Monday, June 25, 2018

Keeping the republican flame alive in Australia

Independent Australia turned eight on 24 June 2018. Throughout the 2010's Independent Australia has kept the republican flame alive in Australia. Congratulations to managing editor David Donovan, who has nurtured his baby to this impressive milestone.

I REMEMBER how nearly a decade ago the first article was published — the day after the "night of the long knives", when Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd for the prime ministership. At the same time Rudd was being deposed, IA emerged as an independent Australian voice.

Independent Australia believes in a fully and truly independent Australia, a nation that determines its own future, a nation that protects its citizens, its environment and its future. A country that is fair and free.

In a volatile and changing online media landscape, Independent Australia has not only managed to stay afloat but has become a strong alternate voice to the mainstream media.

Since those first days, Independent Australia – founded by former Australian Republican Movement vice chair David Donovan – has become the premier republican voice in Australia.

Over the past eight years, Independent Australia has gone from strength to strength.

Since those early days, Independent Australia has become the premier republican voice in Australia, the modern day version of The Bulletin in its heyday of the 1880s and 1890s.

Australia has a long tradition of independent, republican journalism. This tradition was first established in newspapers such as the People’s Advocate and the Empire of the 1840s and 1850s, supported in The Age in the 1870s and 1880s, and from a constant theme in publications in the 1890s, such as the Newcastle Radical, the Wagga Hummer, the Cairns Advocate, the Melbourne Tocsin, the Hobart Clipper and John Norton’s Truth. But it was in the pages of the Bulletin of the 1880s and 1890s that the flowering of republican ideals can mostly noticeably seen to emerge.

Over the past eight years, the task I have taken on with IA is to begin to document some of our shared republican history. For me, this historical journey had begun much earlier with my 1988 James Cook University history honours thesis, The Australian Republican: a Charters Towers based radical journal, 1890-1891. Coincidentally, the first edition of the Australian Republican was published on 21 June 1890 — 125 years, almost to the day, before Independent Australia.

But there is still a great deal more to document. Australia’s republican past has a rich and deep seam. It’s important to remember that our future is inextricably linked to our shared past.

It has been a long time since Australia has had such a strong republican voice. Australia’s republican voice has been lost for a long time. There have certainly been many writers, artists, academics, and politicians who have actively advocated for an Australian republic over the past century, however they have not had a home where they can all shelter under the same roof.

Independent Australia has become that space, a republican space, a republican civic space where republicans and others can debate the issues that are important to our political and civic future.

The anniversary of the establishment of Independent Australia on 24 June comes a few days after the winter solstice, a time of reflection at a quiet time of the year. In the lead-up to the winter solstice there are other Australian republic moments.

On 7 June 1995, the Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, formally announced his support for an Australian Republic. This date often falls on the same weekend as the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in most Australian states.

In a televised speech to Parliament entitled 'An Australian Republic The Way Forward', Keating laid out his vision for Australia’s republican future. This was the culmination of nearly a decade of discussion on constitutional change. In the course of his speech to the House of Representatives, he announced his government’s intention to transform the Commonwealth of Australia from a constitutional monarchy into a republic.

Keating's only concession to the European and British past was
"... that the Australian republic retain the name “Commonwealth of Australia. 'Commonwealth' is a word of ancient lineage which reflects our popular tradition and our Federal system."
Prime Minister Keating’s media release stated:
It is the view of the Government that Australia's head of state should be an Australian and that Australia should be a republic by the year 2001. I announced in the Parliament today the Government's approach to achieving the transition to an Australian republic. The proposals involve minimal change to Australia's system of government and institutions.
This is the final step to becoming a fully independent nation. It will permit the full and unambiguous expression of Australia's national identity.
The Government is releasing its proposals as a focus for further public discussion and debate. All Australians should participate in this important national debate.
Keating proposed a minimalist plan for a republic, concentrating on the single task of installing an Australian as head of state.

Few Prime Ministers have provoked such strong public reactions as Paul Keating. Even fewer have presided over such dramatic changes to Australia’s economy and society. A self-professed "big picture" person, Keating had his eye directed towards the future and not the past, to Australia, and not over his shoulder back to Britain.

In his speech to the National Library 25th Anniversary Dinner on 13 August 1993, Keating stated:
If we can't imagine we can't determine our future, we can't act, we can't change. And we'll fall behind."

Speculating on the Australian republic: Five Award Winning Short Stories, Kindle Edition, 2014

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 the republican stories been for the past century? There have certainly been many republican writers during this time but almost no examples where republican settings or arguments have been explored in Australian fiction. Republican arguments and explorations of the past and imaginations of the future are always written within the framework of constitutional debates. Where do the people of Australia fit into this? Where are their myths and stories to tell and retell and remember about Australia’s emerging republican identity?

Thanks to David Donovan and all the contributors to Independent Australia, the republican tribe can look around and see who they are. So, Happy Birthday Independent Australia, and here’s to a long, independent life.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Queen's Birthday Holiday - time to imagine our future Australian republic

Today is the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in all Australian states, except Queensland and Western Australia.

Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on 21 April 2018. It has always seemed absurd that Queenslanders acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Certainly a long weekend in June is a great way to start the winter snow season but when will Queen Elizabeth II be allowed to put up her feet?

Most 92 years olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 92 later this year. She's a hardy soul but there's no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader!

The idea of celebrating the sovereign’s birthday was introduced in 1905. After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 there was a call to remember her long reign. The result was the creation of Empire Day. On 24 May each year, Victoria’s birthday, an annual commemoration was held which was directed especially at school children to promote loyalty among the dominion countries of the British Empire. This day was celebrated by lighting fire-works in back-gardens and attending community bonfires.

In 1958, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day. However, this is no longer celebrated within the Australian community and there is little public awareness of it..

The Queen’s birthday public holiday originated in 1912 to observe the birthday of King George V on 3 June. Over the years Queensland, along with most other states, continued to observe the Queen’s birthday in June even though the actual birthday of Queen Elizabeth II is 21 April. In Western Australia the Queen’s birthday public holiday is held in either September or October, and Queensland, as of 2016, on 1 October.

Queen Elizabeth II is unlikely to abdicate. It is most likely she will stand by her promise to serve as monarch for the rest of her life. The only time she has suggested she may agree to abdicate is as a fictional character at the end of Sue Townsend’s brilliantly satirical novel, Queen Camilla in which the UK has elected a republican government and the Royal Family has been exiled.

Although the Queen’s Birthday public holiday is observed as a mark of respect to the sovereign there are never any public celebrations. Nothing actually happens. Perhaps this is the true metaphor for the purpose of monarchy in an egalitarian society?