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Australia Day in 1973 Passed Almost Unnoticed But Whitlam Began Search For A New National Anthem

Australia Day 1973 passed almost unnoticed, according to one radio news report, but Gough Whitlam used his 53rd day as prime minister to announce a search for a new national anthem.

Listen to a news report from radio 3DB in Melbourne on January 26, 1973, including a clip from Whitlam’s speech (1m)

Whitlam’s announcement of a replacement for God Save the Queen came in his Australia Day address. He said:

“We feel it is essential that Australians have an Anthem that fittingly embodies our national aspirations and reflects our status as an independent nation. We need an Anthem that uniquely identifies our country abroad, and recalls vividly to ourselves the distinctive qualities of Australian life and the character and traditions of our nation. These aims are particularly important to the Labor Government which I lead. It has been one of tile central ambitions of my administration to foster a fresh and distinctive reputation for Australia overseas, and to encourage in our domestic affairs a greater spirit of shared purpose and national unity. My Government does not believe that our present National Anthem is adequate for these purposes.”

Whitlam announced a competition for the new anthem, culminating in a public vote and a prize of $5000.00 to the winner.

The announcement barely rated a mention in the daily newspapers the next day. Following her success in winning three gold, one silver and one bronze medal for swimming at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Shane Gould was named Australian of the Year. The impending return of journalist Francis James from imprisonment in China also garnered attention, as did an oil strike, President Nixon’s announcement of “peace with honour” in Vietnam, and the death of former President Lyndon Johnson.

The text of Whitlam’s Australia Day Address to the Nation is shown below.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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