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Australian larrikinism is a royal myth

  • 28 October 2011

Queen Elizabeth's first visit to Australia in 1954 as a pretty young woman was, by all accounts, an occasion most auspicious. Of the Australian population, then around 7 million, an estimated 70 per cent made the time and distance to partake in festivities.

In 1954, 'White Australia' policies were functionally intact, women parliamentarians were incredibly few, Aboriginals did not enjoy any legal equality, and homosexual expression was illegal. Non-ballerina women, if rumour is to be believed, curtseyed. The migrants who constitute and parented a large portion of the population — myself included — had not yet arrived in Australia.

It was the year Menzies borrowed the words of Thomas Ford to describe his monarch-worship, 'I did but see her passing by, and I will love her 'til I die.'

From all I can deduce, 1954 in Australia was a provincial and suffocating place bent on sports, Mother England, and marginalising, well, pretty much everyone. Yet Australia today, as the Queen herself noted upon her arrival last week, is a vastly improved place, economically as well as culturally.

She rightly attributes the international flourishing of Australian arts to a thriving and open democracy.

This democratic ideal is threatened by flaccid cultural attitudes.

I was present at Occupy Melbourne while it was embanked at City Square in Melbourne. I spent time speaking with articulate, positive, welcoming folks working towards small-scale, community-based changes. Some were angry, others excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves. All had individual grievances, but were committed to positive change and political engagement.

The violation of their dignity and rights that saw police brutally remove them from public space was supported by a public agenda of dullness, epitomised by the parochial leadership of the City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

Dullness sounds innocuous, but from it blossoms contempt for imagination. Public opinion that is not measured by reason or compassion can be tyranny; its affects were registered here as state brutality.

My mother has the 1954 royal tour book at home, which she says is worth keeping. And it is worth keeping — as a relic of our history. She remembers a royal visit in 1963, when she was a small child, and the royal carriage rode down her street.

These memories are expressly emotional. Similarly, I