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'Rhetorical arthritis' in the debate on republic

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Noel Towell

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visit the Australian War Memorial.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visit the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Getty Images

The Australian Republican movement is being held captive by outdated nationalist rhetoric, the audience at the movement's annual keynote address on Saturday in Canberra will be told.

Sydney academic Dr James Curran says the debate suffers from ''rhetorical arthritis,'' with leading Australian republican thinkers continuing to use ''hoary old platitudes'' from the 1970s.

Dr Curran will tell the annual Republican Lecture in Forrest that a republic would not come back on the mainstream political debate until its supporters matched their language to the realities of modern Australia.

Anti-British sentiments have been identified by Dr Curran, an associate professor of history at Sydney University, as a key problem in modern republican argument.

''The republic can be part of that great story of Australian adaptability and change, but we cannot, and must not, lecture the people or treat the issue as some sort of pantomime about pathways to maturity,'' Dr Curran will tell his audience.

''Australians, particularly the younger generation, simply don't feel the nagging compulsion to trash a Brit.

''It means that any idea Australians will be spurred to action by tales of Churchill's fiasco at Gallipoli, British duplicity over the fall of Singapore, or even Harold Larwood's use of leg theory in the 1932-33 Bodyline cricket series, has to go.''

The address, a key event on the Republican movement's calender, will also hear that talk of Australia's ''adolescence'' or the republic as part of the nation's ''journey to maturity'' is counterproductive.

''Such expressions, as if admonishing the country itself, will struggle to win new converts to our cause,'' Dr Curran says.

''Indeed it might be a requirement for all present and future republicans to swear that they will henceforth dispense with such stale and predictable anatomical mumbo-jumbo.

''The republican debate need not be permanently riddled with this strain of rhetorical arthritis.

''The republic can be part of that great story of Australian adaptability and change, but we cannot, and must not, lecture the people or treat the issue as some sort of pantomime about pathways to maturity.''

The movement will also be warned of the danger of the notion of one side of politic or the other as being the home of the ''true'' Australian national identity.

''If republicans are to mobilise a truly national consensus, then the assumption that only one side of politics, or one segment of the population are the torchbearers for an enlightened, 'true' Australian nationhood also has to be dispatched to the rhetorical dustbin,'' Dr Curran said.

''Most often this view has taken the form of a crude interpretation of the national narrative in which Labor alone, or the left more generally, have been the harbingers of national liberation and cultural renewal.''

The lecture is at 5.30 pm on Saturday at the Wesley Music Centre Hall, Corner of National Circuit and Sydney Avenue, Barton.

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