Australian Republicans'' long struggle for liberty, sovereignty and democracy

By | | comments |

An Australian Republic is about much more than just having an Australian head of state, says Dr Tony Moore. Republicans should embrace Australia's long republican history and its struggle for liberty, popular sovereignty and democracy.

The flag of the Eureka Stockade

Australian republicans tempted to scoff at the pomp and ceremony that rolled out of London last week for the marriage of the heir to our throne should think again. For too long now the republican cause has been diverted by a small target strategy, myopically focussed on an Australian head of state, when the move to a republic should be about so much more. For me – a republican since a schoolboy conversion in the traumatic days of 1975 – the folly of taking on the Windsors at what they do well is close to home. My thirteen-year old daughter, enchanted by the modern day fairy tale of the latest royal wedding, is a monarchist! She is not alone. Tweenies (and mums and dads) across the nation were glued to their flat screens to see Kate Middleton kiss the handsome Prince and through the alchemy of marriage transform into a Princess. Should the happy couple one day sit at the summit of our government as King William and Queen Kate, young Australians grown older will remember they were witnesses to a ceremony intimate and epic, personal and political, alien yet familiar. This meshing of romance and the state should be strange in our technocratic age, but fairy tales (and history) tell us otherwise. Children, and the children inside us all, find a form of statehood based on a family comforting, in part because families provide continuity with the past, a bond over and between generations that can strengthen imperial, national and even domestic belonging. Finding an old book about the young Princess Elizabeth that had belonged to her great-grandmother, my daughter wrote to our now octogenarian sovereign and was privileged with a prompt reply, from a Lady-in-Waiting, considered and gentle in tone. This letter is now a personal treasure. In an Australia not yet purged of its colonial habits and child-like insecurities, the mystery and majesty of England’s thousand-year monarchy remains a force to reckon with.

Yet, there is a cultural disjuncture. Just ask the Chaser and their fans, who remain gobsmacked that the Palace and its forelock tugging liegeman the BBC can reach across oceans and a century of constitutional convention and kybosh our inalienable right as Australians to take the piss out of the high and mighty. Kate, William, Charles, Camilla and the Queen herself are all, well, British and despite our lingering cultural debts and easy empathy with the ‘Poms’, Australians have moved on. Meanwhile, back in Blighty the Royal Family has been effectively nationalised, with heirs to Australia’s throne shamelessly mobilised to spruik the trade (and soccer bids) of the land they naturally call home. Unease over the British Royal family’s foreignness was outed in the lead up to the republican referendum by none other than the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, who campaigned on the confection that the Governor-General, not the Queen, was our head of state. But neither seems to actually fill the bill.Today there are blank walls in our schools where a symbol of our nation’s sovereignty might hang – neither Elizabeth nor the innately regal Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, are considered appropriate icons of 21st-century Australia.

This absence is symptomatic of what historians James Curran and Stuart Ward identify as the ‘void’- a crisis in belonging that followed the post-war break up of the Empire, Britain’s embrace of Europe, and the demise of a once triumphant imperial race patriotism that had helped Australians make sense of themselves in the world and the continent since the late nineteenth century.[i] Imperial dreaming always had its spirited discontents, but critique cannot alone provide a sense of national purpose. Notwithstanding the cheeky larrikinism of the ‘70s ‘cultural renaissance’, the well-meaning cosmopolitanism of multiculturalism, the swaggering strut of our sportspeople, the dignity of the Anzac revival or the half-hearted recognition of the land rights of indigenous Australians, we still grapple for a civic narrative to replace imperial belonging.

Australian republicans have failed to fill this void. The problem is thinking too small. Why would Australians bother taking the leap, excising the Crown from our uniforms, coat of arms and letterheads, if hardly anything will change, for replacing a hereditary monarch with an elected one? I am critical of the official movement’s obsession with the head of the state (no matter the method of election), when a republic’s power to remake a nation lies not in a president but in the people. Two years ago the Australian Republic Movement realised the errors of the small target strategy and expanded its narrative beyond the Head of State/independence from Britain focus in order to encourage a debate about what it means for Australian citizens to be truly sovereign. Not surprisingly, the champions of a minimalist republic remain luminaries of the major parties, such as former leaders Peter Costello and Bob Carr and their successors from the Labor right and Liberal left who believe that the election of a President can only be trusted to parliamentarians who owe their seats to a factional pre-selection system that rewards loyalty and obedience. These conservative republicans are feted by a media looking backwards to last century’s republican referendum (witness the recent and uncharacteristically underwhelming Q and A forum held in the week of the royal wedding), but it is time for a more sophisticated understanding of republicanism.

