For ardent republicans, this is the most testing of weeks, and those of us who support the notion of Australia remaining a constitutional monarchy ought to be especially sensitive to the appalling spectre that confronts these tortured souls.
A new opinion poll puts support for an Australian republic at the lowest level in 17 years, with 41 per cent in favour, and just 25 per cent strongly in favour. A significant feature of the Newspoll in The Australian is that republican sentiment is strongest among middle aged voters, with 18-34 year old voters increasingly undecided. Many young people, it seems, are flag-waving monarchists. And this is before anyone gets caught up in the once-in-a-generation spectacle of the wedding of a future monarch on Friday.
As young William Wales ties the knot with Kate The Kiddies Party Organiser before a global audience of billions, your average Aussie republican will claim to be consumed by revulsion that the groom is their future king. They’ll attest – with varying degrees of venom – that they’re sickened by the saccharine sentimentality and forelock tugging that accompanies the whole event. All week, they’ll swear off watching the actual ceremony. “No way, mate, not effing interested”. Yet as sure as a monarchical succession, come Friday night they’ll be slinking home early to access the television coverage with the same furtiveness as if they were viewing porn. Royal weddings are like that in Australia, occasions when the republican cause flicks faster into involuntary reverse than the gearbox on a battered bushy ute.
Don’t take our word for it. The television ratings will tell the story. All the world loves a lover, goes the saying. So when the State Trumpeters trump and the Dean of Westminster intones “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today in the eyes of God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony”, much of the world – including the Godless (and republicans) – will be watching. For Grubsheet, based on bitter experience, all weddings nowadays induce a sense of gloom. Ah, for one moment of pleasure, a thousand pains. One need only go to Youtube to grasp the fundamental truth of the proposition when it comes to royal weddings. There are the ill-fated unions of Margaret and Tony, Ann and Mark, Andy and the dreadful Fergie – all readily accessible in clips from the time. And most bitter-sweet of all, the dashed hopes of the so-called “fairytale wedding” that sparkling July day 30 years ago, when the ravishing Diana glided up the aisle at Saint Paul’s into the arms of that wretched, jug-eared two-timer, Charles. On Friday, he plays father of the groom to the heir he sired to ensure the Windsor succession. The memories will not be happy ones.
Grubsheet is old enough to remember the unbridled joy the 1981 royal wedding kindled in young breasts everywhere. It’s one of life’s fundamental truths that the best place to find romance is at someone else’s wedding, even if it’s on television, and that July night was no different. But to look back at the footage now is a depressing thing for any would-be romantic. Diana exudes innocence and radiance but already resembles a lamb dressed in taffata being led to the slaughter by her doddering father. Charles was described at the time as “curiously sorrowful” and of course, we now know why. He was in love with someone else and it’s written all over his face. Take a look at around the three minute mark on the second reel when the officiating clergyman warns that marriage is a “sacred institution not to be entered into wantonly or lightly”. The future head of the Church of England rubs his nose and gazes upwards as if he’s been caught with his pants down before the Almighty. We couldn’t watch any more.
But, of course, just as each marriage is its own private hell, so too does hope spring eternal when it comes to romance. Charles was ageing and under pressure, notably from his domineering pater, to sire an heir and prove his ability to carry on the family firm. He’d dithered so much that his one true love, Camilla, had given up waiting and married someone else. Enter Diana and the beginning of a farcical soap opera that lasted until her desultory death in a Paris tunnel in the company of an Egyptian wastrel. William, by comparison, seems remarkably well adjusted given the travails and tragedies of his short life. He’s been able to choose Katie for himself without the aid of courtiers – as in the case of Diana and Charles – and they’ve been together for nigh on seven years with the obligatory punctuation marks for them both to feel certain about what’s meant to be a life-long partnership in the service of their country and Commonwealth. Only people more cantankerous than us would wish them anything less than happiness.
No-one can yet say whether William – who’ll eventually be King William the Fifth – will ever be King of Australia. The last attempt to displace the monarchy failed, with a 1999 referendum falling well short of the need to carry the country (55 per cent to 45 against) plus a majority of the six states. Remarkably, the latest opinion poll indicates an even bigger defeat in any fresh vote on the issue. There seems to be a general view – promoted by the likes of republican stalwart Paul Keating – that our taste for monarchy won’t outlive the present Queen. Even within Grubsheet, there’s dissent about the fitness of Charles to be king. One of us thinks he’s a twat and the crown should pass over his head and rest on the rapidly balding pate of his son. Yet the whole point of monarchy is succession. “The King is dead, long live the King”. So the notion that popular opinion should determine such things and that the “next in line” gets the heave-ho from “The Royal Show” like some up-market Big Brother has all the logic of, well, a republican. We’ll wager that Charles will be King of Australia on the death of his admirable mother but that he’ll need to work bloody hard to keep us on side. His Duchy Estate does a good line in crackers but that’s about it. His expressed desire to be a tampon isn’t easily forgotten.
Nevertheless, it’s a striking paradox that the more Australia becomes a multicultural nation, the less inclined we seem to be to change the existing constitutional arrangements. A strong case can be made that people who come to live here have embraced the concept with the same alacrity as the Anglo-Celtic component of the population for one simply reason – it works. It’s especially true in the case of immigrants from those parts of the world that don’t enjoy the same level of stability and prosperity. One thing is certain. It’s not just Tony Abbott and John Howard who think that a constitutional monarchy is still the best and most stable form of government for a country such as ours. We think there’s a sensible old Aussie saying that applies to this debate as it does to everything else: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So here’s looking at youse, Bill and Kate. On yer. You might be Pommy bastards but you’re our bastards too.