The Queen's 60 years of good behaviour

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Queen Elizabeth mischievous grinI can remember the death of King George VI, father of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth II, who is, in case anybody has failed to notice, about to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her coronation.

On the morning of 6 February 1952, I went to the breakfast table, where my father was reading The Sun. He always started with the back page, for the important sports news: this was just the natural way a red-blooded Aussie male read the paper way back then.

The mandatory silence brooded over the breakfast table, but I was just old enough to read, and knew a screaming headline when I saw one. THE KING IS DEAD: the letters were the biggest I had ever seen.

At the start of the official period of mourning the police wore black arm bands, flags were flown at half-mast, and public functions, including school assemblies, started with one minute's silence. And it took everybody quite a while to get used to the necessary gender change in what was then Australia's national anthem.

Sixteen months later the mood was much lighter, and we had moved to a country township in the Wimmera district of Victoria. The Powers, whoever they were, decreed that coronation celebrations had to take place.

So take place they did. Great were the preparations, many were the rehearsals, and primal scenes of rivalry erupted with monotonous regularity as those same Powers decided which children should do what in the display at the local football ground.

I was wildly jealous of my sister. She was to wear full Scottish kit while riding a float that bore scenes from British history, while I was condemned to being a foot-slogger: it was a big come-down from playing a fairy in the Bendigo centenary celebrations two years before.

I am still in touch with three of my Wimmera classmates from all those decades ago. When I contacted them, one recalled wearing a red cape made out of crepe paper, the second wore blue, but the third, like me, had to make do with a lousy old white sheet that our mothers thought they could part with. And white was a relative term in the days of blue bags and before the invention of White King, speaking of royalty.

Picture the scene on 3 June 1953: children, graded as to height, and in their separate coloured rows, marched up and down to band music, and at a given moment, having been drilled to within an inch of their lives, knelt down to form the letters ER II in suitably patriotic patterns. I have an idea the effect would have been good when viewed from the air; I'm not sure what it looked like from the very modest grandstand.

My fellow-sufferer in sheeting recalls, proudly, that he was at the end of the crossbar of the E; I haven't a clue where I was.

At about that time I told my mother that I would like to be the Queen.

'No, you wouldn't,' she declared, roundly.

'Why not?'

'Just think what it would be like, always having to be on your best behaviour, whether you'd got out of the wrong side of the bed or not.'

I grew up to become an Australian Labor Party voting royalist. I don't imagine there are many of us left, and anyway fickle fate decided that I should live in a republic. And that's another story, a great many of them, in fact.

It seems to me now that the Queen has been (mostly) on her best behaviour for a very long time. The problem is that conscientiousness and devotion to duty now seem to be outmoded virtues. But many people my age, despite our political affiliations and persuasions, admire them still.

Happy anniversary, ma'am. 


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website

 


Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Queen Elizabeth II, jubilee, monarchy, republic

 

 

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Existing comments

I recently read Alan Bennett's "The Uncommon Reader". It's a small gem of a book about the Queen 'taking to reading' and, though a comic narrative, highlighted the deadly serious potential of reading to change lives. The ending of the book is extraordinary!
Whether we are monarchist or republican, there should be little doubt of the absolute devotion Her Maj has displayed towards her 'job'.
Pam | 30 May 2012


Giian you well captured my school boy memories. But well to be pioneering a new way of publishing. On your own web site. The way of a future. But what is your wew site. Force. Mike
Michael parer | 30 May 2012


Dear Gillian, Thank you for your nostalgic article - yes I remember being there marching, and wearing red I might add, on the 3rd June 1953. I wonder whether we would do it all over again! My views have changed but my sentiment has not. I must confess I have always had a soft spot for Elizabeth II, but I do accept, and believe that we should and will in time evolve to become a republic - but hopefully not in this monarch's time. I must make an observation and say that regardless of ones view point of the monarchy, it would be difficult to argue that this Monarch has not faithfully served us and the Commonwealth and it people very well, and I guess there does remain an argument for a system that allows for being born in graciousness to rule, in contrast to one where elbowing ones way to similar status is the accepted norm.
A Wimmera Class Mate | 30 May 2012


Many Australians, especially those with English forebears, take pride and pleasure in acknowledging the Queen but the Australian Constitution is obsolete in continuing to assert the dominating position of the British monarch. However, there is a major drawback in the United Kingdom. The class system is maintained and perpetuates unfairness and inefficiency in contrast to a 'merit' system that would give greater weight to innate ability. Australia has a similar problem. Despite professing to ignore 'class' we unfairly favour the children of the more-affluent in education and access to professional careers.
Bob Corcoran | 30 May 2012


The British monarchy is undemocratic, so the debate in Australia is not republic vs monarchy, but democracy vs monarchy. If having the Queen as head of state is so benign and non-intrusive, then why not appoint a figurehead like Jesus or St Mary McKillop?
AURELIUS | 30 May 2012


Oh Aurelius! England is an hereditary monarchy but its government is democratic. Parliament has existed since the Middle Ages and civil wars were fought in order to assert people power in England. Australian democracy is founded on the British Westminster system, though the behaviour of people like Mr Abbott stretch the Westminster concept almost to breaking point. Why does this even need to be spelled out? The Queen is a whole lot more benign and non-intrusive than some of the other models on offer in the 21st century. But she is monarch, not Jesus, whom she bows before, or St Mary McKillop, whose battles with difficult bishops she would probably identify with from her own reign. It is safe to say the Queen is not a saint, but she sure knows how to handle a horse.
SIR PETER DE LA MARE | 30 May 2012


