Love the monarch, spurn the monarchy


Perth's CBD is locked down this week for Gillard, Cabinet, CHOGM and another visit from the Queen.

Despite a rash of self-consciously visible 'security' guys, life in this land of the lotus-eaters is the usual boring, cow-like, steak-fed vacuity, but in a nice way: no cheering, no jeering, and no-one's even trying to occupy St George's Terrace.

There is no evident competition for invites to the Garden Party, or sense of excitement. Well-coiffed lawyers and mining entrepreneurs may be hardening their arteries in air-conditioned rooms, and the people are not on the Move.

In a simpler time (when I was simpler) a visit from our head of state seemed to make us feel better about ourselves, if not quite as excited as I was when she came to my home town in 1954.

Then, we were not long out of a war during which her handsome, kind and appealingly vulnerable father-king and formidably tranquil mother had played royal parents to their loyal Commonwealth. Now, their young and pretty, newly-married, -bereaved and -crowned daughter was visiting her colonies on the royal yacht.

Then, there were fairy lights; unselfconsciously red, white and blue bunting over the ruins of a burnt-out department store; a wondrous arch of fresh red, white and blue flowers, and I was one of the plump schoolgirls in bloomers feeling proud to perform synchronised calisthenics in rows, sorted by height, for the royal couple.

The magic was still there a little later, when I was first taught how to curtsey when, as the youngest pupil, I was selected to deliver to Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother the requisite posy of flowers. Looking on, I felt devastated when a prettier girl was presented for the deed, but felt better when Patricia reported in horror that the Great Woman had black teeth, when you got up close.

I can still curtsey, but I won't. But I didn't mind stopping everything to watch the fairytale wedding of her eldest son Charles to Diana wearing a fashionably crumpled confection of silken bed sheets, when our queen's star was fading but the light of celebrity was upon Diana rather than the Prince of Wales, culminating in the aura that accompanied her desperately sad funeral not many years later.

When I was a child, I collected pictures of the royal family, models of the coronation coach, ceramic memorabilia of coronations past and present which my mother put proudly in her china cabinet.

When I was a child and later a law student, I understood the history of the monarchy and the great constitutional battles that made the sex, marital obligations and religion of the so-called head of state, and its intrinsic but unexercised powers, so important. I even understood, historically, why the combination of executive power and authority as the spiritual as well as earthly head of a church made it 'impossible' for Roman Catholics to be perceived as loyal.

There were still vestiges of this background in my heart when, with a sense of nigh treachery, I was elected to the ill-fated 1998 Constitutional Convention as a republican.

If Australia is ever to become a republic, its people must feel passionately about it. We don't. There's been no imminent threat to our security; no local wars, no call to arms, no legitimate demand for common action.

Howard's manipulation of the Convention and Malcolm Turnbull (though he would never admit it), and the wilful refusal to accommodate ordinary Australians' wish to choose their own head of state, led to the debacle of the 1999 referendum. Faced with a Clayton's republic and after decades of increasingly torpid, mediocre or cynical governance, we voted it down and settled back to something like passive aggression.

Like many of us, Australians born, or chosen, I hold dear the old lady who continues to serve, but have no fear that democracy will shatter when her father, her life and the monarchy slowly come to their natural end. There is not now nor, since England's King Charles II lost his head and the Pope lost his Italian State 200 years later, will there ever be any divine right to rule, but there is need, now, to earn the trust of every succeeding representative of the people.

When the Queen visited Dunedin in 1954, we cheered, threw streamers and chased her car down Princes Street. As the Queen visits Perth in 2011, I am aware of a movement of the spirits within me: an ache looking for ease, for someone who might lastingly represent a sense of shared values, kindness, confidence and hope, and a sense that the world is or can readily be put in order.

In times of great uncertainty, we need to be governed by wisdom, compassion and longevity.

Here in the state which does not value the oldest rock paintings and the oldest society in the entire world, I feel its absence most keenly. 

