Australia's national anthem – Fact sheet 251
Advance Australia Fair – written and composed by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878 – was proclaimed Australia's national anthem on 19 April 1984. The former national anthem God Save the Queen remained the Royal anthem to be played at occasions in Australia attended by members of the Royal family.
Deciding a national anthem
God Save the Queen (or King depending on the gender of the British monarch) had been used on official and ceremonial occasions since Federation in 1901. Over the twentieth century – and especially during times of war – there were periods of interest in it being replaced by an anthem representing Australian nationalism and achievement.
The 1970s competitions
The Australian National Anthem and Flag Quests Committee, a non-government body, launched a competition for a new national flag and anthem in August 1971. By Australia Day 1972 over 400 hundred entries had been received. These were handed to the Australian Council for the Arts for judging. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced in January 1973 that the Council would conduct a national anthem quest offering monetary prizes for lyrics and music. Of the 2500 lyric entries submitted, the judges selected just six as suitable with each writer awarded $500. All 1300 music entries received were rejected.
The 1974 public opinion poll
In February 1974 the Australian Bureau of Statistics held a public opinion poll to determine the relative popularity of the three 'unofficial' Australian songs: Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia. Just over half of the 60 000 people sampled preferred Advance Australia Fair (51.4 per cent), followed by Waltzing Matilda (19.6 per cent). Using this result Prime Minister Whitlam announced to Parliament on 8 April 1974 that Advance Australia Fair had been chosen by the people of Australia as the new national anthem (but God Save the Queen would be retained for all regal occasions).
In 1976 the incoming government of Malcolm Fraser reinstated God Save the Queen
as the 'national anthem' to be played on all regal and vice-regal occasions but provided that for civilian events, any of the four songs could be used.
The 1977 plebiscite
Another poll to select a tune for a national song was conducted in May 1977. Fuelled by debate in 1976 over an appropriate song to represent Australia at the Montreal Olympic Games, the Fraser government requested the Australian Electoral Office hold a direct national poll in conjunction with a set of constitutional referenda. Over 7 million of the 8.4 million people on the electoral roll chose to vote. Again, Advance Australia Fair was the preferred song, followed by Waltzing Matilda, God Save the Queen and Song of Australia.
Even after the plebiscite, a further seven years and a change of government passed before Advance Australia Fair was proclaimed as Australia's national anthem.
Records relating to Australia's national anthem
The National Archives holds a range of records relating to the national anthem. The table below includes records of the Australian National Anthem and Flag Quests Committee including entries received, records of the 1974 poll, miscellaneous correspondence from government departments, a Cabinet Office record and the copyright registration for Advance Australia Fair. Individual items as well as whole series of records relating to the national anthem are listed.
| ||Title or description of record||Date range||Series number|
|Australian national anthem – suggestions||1948–55||A463, 1956/232 part 1|
|Australian national anthem – suggestions||1955–60||A463, 1956/232 part 2|
|Australian national anthem – suggestions||1960||A463, 1956/232 part 3|
|Development of an Australian national anthem and tune for a national song||1967–74||A1209, 1978/1103 part 1|
|Development of an Australian national anthem and tune for a national song||1974–76||A1209, 1978/1103 part 2|
|Development of an Australian national anthem and tune for a national song||1976||A1209, 1978/1103 part 3|
|Development of an Australian national anthem and tune for a national song||1976–77||A1209, 1978/1103 part 4|
|Parliamentary question 526 – poll to determine a new national anthem for Australia||1973||A463, 1973/4441|
|National anthem quest – administrative procedures||1973–88||A463, 1973/2555|
|National anthem – state preferences||1976||M1356, 37|
|National anthem||1976–83||A1209, 1977/1164|
How to find more information
Individual record items about the national anthems, including sound recordings, can be identified by conducting searches in RecordSearch. Try keyword phrases such as: ‘national anthem’, ‘anthem quest’, ‘anthem contest’, and ‘australian anthem’. RecordSearch is available in all reading rooms and on our website.