When King George VI died I was a young child in India, a relic of the Raj, whose family had not yet picked up sticks to return "home" or anywhere else thought more suitable. Yes, we were imbued with the fact we were different from the general populace and felt British to the core. Fifty years on in Australia, I do feel that strong ancestral link with a particular part of England, but also feel Australian through and through. The latter very much due to receiving the final touches to my secondary education at what was then almost an English public school in Victoria. We have, as a nation, become much less "British" and more Australian as a nation in the last 50+ years. And rightly so. I can understand those of Irish ancestry not feeling any affection for Britain. The history of British governance in Ireland is appalling and repressive. Australia is also much more multi-ethnic and diverse culturally than it was in the 50s and 60s. The world has changed. Constitutional monarchy has done this country well but I think time is running out for it. Wherever we go I hope we preserve the liberties we enjoy today.
Edward F | 30 May 2012


SIR PETER DE LA MARE, over-confident in British democracy -- and presumably Australia's, also -- seems not to realise that the Queen's position [the Governor-General's as well] as Head of State is rather more than merely titular: those who remember Kerr's dismissal of Whitlam as PM in 1975 will need no reminding of that [nor of the fact that he ignored the express vote of confidence in Whitlam and against Fraser by the demo0crsatically-elected House of Representatives.

The essential point -- which the over-sentimental reminiscences of Ms Bouras and some of her respondents seem not to recognise -- is not whether Elizabeth II has done "a good job", but rather [particularly for Australia] whether that job should exist and be done AT ALL.
Furthermore, I find it offensive that a non-Australian should be the Head of State of this country [and, no matter how much the likes of ex-Professor Flint may quibble, that is precisely whet our constitution specifies the Queen's role is here]. Likewise, I find it offensive -- deeply offensive -- that only an Anglican may fill that role: not just in Britain [that's their problem], but ipso facto in Australia as well. It is inexcusable that there is a religious test for that role, especially when that same Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for any other official or government role in Australia.

So boyhood and girlhood memories and "soft spots" for the Queen are irrelevant: not only is she an anachronism but the very existence of that position [and its power] should affront every Australian.
John CARMODY | 30 May 2012


Dear John Carmody, sorry but being over-confident in British and Australian democracy is not the same as stating political reality. Did I say anything about being “over-confident”? Hardly. It is up to Australians to change their form of government and until they do the possibility of more Dismissals and more remote Monarchy will remain. Prince Charles gave a speech in Sydney once where he said that a nation that is mature can choose its own way of governing. It is astounding to me that republicans did not grasp the meaning of what he was saying, that Australia will become a republic when it chooses to do so. Maybe the republicans weren’t listening to Charles. We all know why the Queen of England is an Anglican, so why get upset about it? It’s hardly news. The current PM is an atheist Baptist. Make of it what you will! My only other note here has to do with boyhood and girlhood memories and "soft spots" for the Queen. Actually they are not irrelevant, nor anachronistic. There is nothing anachronistic about memory. If it was, our view of things like the 1975 Dismissal would be just meaningless memories. Yours, De la Mare.
SIR PETER DE LA MARE | 31 May 2012


Actually, John Carmody, I don't think it matters whether you are a constitutional monarchy (whether on British lines or not) or a republic. What matters is whether you are a genuine democracy with the requisite safeguards. If we were a republic which worked democratically, like Ireland or India, I would have no problems. I think there is still very much this " British"/" Irish" dichotomy, as far as ethnic origins go, between supporters of the monarchy and republicans in this country.
Edward F | 31 May 2012


What a thoroughly colourful and enjoyable piece, Gill, so vividly bringing to life a quaint time in Australia's history, when the country's 3 million strong population (about?) was largely of English decent and the White Australia Policy was alive and well.
I venture that no television in Australia (let alone Internet!) could have had a lot to do with the fervour surrounding the regal goings-on of the day. I mean, it's not as if dinner of chops and three veg for each night was going inject any gaiety, nor hanging out for grapes to come into season.
Good fun! 
Fiona Douglas | 31 May 2012


I think what Gillian has done, as Fiona Douglas pointed out, is to wonderfully recreate a vanished Australia at a certain emotionally poignant time in a young girl's life. That is the sort of thing a very good writer does. Gillian was not attempting to "sell" the monarchist cause: she is no David Flint there.
Edward F | 01 June 2012


I remember newspaper boy delivering the morning papers and calling loudly as he he ran alone the street, "The King is Dead. Long live the Queen". Something of a prophecy in that!
Maureen | 01 June 2012


Bouras writes that the Queen of England(and of Australia)has been conscientious and devoted to her duties. Hello ! Why wouldn't she be whilst the crown sits so comfortably on her head ? And what has she done about The Act of Settlement of 1701 during her sixty years ?
Peter Kiernan | 01 June 2012


I am somewhat bemused at the number of comments my little piece of nostalgia has occasioned. Strange as it may seem, I often compare the life of my mother-in-law (traditional woman, illiterate, widow of a priest) with that of the Queen. Unlike some of us who have had the freedom to invent at least part of our lives, both these women had received and prescribed lives from which there could be no honourable escape. To live such a life with grace and dedication is, in my view, wholly admirable.

Thank you to all those who took the time and trouble to write in.
Gillian Bouras | 01 June 2012


Thank you Gillian, from a fellow Labor, left leaning royalist! I was eight when the King died. I love E11R, and cannot imagine a world without her, even though she's 12000 miles away. I would not mind shedding the monarchy, after her, but whoever dreams up a new system, has to get it right. To date, the British monarchy has not caused us any problem, regardless of who occupies the throne. It's the system - institution of the Crown - that counts. It has served us well and we didn't have to fight a war to get our democracy. It was handed to us.
Louw | 02 June 2012


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