The American republic was never merely about electing a head of state, but about placing citizens at the centre of government, through legally protected rights and democratic innovations that held leaders to account and protected liberties against encroachment by the state. In 1999 the Australian people rejected a republican model that did nothing about the whiff of oligarchy in Australian political practice. A republic worth having strengthens democracy from the bottom rather than entrenching rule by a narrow political class. But, for a republic to compete with the tradition and majesty of the British monarchy, it must first engage our imaginations, harnessing culture and history to an alternative dream of Australia — one that appeals to the heart as well as the head, the land as well as the law, past heroes as well as the future.


Waleed Aly


Author and academic Waleed Aly relates Australia’s lack of an inclusive patriotic vision to the absence in our origins of the civic ‘scripture’ that so eloquently animates the founding documents and speeches of the United States – words that still evokes idealistic patriotism in Americans.[ii] It is true, that where the American republic was bequeathed abstract Enlightenment principles like liberty and the inalienable rights of man, the Australian colonies and later the Federation built their polities under the influence of nineteenth century Utilitarianism. To this day, our political practice remains tethered to utilitarianism’s emphasis on what is good for the majority, on bread and butter rather than ideas, on material wellbeing and pragmatic institution building rather than active citizenship. However, if we look further back, past the stolid Federation ‘Founding Fathers’ to the cosmopolitan colonial century, we will discover alternative, dissident democratic and republican traditions, not to mention a language of patriotism and poetry, that can nourish a republican civic life this century. To decolonise Australia’s politics, we must first decolonise our memories.

Colonialism is not just apparent in malingering practices of governance, but in the cultural amnesia that sees us imbibe the history of the metropolitan societies such as America, Britain or France but remain ignorant of all but a handful of individuals and events. It is surprising how few republicans know about the history of their cause in this land, especially in the colonial period when there was no ‘Australia’, and our polities were part of a global superpower. Contrary to the popular image of a staid conservative imperium, the empire was a zone in flux shaped by people on the move, demands for popular participation and a new media age. Far from being isolated outposts, the colonies – erected on land seized from the Aboriginal people – were important transnational hubs for commodity extraction, trade, immigration, land privatisation and development, information exchange and of course punishment. While familiar with our convict antecedents, few Australians realise their homeland once served as the British Empire’s version of Guantanamo Bay, where some 3,600 rebels, radicals and protesters were transported as political prisoners in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. This figure – 1 in 45 of all convicts - was arrived at by eminent social historian George Rudé, who sifted through the court and convict records of individual prisoners for the entire period of transportation.[iii] Leading radicals who led the charge for democratic reform, in Britain, Ireland and even North America spent time here as convicts or prisoners of war, vitally connecting the colonies to the revolutionary political changes sweeping Europe and the Americas, especially republicanism.

Our republican past is closer than we realise. In researching the book Death or Liberty: rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788- 1868 I learned that in an old cemetery in the Wollongong bush where we skylarked as teenagers, lay buried a French-Canadian revolutionary named Joseph Marceau, transported as a convict in 1839 along with 57 compatriots for rebellion against the British Empire.[iv] In Sydney’s verdant Botanical gardens lies another humble grave belonging to ‘Scottish Martyr’ Joseph Gerrald, exiled ‘over the seas’ for the ‘sedition’ of advocating universal suffrage, who weakened during the voyage and died in 1796 aged thirty-six. A sensitive and highly educated man, Gerrald’s words to the court on learning of his 14 year banishment provides his epitaph:

‘The cause which I have embraced has taken deep root, and must, I feel, ultimately triumph. I have my reward. I see through the cheering vista of future events the overthrow of tyranny, and the permanent establishment of benevolence and peace.’[v]

The understated resting places of the Canadian rebel and the British radical disturb our conventional understanding of the convicts as criminals, and beg the questions: why don’t we learn the stories of such people at school and in our civic commemoration? What can we, as Australian republicans, learn from their struggles?



