Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Republican Island of Tasmania

While the Australian Republican Movement was out and about in Tasmania throughout October and November talking to everyday Australians, Prince Charles and his wife skipped around a few states talking to almost no-one.

THE ARM HAS BEEN RETHINKING the way forward to a republican future. In October 2012, they announced they were starting a new campaign for an Australian republic.

The rebranded website described the purpose to the new campaign:
We want to get Australians talking about us, our country – and the future we will share, together. This campaign is about our identity, as Australians, the way we see ourselves and the way we want to be seen.’
The purpose of the new campaign is to get Australians talking about our identity and asking, “Who do we want to be?” It’s about seeking to build a consensus about our identity that can include all Australians. A republic is for all of us. It’s about Australia, our identity and our place in the world.

The new campaign footing for the ARM started in early 2012, with the appointment of a new national director, David Morris. Morris grew up in Tasmania and worked for the late premier Jim Bacon. He resigned from his diplomat job to devote his energy towards an Australian republic. On his appointment, he stated:
It’s a big ask and it’s time to start the conversation again … The first step is to find what we agree on as a nation rather than what divides us.”
David Morris has described Tasmania as “one of the staunchest republican states”. It was for this reason the Australian Republican Movement chose Tasmania as the place to revive Australia’s republic debate. 

In Tasmania, ARM national director David Morris (right) with comedian Julian Morrow and Senator Lisa Singh.

On 21 March 2012, eminent Australian historian Professor Henry Reynolds delivered a Public Lecture at University of Tasmania titled The Tasmanian Roots of the Republican Issue. In this lecture on the history of the republican issue in Tasmania, Henry Reynolds focussed on Australia’s pre-eminent republican, Andrew Inglis Clark.

Andrew Inglis Clark is still well-known in Tasmania. Andrew Inglis Clark was a passionate republican, an engineer, founder of the University of Tasmania, designer of Tasmania’s Hare-Clark voting system, editor of small, vibrant literary magazines and, above all, a believer in inalienable human rights. He had a lifelong fascination with the United States. He recounted how this began in his teenage years when the American Civil War broke out. His enthusiasm for the ideals of the American republic never died. Clark came to understand the principles of federalism from the captains of the Boston whaling fleet which fished the great southern oceans and regularly came to port at his home town, Hobart. As Alfred Deakin suggested, republicanism was a key feature of Inglis Clark’s intellectual character:
Small, spare, nervous, active, jealous and suspicious in disposition, and somewhat awkward in manner and ungraceful in speech, he was nevertheless a sound lawyer, keen, logical and acute. A persevering student, his sympathies were republican, centring upon Algernon Sydney among Englishmen, upon Mazzini in Italy and especially upon the United States, a country to which in spirit he belonged, whose Constitution he reverenced and whose great me he idolized.”
Henry Reynolds stated that Inglis Clark was a member of the American Club in the 1870s with other “young, ardent republicans” and, at its annual dinner in 1876, he declared:
We have met here tonight in the name of the principles which were proclaimed by the founders of the Anglo-American Republic … and we do so because we believe those principles to be permanently applicable to the politics of the world.”
As a result, Inglis Clark entered Tasmanian politics in 1878 under attack for his ultra-republican, if not communist, views by Hobart’s The Mercury.

Andrew Inglis Clark
Modern scholars agree that Andrew Inglis Clark wrote the first recognisable version of the Australian Constitution and it was through his draft that a strong republican element was introduced. Before the 1891 National Federal Convention commenced, work had already been undertaken to collect information to assist delegates in understanding the different ways of structuring a federation. Alfred Deakin had urged delegates at the 1890 Australasian Federation Conference to study James Bryce’s three-volume, The American Commonwealth (1888). In addition, the now Tasmanian Attorney-General, Andrew Inglis Clark had prepared a draft Constitution that was circulated to some of the delegates. It was written in the same form and language as an Act of the Imperial Parliament, and consisted of clauses extracted and adapted from the British North America Act, the United States Constitution, the Federal Council of Australasia Act 1885 and the Constitutions of the Australian colonies.