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, republic



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Existing comments

The vast majority of people are very satisified by having a monarchy. It is only when political agitators start using Saul Alinsky's "rules for radicals", that we get this group who want to make believe to the Australian people that "something grave and horrible this way comes" if we don't vote for a republic. There is absolutely no need to change what works well for us and connects us to our past. I'm very wary of the motives of those who wish to make us a republic

Trent | 26 October 2011  

Thank you Moira, you painted some strong and amusing pictures, and appear to have clarified my own thinking.

Patricia Taylor | 26 October 2011  

What a beautiful article - thank you Moira. I share the sentiment, it is difficult not to feel affection for the so dignified old Queen, but this does not mean that the time is not right for Australia to stand on its own as a proud republic. I hope very much to see it in my life time.

Eveline Goy | 26 October 2011  

One of the most curious aspects of our constitutional monarchy here in Australia is the way Australians do not listen to what the monarchy actually says to us. Some years ago now Charles gave a speech in Australia in which he stated quite matter-of-fact-like that a nation with maturity can choose which way it chooses to go next. This was not a patronising statement, despite the knee-jerk response of many Australians who hear anything said to them by a Royal as patronising. Charles was in fact telling us that when we chose to become a republic, or whatever form of state we wish to adopt, that is a decision left entirely up to us. To advise a nation that it can do what it wishes, if it has the courage and maturity, is not a declaration you would have heard from Charles’ ancestor George III as he looked across the Atlantic at the American colonies. In my view it is the Australian monarchists who have most to worry about from statements like these, for Charles is saying little more than “This is not our decision, it is up to you!” The Queen is not going to say, “It’s up to you when you become a republic,” but she will make remarks on this trip that send their own message about the future of Australia. Only can we read between the lines? Are we going to listen? It is well to remember that she has overseen the dismantling of the Empire and the changing of many of these countries into republics. Do we hear her grizzling about that? Hardly.

PHILIP HARVEY | 26 October 2011  

"In times of great uncertainty, we need to be governed by wisdom, compassion and longevity". Hmm, no thanks! The ARM crew are top heavy with those who refuse to recognise that Australia is a soft-theocracy, with absolutely no separation of church and state. After all, if they did recognise that, their first allegiance, to their Redeemer, would be in conflict with their 'should be' allegiance to the nation-state, that is, the secular nation-state of Australia. "If Australia is ever to become a republic, its people must feel passionately about it. We don't. There's been no imminent threat to our security; no local wars, no call to arms, no legitimate demand for common action." On the surface, this is correct, but while the Western world wrings its hands over 'the rise of Islam' and the creation of ever more Islamic states (like the one it has just created in Libya), it likes to totally ignore the real theocracy of, say, the UK, and ours here. If any 'Real Republicans' should ever emerge from the morass of ARM they will have to deal with more than dumping The Auld Trout from the UK, they will also have to dump the official and pernicious linkages forged between the Christian Church and our non-secular nation-state.

Harry Wilson | 26 October 2011  

This is a wonderfully written expression of what the monachy used to be to the inhabitants of the remote antipodean extremities of the Empire. I couldn't avoid being struck by the the extraordinary similarity of this piece in its hope for a republican Australia to yesterday's Eureka Street piece on the Morris affair with its hope for a republican Catholic Church. Love the Queen but hate the authority invested in the monarchy. Love Christ but hate the authority invested in the Church he founded.
And then the enlightenment that Ms Rayner expresses in her words "In times of great uncertainty,we need to be governed by wisdom, compassion and longevity".
"Long live Christ the King" perhaps?
Or alternatively, "Farewell, Christ! Long live the People's Republic of Christendom".

john frawley | 26 October 2011  

Nice one Philip Harvey, good point on the rash of republics spawned by the end of the Empire. John Frawley, I thought Paul founded the Christian church, after Jesus left. I doubt Jesus would be the least bit impressed with any of the religio-political money machines gathering-in-the-loot in His name, if the tables-and-Temple story has any relevance. I always had the impression that if Jesus had founded the Christian Church, he wouldn't have bothered to create the monster it is. Something to do with 'ethical behaviour'?

