Like many of my friends when we were all 10 years old, I collected pictures of a three year old Prince Charles and his baby sister Princess Anne and put them in my “royal” scrapbook.
When I was 11 years old I practiced a dance routine in my class which we, with hundreds of other schoolchildren, were going to perform at the Sydney Showground for Princess Elizabeth and her spouse. Her trip was cancelled because of the death of her father, King George VI.
Then, when I was 13, she visited Australia. As a girl guide living in Cooma (because my father was working then as a Scientist on the Snowy Mountains Scheme) my troop was inspected by Queen Elizabeth II. But, disappointingly, she proved to be a very ordinary human being reminding me, in size, dress, demeanour, and in her way of speaking, of my very own mother. I listened in to the discussions between my parents as to how rude her consort had been to politicians, scientists and particularly people from overseas, when visiting the Laboratories which held displays that had been carefully prepared for their edification. My overall impression was one of disappointment. Royals are just ordinary people. The Queen was just like my mother, only English.
I reflected then, though I too have unreliable memories just as Clive James has, on the times we had, as children, celebrated “Empire Day” on the stage of Hurstville Town Hall.
And by that ripe old age of 13, I wondered why Australia did all this. Why do we need either an English or any other foreign King or Queen, I wondered. My Australian mother could have done the job equally well.
By the time it was 1958 and I was 17 and at University I was outspoken, as were many of my fellow students, about why we still sang God Save the King (in the version appropriately amended six years earlier) as our national anthem. Did we need a plea to an imaginary God I did not believe in, to save an ordinary little woman, quite pleasant in demeanour, who happened to be the Queen of another country? We began to stay seated during these renditions and in other ways to passively, without violent displays, show our opposition to this state of affairs. Only Thomas Keneally appears, now, to remember the demonstrations of those years.
As I began, in 1960, the study of Constitutional Law as a component of my Law Degree, I became incandescent with white rage when I read, for the first time, the Constitution of Australia. What a pathetic little document full of genuflecting to royalty. What were we doing allowing appeals from our High Court to the British Privy Council? Why were all these significant pieces of Legislation in this country actually Acts of the British Parliament?
That we needed to be a Republic became then even more clear to me. I have been very open about that desire since then.
In 1984 we were thrown the sop of a new National Anthem. (I voted for a different one but nonetheless accept, with pleasure, the vote of the majority of the Australian people.)
And we need such a little amount of change to achieve our needs. We need to remove British monarchs from our Constitution and that is all. We can even keep the current name of our Head of State, ” Governor General”. We can keep that he or she is chosen by our Parliament. We just need to amend it so that the Australian Parliament also appoints the person they have chosen to the position and that such a person acts on its advice.
In 1999, at last, we held a referendum as to whether Australia wanted to be a republic. I walked the streets many days dropping information that supported the idea of a republic into letterboxes. I manned a voting booth. But we were tricked by the wording of the question and the scare tactics used by clever anti-republicans which indicated we would end up having an elected President just like the only large Republic most electors knew, the USA. The referendum was lost.
Although I had grown up and had been independent for 37 years, Australia had not.
Surely it has now? We have our own National Anthem. Decisions made by the highest courts in our land can no longer be appealed to British Courts. We now have Senior Counsel rather than barristers who follow their names with KC or QC, depending on the gender of the British monarch. There is no longer a British Empire but we can still remain a loyal member of the Commonwealth.
But we need one more Act to be passed for us by our mother country. We need to vote for our Parliament to ask the British Parliament to make that one final change to our Constitution. We will then gratefully say thank you, as an equal, to that mother country. We can add, if we like, “We are all grown up now and can be totally independent, but we still love you.”