Andrew Inglis Clark’s draft Constitution contained the familiar structure of a House of Representatives directly elected by the people in electorates with approximately equal populations. A Senate constituted by an equal number of representatives of each State was already an accepted basis of Inglis Clark’s draft Constitution. The main differences with the final Constitution accepted at the end of the 1890s were that Inglis Clark’s Senate was to be elected by the State Parliaments rather than directly elected by the people, and there were no appeals to the Privy Council. Inglis Clark’s draft also provided for the election of State Governors by State Parliaments, and for amendment of the Constitution by federal legislation confirmed by two-thirds of the State Parliaments. Inglis Clark’s draft gave a form to the concept of federation and had a strong influence on the 1891 National Convention. He was later to state:
“…the authors of [the American Constitution were] … also the primary authors of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
Despite many subsequent changes and the work of others, especially Samuel Griffith and Charles Kingston, modern scholars agree that Andrew Inglis Clark wrote the first recognisable version of the Australian Constitution.

On 15 October 2012, Associate Professor James Curran also delivered an address on Australian republicanism at the Stanley Burbury Theatre in Hobart. In this lecture, Curran explored the history of Australia’s post-war ties to Britain and argued that the country’s shaky exit from the empire can help illuminate the path ahead for the Republican movement.  He also argued that one of the keys to Australia’s republican renewal is dispensing with tired metaphors and stale narratives about national ‘immaturity’ or cultural ‘dependence’ and instead focusing on the story of Australia’s remarkably rapid political, economic and social transformation since the 1970s.  Curran proposed a revitalised republican conversation that seeks to harness a shared sense of community and place along with a new and more inclusive narrative of the nation.

In Hobart on 20 October 2012, David Morris launched the republican campaign to start a month of activities throughout Tasmania in a trial run for a campaign in every state next year. The new republican campaign is about defining who we are, where we live, where we call home and who we want to be as a nation. This is an important conversation for all Australians, no matter where they live across all states and territories.

The ARM’s new national campaign is to be led from the bush and the regions, without pushing a preferred model. It is to avoid politicians and seek to re-engage ordinary citizens via a “conversation” about what it means to be Australian. Even so, the Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings threw her support behind the idea of Australia becoming a republic:
I’m personally a strong supporter of an Australian republic. I hope that we will see a better way of having this debate and discussion with the Australian people so we can move towards a republic and become one.”
Other political class supporters include Andrew Wilkie (pictured above with David Morris) and Senator Lisa Singh. Mike Steketee wrote in The Age, 20 October 2012 how
'the republicans today move from a passive approach to a campaign footing. The focus will be on Australia’s identity and values, with a new website asking ”Who do we want to be?” It invites people to sign up and join the conversation about ”what are the values, identity and characteristics that make us unique?”
For the next four weeks, David Morris and the Tasmanian republicans travelled around Tasmania talking to everyday Australians at various shows and fairs culminating in a fundraiser dinner at Hobart’s spectacular Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) on 18 November 2012. During the Tasmanian republican campaign, the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, toured Australia as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations — then left.

During their visit, they attended the Melbourne Cup, where they spent their time in the Flemington’s committee room and presented trophies. Both these areas were closed to the public. The theme for the Royal visit was the lack of opportunity for everyday Australians to meet the Royal couple. For the people of Tasmania, the contact with the republicans was the complete opposite – open and engaged.

