Slow English

Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 107 – The Australian National Anthem


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Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 107 – The Australian National Anthem


The Australian National Anthem is heard in Australia at important ceremonial occasions or at major sporting events.  In this podcast, I would like to tell you a little about our national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

Up until 1974, the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ was Australia’s national anthem.  The British queen is the head of government in Australia and our history as a colony of Britain made it seem natural that we should have the same national anthem as the British.  Over the years, there has always been interest in other national songs in Australia and there have been several competitions since the early 1800s to find a song which could be used as our national song.  The songs which became the most popular were the ‘Song of Australia’ written in 1856, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (see Podcast 86) written in 1895, and ‘Advance Australia Fair’ which was written in 1878.  Indeed, in 1951, for the 50th anniversary of Australia’s federation in 1901, it was decided once again to hold a competition for the writing of a new national anthem for Australia. However, no decision was made by the government on changing the national anthem.

In 1972 a new federal government lead by Gough Whitlam came to power in Australia.  It was a Labor Party government whose members and supporters were strongly in favour of Australia being more independent from Britain.  Having a new Australian National Anthem was an example of that.  The Whitlam government conducted a survey of 60,000 Australians in 1974, asking them to choose a new national anthem from among the 3 most popular national songs.  51.4% of those surveyed chose ‘Advance Australia Fair’.  As a result, in 1974 the Whitlam government announced that Australia’s new national anthem would be ‘Advance Australia Fair’.  Finally a decision had been made. However, in 1975 the Whitlam government was defeated in a general election and a Coalition government was elected, led by Malcolm Fraser.  It reversed the decision which the Whitlam government had made, once more making ‘God Save the Queen’ Australia’s national anthem.  However, the new government recognized that many Australians wanted a new national anthem.  Plans were made to put a plebiscite to the Australian people.  Fortunately, in 1977 there was to be a referendum so that the Australian people could decide whether certain changes should be made to our constitution.  This seemed like a good time to also ask all Australians about which national song should become our national anthem.  The question about the national anthem was optional, meaning that Australians only answered this question if they wanted to.   Four songs were presented and Australians were asked to say which song they wanted as their national anthem.  The options were the existing national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ and ‘Song of Australia’.  ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was easily the winner, selected by 43.29% of the voters.  ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was second with 28.28%, ‘God Save the Queen’ received 18.78% and ‘Song of Australia’ received 9.65%.

I can remember voting in this plebiscite.  I remember thinking at the time that, while ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is a much loved Australian song, the lyrics are not really suitable as a national song.  Let’s face it. A story about a sheep stealer who is caught by the police and then drowns himself by jumping into a billabong is a pretty strange sort of national anthem.  The words of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ seemed much more appropriate.  That was my feeling at the time, back in 1977, and almost half of Australians agreed with me.  ‘God Save the Queen’ was never really a suitable national anthem for Australia as far as I was concerned, as it belonged to another country – Great Britain.

The government finally made the change to our national anthem 7 years later in 1984 – the wheels of government move slowly sometimes.  Since then, our national anthem has been, and remains, ‘Advance Australia Fair’.  If a member of the royal family is attending an event in Australia, then ‘God Save the Queen’ is also played, along with ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

Peter Dodds McCormick – The composer of the words and music for Advance Australia Fair.

The words and tune were written by Peter Dodds McCormick, a Scottish born school teacher who lived and taught in Sydney.  He wrote the song in 1878 and the song was first performed at a concert in that same year.  The song became quite popular and was sung by a choir of 10,000 people at the inauguration ceremony for Australia’s federation in 1901.

The lyrics are patriotic statements about Australia and Australians.  Keep in mind they were written in 1878, so perhaps there are a few words which seem a little unfamiliar or outdated for our modern Australian English.  Nonetheless, most Australians know at least the words from the first verse.  I know I do. Here’s how the song goes.

Australians all let us rejoice.
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross.
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
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;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  I will write back to you, in English of course.  If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.


Podcast 107 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the quiz as many times as you like.


abounds = where you have lots of something
advance = to move forward, to improve your position
agreed = (here) when two or more people believe the same thing
anniversary = the date once a year when you remember something special. For example, a birthday
announced = made public, when others are told
anthem = a song which represents a country
appropriate = (here) when something fits
as far as I was concerned = from my point of view
attending = when a person goes to an event
belonged = owned by
billabong = a small lake on the bend of a river in Australia
boundless = when something goes on forever
ceremonial occasions = special events which have a formal set of steps, often a tradition. For example, Australia Day ceremony, citizenship ceremony
choir = a large group of people who sing together
Coalition = a political party made up of 2 or more smaller political parties
colony = an area that is controlled by a foreign country (in this case, Great Britain)
combine = join together
competitions = when teams or people try to win in a game, sport or test of skill
conducted = to do
constitution = a document which describes how a country will work
defeated = beaten, when you have lost a battle, fight or contest
drowns = to die under water
elected = people chosen in an election to be politicians
existing = when something is already there
federal government = the highest level of government in Australia
federation = when several groups or organisations join together
general election = when people of a country vote for a new government
girt = around the edges, encircled, surrounded
Gough Whitlam = the name of the Prime Minister of Australia 1972 to 1975
in favour = when you agree
inauguration = the start of something, usually something large and important
independent = when you can decide yourself, without being told by others
interest = (here) when people want to know more
keep in mind = remember
lyrics = the words in a song
members = people who belong to a group
natural = (here) normal, expected
nonetheless = despite this, even though
optional = not compulsory, which means you don’t have to do something if you don’t want to
options = the choices between which you must choose
outdated = when something is old and not used any more
over the years = for a long period of time, many years
patriotic statements = words about the love of your country and its people
plains = flat areas of land
plebiscite = when the people of a country are asked a question. Voting is optional
radiant = bright
received = got, given
recognized = when you can see or understand that something is true
referendum = when the people of a country are asked a question. Voting is compulsory
renowned = well known
reversed = turned back, changed to the other direction
several = usually more than 2 and less than 10
stealer = someone who takes something that is not their own
strains = when you sing
suitable = when something fits
supporters = people who like a person or group and who try to help it
survey = when you ask a group of people what they think of something
taught = was teaching
toil = work
unfamiliar = when you have not heard or seen something before
wheels of government = an expression meaning how a government works
written = when something is put down on paper with a pen or pencil



  1. Dear Rob,
    many thanks for your information. I am learning a lot. My name is Dagmar. I am German and I live in Adelaide since some years.
    I am looking forward to hearing from you again.
    Best wishes
    PS We have had very hot days too.

    • Hi Dagmar,
      Many thanks for your comment. I am glad that you find my podcast useful. Adelaide is a beautiful city. My wife and I recently had a holiday in Victor Harbor, not so far from Adelaide, and we enjoyed it immensely. I agree that Adelaide can have very hot weather in summer. It is amongst the hottest of our capital cities I think.
      Cheers from Melbourne.

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