It’s Australia Day again – or was, yesterday – and if you’re anything like me, you’re sick to death of hearing the national anthem. Especially, if you know what it actually says, and just how divorced that is from the reality of Australia in recent years. Surely we can find something better?
And when I say better, I mean better in reflecting the Australian experience; in saying something important about where we’ve been, where we’re going and how we see ourselves. Australia has been home to a wide variety of musicians, and over the years, they’ve produced a number of songs that better sum up our experiences and aspirations.
I’ve decided to pick ten of these, and explain why each of them is a better choice for a national anthem than our current one.
But first, the Also-Rans:
All those songs that we characterise as our unofficial national anthems, and why none of them is quite right.
- Waltzing Matilda — Disqualified largely on the grounds of being such a cliche. I mean, seriously, this is the song we all learned in primary school that we all actually remember (as opposed the actual national anthem). It’s also perhaps the most defeatist protest song of all time, arguing that the best solution to economic and political injustice is suicide.
- Khe Sanh — Stripped of all its bogan associations, the fact remains that this is actually a very good song. Musically, it’s a fairly basic blues-inspired rock, and certainly it could have been done better vocally – but then, the blues has always been more about heart than style, and Jimmy Barnes’ unpolished vocal style has never lacked heart. It’s the lyrics that really make it shine, though: an almost noirish take on a man trying to sort himself out after his experiences in the Vietnam War. But the problem is, you can no more strip it of its bogan associations than you could any other Cold Chisel song.
- Down Under — Ultimately, this one has everything it takes to be a proper national anthem: wry humour, catchy and slightly ambiguous lyrics, an easily carried tune. But it’s been over-played so much. As much as I love Colin Hay and the other Men At Work, this one has to be let go. It’d just be too damned easy.
- This Is Australia — Two reasons to disqualify this song: a) it was used in a Coke ad; and b) not all of Australia is actually located in the canefields of north Queensland. Which is a shame, because it’s a fine song.
- Great Southern Land — Icehouse have produced better work, although this song is by no means something to be ashamed of. What it lacks is fire. There’s soul to it, but no spirit. It’s Iva Davies, as usual, trying too hard to ape David Bowie’s style instead of his substance. (That said, when Davies writes in his own voice, he’s brilliant. He just doesn’t do it often enough.)
So, with those songs disposed of, what remains? Over the next few days, I’ll list ten songs that better sum up our nation and the various elements of our national character – I hope you’ll join me.