Back in Canberra, the republican historian and Manning Clark biographer Mark McKenna presented Starting all over again: Rethinking the republic of Australia for the 21st century as the 13th Dymphna Clark Lecture on 14 November 2012 at the National Library of Australia. McKenna argued:
“…rather than waiting for the Queen to die, we need to start rethinking the case for a republic now. We need to rethink the arguments for a republic and make them relevant to Australia in the twenty-first century.”
This theme of rethinking the republic was continued on 24 November 2012, when the National Republican Lecture brought to a national close the republican campaigning for 2012. In James Curran’s Resetting the Republic lecture he presented his insights into the republican movement moving into the future. In essence, he claimed that the Australian Republican Movement “is being held captive by outdated nationalist rhetoric,” and identified anti-British sentiments as a key problem in modern republican argument. James Curran told his audience:
The republic can be part of that great story of Australian adaptability and change, but we cannot, and must not, lecture the people or treat the issue as some sort of pantomime about pathways to maturity. Australians, particularly the younger generation, simply don’t feel the nagging compulsion to trash a Brit.
Curran argued that the republican movement was “being held captive by out-dated nationalist rhetoric” and the debate suffers from ”rhetorical arthritis,” with leading Australian republican thinkers continuing to use ”hoary old platitudes” from the 1970’s.

It is time to avoid politicians and seek to re-engage ordinary citizens via a “conversation” about what it means to be Australian.

To participate in this conversation go to

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Defining Moment

The 29 July 1981 is the anniversary of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral. Where were you back in 1981 when Prince Charles and Diana married? If you’re anywhere approaching 45 or over, you can probably recall exactly where you were and who you were with. For me it was the night of my Charters Towers State High School formal.

As we were such a small Year 12 group we customarily shared the event with the private schools. The main hall in the north Queensland country town was called the Horticultural Hall, which brings up all sorts of rural images. The other main dance hall in the town was where we learnt and practiced all our dance moves for the big night. The name of this hall reflected the interesting divisions in the old goldfield community. The Miners’ Union Hall was referred to by its abbreviation: MU Hall. But, in a collective loss of memory, townsfolk did not seem to remember how important and influential unionism had been on the goldfield in the nineteenth century and it was known to all and sundry as the ‘emu’ hall. However, for the Year 12 girls, the evening was to become a conflict of almost irreconcilable proportions — do I go to the Formal or watch the Royal Wedding on TV?

Charters Towers was a country town of conflicting and clashing ideas. There were townies and bushies; small businessmen and workers; rural conservatives and Labor supporters. A Marxist scholar could have had a field day defining class lines and divisions. For me though it was the egalitarianism of the goldfield that seemed to absorb me growing up in Charters Towers. Probably came from my family’s mining heritage. Whatever way, I always had the strong feeling that 'jack is as good as his master'.

In 1977 I remember seeing for the first time Star Wars. For me it was the Empire verse the Republic - with the rebels being the good guys fighting against the evil Empire. My first republican moment was played out within the confines of the aptly named Regent Theatre with a working-class community cheering on the successful overthrow of the Empire by the rebels within the grand flourish of a space opera.

Built during the gold-rush era of the late nineteenth century, the Regent Theatre stood firm on the periphery of the British Empire. But now it held a republican people cheering on the rebels struggles to overthrow rule by an evil Emperor. A few years later the Regent Theatre became a skating rink. Still the people attended although oblivious to the edifice of monarchy surrounding them. Years later it became a Crazy Clark’s emporium. How this must have embarrassed the old royal. Finally it became a storage building.

Leading up to our big event it was all about cakes and long trains and dresses. This was all the girls could talk about. For us boys, it didn’t seem to matter. For me though, the only princess that mattered was to be at the Horticultural Hall.

While all this was going on in Charters Towers, audiences worldwide paused as the fairy tale coach, replete with its Cinderella, rolled up to St Paul’s Cathedral steps and the ‘Queen of the People’s Hearts’ emerged in the crushed cream creation. Everyone gasped, and winced, and laughed when Diana repeated her bridegroom’s name incorrectly.

Our school formal didn’t quite match the 2,000,000 people lining the streets of Britain, but for us it was a defining moment. That night the girls declared for us. They came rather than watch the Royal wedding on TV.

