Analysis

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Oz 'republic' bows to the royal family

William, Kate and baby George have seen growing support for the monarchy in Australia.

Elaine Byrne

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

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PRINCE William, Kate and baby George have killed the Australian Republican movement. The three-week royal tour, which took in New Zealand, has confirmed the Duke of Cambridge's succession as head of the Australian state, despite him living 10,000 miles away.

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A Fairfax-Nielsen survey published last week found that support for the monarchy is the highest in decades. Young people are now more supportive of the monarchy than their parents. Just 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds want a republic.

Contrast that with the constitutional referendum of 1999 when the proposal to make the Commonwealth of Australia a Republic was defeated by 55 per cent.

As an Irish person living in Australia, the bowed head and bended knee to a monarchy on the other side of the world is difficult to fathom. Australia often struggles to define its national identity. This postcolonial complex manifests itself with exaggerated worship of all things British.

The prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party (think Tories) fell over himself with kowtowing royalism. Tony Abbott was overzealous in his use of titles, and relished uttering Sir and Ma'am. Comparing Kate to a famous US surfer, "you are bigger than Kelly Slater, perhaps by a factor of 10!" a nation winced.

One of the first stops for the royal couple was to Uluru, the spiritual home of the Anangu people. Irish people know it as Ayers Rock, the English name. I was there the week before William and Kate made their pilgrimage to the Red Centre, the most remote place in Australia. The locals were largely indifferent to the royal visit; my tour guide didn't even know their names. "A better man never stood in two shoes," was Thomas's verdict when I rang to see if his opinion had changed.

The colossal red sandstone, two miles long and a mile wide, is owned by the Anangu people. Instead of written words that record a people's society, culture and traditions, the Aboriginal people have 'Dreamtime'. This oral tradition is best represented by the contours on the Uluru rock. Each mark on the sacred site has a deep meaning born from the ancestors and gods of the Aboriginal people. Irish mythology has similar traits. The legend of Finn MacCool holds that a giant built North Antrim's famous Causeway.

Irish links to Aboriginal people run deep. The Duchess of Cambridge was presented with a necklace made by local Anangu woman, Joanne Cooley. Many Aboriginals have Irish names. A reminder of the children of Irish convicts and Aboriginal women in the 19th Century. The police, many of Irish heritage, were responsible for collecting census data and often entered their own surname on registers. Others named their children after their employers, many of them Irish farmers and station owners.

William and Kate's last official engagement in Australia was the memorial service at the National War Memorial.

Anzac Day is Australia's biggest national occasion and marks the anniversary of Australian and New Zealand forces landing in Gallipoli during the First World War.

It also remembers the 900 Irish who died on one day, April 25 1915, in the Dardanelles. In all, 6,500 Irish-born men and women served in the Australian army during the First World War.

This is a persuasive nationalism expressed through military history. The identity of Australia is wrapped up in the "spirit of Anzac". The moment when Australia became a country rather than a loose federation of states. Anzac is Australia's 1916.

Tony Abbott described the First World War as a "tide of events" that helped shape the nation. In his annual Anzac Day speech, the prime minister urged Australians to "remember the Western Front, not just for its carnage, but also for Australia's moment on the stage of history".

Although he warned about mythologising and the glorification of war, "Victories, even terrible ones," he contended, "should be no less iconic than heroic defeats". This act of remembrance was a patriotic rally, with an intensity unfamiliar to Irish First World War commemorations.

William and Kate made a surprise appearance at the 4.30am dawn service on Anzac Day. Dressed in black and flanked by military representatives dripping with medals, they listened to the dawn speech by Wing Commander Sharon Brown, a Nursing Officer of the Royal Australian Air Force.

"I have worn their blood. So many of us have worn their blood. I have seen the strongest and finest reduced to flesh; and witnessed the death of innocence and a once supposed sense of immortality," she said.

Brown also described how as a casualty, she "crawled out of the darkness and I have fought for my life."

At 5.15am, a record crowd of 35,000 people fell collectively silent, waiting for the dawn to break, marking the exact time Australians landed in Gallipoli. The white cockatoos burst into a raucous noise as the sun came up.

A separate Anzac Day National Ceremony began a couple of hours later. The two-hour service witnessed the laying of the wreaths, the singing of hymns, more speeches, military fly-bys and the marches by veterans.

The royals do the small stuff well. Kate wore a poppy brooch given to her the night before by Emma Roberts-Smith, whose husband is a recipient of the Victoria Cross. On such things does sentiment for a monarchy rather than a republic rest.

I met Geoffrey Jones in the coffee queue after. "Vietnam, the futile war," was his response when asked about his medals.

Five of his drawings on the horror of war are displayed in the National War Museum. He talked about what napalm gas does to a body. The consequences of war that are not celebrated. He was there to commemorate but was uncomfortable about the pageantry of the day.

So was I.

Sunday Independent

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