In an earlier life, in another world -- Canberra, 1972-76 -- I wrote a national anthem.
For most of my time in Canberra I was employed as a sub-editor by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Reporting Staff, or Hansard. I lived through the Whitlam Years, close up. Too close, perhaps. When Whitlam was dismissed, Sally and I couldn't believe it, and we couldn't wait to get out of Canberra. But that's another story.
In the USA people perhaps still speak of President Kennedy's "first hundred days". In Australia some still remember Gough Whitlam's "first hundred hours". The first Whitlam Ministry consisted of the prime minister and his deputy, Lance Barnard, who between them held all of the portfolios. In a matter of days in December 1972 they abolished conscription, ordered our remaining troops home from Vietnam, extended diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China, and began scores of reforms. It was an exciting time. And as things settled down in early 1973 the prime minister turned his attention to Australia's national anthem. A prize of $5000 was offered in open competition for a new anthem.
I wrote an anthem. I did not enter the competition. My anthem was meant as a satire of the kinds of anthem that I reckoned the competition would attract. How was I to know that people would take it seriously? But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I wrote a letter to the Times:
The Editor
The Canberra Times

Dear Sir,
I seen where youse want a new national anthem so enclose same herewith, where do I collect me $5000?
My National Anthem is sung to the grand old tune of "The Internationale" by those with a leftward inclination and "O, Tannenbaum" by those without. Something for everyone. Democratic, like.
Fourteen further stanzas, extolling the virtues, beauty &c of the States and Territories, foreign aid, motherhood, Aussie Rules, the Spirit of Anzac, and the Sydney Opera House, are available at the reduced rate of $500 each.
The music is being scored for me by a mate up at Grabben Gullen who knows about this kind of stuff. He reckons wobbleboard, didjeridoo and gumleaf band should be OK, with electric banjo and musket volley for ceremonial occasions.
I should mention that my little effort has been partly inspired by our new Minista for Speling Reeform, Dr Evringm. Please make cheque payable cash.

ORSTRILIA!

Orstrilia! Orstrilia!
Ya know we'll never filia!
We'll fight fer ya and die fer ya
Whene'er yer foes assilia!
Our sunburnt land is green in spots;
There's gold in sand -- and we've got lots.
We're big on Truth and Liberty:
Orstrilia is the place for we!

Yours &c

A week later this letter appeared in the Canberra Times:
Sir, -- My heart bleeds! John Bangsund's letter titled "An Orstrilian Anthem" displays a sorry ignorance which I fear is shared by all those not of a "leftward inclination".
One cannot equate the "Internationale" with "O, Tannenbaum". The song that is inclined leftward and that is sung to the same music as the old German carol is "The Red Flag". This catchy little number, far from being the anthem of the left, is more suited to school songs.

Deirdre Mason, Pymble, NSW

What a blow! -- my armchair-socialist and musicological credentials impugned, impeached and shot to pieces, for all the world to see (or that part of the world that reads the Canberra Times anyway). I wrote another letter to the Times, beginning
I've sung my praise of our fair land
But no-one thinks it's worth five grand

but it was never published. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Bruce Gillespie had dictated my anthem on the telephone, more or less from memory, to Owen Webster, who proceeded to lambaste it at excessive length in his column in the weekly Nation Review. Oh dear.
Leigh Edmonds had concocted a fannish opera for the Melbourne Easter Science Fiction Convention. I think it was called "Joe Faust". Joe Faust wants to be the Secret Master of Fandom and he enters a pact with the devil, something like that. One of the two songs I recall from it (I didn't get to the convention) is "Joseph Faust, Superfan" to the tune of "Jesus Christ, Superstar". The other song I wrote, at Leigh's request. You have already seen some of it. Here's the lot.

AN ORSTRILIAN NOTIONAL ANTHEM

Orstrilia! Orstrilia!
Ya know we'll never filia!
We'll fight fer ya and die fer ya
Whene'er yer foes assilia!
Our sunburnt land is green in spots;
There's gold in sand -- and we've got lots.
We're big on Truth and Liberty:
Orstrilia is the place for we!

The East is red, the South is not --
This is the Land That Time Forgot.
But Time has caught up with us now
And we're all reading Chairman Mao.
Yes, Time has caught up with us now,
And we're all reading Chairman Mao,
But Chairman Mao is rather bleak
So now and then we read Newsweek.

With E.G. Whitlam at our head
We'll soon be either red or dead.
Whichever it turns out to be,
It is our modest Destiny.
Whichever it turns out to be,
It is our modest Destiny --
But Destinies are born, not made,
So ours will likely be mislaid.

We've all got homes and cars and jobs;
We're all right, Jack, but we're not snobs!
If everyone was like we are
This World would be Utopia!
If everyone was like we are
This World would be Utopia!
There'd be a lot less strife and fuss
If everyone was just like us!

Orstrilia! Orstrilia!
Ya know we'll never filia!
We'll fight fer ya and die fer ya
Whene'er yer foes assilia!
Our blokes are beaut, our sheilas grouse,
And we have got an Opera House --
And pies with sauce, and BHP:
Orstrilia is the place for we!
For the next couple of years the anthem was sung on local fannish occasions. Then, at the 33rd World Science Fiction Convention, Melbourne, 1975, all of fandom seemed to adopt it. It was sung with gusto on jumbo jets departing from Melbourne for all corners of the known globe, and I believe it has been sung since whenever Australia has made a bid for the World Convention. It was sung at the 43rd World Convention, Melbourne, 1985, and I have no doubt it will be sung again at the 57th WorldCon, Melbourne, 1999.

Wordplay-L, February 1997




John Bangsund
Melbourne, Australia



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