Reviving the Republic

July 25, 2007 at 5:34 am (Uncategorized)

John Howard did his best to bury Australia’s chances of becoming a republic back in 1999, when the phrasing of the referendum confused many people, just as it was intended to do. Rather than put the question in terms of ‘Should Australia become a republic, yes or no?’, Howard very cannily constructed a referendum around choosing a particular republican model. This crucial difference had many people confounded – I don’t think many people felt equipped to endorse a particular model of republicanism before the question of republicanism itself had been decided. The referendum was narrowly defeated.

Llew and I were in London for the referendum vote, which we duly cast at the Australian Embassy along with thousands of other Australians who were temporarily living in the UK. We were excited, hopeful, and felt the time had come for Australia to take a step toward an independent future. It was the end of the millennium, and it seemed our national identity was about to undergo a fundamental but overdue and requisite shift away from our colonial past. There’s no question our historical ties with England will remain an important and in many ways (irrevocable damage to our Indigenous community notwithstanding) affectionate part of our national character – too many families are too intertwined and too many cultural characteristics are shared and enjoyed for that bond to ever be severed – but should Australia remain a constitutional monarchy? I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now. And I know I’m not alone – Queen Elizabeth II looked completely stunned by the result.

And what were we, at that moment Australians living in England at Her Majesty’s pleasure? We were horrified. I have never been more embarrassed and more acutely aware of our too easily enfeebled nature than I was that day. Australia was utterly cowed by the terms of the referendum, and the (albeit narrow) majority of us went running squealing to hide behind the Queen’s ample skirts. I was so devastated to learn most of us didn’t want to stand on our own two feet. It’s still enough to force a lump up my throat. It pains me to think of it because I felt completely humiliated as an Australian, especially for being in England when the results came through. It made me feel colonised, and that made me feel compromised on a level I can’t really share, and I say that with all the respect and affection in the world for our English friends and their country. They wouldn’t have a bar of this themselves, and what was so mortifying was that this time, Australians were choosing it, choosing their lowly place in the pecking order. It still makes me want to puke from anxiety and disappointment.

Australia won the Rugby World Cup a day or so after the republican referendum was defeated. The next day, there was a huge photo on the cover of one of the London broadsheets, showing the Queen presenting the cup to the enormous Australian Captain, the great John Eales. He towered over her, every inch the Australian ideal of fitness and good sportsmanship. The headline? ‘HE’S KING OF THE WORLD…AND SHE’S QUEEN OF AUSTRALIA.’ I’ll never forget it. So when Kevin Rudd was quoted today saying Labor would put the republican debate back on the table, my heart leapt in my chest as though I were a schoolgirl with a crush. Bring it on, Mr Rudd, bring it on.

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1 Comment

  1. alburywodongaonline said,

    I think at this point the Australian republic is an inevitability more than a possibility, I think the only thing more certain is that John Howard will take his rightful place in Australian history -as an obstinate anachronism who time after time, put his own personal agenda above that of the people he was elected to represent. The very embodiment of Lawson’s “old dead tree”.

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