This is a 30-second clip from a simulated recording of Australian troops docking in Egypt after their voyage from Australia to take part in the First World War. They are greeted by jovial ‘Tommies’ and a band that plays 'Advance Australia Fair’.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
This is believed to be the first recording of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, although it may simply be the first that survives. The song had been popular in Australia at least since Federation in 1901.
The second song on the recording (not heard in the clip) is a music hall hit from 1914. Comedian Mark Sheridan made it famous in the early stages of the war. It was described as ‘the British Army’s battle cry’, and Sheridan would conduct endless choruses from the music hall stage, using his umbrella.
The final song in the complete recording is ‘Australia Will Be There’, probably the best-known patriotic song of the war for Australians. It was written in 1915 by Walter W ‘Skipper’ Francis, and used as a marching song by troops leaving Australia. The song quotes from ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in its chorus.
It is possible that this recording is the work of a professional troupe of actors, possibly an early ‘entertainment’ unit. The voices of the soldiers in the clip sound as if they are trained, suggesting professional actors. The chorus of singers are certainly trained, as they sing songs in harmony. The brass band is also well prepared and tight in their playing of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, suggesting that they had played the tune before.
The recording quality is poor by today’s standards, but not by those of 1916.
A short commercial recording, probably made in London around 1916, that dramatises the Australian troops arriving in Egypt, before Gallipoli. It includes what is probably the first recording of 'Advance Australia Fair’, the song that was to become our national anthem. The ‘soldiers’ sing patriotic songs and joke with English ‘Tommies’ about having kangaroos on the ship.
Little is known about the origins of this recording, save that it’s certainly not actuality of any troops landing anywhere. It was made as a commercial disc by Zonophone, a company that eventually became part of EMI. Even the date is a surmise: it can’t be pre-1915 because the patriotic song ‘Australia Will Be There’ was only written in 1915.
The purpose is also unclear: was it popular propaganda, a wartime fundraiser, a souvenir for troops on leave to send home to family, or even an Australian effort to remind the British that they were not fighting alone? It is likely that the disc was recorded in London rather than in Egypt, and the use of sound effects suggests that it was a professional studio. This was before the debut of broadcast radio services in the 1920s, but a growing number of people had gramophones, capable of playing recordings such as this.
This is also believed to be the first recording of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, although it may simply be the first that survives. The song had been popular in Australia at least since Federation in 1901 – although it was not made the national anthem until 1984.
It is likely it was recorded in London around 1916 and sold as a commercial disc soon after to the growing number of people who had gramophones.
Notes by Paul Byrnes