Whitlam Institute

Australia the Nation

Australia the Nation


The changes made to Australia’s national symbols reflected the Whitlam Government’s vision of a confident, independent Australia.

Whitlam sought to abandon what he saw as colonial relics, and replace them with distinctively Australian symbols such as Advance Australia Fair and the new Order of Australia honours system. These reforms were in keeping with the spirit of renewal and progress that characterised so much of the Whitlam Government program. 


Advance Australia Fair | The Australian Honours System | Royal Titles


Advance Australia Fair

On Australia Day, 1973, Gough Whitlam announced an Australian National Anthem Quest, which invited words and music from the public that might be suitable as Australia’s new national anthem to replace God Save the Queen. 2,500 suggestions for lyrics were received, and submitted to the Australia Council for the Arts, and referred to a judging committee consisting of Ross Campbell, Manning Clark, Kath Walker and David Williamson. The judges of the music competition (for which 1,300 entries were received) felt that none of the submissions bettered any of Australia's three unofficial national songs – Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia. The government conducted a nationwide poll which found that 51% preferred Advance Australia Fair, 20% preferred Waltzing Matilda, and 14% preferred Song of Australia. From this point on, Advance Australia Fair was treated as the national anthem. A 1977 plebiscite again upheld this as the popular choice, and it was entrenched as the national anthem by a proclamation by Governor General Ninian Stephen in 1984.

The Australian Honours System

In accordance with Labor Party policy as determined by the 1971 Federal Conference, the Whitlam Government opposed the conferral of honours under the imperial honours system. The system, which allowed the Prime Minister to recommend knighthoods be granted to individuals was seen by many as a throwback to Australia’s colonial past, and a system ill-fitting with the modern Australian nation and its place in the world. Since 1967, Whitlam had advocated the creation of an Australian honours system, called the Order of Australia.

On February 14, 1975, the Order of Australia was established.  It was based broadly on the Order of Canada. The Order of Australia differs from the imperial honours system in that final decisions relating to awards are made by the Council for the Order of Australia, rather than by a politician. This helps ensure that the awards system is merit-based and apolitical.

Royal Titles

Following the passage of the Whitlam Government’s Royal Style and Titles Act, the Queen’s official title was amended. From that time on, she was thereafter known as Queen of Australia in her capacity as the Australian monarch.258 The first function Queen Elizabeth II attended as Queen of Australia was a lunch at the Lodge on October 19, 1973, at which Senior Vice President of the Labor Party, Jack Egerton greeted her by remarking, "They tell me, love, you’ve been naturalised."