Magazine article The Spectator

Long to Reign over Oz

Magazine article The Spectator

Long to Reign over Oz

Article excerpt

OUTSIDE Melbourne's Museum of Immigration, half-a-dozen placard-waving republicans were mingling in the crowd of around 1,500 who had gathered to see the Queen arrive. 'Republican Melbourne Welcomes the British Queen' said their signs. It was hardly the most contentious slogan but some of the more passionate monarchists were having none of it.

A woman with a Union flag prodded one demonstrator in the shoulder with a cry of 'Loser! Loser!' Two other women nobbled an elderly republican and knocked off his tartan bobble hat. The Queen arrived, the old man picked up his bobble hat, the crowd cheered and then everyone dispersed. And that, more or less, has been the extent of the unrest during this historic royal tour of Australia.

It is only four months since the bitter referendum in which 55 per cent of Australians voted to retain the monarchy rather than replace it with a politically appointed president. From afar, one might have imagined that this tour, so soon after the vote, would have polarised the nation once again. In fact, it has had the opposite effect.

While the institution of monarchy was the focal point of November's vote, the monarch herself has had a curiously unifying effect, touring her far-flung realm without a hint of triumphalism to an everlouder fanfare of praise from both sides. As republican voters have lined up for royal handshakes, as republican politicians have delivered eulogy after eulogy, as republican commentators from an overwhelmingly republican media have expressed their admiration for a job well done, the personal standing of the head of state has gone from strength to strength.

Neither committed republicans nor committed monarchists have changed their positions but there is a sense that the Crown is going to be around rather longer than the 'experts' have been predicting. While it may pain the chattering classes who form the backbone of the republican movement, the monarch is unquestionably the people's head of state.

On her first formal day of the tour, the Queen delivered the major speech of her visit and gave both sides something to applaud. Monarchists were delighted when she pointed out that she had been Queen of Australia for almost half of its existence. But it was, perhaps, the floating voters and ardent republicans who had most to cheer. The Queen made it perfectly clear that it was up to Australia and no one else to decide its constitutional future. She had said it before but now she was saying it on Australian soil with the whiff of cordite still hanging over the battlefield.

Whatever happened, she would always be 'true' to 'this rugged, honest, creative land' whose 'joys and sorrows' she had shared for 50 years. In the course of a few minutes, she had made the republican cause respectable. The defeated reformers could now look the monarchists in the eye and say, 'See? She says we're legit so what's your problem?'

There has been some speedy backtracking by the media. At the start of the tour, there were gleeful predictions of tiny crowds and zero public interest. These were proved wrong on day one as the Queen arrived at Sydney Opera House to find thousands standing in the pouring rain singing 'God Save the Queen'. The media shrugged. 'It's just a blip,' they declared.

But the crowds kept coming. …

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