Harry Wilson | 26 October 2011  

Harry Wilson lives in an interesting world and I’m glad it’s not the one I live in. He seems to see dystopias around every corner. You don’t have to be Chinese to appreciate the Chinese serenity of a saying like "In times of great uncertainty, we need to be governed by wisdom, compassion and longevity". He seems to have no useful definition of the word ‘theocracy’. Australia is no more a soft-theocracy than the United States is a soviet collective. The UK is seen as the home of modern democratic parliamentary government. (Iceland was earlier.) Many ugly wars were fought to bring about that form of statehood and it is one of the reasons the UK also fought in two world wars. A theocracy it ain’t. Harry is using the word in shall we say a colourful manner. He spells out in a helpful fashion what so many Australians wish to believe, that Australia is a secular nation-state. Actually it is no more a purely secular state than any other country on Earth. The debate we have about religion and the state would be unthinkable in many countries, and that has as much to do with the tolerance of the religious as it does with the animosity of secularists. On that score, it is worth remembering that religious people in Australia are also secular. If Australia is ever to become a republic, its people must feel passionately about it, says Harry, then speaks for all Australians by claiming “We don't.” Australia is all but in name a republic, which may be why no one sees any urgency in becoming one. Why get passionate when it’s already a fait accompli? I am sure the church will be there when a republic is formed, in fact the church will be there whether we are ever a republic, or not.

Desiderius Erasmus | 26 October 2011  

Gosh, HARRY WILSON, not sure where you get the idea that Libya is an Islamic theocracy already! Give them a break| They are still celebrating their liberation and actually have no functioning nation state at the moment. Also if you think Australia is a theocracy - I'm sorry to have to break it to you but our Prime Minister is an atheist and also heaven-forbid - a woman.

AURELIUS | 26 October 2011  

I did not say that a rash of republics was spawned by the end of the Empire. I would never use such intemperate and misleading language to describe the 20th century transition to a Commonwealth of Nations. Self-determination seems to have been an unwritten policy in post-1945 London when considering its commitment to its old empire. Self-determination has taken every form, some of them honourable, some of them a mess, some of them tragic in the extreme. Australia has summits and unsuccessful referendums. In Melbourne today the thing I ponder with amusement is what my great-grandparents would have thought of the reigning monarch being invited to take a tram down St. Kilda Road. I am in no doubt that their first reaction would have been speechlessness.

PHILIP HARVEY | 26 October 2011  

Good afternoon, Harry, I suppose there are two institutions which tend to confuse people. One is the philosophical institution, Christianity, and the other, communities of adherents to this philosophy to which the name "church" is applied. Numerous of these communities were lumped together as Christendom. St Paul was perhaps the greatest of all persecutors of those followers of Christ's teachings until Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus and effected his conversion to the Christian philosophy. The Church (Christian community)was already in existence and ,indeed, Paul joined Peter and taught with him. The Christian philosophy is the basis of many communities (churches) in this world. That in no way negativates the historical fact that those whose Christian community exists within the Catholic church happen to belong to that faith or belief community begun by Jesus of Nazareth through his disciple Peter and enduring beyond persecution, criticism and internal attempts at its destruction for 2000 years. That faith community ,of course, embodies a number of other Churches (eg orthodox, coptic, etc, some 20-odd in number) I thought the Anglican church, through the renegade Catholic priests, Archbishop Cranmer and Cardial Wolsley, elevated Paul to the status you mention above simply to lessen the impact of Peter in their battle with Peter's Church of Rome for fear of displeasure from the Royal murderer Henry VIII who founded their faith community (Church, if you like). Crikey, Harry, you really have set me off on a rant!! However, that is how I understand the history of it and it is with that tunnel vision that I made the above comment. Happy days!!

john frawley | 26 October 2011  

On the eve of the wedding of Princess Anne I arrived in London a Pavlovian-conditioned republican, product of bitter Irish catholic school upbringing; I left a monarchist and remain so. Thank God Almighty we have in place a highly responsible and deeply Christian woman with no power to rule while she reigns and blocks the position of head of state from elected people.

