In perfect harmony?
Writing in his new blog, our UK home editor Mark Easton makes the case for a new British national anthem: one which, in his words, would inspire, stir and move people. Like Mark, I've often suffered from anthem envy, whether it's Land of My Fathers, The Star-Spangled Banner or La Marseillaise. I defy anyone not to be moved by that stirring scene in Casablanca, where Victor Laszlo belts out the French national anthem in valiant defiance of the Nazis. "Play it again, Victor," it makes you want to shout.
Australia, of course, has already gone through the process of ditching God Save the Queen. It started that process with a plebiscite in 1977, in which Australians were asked to choose between four alternatives: Waltzing Matilda, Song of Australia, Advance Australia Fair,and God Save the Queen. Advance Australia Fair got 43%, Waltzing Matilda came second with 28% and God Save the Queen got bronze, with 19%. Finally in 1984, Advance Australia Fair was officially adopted as the country's anthem just in time for the Los Angeles Olympics.
As an aside, the "anthem vote" remains one of the few plebiscites or referendums in which Australians opted overwhelmingly for change. At the risk of boring you rigid with mind-numbing trivia, only eight out of 44 attempts to change the constitution have been carried. It's why constitutional commentators sometimes call Australia the "frozen continent", another Aussie epithet to add to the list, throw in the bin or hurl in the direction of the barbie.
Since then, there have been occasional grumbles. John Howard, the former prime minister, was apparently a big fan of Waltzing Matilda, despite the now-disputed notion that Banjo Paterson's poem started life as a socialist anthem. Back in 2001, the Liberal Party Senator Sandy Macdonald called for AAF to be jettisoned, lest "we all go to sleep singing it". It was serviceable rather than stirring, went the argument.
Others have been slightly mystified by the lines: "We've golden soil and wealth for toil, Our home is girt by sea." Girt by sea? And curiously, in this laid back nation, "toil" features prominently.
Coincidentally, I've been compiling a report this week on the matchless success of the Sydney Olympics, and must have listened to Advance Australia Fair about a dozen times. The opening ceremony, that tear-jerking orgy of Aussiedom, featured the most rousing of renditions - arguably the finest ever. With the help of singer Julie Anthony, we also got to hear the words of the second verse, which carries special resonance for expats like me.
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!"
So a question: back in 1977, did Australia get it right? Or do you, as Australians, sometimes suffer from anthem envy yourselves?
UPDATE: On the subject of rousing singing, over 100 family members, friends and former colleagues gathered on Friday afternoon to celebrate the life of the BBC's legendary Sydney correspondent, Red Harrison. St Paul's Church in Cobbity, New South Wales, echoed to the sounds of Jerusalem and God is our Strength and Refuge, sung with fitting gusto to the thumping beat of The Dambusters' March (as well as being a peerless broadcaster, Red was an accomplished pilot).
Piers Ackerman, a columnist with the Daily Telegraph and a long-time friend, delivered the eulogy. He spoke of Red's "mahogany voice... like well-loved timber" and saluted "one of the great communicators that this nation has ever seen".
The skies were blue and cloudless - a perfect day for flying.