Boundless Plains to Share?: On Ignoring the Second Verse of Our Anthem

Paul Mitchell wonders why we habitually ignore the second verse of our national anthem … the one that promises to share our boundless plains with those who come across the seas. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to share these days? He calls for those of us who don’t paint our faces with the Southern Cross to sing the whole song … or refuse to sing it at all.

Image: Adrian R. Tan

Despite the huge numbers of young Australian men and women wrapped in the Australian flag every Australia Day, Anzac Day, Grand Final Day and Grand Prix, there are some of us who remain skeptical about all this nationalism. We think Australia’s a nice place to be, but so is Austria. And England. And many Asian countries and even parts of the United States and South America. In short, we think the world’s an oyster and Australia is a bit of grit in its shell that, given enough time, might become a pearl of a place.

But we’re not going to wrap ourselves in the flag. The most we’ll do is stand up, if asked politely, and sing our national anthem: Australians all let us ring Joyce, etc. Yes, the words are difficult. No one really goes about rejoicing these days. They might be stoked or feeling sick, mate, sick. And no one is ever girt by sea. (There’s sand by the sea, not girt. Everyone knows that much about geology and the anthem.)

And many of us seem to know about our mysterious second verse. The one that never gets sung. And yet it’s on the official Australian Government website as the official second verse of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, our official national anthem:

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross

We’ll toil with hearts and hands;

To make this Commonwealth of ours

Renowned of all the lands;

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair.

Before I get started on those emboldened lines above, it’s interesting to note that there was a girty battle over many decades about what should be the final lyrics of Advance Australia Fair, a song that ended up having multiple composers, many different and now discarded verses, and a royal brawl with God Save the Queen to become our official song. But, since 1984 (officially), it’s been our anthem. And it has two verses, the Joycey Girty one, and this one above. It’s official. It’s on a Government website with one of those important emu/roo logos on it.

But, as mentioned, we don’t sing this one. If the song is too long to sing at official functions, why not combine the verses into one? Or lop the second verse from our official records officially? It hasn’t happened. We still have a song that, when sung at events, consists of a verse and a couple of refrains. It’s a bit like playing the piano bit of Bohemian Rhapsody, but leaving out the choral and heavy metal bits. Wayne and Garth would not approve.

Yet we seem to approve. And many of us, perhaps not those with the Oz scarf wrapped round our Southern Cross-tattooed necks, point out the irony that our official second verse appears to give a hearty anthemic welcome to refugees, while our official government policy is singing from a different hymn sheet. We titter and tut-tut: “Look at our second verse, but look at our policy!” Then we stand up and sing the young and free verse when we’re told to.

I’m not an expert on official songs. But I played football when I was younger and our theme song was based on AFL club Hawthorn’s song. We sang, ‘We’re a happy team at Belmont, we’re the mighty fighting Blues. We love our club and we play to win …’ The whole thing seemed to be about giving the team a sense of identity and a bit of motivation for how we played. I’m guessing they’re basically the reasons to have a national anthem. But our happy team didn’t leave out any of the verses. We sang/chanted them heartily.

Could it be no accident that we have omitted the second verse of our national anthem? Perhaps it’s that we’re symbolically shy about ‘toiling with hearts and hands’, not too keen on being ‘renowned of all the lands’ … but, hang on, we’re proud of not being bludgers (mate!), and our spending on both Olympics shows we’re keen on being renowned, thanks very much.

No, let’s face it, we’ve likely subconsciously shelved the verse because of those two lines about sharing with and welcoming those who’ve come across the seas. I haven’t seen much of that welcome since Malcolm Fraser toured the country in the early 1980s, telling us how important it was, for compassionate and economic reasons, to take in Vietnamese refugees. Just before the national anthem became official.

I don’t like singing the national anthem. (Not because I’m an anarchist. I also like singing. It’s just a crap song.) Yet I do sing it when I’m asked to. But I think it’s time to stop.

Those of us without the Aussie flag painted on our faces should consider, as a protest, not singing our national anthem until that second verse is reinstated. Until the spirit that compelled us to choose a song that promised to share our ‘boundless plains’ with ‘those who’ve come across the seas’ is strong in us again, and we can sing the whole song like we mean it.

Portrait of Paul Mitchell