Thirty years later we have had another generation of royal weddings. It feels like it’s time for Australians to ask themselves when are we going to stand up for ourselves and become an independent nation. Commit to all of us rather than a privileged few on the other side of the world. Just like the Year 12 girls did in 1981.

And as for my princess? Well, it may have taken her several more years to see me as her prince but all I can say is, “Three cheers for the republic”.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Republic of Letters

THE National Republican Short Story Competition is open again. Now in its fourth year the National Republican Short Story Competition has helped to build the emerging Australian republican fiction genre. The theme this year is ‘defining Australian identity in a future Australian republic’. Short stories will speculate on Australian republican futures. They don’t have to be political thrillers or constitutional whodunits as long as they are an exploration of our future, our republican future.
(Image courtesy Alt-rock band of same name.)

The Republic of Letters emerged in France during the course of the 17th and early 18th centuries and was composed of French intellectuals from the Parisian salons who worked together to bring about concepts of philosophy, broadly conceived as the project of Enlightenment.The main way the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters were transported throughout France and across the Atlantic was through polite conversation and letter writing. It was their imagining of possibilities that helped to bring about change. We can’t achieve anything unless we imagine it first. Before every great invention and before every great journey is the idea. Without ideas and imagination, we are all trapped in the past.

In 2009, the Australian Republican Movement used the example of the Republic of Letters to encourage political change in Australia through the establishment of the National Republican Short Story Competition. One way that change can begin is through speculative fiction writing.

Speculative fiction writers deal with possibilities.
They speculate.
They make the future seem real.

The National Republican Short Story Competition began in 2009. This was a milestone, as it had been 10 years on 6 November 2009 since the republican referendum was lost. To commemorate this event and to remind Australians what they still didn’t have the Australian Republican Movement ran the First National Republican Short Story Competition as a challenge to Australia’s fiction writers to speculate on the possible futures of the Australian republic.
The winner of the 2009 First National Republican Short Story Competition was the Canberra-based writer, Kel Robertson. On learning of his win, he commented:

‘I am truly delighted to win this competition. I enjoyed myself immensely writing this story; the whole experience was entertaining. As a young man I was very much of my time and had great sympathy for the royal family whereas now find myself bemused by their activities. It was great fun being able to have some gentle pleasure at their expense.’

In Rook Feast, Robertson told the story of the final meeting between the King of England, who is under house arrest, and a minister of the British government. The minister (who is also a relative) has come to inform the last King of England “on a perfect English spring day” what is to be his fate. Set in the future, where a post-tourism-age appears to have killed the monarchy, Robertson’s story explored concepts of the hidden costs of monarchy through a ‘security expenditure issue’ and the theme of the inevitability of the popular will of the people. The plot was written around a discussion of what would be the individual future of the last King of England. There is a strong sense of pathos and resignation from the King:

“More than 1500 years of history all the way from bloody Edgar. Over. Ended.”

But for the last King there is no exile to

‘…California or New York, gracing the boards of big corporations, skiing Aspin in winter and sailing Rhode Island in summer.’

He is not welcome in the great democracy. Nor have the governments of Canada, Northern Ireland, New Zealand or countries in the Caribbean, and Africa accepted him. Instead, nearly 50 years after they removed their titular monarch, the government of Australia agrees he and his family can settle their as private citizens. In this Australian republican future the robust egalitarian society of the south remains strong with sufficient generosity of spirit to embrace the remnants of Northern Hemisphere royalty — the last King of England and the newest citizen of Australia.

In 2010, the theme for the Second National Republican Short Story Competition was ‘Life and Death in an Australian Republic’. Helen Bersten and Sean Oliver Ness were each awarded a ‘Highly Commended’ for their short stories Double Lives and Inauguration Day.

