Recently, I've been disappointed to notice myself becoming more patriotic. I don't know if this is a result of aging, or a consequence of frequent international travel. I don't know whether I should do anything about it, nor even what I would do if I wanted to change.
The patriotic fever reached its rabid peak the other day when my rational self caught the other part singing Australia's national anthem. I stopped immediately, of course, but the damage had been done. Perhaps the moment of insanity had be triggered by a conversation I had with a friend about immigration and just who we should let into the country. We disagreed.
Since then, my mind has been wandering. I've been thinking about a New Australian who desires to indoctrinate themselves our national values, and how they might approach the national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair".
To help them along, and maybe to go some way toward resolving the disagreement with my friend, I've decided to go through the Australian national anthem right here, on this blog, line by line.
It's rather a pompous song, written in a mode of "poetic" English that has never been idiomatic and never had any currency among actual poets. Even with my new-found nascent patriotism, I can't bring myself to actually like it.
Here it is:
- Australians all let us rejoice,
- Be happy Australians!
- For we are young and free;
- Because our country was founded relatively recently and we have many political freedoms, such as being allowed by our government to watch almost any film and read almost any book.
- We've golden soil
- Literally, "we have yellow dirt". Either means that Australia is full of the mineral gold, or that our soil is rich. The latter would imply that Australia is an agriculturally prosperous country, and I believe is the sense of the phrase. Note that Australia is the second driest continent in the world, after Antarctica.
- and wealth for toil;
- If you work hard in Australia, you'll get rich.
- Our home is girt by sea;
- "Girt" is a rare word for "surrounded". A girdle girts. "Girth" is a mostly disused word meaning "circumference". If a thing follows the circumference of another thing, the first thing can be said to "gird" the second thing. The second thing is "girt by" the first thing. If it spoke plainly, this line would say that Australia is one or more islands.
The logic up to this point is that Australians should be happy since we're rich, happy, free, young, economically just and ... a bunch of islands. New Zealand, Madagascar, Japan, Great Britain, Iceland and Tonga have never considered this a particular reason for rejoicing. I'm not exactly sure why Australia does.
- Our land abounds in nature's gifts
- Our country is full of things we didn't put there.
- Of beauty rich and rare;
- The natural things in our country have a rich beauty, as opposed to a minimalistic beauty, and there are few other things as beautiful as the natural things in Australia. Of course, Australia abounds in them, so they can't be that rare.
- Let history's page in every stage, advance Australia fair
- Every time anyone writes about stuff that happened, it should promote the cause of the Australian nation, which is beautiful.
- In joyful strains then let us sing
- Let's sing happy melodies. The composer of the anthem interpreted this metaphorically.
- "Advance Australia Fair"
- "Australia Fair" isn't a reference to the White Australia policy (I think), but rather a tired "poetic" way of saying "Australia the Beautiful". My unsubstantiated hunch is that "America the Beautiful" was already taken, and that it's much easier to rhyme with "fair" than "beautiful".
- Unfortunately, I have no idea what it means.
To advance Australia is a nebulous concept, no matter how often we insist that it's beautiful. It means literally "move Australia forward", but that doesn't really illuminate the author's intent. It can't mean move Australia forward spatially: that would be impossible to achieve and to define, no matter how full of zeal one was. It probably doesn't mean forward technologically either, since none of the other lyrics acknowledge technology's existence. It's not morally either, since the author seems to think we've already arrived. It's probably either wealth or political influence, but that's only speculation.
There you have it. Nothing that bad, but nothing that good either. Mostly it's just a meaningless ditty to bang out too slowly and too sincerely at sporting events.
At a stretch, you could say that it summarizes something of the Australian spirit. We're generally pretty happy and relaxed, united by being in a pretty good country and we're lousy at poetry.
It's still better than God Save The Queen.
Next post, next verse.