Internationally, think of how De Gaulle, Nixon, Stalin, Franco and others presided and imagine how peacocks like Whitlam, Fraser, McMahon or Rudd might get carried away after manipulating themselves into place, forcing us oafs to live in the Oz of their vision if we did not freely agree

Phillip Chalmers | 26 October 2011  

Blimey, too many rsvps for so few words.

Philip, no, you did not say 'a rash' my phrase, but let us agree with your observation, change has come about, so good, some bad, but either way HRH has said not a word to show displeasure, and were we to change to a republic, that stance would continue.

John, I learned from your post, thanks.

Desiderius, there is no separation of church and state in this nation. We are not a secular nation state. We are a state that pays religion to exist and gives it favoured treatment, encouraging a parallel nation within our borders.

Not all religious people here subscribe to a secular view, increasingly intolerance is the badge worn, particularly in the world of 'renewalists'.

Not I who wrote these words, "If Australia is ever to become a republic, its people must feel passionately about it. We don't" but the author, thanks. I do agree with her though.

Aurelius, I believe I heard it on Lateline, a rush to re-esatblish a full Islamic state with Sharia Law as the dominant force of law. As for the PM, she boasts of her Baptist values that guide her life, and only pretended to be an 'atheist' to more easily distance herself from St. Kevin.

Harry Wilson | 26 October 2011  

I hate to be a pedant, but I think it was Charles 1 who lost his head, not Charles II who was restored to the throne after the failed Commonwealth. The history of the monarchy suggests strongly that a Republic would be a better deal for us all.

Keith Harvey | 26 October 2011  

Yes, I did enjoy this article, thank you Moira. As an historian, and a left-winger, for reasons I cannot fathom, I have always had deep affection and admiration for Elizabeth the Second. A treating psychologist advised me not that long ago that she has been my role model for most of my life. It did make sense when I thought it through. I was eight when she acceded her adorable father, a brave, caring, humble, deeply religious man - a loving father and husband, neither of which I had. The Queen obviously modeled herself on him. She is amazing. Intelligent. Progressive. Colour-blind when it comes to people. Loves animals. God bless her. We don't need to shed the monarchy, even after her life ends. We've had it so easy in this country. Let's not throw that stability away. The institution of the Crown, regardless of who will "wear it", has served and will serve us very well.

LouW | 28 October 2011  

Christianity, the (yes, British) Monarch of the Commonwealth and each State, the People and the Legislatures are all works in progress, as is Continuing Revelation. Monarchy is no more terminal than Jehovah mustn't, in polycultural Australia, be formally acknowledged as a real, if invisible, actor in the nation because to do so insults those who freely will to believe in other or no gods. However, self-restraint from monarchical and republican, and Christian and non-Christian, triumphalism is needed to make the experiment work. The model is already there. The Son submits (makes himself accountable) to the Father although he has all of the Father's authority. The People and representatives choose to be accountable to the Monarch's prerogative to advise and warn. While there are limits to the analogy between the balance within the Trinity and the balance between Monarch, People and Parliament, the self-restraint of a free people who can make or break a Monarch and of a sole adviser who, in normal times, owns the legislature, before a moral authority living only through eyes of faith, is analogous to self-restraint before an invisible God without hands. God loves the humble. People and Monarch submit to each other and to God.

Roy | 31 October 2011  

Your reflections parallel my own although by giving voice to them somehow they take on a new life and urgency. Thank you.

graham patison | 01 November 2011  

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