Borrowing a song

Australia has a national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” but in 1987, Bruce Woodley of the great Australian singing group, The Seekers, got together with Dobe Newton, who was with another group, The Bushwhackers, to write “We are Australian.”  There are those who have suggested it be the new national anthem.  It is often taught in that country’s primary schools.

We wonder if, in this year of division and anger, an arranger might look at that song and Americanize it.  It might become a theme song at one of the major party political conventions although there are reasons to hope not. It probably would not be good at the first one, given some of the things the presumptive nominee has said.  Maybe not even the second one either, come to think of it, although it might be the better fit of the two.

Although an Americanized version of the song could light up one of our conventions, we wonder if we are so far down a sorry road that it would have no meaning in such a climate.  And given our politics today, it probably would be a mockery to try to make it a convention song. In fact, we regret even bringing up the possibility. We’re not sure our Australian friends would appreciate their song being used in such a setting.  There are much better venues.  We hope that they would be complimented that our country values the sentiments of this tune.

The lyrics of We are Australian speak of a diverse nation’s history and its people—not all of whom are the most reputable.  The important thing that is emphasized, however, is that despite everything and everybody, they are a single people and it is the united people that have made Australia a great nation.

I came from the Dreamtime*

From the dusty red soil plains

I am the ancient heart

The keeper of the flames

I stood upon the rocky shore

I watched the tall ships come

For forty thousand years I’ve been the first Australian.

I came upon the prison ships

Bound down by iron chains

I fought the land

Endured the lash

And waited for the rains.

I’m a settler,

I’m a farmers wife

On a dry and barren run,

A convict then a free man

I became Australian.

I’m a daughter of a digger

Who sought the mother lode.

The girl became a woman

On the long and dusty road.

I’m a child of the depression;

I saw the good time come.

I’m a bushy, I’m a battler.

I am Australian

We are one

But we are many

And from all the lands on earth we come

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice

I am, you are, we are Australian

I’m a teller of stories.

I’m a singer of songs

I am Albert Namatjira.

And I paint the ghostly gums.

I’m Clancy on his horse.

I’m Ned Kelly on the run.

I’m the one who waltzed matilda.

I am Australian.

I’m the hot wind from the desert.

I’m the black soil of the plain.

I’m the mountains and the valleys.

I’m the drought and flooding rains.

I am the rock.

I am the sky,

The rivers when they run,

The spirit of this great land.

I am Australian.

We are one,

But we are many.

And from all the lands on earth we come.

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice:

I am, you are, we are Australian

We are one

But we are many.

And from all the lands on earth we come.

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice:

I am, you are

We are Australian

I am, you are

We are Australian

(*”Dreamtime” refers to the ancient Australian aboriginal creation myths, similar to the creation myths of our Native Americans.)

You can watch The Seekers perform this song at:

If you aren’t old enough to remember the Seekers, perhaps this piece from 60 Minutes (2012) will be helpful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADLjm0VRMng

Youtube has some of their concerts. They were and are incredible.  And Judith Durham’s voice is memorable.

In the wake of the Independence Day holiday, we have found ourselves wondering which of our major patriotic songs speak to us as a whole people the way We Are Australian speaks of Australia?   My Country ‘Tis of Thee memorializes our founders.  America the Beautiful speaks of natural resources and founding heroes.  The Star Spangled Banner is about the symbolism of our flag.  Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Our Land speaks of a depression era America.  Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, the number one country patriotic song according to one poll, speaks of pride in being an American and a willingness to defend the country.  But we don’t seem to have a patriotic song that speaks specifically of our country in reference to its people—as We Are Australian does.  Nothing musically expresses E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” which appears on our national seal and on our currency.

“American” and “Australian” can be sung with the same number of syllables. And the lyrics can be slightly changed to reflect our culture (perhaps including Jesse James instead of Ned Kelly).

God Save the Queen (or King, when appropriate) was Americanized by Samuel Francis Smith, who wrote the new lyrics in half an hour in 1831. So borrowing from the English empire is not a new thing musically for us.

Maybe it would be good for the national spirit if we could sing—and believe when we sing:

“We are one.  But we are many.  And from all lands on earth we come.  We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice.  I am, you are, we are American.”

I am,

you are,

we are

American.

Let me know what you think......