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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.

Popularity

‘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.

Song of Australia Lyrics

There is a land where summer skies
Are gleaming with a thousand dyes,
Blending in witching harmonies, in harmonies;
And grassy knoll and forest height
Are flushing in the rosy light,
And all above is azure bright –
Australia! Australia! Australia!
 
There is a land where honey flows,
Where laughing corn luxuriant grows,
Land of the myrtle and the rose, land of the rose;
On hill and plain the clustering vine
Is gushing out with purple wine,
And cups are quaffed to thee and thine
Australia! Australia! Australia!
 
There is a land where treasures shine
Deep in the dark unfathomed mine
For worshippers at Mammon’s shrine, at Mammon’s shrine;
Where gold lies hid and rubies gleam,
And fabled wealth no more doth seem
The idle fancy of a dream –
Australia! Australia! Australia!
 
There is a land where homesteads peep
From sunny plain and wood-land steep,
And love and joy bright vigils keep, bright vigils keep;
Where the glad voice of childish glee
Is mingling with the melody
Of Nature’s hidden minstrelsy –
Australia! Australia! Australia!
 
There is a land where floating free,
From mountain top to girding sea,
A proud flag waves exultingly, exultingly;
And Freedom’s sons the banner bear,
No shackled slave can breathe the air,
Fairest of Britain’s daughters fair –
Australia! Australia! Australia!
 

By Kerrie Round

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 10 July 2015.

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Image: Cover page for the 'Song of Australia' sheet music.
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