The Queen has just left my home town, and my veins are singing with royal joy.
My copy of What Crown Jewel Is That? remains on the passenger seat. My monarch-watching trousers are still hung over the balustrade. I can’t quite bring myself to wash them yet, retaining as they do the faint odour of a divine mandate to rule.
And they may yet get another run – I’ve heard a rumour that she might be back for Cup Day. I’ve heard a rumour that she’s part-gecko. I’ve heard a rumour that she might be riding Americain. I’m looking forward to having a fiver on her.
Sometimes, in writing articles, I say things like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if cops didn’t punch people in the head for standing in the street?” And then other people say “WHY DON’T YOU JUST HAND OUR COUNTRY OVER TO STALIN AND BOB BROWN YOU ANARCHO-CHAMPION OF THE LEFT.”
I don’t like being called left-wing, basically because most people who call themselves left-wing are wicked annoying. As are most who call themselves right-wing. Unless they are birds discussing methods of penmanship. (Penbirdship? No, that’s the editor of The Punch.)
So if you thought I wanted to tear down all of our traditional societal structures and replace them with IVF clinics for Afghan whales, I’m going to have to disappoint. See, I quite like the Queen. In fact I’m all for her.
The last few days, we’ve been harvesting frames from the beehive at my house. It’s had me thinking. In many ways, Queen Elizabeth II is like the queen bees in our hives. I mean, she lays up to 2,000 eggs a day. A grille called a ‘queen excluder’ keeps her from the harvestable combs. When a rival queen emerges she will lead a swarm of followers to start a new hive in our next-door-neighbour’s plum tree.
And yet republicans in Australia don’t like her. They’re a weird bunch. They come out once in a while and try to get everyone stirred up, and fail, and leave in a cloud of disgruntled muttering. Imagine that at your next house party, half a dozen people suddenly proposed that you all join a passionate campaign to bring back Young Talent Time, hosted by some Australian Idol wash-up.
Well, sure, you say. You… could do that. It could even be achieved. But why the hell would you bother?
Australian republicans don’t realise that they are purely ornamental. Like rubber vine leaves in your water feature (why not just have a real vine?). Like pointless zips on pretend pockets in your stupid jeans (why not just have real pockets?). Like Australian republicanism (why not have a real issue?).
Royal visits are the times when journalists are most likely to try and source republicans for comment, but it’s also exactly the time when most of those republicans get awfully shy and polite about it.
“Um,” they say, “well, just me personally, I think perhaps it’s time we moved on, politically…and…”
And why are they so shy and polite? Because the Queen is around and they don’t want to upset her. Because by their very nature they can’t help showing deference. It’s almost like she was born to reign over you or something, you snivelling serfs. Now harvest some grain.
You would think that this monarchist view would enrage the leftoid pinko bilby-chakra audience, even though they probably won’t notice because they’re busy Occupying everything from Green’s Head to Deniliquin Bakery.
But even they, friends. Even they. When Her Madge came to Melbourne, the Occupy movement welcomed her, and declined to protest. The Queen, they said, she goes alright. She’s a nice old bird. Don’t be rude. Somebody tuck those bloody shirts in.
The logical snag I’ve always hit with the republican campaign (though calling it a campaign is like throwing wet Scotch Fingers at a wall and calling it an artillery barrage) is that there is actually no good reason for seeing it through.
Why have a republic, we ask? And the answer is always an Arnott’s Assorted of generalisations and aphorisms. Own two feet, they say. Tied to apron strings. Young nation. Forging own identity. At the end of the day. Takes one to know one. Seven brides for seven brothers.
Then there’s some emotive rhetoric about moving on and grasping our future and evolution, as though the British monarchy is totally holding us back from our dreams, and making us stay home on Saturday nights, and saying we have to wear a bike helmet even though it totally messes up our hair and Jason Franks isn’t going to think we’re hot.
In fact the British monarchy couldn’t be doing a better job of leaving us alone, and has no real power over Australia in any case.
