To celebrate its second anniversary in 1859 the Gawler Institute offered a prize of ten guineas for the best words and ten guineas for the best music for a national song. The competition attracted 96 entries for the words; the number of entries for the music is not known. The winners represented both sexes and the two main settler groups in South Australia – Carolyn Carleton, of English stock, won the prize for the words, and German-born Carl Linger won the music section.
‘Song of Australia’ became the accepted national song in South Australia and, for a time, throughout Australia. When Queen Elizabeth II landed at Circular Quay at the beginning of her 1954 royal tour ‘Song of Australia’ was played after ‘God Save the Queen’. However, its popularity waned; in a national poll conducted in 1974 by the Whitlam Labor government on the adoption of an Australian national anthem, ‘Song of Australia’ received 48 per cent of the South Australian vote but only 14 per cent nationally. In 1977 the Fraser Coalition government conducted an even larger poll, and the vote for ‘Song of Australia’ dropped to 34 per cent in South Australia and ten per cent nationally. The Adelaide Liedertafel still sings it in commemoration of its founder, Carl Linger, and it is occasionally played at functions at the Adelaide Town Hall, but ‘Song of Australia’ is now remembered mainly by older South Australians.