A Royal rejection?
Once the Queen is dead, might Australians dispense with moving right to “Long live the King”? Their country is 9,500 miles from their head of state. And it is not unkind to consider that Elizabeth II — at 96 and celebrating 70 years on the throne — before long will be shuffling off this mortal coil. Might it make sense for Aussies to finally dispense with flying the Union Jack on their national flag, to once and for all throw off the last vestiges of the British monarchy and declare themselves a republic?
The report that newly elected Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has appointed his nation’s first “minister for the republic” has raised this possibility, though experts Down Under told the New York Times that the chances of ditching the royal family remain slim. (Even in the United Kingdom, there is some thought that the royal family increasingly feels like something from the historical attic. Garrison Keillor wondered in a recent essay about how the “English regard for monarchy is rather bewildering, paying people so much money to stand on a balcony and wave.”)
Anyway, my first real awareness of this plausible tipping point came while covering the 2000 Sydney Olympics, specifically when I stumbled onto the work of celebrated Australian troubadour John Williamson. His songs are filled with a passionate, folksy take on how apart his culture is from jolly old England, full of references to kangaroos, emus, gum trees (eucalyptus), kookaburras and Aussie slang.
“Surely it’s time that we got rid of the colonial flag,” Williamson said in introducing his tune “I Can’t Feel Those Chains Any Longer.” “For the time being, we can at least fly the fair-dinkum flag as a suggestion of what we might have.”
As a prop for his pub appearances around Australia during the two decades previous to that, Williamson had been designing alternative national flags to “keep the debate open,” as he put it on his website, “to get the right kind of Republic….”
He made clear that “if my dream of purely Australian flags is seen to be anti-British, then I am sorely misunderstood.” But it had been 100 years since Australia gained its independence, and more than 200 years since the British had landed at Botany Bay on the island’s Southeast shore and established a penal colony there (among the Indigenous folks who had been around for 65,000 years). Williamson sang….
I can’t feel those chains any longer, can you?/I’m footloose and free/
I can’t see the sense in red, white and blue/It’s still Union Jack to me.
His call was not for revolution but for an overdue separation from the crown. As long ago as 1984, Ninian Stephen, then Australia’s governor-general — the Queen’s largely ceremonial representative — proclaimed green and gold, which had been popularly embraced by Australian sports teams since the 1800s, to be the nation’s official colors. Williamson sang….
Glory to Australia/Glory to the green and gold/
We’ve come a long way from Botany Bay/And we’re two hundred years old.
Of course Australia is not the only British commonwealth still around, most of them former colonies or dependencies of those colonies. There are 54! And Elizabeth II still is technically the majordomo to all. But only Australia and New Zealand retain the Union Jack symbol on their flags. Canada, for instance, moved on to the Maple Leaf flag in 1965.
As the Beatles sang around that time, “Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl….” But it does seem that the Queen now is something of a lame duck. To her Aussie subjects, a lame platypus?