In changing times, King Charles III renews the British brand

Today’s coronation of Charles III is one of those happy world events that will live on in the memories of the generations who saw it – live, on television or online – as a touchstone moment.

Seventy years ago, when his mother was crowned in Westminster Abbey, it was one of those joyous special days, too. And it also had extra significance here, not least because she was the first monarch to be designated “Queen of Australia”. She was just 27. In contrast, Charles last year became the oldest monarch to accede to the British throne.

Now 74, Australians have known him well for much of their lives. For many, he seemed to spend his childhood in the pages of the until 1966, when he attended Geelong Grammar School’s Victorian high country campus for a term. Since then, his romances, his marriages, divorce, his sons, their wives, his interests in architecture, organic farming and the prevention of climate change have been such a long-running story that he takes the crown as the most familiar monarch in English history.

But for Charles III, the monarchy is viewed very differently today from the time his mother took the throne.

On June 2, 1953, Elizabeth II’s coronation brightened Britain as it struggled to emerge from the deprivations of fighting a world war but few realised the times had already changed.

The morning of the coronation, the ’s editorial noted Australia’s flagged and illuminated streets and pageants in city and town and remarked: “The Monarchy has no opponents and few critics outside the jaundiced ranks of the Communist Party. The stern Republicans in Ireland, India and South Africa object to the link with Britain and not to the Crown or the Sovereign. Throughout the rest of the British Commonwealth every man is a Monarchist.

“The opportunities of an Elizabethan age do, indeed, lie before us. It depends … upon ourselves whether we seize them, and go forward in unity to make Australia a great new British Power in the Pacific.”

These days, there are people who rail against the monarchy, claiming it preserves inequality. The coronation, they claim, is an anachronistic religious ceremony in an increasingly secular era and the cost of such pomp and circumstance is gross in such austere times.

Of course, such complaints contain truths, but they miss the role royalty has played in helping to understand the human condition. The Greek tragedians knew it, so too did the writers of fairy tales, and Shakespeare. The popularity of Netflix’s series suggests the appetite remains unsated for kings and queens and princes and princesses, power and pageantry.

Today, the Gold State Coach, the extravagant attire, the marching troops and military bands, flyovers and assembled dignitaries will lend the coronation a fairytale touch, against the trappings of power and former glory.

The British Empire has long faded, so too has Britain’s global military and naval status. Monarchy has been a good British brand and remains a revered link with the old days but Australia’s complex relationship with royalty is changing: waves of immigration have tilted the population’s old Anglo-Celtic axis from patriotic loyalty and the republican debate flares so regularly that the Albanese government has appointed an Assistant Minister for the Republic.

The year Charles III’s mother was crowned, an English novelist, LP Hartley, coincidently penned the phrase, the past is a different country, they do things differently there. The monarchy has always seemed the embodiment of a past where little different is ever done. The challenge facing Charles III is to do things differently and modernise the monarchy. On this, his own special day, we sincerely extend the best of Australian good wishes in his endeavours.

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