In London, plans for the coronation of the King and Queen of Australia proceed apace. The ceremony is entirely unnecessary because Charles has been our lawful king from the moment of his mother’s death. This event has no meaning in law; it is merely a superstitious rite whereby God is supposed to anoint the King to run the Church of England, a church to which, according to our last census, only 9.8 per cent of Australians adhere. Nonetheless, they have cleaned the rust off the golden coronation coach, which enthralled me as a small boy, imagining it to come from fairyland. The event ends late next Saturday night Sydney time (May 6), so those monarchists able to stay awake can watch it in colour (back in 1953, Australia did not have television).
But sadly, they will not see the most important bit – the spiritual centre of the ceremony, which the palace has decided must be censored. This is the divine appointment itself. Suddenly, in a Pythonesque moment, into the abbey will rush a team of Knights of the Garter carrying a large tent, which they will erect to cover the King and Queen, the Queen’s hairdresser, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Inside, unseen by the public, the King will change into a white shirt and be anointed with holy oil – on his head, his breast, and his hands – ladled from the coronation spoon. The holy oil has already been mixed in Jerusalem, with the traditional ambergris eliminated reportedly because the King supports “save the whales”.
The Queen is then anointed on her head, and the royal hairdresser steps forward to clean her up. The King quick-changes back into his purple robes, and the divinely appointed monarchs step out of the canopy and back into view for Charles to swear the coronation oath, “to maintain the Protestant Reformed religion and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England”. The King is at last allowed to sit on his throne (it’s only built for one) holding his orb and sceptre, to “receive homage” from the audience. It is uncertain whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will manage to swear to be “your liegeman of life and limb and of earthly worship, to live and die against all manner of folks, so help me God”.
The royal couple, having been anointed, appointed, invested, oiled, crowned, and then throned, are then led to their golden coach by four sword-bearers – the Sword of State (the British State), the Sword of Spiritual Justice, the Sword of Temporal Justice, and the Sword of Mercy – the only sword that is kept blunt. Then it’s off in the golden coach to party at the palace.
It is all very quaint and picturesque, and the King does promise at the beginning “to govern” his realm of Australia and the diminishing number of other realms that retain him as their Head of State. Quite why he should think that he governs them today is an accident of history dating back to the Act of Settlement of 1700 when to avoid a Catholic ever coming to the throne, the right was bestowed only on the descendants of a German princess – Sophia of Hanover, who is by inference embodied now in the Australian Constitution. Until we change it, her heirs (and only her heirs) can become an Australian Head of State. Some of these heirs have been decent enough. Others have been … well … Prince Andrew.
So, Australia’s Head of State must be of German descent – the royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor during World War I to pretend that they were not related to the enemy. Thanks to the coronation, the monarch must be a practising Anglican – Charles would have to be dethroned should he become a Methodist or a Muslim, let alone an atheist. So Australia, for the next 90 years, will be reigned over by a white, Anglo-German Protestant male – Charles III, William V, and George VII.
It may be that the utter silliness of the coronation ritual will spur on our republic cause. Although I have no doubt that Charles III – unlike Charles I (who was executed) and Charles II (who deserved to be) – will be a very good king – for the UK. But before we start spending public money on adorning state and federal government offices with pictures of the newly crowned King and Queen of Australia, some thought might be given to more appropriate national symbols of our true sovereignty.
There is, for example, space on the $5 note previously occupied by the late Queen, and the Treasury has not decided on her replacement. My vote would go to the most inspirational person I met when a university student in Sydney. She was an island woman, the late Faith Bandler, daughter of a slave kidnapped by “blackbirding” from Vanuatu. Bandler was mentored by Jessie Street and became a remarkable activist – the moving spirit of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
She led the last successful referendum campaign in 1967 to remove the racist clause (Section 127) in the Constitution that prohibited First Nations people from being counted as Australians in the national census and gave the federal government the power to provide land rights. Bandler was conscious of the need for all parties’ support, epitomised in the photo (which should now shame Peter Dutton) of her standing together with Labor’s Gordon Bryant and the dapper but decent Liberal prime minister Harold Holt, foreshadowing their 91 per cent victory.
I once went canvassing with Bandler in Redfern, where a few of her people were saying, “bugger the referendum – we want homes, and we want the cops to stop beating us”. She would fix them with her earnest face and reply: “Our dignity depends on changing the Constitution.” That is the reply I am sure she would give today to those who are minded to think otherwise.
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