Today I spent the entire day walking, involved in a letterbox drop in support of the movement that would like to see Australia a Republic and no longer beholden to “Queen Victoria her heirs and successors”. (We are now onto the fifth of those successors in Queen Elizabeth ll.)
Walking gives time for thought and memories of my late mother were prominent, particularly as Mother’s Day is tomorrow. But this was, in fact, mostly because she was the unwitting cause of my conversion to the notion of a republic in 1954 when I was thirteen years old.
That was the year Queen Elizabeth came to Australia. That was the year I excitedly met “the Queen”. She inspected our Girl Guide Troop in Cooma when she and Prince Philip visited the Snowy Mountains Scheme. She talked to the Patrol Leaders, of whom I was one. She seemed a lovely lady, very polite to us and interested in our answers to her few questions. But I could not get over the fact that she seemed to me to be exactly like my mother! She was no fairy book Queen but a just real person in my mother’s form.
Both were tiny ladies with curly brown hair and quite “plummy” accents. As an ex teacher my mother was also quite lovely, polite and interested children’s conversations.
The only difference between them that I could see was that my mother was Australian and the Queen was British.
It immediately struck me as ridiculous that the Queen of Australia was from another country so far away yet an Australian double could never aspire to be head of her own country. Surely we were capable of managing our affairs ourselves?
When I went to university four years later I became aware that there was quite a considerable groundswell of opinion that we did not need a Monarch at all. I remember, in protest, we all stopped standing for the national anthem, which was then God Save The Queen. When I studied Constitutional Law in 1960 I was very off put by the 23 mentions of “Queen Victoria her heirs and successors” in our constitution, but I also learnt how simple it would be to run the country without her and with an Australian formal Head of State.
The intensity of the idea of a republic waxed and waned over the years and culminated in the 1999 unsuccessful referendum. I worked hard for that and it distressed me that many people seemed not to care, misunderstood the situation and were totally uninterested in finding out related facts. It was electorates like the one in which I lived which contributed to the loss in that referendum.
With great enthusiasm I have grasped at the new straw, the strengthened Republican Movement, hoping to finally see a republic in my lifetime. I spent today, with renewed enthusiasm, on the letter box drop organised by them Australia wide. My legs, now at rest, can feel the kilometres they walked. But they are not what hurts. It is my hope that is damaged. I had some lovely talks with some people who disagree with a republic and want to retain a monarchy. Fine, I can live with that. But I met many more, some of them quite young, who just did not care, did not know how things worked now and who proudly said they did not want to know about the issue. If there is another referendum, nonetheless, they will all have to vote!
There seems to be an apathy that was never present when I was younger. In those days we all seemed interested in how we were governed and our own roles in the process.
I do not ask anyone to walk for a Republic. I will accept with grace if those who support a monarchy are in the majority.
But in a democracy with a compulsory vote I do demand that voters think – and I feel very sad.