ACT News


To the barricades, comrades, it's de Groot again

This piece of Canberra will be named after Her Majesty today, but Ian Warden is not amused

If Canberra's republicans had senses of humour (but alas there's something about the republican cause that leaves its disciples dour and hatchet-faced) they'd send someone in a Sir Henry Parkes costume to be a brooding, disapproving presence at this morning's controversial occasion beside the lake.

Prince Charles, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, will unveil a plaque that changes the name of the prime site it stand on from Parkes Place (named after Sir Henry, without whom there might not be an Australian nation but just a bouquet of scraggy Australian colonies) to Queen Elizabeth Terrace. Someone dressed as the statuesque and striking Sir Henry would call attention, on what is otherwise bound to be a toadying, fawning occasion, to the bad mistake that's being made.

The change of name has dismayed some Australians (this reporter included). In Thursday's Canberra Times the pro-republic Professor John Warhurst (who has just the height and physique to be an impersonator of Sir Henry if only a costume can hastily be arranged for him) called the name change decision by the federal government and the National Capital Authority ''mistaken''. He wrote that there is already ''an overabundance of such monarchical landscapes around Australia'' and ''local Australian culture and history is not given its due''.

The taking away of Our Henry's special spot to give it their Elizabeth seems especially wrong because it is such a precious place, perhaps the bonniest area of the whole lakeside. On Friday at Parkes Place, in a bracing breeze, the grand row of nations' flags fluttered and flapped in gay majesty. Willy wagtails duelled and danced amongst the trees while, nearby, silver gulls arranged themselves elegantly on the wharves and black swans glided gracefully on the beige waters of the lake. A blithe jogger jogged by with his radiantly lovely (and broadly smiling) labradoodle. Three youths purred past on their hired Segways. The chimes of the carillon came across the water to caress the ear. Paradise.

Everything looked pristine there already but ahead of this morning's occasion three men in a boat went up and down along the waterfront cleaning and painting anything a little bit shabby.

The unobtrusive object the royals will unveil was still concealed on Friday in a kind of vertical coffin of plywood, behind a steel fence. Whatever it is it won't be so irresistibly tempting to vandals as the irreverent statue of Liz (alas, naked to the waist) and Phil, sitting on a lakeside bench, erected in almost exactly the same place in April 1995. It wasn't there long before someone (a vandal or an aggrieved republican?) chopped off Liz's head.

On Friday, this reporters' attempts, vox popping, to find anyone who cared about the change of name (and indeed any schoolchild who'd even heard of Sir Henry Parkes) were unsuccessful. An online petition deploring the change has, at the time of writing, only attracted 362 signatures, one of them this reporter's.

Perhaps some of the indignation felt by the few of us who are cranky is stoked by the way in which this ceremonial shunting aside of our substantial, accomplished, self-made Sir Henry is being done by a morally tainted foreign flibbertigibbet, Charles, who has never done an honest day's work and is an enthusiast for homeopathy and other mumbo jumbos. A truly great Australian discounted, and at our Prime Minister's invitation, by a mediocre Briton.

For shame! Time to stand up, Australia!