It was on this day in 1984 that Australia adopted Advance, Australia fair as its national anthem. Until that day God save the Queen had been the anthem. It must have been strange for people from Britain to travel to the other side of the world and hear their own anthem as the local anthem. Australia would have seemed a place that was not home, but not foreign, either.
I remember a moment of feeling far from home but not in a foreign place when standing outside of a phone box on the edge of English Bay in Vancouver in 1998. It was a first visit to Canada in 1998. There were eight hours of time difference from home, thousands of miles of flying. It was not home, but then, neither was it in any way alien. The Canadians speak better English than the English; Queen Elizabeth’s head was on all the coins; everything was familiar and friendly; it was a good place to be.
It was strangely reassuring to feel at home so far away.
I remember a similar feeling as I passed a morning watching the Australian general election results in 2007. Eleven hours ahead, and on the other side of the world, it could have been the BBC in London.
It wasn’t just the format that had a familiar feel, it was the people who presented and the people who appeared. In a world markedly different from, or even hostile to, the old and the familiar things of these islands, there was a sense that here were friends. No matter how much I might have disagreed with Prime Minister Howard’s support of the Iraq war, or his treatment of immigrants, I always thought he would be a good guy to have at your table at dinner, or to have a pint with, or to invite to a barbecue. These people were people you would understand and who would understand you.
The voice of Kerry O’Brien, the presenter created a sense that timeless traditions were being upheld and that there was still a world where the best of the old Western values had a place. As they rolled through the constituency names, there was a poetic mingling of the Old World and the New World, of the reassuringly usual with the interestingly exotic, but there was never a sense of any of it being foreign.
Reflecting on the thoughts of being far from home, but not alien, I’m reminded of the story of the London cabbie with a pair of backpackers in his taxi who him whether the place they were going would welcome foreigners. “Blimey mate,” the cabbie replied, “you’re not foreigners, you’re Australians.”
Advance, Australia fair.