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Carol of the Birds, occasionally titled Orana, is an original Australian christmas carol, released in 1948 as part of an original publication called Five Australian Carols; First Set. The music was written by William Garnet James and the lyrics by John Wheeler, however the majority of Aussies are not aware of this origin and only know the carol itself as part of the familiar generic carols that get sung every year at christmas time. 

The words and music are celebratory and hopeful in tone, with three verses and no chorus. The melody floats up and down, up and down, up and down, each line of the melody similar in flow but not duplicated within the same verse. A cohesive whole is achieved by repeating the melody for each verse and keeping the same last line each time. It is this last line in each verse that most people can join in with even when forgetting the rest of the lyrics.

 

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparkle and quiver
Deep in the gullies bell-birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in the wattle tree bowers
In the blue ranges lorikeets calling
Carols of bushbirds rising and falling
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day

 

The song references Australian imagery, primarily through showcasing different Australian birds. Imagine the soft dawn of a summer sun, with all the birds waking up and singing in delight in the cool air before the heat of the day sets in on Christmas Day. "Orana!" they sing, "Welcome to Christmas Day."

The word "orana" in the carol means "welcome".  "Orana" is commonly thought to be an Aboriginal word meaning welcome, however it appears this may be erroneous. According to blogger David Nash, the word may have originated in Polynesia instead, and made its way over to Australia from there, bypassing any Aboriginal language entirely. As per David's article, the carol creators possibly took the meaning and origin of the word "orana" from information found in a 1920s (or later) naming booklet, which claimed the origin of the word was Aboriginal.

 

It is worth noting that Carol of the Birds has no connection to the Catalonian christmas carol El Cant Dels Ocells, or Whence Comes This Rush Of Wings? (Carol of the Birds).

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