In Double Lives, Bersten tells dual stories: one set during a Presidential meet’n greet where his new team of advisers, Team PC (People’s Choice), are getting to know each other. At the same time, a fictional crime story is being told about the night the Dunbar sank at South Head in Sydney Harbour. Double Lives is both imaginative and innovative. The attempt at a dual narrative – one commenting on the other, the past intruding into the present – is ambitious and difficult. The complicated structure makes a genuinely ambitious and credible effort to produce a fiction. It is a story that has the required republican provenance but which tries to do other things and go to other places, both physically and psychologically.

In Inauguration Day, Ness tells the story of James Hapeta, an Australian Federal Police Lieutenant assigned to Presidential protection detail with the Inauguration Day Presidential parade. As the Presidential motorcade travels through the streets of Canberra, Hapeta and his security colleagues’ attention to security is at fever pitch due to a discovered credible threat. Ness’ sense of humour is evident in his reference to ‘Billies’. As the Presidential motorcade passes through Ainslie

‘…an elderly couple: grey hair, plain clothes, a stiffness that stood out from the happy families [are holding] a poster-size portrait of the Queen [and] a sign that said “THE SECOND RUM REBELLION IS HERE – GOD SAVE US ALL!’

Ness explains that in the early days, monarchists took the Rum Rebellion analogy and ran with it; in response, they were uniformly nicknamed Billy Blighs, or just Billies. Hapeta observes the scene around him:

The big houses faded as they turned a sharp corner onto Antill. On the left, they passed schools and public swimming pools and clusters of shops; on the right, rows of small homes and low-rise apartment blocks. State Policemen were on either side of the street, controlling the crowds. As the motorcade swept down the street, the low murmurs turned into a loud cheer that echoed off the apartment blocks. Streamers were tossed into the air, and confetti rained down like pink snowflakes.’

When Hapeta breaks protocol and leaves his post to assist a ‘Statie’, the theme of ‘Life and Death in the Australian Republic’ emerges. The final scene is captured by a bystander with the photo becoming the defining memory of the day.

In 2011 the theme for the Third National Republican Short Story Competition was ‘Citizen or Subject’. First prize was awarded to Valda Marshall for A Child of the Holocaust, second prize to Richard Johnson for The King and Mister Crow and third prize to Harold Mally for Royalty Reality.

Marshall’s winning story is a touching description of the raising of the first president by immigrant parents, whereas the second and third prizes have either Prince William or Prince Harry as a main character. Marshall is a former journalist and TV writer who has worked in Sydney, Toronto (Canada) and New York. Her television writing credits include Neighbours, and Sons and Daughters. While working with Neighbours, Valda co-authored two books based on the Ramsay Street families: The Ramsays: A Family Divided and The Robinsons: A Family in Crisis. She has been a staunch republican since the 1950s. “I am an absolutely passionate republican,” she has commented.

“At the movies in the 50s, when they played God Save the Queen before a screening, even then I thought, why are we doing this? Why do we have a head of state on the other side of the world?”

Her 2010 novel, The First President is a story of love and politics in which Australia becomes a republic in 2016. Valda was born in Adelaide and now lives in Sydney.


It seems strange there is no tradition of republican speculative fiction in Australia. In colonial times there were republican poets such as Charles Harpur writing in the 1840s and 1850s, and republican writers such as John Dunmore Lang and Daniel Deniehy in the 1850s and William Lane, Henry Lawson and John Norton in the 1880s and 1890s. But where have been the republican stories for the past century? There have certainly been many republican writers during this time, but very few examples of where republican settings or arguments have been explored in Australian fiction. Republican arguments and explorations of the past and imaginations of the future have almost always been written within the framework of constitutional debates.
So, the Australian Republican Movement would like to point the way forward through Australian stories with a republican backdrop. They don’t have to be political thrillers or constitutional whodunits as long as they are an exploration of our future, our republican future.

