WOT? - Way Off Topic?? - Same Queen but different country

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Posted for those few Americans attracted by the antipodean bog and its character. The Queen of England is our Monarch. Don't ask. I cannot explain it either, but this article may cast some gloom on the subject. This subject is a Republic of OZ supporter though.

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Same Queen but different country
Friday 17 March 2000

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." As the years pass, I am more than ever impressed by the sagacity of L.P. Hartley's gauntlet, thrown down at the start of his elegant novel, The Go-Between.

His words came back to me as I trawled through the media's efforts to make something of the impending royal visit: a columnist still smarting from the 6 November rout, his pain assuaged by a larrikin's manual to royal etiquette; a Saturday broadsheet article exploring how monarchist and republican lobbies might turn it to advantage; and for primary school children in Bourke (which figures in the royal itinerary), a crash course on the Australian head of state.

This royal visit will not be the Second Coming. How different it was almost half a century ago. I cannot speak for every child, but I can vouch that in my school (130 boys aged eight to 13, mostly boarders, mostly from farming families) nothing had come within cooee of our excitement at the prospect of greeting the first reigning monarch to set foot on Australian soil, and her prince consort.

At this school (a late-Victorian manor house to which classrooms and dormitories had been added, surrounded by farmland in the New South Wales southern highlands), the royal family was the human face of Australian patriotism.

Remember that only nine years had passed since VE and VJ Days. World WarII still cast a shadow. We boys were in no doubt of Australia's sacrifice, not least in the deaths of fathers of some fellow pupils and old boys at the school.

Loyalty to God, king and country were pledged in prayer and hymn, by oaths of allegiance at weekly wolf cub and scout meetings, and in images of Allied victories in war comics and films, screened on Saturday nights in the school hall, voraciously devoured.

We saw ourselves as children of the largest empire the world had seen, in Kipling's words, dominion over palm and pine, lest we forget, lest we forget, encompassing a quarter of the Earth's landmass, with the British monarch at its head. In school assembly, the headmaster, who was held in dread and awe, marked the death of GeorgeVI with a eulogy to the King and prayers for the royal family.

We celebrated the coronation, ushering in, it was said, a new Elizabethan age, with a day of sports, planting gum-tree seedlings, a hightea and fireworks. Of the fireworks, the school magazine reported: "Just as the display had burnt itself out, two tapers were touched against a small lump of board nailed to a tree. In a flash the words `Queen Elizabeth' burned brightly in reds, whites and blues ... But the greatest was yet to come, for a moment later the tapers touched a crown, a crown of noble dimensions, 10 feet long and seven feet high, and for a precious minute we watched this symbol of our people's strength glow against the dark sky and shadowy trees, and again we who watched felt that no better choice could have brought our coronation fireworks to an end."

With thousands of other children gathered from all over southern NSW, on 16 February 1954 we were bussed to Canberra's Manuka oval.

Back to the school magazine: "It was hot. We were far too far away to see the Queen's arrival in any detail, but the roar of the children left us in no doubt that her majesty had indeed arrived. There were various pleasant little ceremonies and some singing and the Queen spoke to us. Unfortunately the loudspeakers broke down and we were unable to hear her speech, though we were, of course, able to read about it in the newspapers the next day.

"The really great moment came last of all, when the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh drove round the oval, standing up in full view, up and down the lines of wildly cheering children. Every boy - except one or two who had been overcome by the heat and excitement - had a splendid view as the royal couple passed within a few feet of us."

By nine o'clock that night the buses had returned us to school.

"It had been a very big day in all our lives," the school magazine concluded, adding in its editorial: "The Queen's presence has touched the nation very deeply. We know more certainly than ever before that the system of monarchy is right for us. `Queen fever' here is far deeper than the desire to see again and again this lovely young woman.

"The Queen is so much more to us than Queen of Australia. She is a young woman who has dedicated herself to her people, whose husband and family are very dear to us, and whose dignity and graciousness we have now been able to see for ourselves."

We who were children of that first royal visit would not have expressed ourselves in language so florid but from the Prime Minister down - "I did but see her passing by" - the editorial faithfully mirrored the mood of the public.

Nothing is simpler for a wordsmith than to dredge the past for words or deeds upon which scorn can be heaped - or, for that matter, to invest it with nostalgia equally beyond its desserts. Either way, we are invited to judge the past as worldly sophisticates looking back at a more innocent, or ignorant, age.

The future is unknowable, of course, but I will chance my arm that half a century from now (by when I will have shed this mortal coil), various fashionable causes espoused by those self-appointed or anointed to instruct us as to what we should think now will themselves have been consigned to history's dustbin. This comforts me more than I can say.

Chris Ashton is a Sydney freelance writer and author of Tudor House: The First Hundred Years (1997).

It's pleasing to know that those self-appointed or anointed to instruct us as to what we should think now will themselves have been consigned to history's dustbin. I am personnally of the opinion that someone ought to facilitate the earliest demise of every Monarchist in Austalia, which shouldn't be that difficult a task because there aren't that many left.

Long live the Republic of OZ!!!

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), March 16, 2000


Up the Republic! Down with the Red Calleach! (Calliogh, Gaelic for red hag, i.e. Queen Lizardbeast, the first) And all reptilean blood.

-- William Wallace (braveheart@highlands.com), March 16, 2000.

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