Sunday, September 25, 2011

National Anthem - The Australian Experience

There has been a lot of debate and discussion of late on the Malayan/Malaysian history.

Apparently a lot of agony and anguish - made-up or real, were generated during such debates, depending on which side you are on. I would not want to add on to the debate, but just would like to give the perspective of another nation, which we share some similarity and history.

When I was a kid, I was told by Mak that our national anthem was taken from the Perak anthem. Obviously we were proud of that fact and honoured, but without internet and youtube, there was no way we would know then that even the Perak anthem was taken from Terang Bulan which was taken from song from Seychelles. Apparently it happened when Sultan Abdullah of Perak was exiled by the British and he was taken by the song.

Similarly, there have been many debates on our Jalur Gemilang, previously and lately. I remember the reading a news report that when our PM (TDM) first went to the US (in the 80s?) -  during his early days as the PM, he was indeed asked as to why the Malaysian flag looked very much like their Star and Stripes. Honestly, I don't remember his answer anymore, so it can't be that memorable.

Australia went through similar predicament much earlier than us; not on the flag, but their national anthem.
The Australia's national anthem booth in 2005 in Canberra
I remember the debate in the 80s if Advance Australia Fair should be their national anthem. Obviously many thought that a more popular tune that seems to represent (fair dinkum) Australia would be Waltzing Matilda.

Even then, and especially now, I would be able to humm Waltzing Matilda and have no clue about the melody of Advance Australia Fair. Waltzing Matilda would be more Australian to a foreigner like me, and would be get my vote along with Down Under (Men at Work)!

Apparently the original Advance Australia Fair was written Peter McCormick, a Scottish-born song writer and was first performed in 1878. It was originally sung as a patriotic song and not as a national anthem.

Up to 1974, God saves the Queen was Australia's national anthem. in 1973, the Whitlam government decided that Australia needed a new national anthem to represent Australia with distinction, and started a competition. On the recommendation of the Council for the Arts, none of the new entries were felt worthy enough, so the contest ended with the suggestions for Advance Australia FairWaltzing Matilda and Song of Australia

A nationwide opinion survey was done in 1974 and Advance Australian Fair came on top.

In 1976, the Fraser government reinstated God save the Queen as the national anthem.

In the 1977 referendum on various issues.Advance Australia Fair received 43.29% of the vote, defeating the three alternatives: Waltzing Matilda (28.28%), Song of Australia (9.65%), and the existing national anthem God Save the Queen (18.78%).

Advance Australia Fair, with modified lyrics from the original, was adopted as the Australian national anthem on 19 April 1984 by a proclamation by the Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen,[8] on a recommendation by the Labor government of Bob Hawke[Wiki]

But I still love Waltzing Matilda. It is as Australian as the kangaroo and billabong!

Can we do it in the Australian way? A lot of debate and discussion were held in Australia in the 70s and 80s, and practically everybody has an opinion on this, and obviously no one agrees with everyone else, especially the politicians.

But no one accused everyone else as traitor for wanting to change the national anthem. No one demanded that ISA be used on their opponents. As far as I remember it in the 80s, it was a proper and  educated debate, though I am reasonably sure that a lot of emotions were generated during these debates.

There were many Australian royalist (if I may term them as that) who would want to keep God Save the Queen as the anthem, and I am sure as many Australian who would want to have the Australian identity in their national anthem.

Can we have a debate on what's constitute Malaysia's national anthem and national flag please? If Negaraku and Jalur Gemilang are the proper anthem and flag, then so be it, even though it may be derived from a song in Seychelles and the American flag respectively. If we want to find one that could represent Malaysia with distinction, we could do a nationwide survey or referendum and even hold competition if we could come up with better anthem or flag.

Is it too much to ask of us?


Such is the environment in Malaysia that I am a bit unsure if I should even be bothered to post this entry. Would I be labeled a traitor for even mentioning it, or would someone call me to be incarcerated into ISA, nevermind that Najib is thinking of abolishing it. I am not saying one way or another, but I am asking all of us Malaysians to look at how our Australian counterparts handled their diversities in opinions and came out unscathed, if not stronger, as a country.

There was another movement in Australia even in the 80s. The movement calls for Australia to become a republic instead of having the Queen as the constitutional monarch. Please read about it here. Again, no one calls for the citizenship of these republicans to be revoked!

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