Apart from the 8,000 loaves of bread, the 1,500 litres of tomato sauce and 130,000 sausages that were consumed at the Queen’s Barbecue in Perth—and at last count the over 90 tonnes of flowers, presented to her in Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth—to say nothing of the crowd of 200,000 that turned out to farewell Her Majesty on her last day in Australia—you could say that the Queen’s royal tour has been a bit of a success. So the big question is to where have all the Republicans gone? Bali?
Well, I suppose, fair enough. It is a bit rich yelling and screaming abuse at an 85 year old woman and her 90 year old husband, when they have travelled half way around the world to see us; but it hasn’t stopped them in the past. And what’s happened to all the anti-monarchy stuff that is, no doubt, taught in schools and universities? There seemed to be a distinct preponderance of youth amongst the cheering crowds. Don’t they listen to their teachers anymore?
Where were the protesters? Where were all the indignantaries? The party poopers? Well, according to Christopher Pearson in The Weekend Australian, a lot of them attended the reception in the parliament’s Great Hall. He noted; “A (largely republican) crowd of the government’s invited guests elbowed and jostled to make sure they were introduced to the Queen.”
Have you ever asked an Australian republican why they want the nation to disengage from monarchy. I have, and I’ve never got a rational reply. Simplistic answers like “I want the country to be independent” or “I don’t want a foreign Head-of-State” are not rational replies. They are just the simplistic cries of “the mob”. They are silly statements like “I don’t like the Chinese” or “I don’t like Arabs”. They are silly because they are usually never followed by the word because. The problem with the word because is that it leads a person on to have to state a reason. Are republicans perhaps simply xenophobic? Now there’s a question.
Try it at your next republican sausage-sizzle. If anyone turns up.
Take the statement “I don’t want a foreign Head-of-State”. Curiously, if you are a Roman Catholic, having a “foreign” Pope isn’t a problem. Or take the United Nations. That’s the body that interferes with, and tells our parliament what to do on border policy, on refugees, on human rights, on Aborigines, on health issues, on education, on freedoms of thought and religion. And on race—to say nothing of climate-change and a whole host of other worldly things. There’s no problem, apparently, with having a “foreign Head-of State” running the United Nations. There is no problem in a foreigner telling us how to behave in the way we run our lives, and run our country. Republicans can be so tolerant—at times.
Yet republicans hyper-ventilate at the thought of monarchy. It isn’t as though the Queen ever interferes with the business of running Australia like the UN is so happy to do. She only acts on issues dealing with the Commonwealth of Australia on advice from the Australian Prime Minister. The present monarch only has the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn—that is, in the UK. As Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II is vital as the symbol that hold our constitution together. The figurehead that stands above the ranting of politics, race and ideology. The person who keeps us safe from tyrants.
A more difficult question for a monarchist to address is the question of a Royal family. The idea that a sovereign has a birth-right. A royal bloodline. A special family that breeds our monarchs. The only answer a monarchist can honestly give to that question of monarchy is that “we would never agree to its invention, but as we have one, we want to keep it”. It is not a perfect answer but when you add to it notions of tradition, history, customs and law, that connects this country to Great Britain, the idea of a ‘special family’ to some degree becomes less uncomfortable, and if anything, to judge from the waving crowds—more exciting and quite acceptable.
The monarchy is also this nation’s great connection to the unfolding of western civilisation via the nearly 1500 years of kings and queens that have ruled Great Britain, and the threads that in turn drift back to the Roman and Greek societies of the past. Most of those kings and queens serve as merely bookmarks that open up the various ages of English speaking people to both their achievements and their mistakes. What a heritage!
Also, monarchy to most Australians isn’t limited to the just the occasional Royal Visit. It is an ongoing part of our culture in books, movies, plays and television. Monarchy is of world-wide interest and we are part of it. The King’s Speech, The Madness of George III, Edward VII, The Tudors, Henry VIII, Edward and Wallis, Young Victoria, Richard the Lion Heart, Mary—Queen of Scots, King Arthur—the list goes on and on and on. Then there is the television. Documentaries, royal weddings, royal births, royal break-ups. And the women’s magazines. Do republicans not ever read the Women’s Weekly?
Like it or not republicans have to accept that most Australians have ancestors that are locked into a past that is steeped in the history of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. And that, that British ancestry, encompassing the lives and times of monarchs, can no more be cut off and dismissed, than can the ancestry of say Aboriginal people or immigrants that live in this country and can still enjoy their own culture.
One of the moral issues republicans must face is how, in this day and age, do you crush and dismember ethnic, cultural, and family-heritage and traditions that are enjoyed by a majority of Australians, just to satisfy the whim of a minority of republican ideologues. Big call!
There was something rather special that Australia was part of the meeting of Commonwealth nations, gathered in Perth, that represented one quarter of the world’s people. And the Queen was their figurehead.
I only have to think of Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter, Bob Brown, Julian Assange, Kylie Minogue or Geoffrey Robertson—as President of the Republic of Australia—to get the urge to whip out a flag, rush out to the barricades and wave frantically to the Queen.
At 85 she was certainly back with a vengeance.