise that there is more to a country than just a song.

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      • We don’t even celebrate the Queen’s birthday, Mabel. We certainly don’t get a day off for it anyway. I think it may be down to people in the UK getting a generous amount of annual leave from their work every year. It can range from anything between four to six weeks, plus we also get eight bank holidays every year as well.

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        • I didn’t know your town doesn’t celebrate the Queen’s Birthday. I really why we still do in Australia…but that’s another story for another day. That is certainly a lot of holidays you get there, celebrating the days that matter to the nation. In Australia, we don’t get that many public holidays, no where near that at all.

          Liked by 1 person

  38. Lovely blog and I’ve enjoyed following the thread on this topic. It made me rethink the meaning of the first line – Advance Australia Fair. Back in late 19th century, one of the most prominent groups to argue for Federation was the Australian Natives Association. Mmmmh Yes, they appropriated the title “native” disregarding the forty thousand years of Aboriginal occupation. Est. 1871 membership was restricted to white males born in Australia with a motto of ‘Advance Australia’.

    The source if this information is from the History Teachers Association of Victoria.

    So if the song was written in the 1890s then perhaps the first line really means Advance the White Australia Policy? It hasn’t sat well with me. I’ve never bothered to learn the words – fear of Nationalism I guess.

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    • Thanks for the nice words, Cait. That is an interesting bit of information form the History Teachers Association of Victoria, and you bring up a valid point. Advance Australia Fair was certainly written in a certain moment in time and you’d think it would be inspired by the context and ideals of Australia at that time. The song did gain more prominence around the 1970s when the White Australia Policy was still around. Like you, I have mixed feelings about the anthem. The First Peoples are every part of Australian history and Australia. I often wonder how other countries view our anthem.

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