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’.
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.