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Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009, 08:03 am
Reflections on Australia

(DISCLAIMER: I love Australia. I firmly believe it is the best place in the world to live. Paradise on earth; "godzone" (god's own) as we like to call it. But I thought the lead up to Australia Day might be a good time to reflect on some of the differences between Australia and America and what gives the United States such a special place in my heart.)

I've just finished reading Death Sentence by Don Watson. In it he decries the decline of public language--the language used by politicians, governments and large corporations in talking to (it could hardly be called talking with) the public and how that is affecting our own language. I found the first chapter tiresome, where he was ranting about the slow strangulation of public language. Save that for your blog. :) (I admit I found that chapter depressing because I'm mired in public language myself and sometimes expected to write in it.)

But the chapter on Australian history moved me. Not because of the stirring events in our past but because of how the lack of them meant we didn't have the rich stream of oratory to drink from that the Americans did and then how it was revived and mythologised in popular culture:
Australia's native language bloomed in late-nineteenth-century popular literature, but it was not recast and regenerated in Australia as it was in America by film and music. Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and George Gershwin seemed to take as much pleasure in their mastery of language as they did in the genius of their music. Australians, like the rest of the world, took pleasure in it too. To that extent the tin-pan alley lyrics belonged to the world, but they came from American life and were as purely American as the choreography of the frontier in a Hollywood western, or of a street in an American noir film. When Fred Astaire and Judy Garland sang 'Walk Down the Avenue' it could be no avenue but a New York avenue, and when Billie Holiday sang 'The Man I Love', the man who would one day come along could only be American.
(Interestingly enough, the man who did eventually come along turned out to be American.)

And it shows even in our respective national anthems:

Advance Australia Fair The Star-Spangled Banner
Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free
We've golden soil and wealth for toil
Our home is girt by sea
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?

(Do you get goosebumps from those few lines just like I do?) Even if I get death threats from self-proclaimed patriots for saying so, our anthem is dry and dull by comparison. (Mr Watson correctly notes that "few surpass [it] for passivity, monotony and banality.") Maybe this goes some way to explaining why America is such a magical place for me, why it has burrowed so deep into my psyche. For as much as I love Australia and call it "home" (that most magical of words) a part of me will always yearn for the star spangled banner. At AC, when we furries celebrate the the 4th of July, I will be among the proudest.

Fri, Jan. 23rd, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)

Heh. I hope *I* won't get any heat from any Australians (patriots or not) for saying this, but I've got to agree - that really is dull. For the lines you quoted, at least (I don't know the rest), I'll have to agree with Watson as well.

(Speaking of anthems, of course, German anthems seem to have their peculiarities, too: I've long since known that the German anthem ("Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit") and the old anthem of the GDR ("Auferstanden aus Ruinen") have music and lyrics that can be interchanged, but I recently noticed that the same is *also* true for my state's own anthem ("Schleswig-Holstein, meerumschlungen") as well - you can take the music for any of these three, and the lyrics for any other, and it'll all go together more or less fine. Quite curious.)

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)

The US has a number of stirring patriotic songs, such as My Country Tis of Thee (the music of course, stolen liberated from God Save the Queen), America the Beautiful, Yankee Doodle, Stars and Stripes Forever and the Marines' Hymn.

My personal favorite, though, is the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on

I can't think of any Australian patriotic songs, except maybe Waltzing Matilda.

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)

Although we do feel patriotic when we hear it, and it would certainly have made a more stirring anthem than Advance Australia Fair, I'm not sure a song about petty thief drowning in a billabong qualifies as a patriotic song. Then again, for Australians, maybe it does. ;)

Edited at 2009-01-24 12:34 am (UTC)

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)

How about "I still call Australia home"

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)

I don't think I've ever heard that song. About the only "Australian" songs I know of are Waltzing Matilda, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport and Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, none of which I'd exactly call patriotic.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 07:29 am (UTC)


Also another patrotic song http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=DNT7uZf7lew
(in an ironic way). But to be honest displays of conspicuous patriotism is not very australian.

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)

I know most of our national anthem but I have problems with words like "Girt", I know what it mean but its an old word.

Maybe we should either modernize the anthem or choose another like "Great Southern Land" or "Land Downunder" or have a competetion for a new one.

We will probably get a new anthem if we ever become a republic.

I know I will get flack for that.

Incase you wondered yes I am an Australian been here all my life so far (48 years).

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)

Canada has a pretty fine anthem themselves.

Aside from the French parts.

Sat, Jan. 24th, 2009 12:48 pm (UTC)

Advance Australia Fair is a pretty sub par anthem, granted.

Star-Spangled Banner, is like a war hymn. Showing strength, and that 'they are the best'.

Though some aspects of it are somewhat astounding, hearing from friends who have gone overseas to USA, the United Statiens appear to be shocked if people don't know their national anthem.

I love Australia and the way it all works, we do have a very rich history, even though we (or at least since the Europeans... frankly, invaded) are a young country. There are some great stories when it comes to buildings, infighting, ranches and cattle. Though again it comes down to we are a young country, and therefore have a lack of history as a result.

If you look to Europe, you can dig not even that deep into the ground and will find artifacts, in USA there is the thick and violent and backstabbing and infighting and violent history to grow upon.

Granted, I have never been overseas, even though the desire is there, often times the money and opportunity keep removing themselves.

Somewhat, no not even somewhat, definitely envious of your ability to celebrate the 4th of July in that way.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 02:49 am (UTC)

Almost every national anthem is 4/4, 2/2...whatever...a pretty bland poetic meter proclaiming inspiring observations or dreams about the country, set to music one can march to. "our contry is cool...it has green hills...and sexy critters.....blah blah....whatever...blah...."

Not America's. : )  Nope, our national anthem is musically a waltz. And it doesn't simply highlight how cool our land is. It tells a narrative.

It recounts the story of one envoy's awe and relief at seeing his country's flag still flying the morning after a precarious battle that could have gone either way in a war that could have just as easily gone the other way. He only captures brief glances at the standard atop the flagpole, as ordnance is going off as the battle rages.

It is poetry incarnate. It's uniquely American.

I'm glad you like it, too.   XD

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)

I wish I could say I was proud of where I live, but I am not. I certainly take PRIDE where I live, in the sense that I try to ensure that my City, conurbation and immediate environment is a pleasent place to be. However I can never understand rousing feeling for a location based on an accident of birth.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)

I'm even luckier than that! I wasn't born in either Australia or America!

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)

Where were you born?