Getting rid of it would just be a hassle. We’d have to change the money and the stamps and the flag and the national anthem. (On second thought, please change the national anthem. The Wiggles. Khe Sanh. Anything.) There’d be interminable bitch-fights about every replacement. They’d throw it open to public voting. The new flag would be a picture of Alan Jones giving a thumbs-up while rooting a Four N Twenty pie.
And those are just the bare practicalities. See, unlike the republican arguments, the arguments against a republic are specific and real.
Like this one. If you don’t have a Queen, you don’t have a prime minister. If you don’t have a prime minister, you have to have a president. And if you have a president, do you know what you’re going to get?
Jeff Kennett. Or Eddie McGuire. Or Steve Irwin. I know he’s dead, but it’s our country now. Keep your rules, England, we’ll do whatever we want!
You’re going to get whoever is the cockiest and most ruthless bastard in the climb to the top, because then there’d be a chance they actually get to be the boss.
A constitutional monarchy is an excellent system of government. You have the Prime Minister and the Parliament who hold the power to propose and enact legislation, and to make executive decisions. Above them, you have the symbolic power of the monarch.
The monarch holds no actual executive power. Yet the government is appointed by and responsible to the monarch. There is a crucial psychological barrier there. Even the prime minister is still only the most senior servant of the Queen.
Presidents, on the other hand, have no-one above them. Where prime ministers can never quite treat the country as their personal possession, presidents can. Ironically, it’s the presence of the monarch that stops Australia being treated like a kingdom.
There’s just no reason to get rid of the Queen. She’s not hurting anyone. To the contrary, Queens are awesome. And old. You already know what we do with old things. We restore them. We maintain them.
There’s always a period of historical contempt for whichever era currently sits at medium distance. When buildings are 50 years old, everyone hurries to knock down. When they near 100, we have community protests to protect them, and wear out the word ‘quaint’.
The monarchy is a historical building. It must be kept, and it must be maintained, because it’s fascinating. It’s inextricably part of our history, and of world history. The institution costs some money to maintain, sure, but far less than the value it creates. How many people visit Buckingham Palace? How much cash flowed from the crowd at Fed Square? How many Wills-and-Kate commemorative colonoscopy pipes were sold?
Just as sometimes, at Christmas, even people who don’t buy into the whole God-made-me-pregnant excuse (and props to that chick for quick thinking) still quite enjoy going into a church and waving some incense about or singing some songs.
Why? Because ritual is nice. Tradition is nice. It’s comforting. You know how it’s supposed to go, and it goes that way. As your life seems to be constantly morphing like it were a cutesy animate French-Canadian blob of plasticine, here is something that more or less stands still. Something that makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.
On the wall of my house is a brittle, yellowed Leunig cartoon. It has been there since the republic referendum in 1999.
“Australia relax,” he says, “Have you forgotten how to enjoy Queens and Kings? Their beautiful golden carriages, their great castles and colourful flags? Their guards with swords?
“What’s the problem with that? Come on – your lips are all tight and pursed. Don’t be so mean and grim.
“If she waves, wave back. Try bowing if you please. It’s fun. Oh Australia, you’re all hyped up. Too much television and abstraction and caffeine. I double dare you to relax and have some Queen.”
And that, I’m afraid, seems to be the problem. Pursed lips, abstraction.
There are more than enough crapnesses going on in our world. Our cops are beating on people and denying it cold. Our Prime Minister couldn’t sell a cheeky foil to Keith Richards. Our Opposition Leader would send back Willy Wonka’s golden ticket with an angry letter.
You know who’s pretty sweet, though? The Queen. She’s nice to people. She pulls rocking crowds for an 85-year-old. She makes those people happy. There are a lot of them.
She represents dignity, she represents decency, and she represents history. She does all those things better than some president would do. And come on. Two thousand eggs a day. That’s impressive. So just relax. I’ll bring the bacon.
This piece was originally published on The Drum.