Sunday History Photo / Au

Submitted: Sunday, Feb 01, 2015 at 08:23
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Peter Dodds McCormick, a Scottish-born schoolteacher, was born at Port Glasgow, Scotland, he arrived in Sydney (at that time the principal city of the British colony of New South Wales) in 1855. He spent most of his life employed by the NSW Education Department. In 1863 he was appointed teacher-in charge of at St Mary's National School and went on to teach at the Presbyterian denominational school in the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo in 1867. He then moved to Dowling Plunkett Street Public School in 1878 where he remained until 1885.

He was heavily involved in the Scottish Presbyterian Church and was active in a number of community and benevolent organisations. He began his involvement with Sydney's St Stephen's Church as a stonemason, working on the now demolished Phillip Street Church (where Martin Place now stands). The Rev Hugh Darling was so impressed with his singing on the job he asked him to join the choir. His musical ability led him to becoming the precentor of the Presbyterian Church of NSW, which gave him the opportunity to conduct very large massed choirs. He was also convenor of the Presbyterian Church Assembly's Committee on Psalmody.
Also a talented composer, he published around 30 patriotic and Scottish songs, some of which became very popular. Included in his collected works was Advance Australia Fair, which was first performed in public by Andrew Fairfax at the St Andrew's Day concert of the Highland Society on 30 November 1878.
Advance Australia Fair became quite a popular patriotic song. The Sydney Morning Herald described the music as bold and stirring, and the words "decidedly patriotic" – it was "likely to become a popular favourite". Later under the pseudonym Amicus (which means 'friend' in Latin), he had the music and four verses published by W. H. Paling & Co. Ltd.

The song quickly gained popularity and an amended version was sung by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In 1907, the New South Wales Government awarded Peter McCormick £100 for his patriotic composition which he registered for copyright in 1915.
In a letter to R. B. Fuller Esq., dated 1 August 1913, Mr McCormick described the circumstances that inspired him to pen the lyrics of his famous song:

(“ One night I attended a great concert in the Exhibition Building, when all the National Anthems of the world were to be sung by a large choir with band accompaniment. This was very nicely done, but I felt very aggravated that there was not one note for Australia. On the way home in a bus, I concocted the first verse of my song & when I got home I set it to music. I first wrote it in the Tonic Sol-fa notation, then transcribed it into the Old Notation, & I tried it over on an instrument next morning, & found it correct. Strange to say there has not been a note of it altered since. Some alteration has been made in the wording, but the sense is the same. It seemed to me to be like an inspiration, & I wrote the words & music with the greatest ease.}

A fresh edition of Australia's National Anthem - beautifully illustrated by well-known Australian artists. In this book , the words and music of Australia's National anthem are accompanied by paintings from some of Australia's finest artists: Fredrick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Margaret Preston, Russel Drysdale, Albert Namatjira and others. The first public performance of Australia's national anthem is thought to have been given in Sydney on 30 November 1878 at the St Andrew's Day concert of the Highland Society. The singer was a Mr Andrew Fairfax. It gained favour as a national song, and sung by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. The Australian Labor Party policy for the 1972 elections included finding an alternative anthem to God Save the Queen. A competition was held but despite the large number of submissions received, none were considered acceptable. A couple of opinion polls in 1974 and 1977 followed, but it wasn't until 1984 that the song was formally adopted as Australia's only national anthem. Turn the pages through history and song, and advance Australia fair.

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