Competition details
  • First Prize: $500
  • Second Prize: $60
  • Third Prize: $40
  • Length: 2,000 to 4,000 words
  • Closing date: 6 November 2012
  • Entry is open to all Australian residents
The Fourth National Republican Short Story Competition guidelines and entry form and list of judges are available at

To read more about the Australia’s emerging republican speculative fiction genre go to
Previous National Republican Short Story winners are:

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Welcome National Wattle Day

TODAY is the 20th anniversary of the declaration of ‘National Wattle Day’, an appropriate time to commit ourselves afresh to caring for this land. Australians may have made a home for themselves amongst the gumtrees, but it is the wattle tree that has found its way into Australian symbolism. 

September 1 has many names. Some welcome it as spring’s dawn, a time to celebrate nature’s renewal. For others it is Wattle Day. It is a time when the smells of spring are in the air and the vivid gold of the blossom is literally arresting. Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring when a sprig of Australia’s official national floral emblem, the Golden Wattle, Acacia pycnantha is traditionally worn. The green and gold of its leaves and blossoms were declared national colours in 1984 and in 1988 the wattle was adopted as the official national flower. The 1st of September 1992 was formally declared as ‘National Wattle Day’ by then Minister for the Environment, Ros Kelly, and in 1993, the Australian Republican Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia on 1 September.

Wattle blossoms are to be found on the Australian Coat of Arms and the Order of Australia is in the shape of a single wattle blossom. Australian Olympic athletes wear wattle inspired green and gold uniforms. A Governor General, Sir William Deane, took wattle blossoms to Switzerland to commemorate young Australians who died there and Prime Minister John Howard wore sprigs of wattle at ceremonies after the Bali bombings.
2012 is also the centenary of then Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher’s efforts to ‘Australianise’ our government system and national symbols. Fisher took a keen interest in the complex question of national identity. Home-grown symbols, he knew in his heart, were essential for a nation so young. The fragile cultural fabric needed connections, some stitching, and some leadership. Among other initiatives, such as the introduction of the Australian penny in 1911, Fisher had the Australian Coat of Arms (designed by the College of Arms in England) remodelled to give it a more Australian flavour by having wattle included as the decoration surrounding the Coat of Arms.

Australian Republican Movement (ACT) convenor Justin Ryan recently wrote to the ACT Chief Minister about pushing for a redesign of the ACT’s coat of arms, saying it was out of date. The design features a castle, swords, crowns, two swans and the motto ‘for the Queen, the law and the people’.
In making his submission, he said:
Now we have a much stronger identity and I think the Centenary year next year is a really good opportunity for us to look at our symbols, and look at our identity, and see what we can do to update it.”
An obvious update would be to add some wattle.

Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said: “I am from this land. This place is home”. Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of the wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of the nation — but to the idea of place.

Because there is no better symbol of our land than wattle, ‘National Wattle Day’ each year could be the day Australians recommit to the care of the land. Perhaps ‘National Wattle Day’ could become our land’s birthday. This is the time each year when the landscape waves its golden flag, and in response, many Australians resolve to both respect and care for the land.

Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. It links all Australians, from the first to the newest at citizenship ceremonies. It touches all levels of society, from very early pioneers and World War 1 diggers (buried with a customary sprig of wattle) to victims of the Bali bombings and the nation’s best who are honoured with Order of Australia awards with insignia designed around the wattle flower.

The wattle flower symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry.
The democracy of wattles – the fact that they grow in all states – was the overpowering reason why the wattle and not the waratah was chosen as the floral emblem in the early twentieth century. In September 1981, historian Manning Clark wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“I love the spring. It means the wattle comes out again. It is a symbol of everything one loves about Australia and the ideal of the uniqueness of Australia. To me every spring holds out the hope that it won’t be long before Australia is completely independent [but I also] share Henry Lawson’s view that blood should never stain the wattle.”
In other words, independence of course, but peacefully achieved.

‘National Wattle Day’ on 1 September each year is an appropriate time to commit ourselves afresh to caring for this land. So, when the blaze of wattle lights up the Australian landscape each year, let’s all remember that the wattle is a symbol of our land that unites us all.