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Stand up Australia, stop the royal naming cringe

Date

John Warhurst

Charles and Camilla are on their way to Canberra, where they will officially rename Parkes Place.

Charles and Camilla are on their way to Canberra, where they will officially rename Parkes Place. Photo: Penny Stephens

Constitutional monarchies like Australia can't escape having their cultural landscape flooded with landmarks, large and small, named after their monarchs. Because our country is part of a formerly imperial monarchy rather than a national monarchy, local Australian culture and history is not given its due. Instead it is overshadowed by elements of empire. There is an over-abundance of such monarchical landmarks around Australia. As a consequence the republican cause for those who care about Australian history and culture is more about culture than it is about power.

This is the context for the mistaken decision by the federal government and the National Capital Authority to rename the lakeside part of Parkes Place as Queen Elizabeth Terrace. The official justification is that it is in honour of the Queen's diamond jubilee. The new terrace will be officially opened by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla during their visit to Canberra this Saturday.

Royal tours like the one that Charles and Camilla are currently engaged in across Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia don't particularly worry me as a republican. The Australian Republican Movement director, David Morris, has explained that whether members of the royal family are seen as celebrities or foreign dignitaries, their visits should have no bearing on the republican constitutional debate in Australia.

Australian Monachist League spokesman Matthew Sait may be pleased Parkes Place will be renamed Queen Elizabeth Terrace, but republicans are not.

Australian Monachist League spokesman Matthew Sait may be pleased Parkes Place will be renamed Queen Elizabeth Terrace, but republicans are not. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Such tours, remarkably frequent at the moment, come and go for Australians who can choose for themselves whether to take an interest and whether to attend one of the carefully crafted public functions.

There is, however, the question of cost and whether or not that should be borne by the Australian taxpayer. Community and political leaders, whether republican or not, may find these royal events either pleasurable or boring according to taste.

For most they are an unavoidable part of their civic responsibilities. Most of these functions are of a social and/or charitable nature.

But some events on royal tours go further than that and do impinge on our national identity in ways that should offend Australians. Royal tour programs that include the opening of significant Australian national institutions do diminish Australian national identity.

A disappointingly large number of Australian institutions, such as parliaments and courts, have been opened by royal persons in recent years, including the new Parliament House and the new High Court building in Canberra. These occasions should be proud celebrations of Australian democratic achievements but instead our leaders regularly defer to the British royal family.

The same is true of important celebrations such as the Australian bicentenary in 1988 and the prospective centenary of Canberra, the national capital, in 2013.

Our leaders often defend their choices by arguing that while Australia remains a constitutional monarchy with a British head of state, they actually have no choice. But that is not good enough and does nothing to stop the cultural damage being inflicted on Australia by such inappropriate decisions. It was the fact that Prince Charles was asked, inappropriately, to give the keynote speech in Sydney on Australia Day in the bicentennial year that ignited Malcolm Turnbull's republican determination even before the formation of the Australian Republican Movement.

It is also unfortunate that during this tour Charles and Camilla were so prominent at the Melbourne Cup. The Cup holds an iconic place in Australian history and culture and in recent years is showcasing Australia to the world in an unprecedented way. What do the organisers think they are doing in giving pride of place on this occasion to British royal family members rather than to an Australian dignitary or hero? What does the international television audience make of such a choice and what does it say about Australian self-confidence and identity?

But even royal openings and presentations are less of an affront to Australian national identity than the continued naming of Australian places after the British royal family. The practice continues unabated into the 21st century. It is natural for such things to occur in colonies, but surely not independent nations. Naming of such things and places is not just a bow to history but embeds colonial dependence in a fresh way for centuries to come.

The renaming of a part of Parkes Place, which generated the Save Parkes Place petition initiated by Benjamin Jones, is a prime example of such mistaken decisions. The national memory of Henry Parkes, a famous father of our Federation, is pushed aside.

It is especially inappropriate in the national capital, itself symbolic of our new nation rather than old colonial Australia. Canberra suburb names, including Parkes, in which the renamed Queen Elizabeth Terrace is situated, deliberately honour both our founding fathers and outstanding Australians since then, like Judith Wright and H. C. Coombs.

