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What Song Best Typifies Aussies and Australia?

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is a retired accountant and a photography enthusiast living on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. Gayle is passionate about writing and keen to showcase Aussie culture to a global audience. Gayle loves her family, dogs, sunsets, and chocolate.
Published September 25th 2020
We all have our favourite songs but transcending preferences ranging from classical through rock, pop, and all the way to hip hop, there will in all of our hearts be a song that to us, typifies Aussies and Australia. When I started to think about what that song might be, I was taken aback at how many come to mind. The choice, it seems, is not as easy as expected.

Songs Australia,Waltzing Matilda,Advance Australia Fair,Great Southern Land,Down Under,I Still Call Australia Home,Typical Australian songs,Typical Australian things,Aussie,Music Australia,
Image by saperlote from Pixabay

What about Australia's unofficial anthem, Waltzing Matilda? Written in 1895 by the legendary Australian poet Banjo Paterson, this bush ballad is indeed rooted in our history. Most of us know the chorus by heart, though I wager few understand that waltzing refers not to dancing but to travelling on foot and that Matilda is a swag and not a woman. So important is this song that in 2008 the first recording of it, made in 1926, was added to the Sounds of Australia Registry in the National Film and Sound Archive. But as much as we love it, can the story of an itinerant worker who, when hunted down for the theft of a sheep, commits suicide to escape the law, although iconic, be said to typify Aussies?

Songs Australia,Waltzing Matilda,Advance Australia Fair,Great Southern Land,Down Under,I Still Call Australia Home,Typical Australian songs,Typical Australian things,Aussie,Music Australia,
Image by Frank Mahony 1896 - Public domain

Could it be then Australia's national anthem, Advance Australia Fair? Arguably it should be. First performed in 1878 its pedigree is longer even than that of Waltzing Matilda. Although it was not bedded in as the country's national anthem until 1984 it was more widely used than you might think. Notably, it was sung on the 1st of January 1901 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia, and it announced news bulletins on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) until 1952. It is likely that people are unaware the song has four verses but for the national anthem only the first and third, both slightly modified, are included. Add to that the well-held belief that many, if not most Aussies only know the first verse, and the light-hearted banter around the meaning of 'girt by sea,' is Advance Australia Fair, as patriotic as it is, typical of Aussies and Australia?

Songs Australia,Waltzing Matilda,Advance Australia Fair,Great Southern Land,Down Under,I Still Call Australia Home,Typical Australian songs,Typical Australian things,Aussie,Music Australia,
Inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth, Sydney, 1st January 1901 - W. A. Gullick, Government Printer - Public Domain

Let's think about Great Southern Land, the 1989 song by Ice House? There is no doubt in my mind that Australia is a great southern land. The National Film and Sound Archive states:

'The song reflects a blend of Australian geography and culture, with lyrics that cast back across the vast history of the land and its Indigenous inhabitants, to a time long before the arrival of white settlers. The music adds to the sense of place, suggesting the openness and expansiveness of Australia's desert interior.'

This song, then, is surely a firm contender as it attempts to reflect Aussies and Australians and seeks to bring together everything that is Australian across the aeons of time. Indeed, when I look upon the title, Great Southern Land, it presents itself in my mind as a tune rather than words on a page.

Songs Australia,Waltzing Matilda,Advance Australia Fair,Great Southern Land,Down Under,I Still Call Australia Home,Typical Australian songs,Typical Australian things,Aussie,Music Australia,
Image copyright Gayle Beveridge

Who could forget Down Under, the tongue-in-cheek depiction of what it is to be an Aussie, by rock band, Men at Work? Certainly a fun song and jam-packed with things recognisably Aussie – flowing beer, Vegemite sandwiches, muscled men and glowing women - it no doubt resonates with many Australians. With its catchy tune and simplicity, the length of the song relying heavily on repetition, it is not surprising it reached number one on the charts at home in 1981 before going on to be an international hit. An Aussie triumph in itself, Down Under became synonymous with success as the theme song of the crew of Australia II in 1983 when that yacht broke America's 132 year winning streak for the America's Cup. Are these the characteristics of the song that best typifies Aussies and Australia?

Songs Australia,Waltzing Matilda,Advance Australia Fair,Great Southern Land,Down Under,I Still Call Australia Home,Typical Australian songs,Typical Australian things,Aussie,Music Australia,
Image by Simón Delacre from Pixabay

I Still Call Australia Home written in 1980 by Peter Allen is a heartfelt ballad about our connection to Australia, a bond like that of parent to child, not to be broken. In the 1990s Australian airline QANTAS featured it in a successful advertising campaign. During the 2020 COVID restrictions QANTAS renewed that campaign, working with The Australian Girls' Choir and The Gondwana National Choir to launch an online video. Invoking a sense of patriotism and of nostalgia, does this song typify Aussies and Australia?

Maybe we can't choose just one song. In modern Australia, we Aussies are a diverse mob. Some of us have roots planted on this land more than 60,000 years ago, some of us are first-generation. Each of us contributes to a complex and multi-faceted culture, and maybe the search to find any one song that is typical of Aussies and Australia is an impossible task. What do you think?
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Pretty fond of Men at Work's Down Under
by Elwyn Talks (score: 1|14) 33 days ago
It's "I Still Call Australia Home" for me, probably also influenced by the wonderful accompanying graphics shots in the Qantas ad. that really stands it out for me as the real Australia I will always be happy to recall.
by Clive (score: 1|76) 35 days ago
Thanks for the interesting selection, but I'm surprised that a very popular song that surely deserves being included in the top few, as representing Australia and Australians in a positive way, is missing! The Seeker's song, "I am Australian", is many people's first choice, in fact.
by b.kis (score: 0|2) 34 days ago
"SHELTER" John Williamson version.
by howar (score: 0|7) 34 days ago

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