I came, I saw, I CHOGM’d

Well, thank goodness that’s over – although here in Perth we are confiding to each other that it turned out to be a lot more fun that any of us expected. 

CHOGM is a load of rubbish. Everyone knows that, even most of the people who attend it. One government wag in the 1970s suggested that the acronym stood for C-words Holidaying On Government Money (and the C-word is not the one you may be thinking of). But I love it when the Queen comes here – normally I barely give her a thought, but when she turns up I and practically everyone else in the country go all sentimental. I also notice that she’s achieved the ultimate Australian accolade: adult heterosexual males dress up as her in public. 

But let’s be completely honest: the real thrill is watching the feeble posturings of the last few republicans in captivity, and savouring their attempts to revive what has been a dead and buried issue for years. Kevin Rudd’s disastrous leadership style and At Home with Julia have done more good for the monarchist cause than any amount of saying how hard the Queen works, and how nice she is to dogs and small children. 

And small children there have been in abundance to see her; also school-age children, teenagers, young adults, young families. In fact, the oldest people the Queen had to put up with were at the Government House garden party on Thursday, which was by invitation only. (I wasn’t invited: a puzzling oversight, as I am famous in Perth for my ability to make both polite conversation and substantial inroads on the petits-fours.) 

I did take an unholy pleasure in the rent-a-crowd demonstrations in the city centre on Friday: a tiny group of about 100 watched in rapture by a slightly larger group of journalists. And oh, what demonstrators: everyone in Perth with an axe to grind, from the reasonable and relevant (dictatorship in Zimbabwe) to the downright strange (Transgender Grandparents Against Nuclear Waste – although I could be wrong about that one). I also live in a trendy-left electorate where our local newspaper shrieked that the CHOGM restrictions gave police the power to interrogate children. After some pleasing fantasies of the little eco-brats being dosed with castor oil by Roundheads, I mentally wished the police good luck: most children appear to be welded to electronic devices, so the cops will have to interrogate them via Facebook. 

But those 100 demonstrators got top billing on every news service that night: you’d have thought it was Bloody Sunday, when it was mostly an eclectic mix of withered has-beens. You see, here in Perth we don’t have a lot of excitement. The violent wharf confrontations, the BLF strikes, the sit-downs, the mass rallies – they are largely a thing of the past, and long may they remain so. Even the drive-by shootings are more subdued (and they’re always bikies, and it’s always drugs). We have the odd high-profile murder, but for the most part all the entire place has done for the last 16 years is make piles of money and then sit round counting it. Western Australia is living proof of the pacifying power of a sound economy. 

What the excitable journalists also didn’t report was the following. On that same Friday we had a public holiday – huzzah – and as most of the city centre was closed, the populace was given a bit of the area known as Northbridge as a ‘People’s Space’. Northbridge is usually better known for its tattoo parlours and vibrant glassing community, but for CHOGM there was free stuff, stalls, and other hoop-la. I was there for about three hours, and there would have been well over a thousand people milling about and coming and going in a comparatively small area. Most of them were smiling, and all of them appeared to be having a lovely day out in the beautiful weather. Best thing of all, there were almost no displays of folk dancing. 

The other best thing of all was that the Art Gallery of Western Australia (also in Northbridge) had a two-for-one admission offer for the beautiful Princely Treasures collection from the V & A, which is currently touring. Normally the Art Gallery is as deserted as a church, and if you could see the collection usually on display you would immediately understand why, but on Friday it was teeming. These people were of all colours and ages – from the leafy-suburb posh matron to the Laotian family with the baby in the buggy – and all of them were having a Nice Day Out. The Nice Day Out theme continued on Saturday with a Great Australian BBQ on the beautiful river foreshore, where a staggering 50,000 mostly young people braved life, limb and free public transport to enjoy a sausage in a bun in what the Queen very politely called an ‘idyllic’ setting (‘idyllic’ is an English word meaning ‘lots of flies and a strong smell of burning onions’). 

So in one way we are glad it’s all over and that the Queen has gone home, and we can have our normal city centre back and never have to take public transport at night again. But I think it’s fair to say that the whole thing was an overwhelming success, especially for those who didn’t have to attend the CHOGM sessions. When I saw excerpts from the opening ceremony – Guy Sebastian, a Kamahl-like voiceover on the national anthem, and speeches from overseas-aid thieves, possible war criminals and Julia Gillard – I realised once again that the Queen actually isn’t paid enough.

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