The outcome of this royal imprint is that in the heart of our national capital, which contains our great national institutional landmarks, rather than honouring our own heroes we are embedding the names of British monarchs. Our earlier status might possibly justify the naming of King Edward Terrace and King George Terrace nearby but there is no longer any persuasive reason for a new Queen Elizabeth Terrace.

Nor is this naming an isolated example. Last August the new Queensland government named the state's new courts complex the Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law.

Premier Campbell Newman reminded the audience that Queensland was named after Queen Victoria so it was appropriate that the new complex, a major landmark, should be named after Australia's head of state in her diamond jubilee year.

This is evidence of a continuing cultural battle. To prevent these throwbacks continuing, Australians should choose to become a republic with an Australian head of state.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University and deputy chairman of the Australian Republican Movement.

John.Warhurst@anu.edu.au

8 comments

  • Oh give us a break with the constant, petty, juvenile republican whingeing!

    The fact is that our democracy, freedoms and open, civil society, are a product of our heritage, one which we share with a number of countries with which we should be proud to be associated.
    They have similar values, similar freedoms and even a similar sense of humour.

    Canada, UK & New Zealand, amongst others, are each separate, mature, responsible nations.
    There is nothing wrong with being part of that family, or maintaining the remaining bonds of friendship, culture and heritage.

    When I grew up and moved out of home, I was accepted as an adult, without the need to change my name, scorn my parents and deny my ancestry.
    In fact had I done any of those things, I would rightly have been judged petty and quite immature.

    Our nation is no different. We can make new friends, we can welcome people from differing backgrounds and cultures (in fact many clamour to come here, and to the other Commonwealth Realms) and we do not have to cut our ties or reject our heritage to do so.

    How can Australia expect other nations and cultures to respect us, if we do not respect ourselves and our heritage?

    This heritage and culture, which includes the occasional naming of a place in recognition of our great traditions, does not take anything away from our identity or independence.
    It's something we can be proud of and the republican whingers should respect this country and its values, rather than try to impose their divisive sectarian agenda on the nation.

    Commenter
    JohnB
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 8:10AM
    • Thank you John. About time Australia did away with anachronistic practices and unshackled itself to take a seat at the international community table as a Republic. The renaming of part of the Parkes Place is a national disgrace and an affront to a modern Australia.

      Commenter
      K9
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 8:58AM
      • Well said, John Warhurst. Having so many buildings, places, roads and streets name after English royalty members is hang over colonial cringe. We have many worthy and deserving Australians, even from our short history, who would be well commemorated in this way. Changing the name of a place named for the father of of our federation, Sir Henry Parkes is downright insulting to his memory.

        Commenter
        Phil S
        Date and time
        November 08, 2012, 11:05AM
        • Thank you Mr. Warhurst...it’s about time we dispensed with the old (with all due respect) and brought in the new. I agree with K9, we really need to be seen as an independent nation and not one that remains tied to ‘the apron strings of a monarchy’. We need to leave our monarchist history, but not forget it, and move forward and upward in the international community. The Australian heritage will not die over night just because we move into the true independence of a Republic. With all due respect, those that suggest that Australia’s heritage will be damaged, forgotten or cease to have future relevancy because of a move to Republicanism appear to be living in the past.

          Commenter
          Legatus
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          November 08, 2012, 12:00PM
          • Brilliant, love it.

            Commenter
            rjpg
            Date and time
            November 08, 2012, 5:27PM
        • +1 John B never hear from them except when there is a tour on and then they cant help themselves. Believe there was a petition of 70 people against the re-naming WOW, that many? More important things to worry about, like the people unable to afford bills, health care, education standards, domestic violence etc etc Give it up Republicans, the majority of people really dont care

          Commenter
          Floam
          Date and time
          November 08, 2012, 3:39PM
          • Check under the photo - I think it's going to be named Queen Elizabeth Terrace,
            We did the one for Queen Victoria some time ago.

            Commenter
            Karkl
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            November 08, 2012, 5:20PM
            • Thanks John, Every time one of these bludgers comes out here, we foot the bill for their security, travel and accommodation. If a bunch of royalists wish to lick the shoes of members of the British aristocracy, can't they do it at their own expense?

              Commenter
              MikeMcB
              Date and time
              November 08, 2012, 8:27PM
              Comments are now closed
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