Scottish martyr Thomas Muir


The republican idea was transmitted into Australia’s DNA from the earliest years of settlement through two very different men, lawyer Thomas Muir and Irish rebel Michael Dwyer. Muir, one of Gerrald’s fellow ‘Scottish Jacobins’ was a dashing young orator and idealist in the Jeffersonian mould whose crusade for electoral reform morphed into republicanism under persecution and in the hopeful dawn of the French Revolution. He escaped Sydney on an American ship, was imprisoned by the Spanish in Cuba en route to seek asylum from George Washington, and ultimately found a safe haven in Paris advising Napoleon. Dwyer was an Irish ‘Braveheart’, a knockabout hero of that country’s 1798 revolution who waged a guerrilla war against the English, before being tricked into surrender, and is honoured with a monument at his graveside at Waverly cemetery. Muir was the new media activist, a pamphleteer and publicist of information the government deemed seditious. Dwyer was the man of action — a warrior and resistance leader. Two different sorts of bravery – one moral force of rational argument, the other physical force – a willingness to fight for change in the minds of men and on the battlefield. Both leaders had the strength of their convictions.

For the British, Irish and Canadian political prisoners there was far more to a republic than simply abolishing monarchy. Central was the idea of placing the people, res publica, at the centre of government, through sovereign parliament’s representative of all citizens – not merely aristocrats or the wealthy – and making the still monarchical executive truly accountable to the will of people. But just as important was an expansion of the traditional liberty of the Englishman under the rule of law, to embrace the new liberty proselytised by Tom Paine and posited as an aspirational principle in the emerging American republic, that held that all men had inherent, inalienable rights. Extending from the ancient Roman ideal, the republicanism of Muir’s radicals or Dwyer’s United Irishmen valued ‘civic virtue’ in public life and was critical of the corruption of this ideal in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century by rigged, undemocratic assemblies full of placemen, ‘rotten boroughs’, and parties dominated by different branches of the same landed elite and an executive unrepresentative of those they governed and taxed. The republican ideal of virtue, they believed, could be established under the Crown, with removal of oligarchic deformations to governance, and could even be appealed to as a protector of the birthrights of all free-Britons. But when inherited monarchy stood in the way of democracy, or when it proved incapable of extending British rights to colonial subjects – as occurred in America and Ireland – it could be happily dispensed with.

For many of the republicans sentenced to Australia, a right for which they were prepared to sacrifice their own liberty was freedom of speech and publishing. A state fashioned in more authoritarian times had difficulty coping with a revolution in communications that had greatly expanded the public sphere, a ‘republic of letters’, in which intellectuals and other ideas entrepreneurs used the discourse of journalism, and the convivial spaces of cafés and pubs, to debate and promote new ways of seeing and doing. With technical improvements and growing literacy came a proliferation and diversification of publishing: newspapers, pamphlets, treatises, manifestos and proclamations. In these media innovations, new rights, new classes, new systems of government and new nations were first imagined. As media scholar John Hartley has argued, the creation of popular readerships in America and France by adversarial journalism stimulated the empowering idea of popular sovereignty. Reforms codified in black letter law and revolutions won or lost with sabres and bullets were borne of the thoughts and ideals traded in this rambunctious free market of ideas stretching from Britain to the colonies in Ireland, North America and even to the new prison provinces of Australia. In language echoing today’s debates about the internet and Wikileaks, Muir asked the jury whether suppression of literature was even possible in an age where ‘the works of Mr Burke and Thomas Paine, flew with rapidity to every corner of the land, hitherto unexampled in the history of political science’. Yet a government dedicated to the gospel of free trade in property resisted freedom to write and speak, imposing laws of sedition that allowed writers, journalists, poets and pamphleteers to be dragged off to gaol in the dead of night. These illiberal laws lasted well into the mid-nineteenth century, and ensured that many of the political prisoners transported to Australia were some of the finest wordsmiths and propagandists of their age, such as the ‘Young Ireland’ leaders William Smith O’Brien, Tom Meagher and John Mitchell.

[Join our email list and receive Independent Australia's free weekly newsletter.]

For too long Australians have assumed that the democracy and sovereign independence they enjoy was simply handed to us by an enlightened mother England without a fight, that unlike the United States our colonial autonomy was gifted to us without revolution. In fact these freedoms were won by brave and principled idealists who stood up to authority throughout the empire, and then made a stand again as prisoners in Australia in order that their causes might be re-tried in the court of world opinion.


In a time of crisis for British authority, transportation was embraced as the best way to excise from the body politic radical malcontents, who wanted to import foreign systems of government like republicanism, and dissenters from the lower orders who threatened the Kings Peace. But far from being out of sight and out of mind, the exiles altered the political landscape of their place of banishment. The last act of the United Irish revolution was staged in fiery rebellion at Castle Hill, western Sydney, in 1804, bequeathing Australia the battle cry ‘Death or Liberty’ and a spirit of resistance that re-emerged a half-century later at Eureka Stockade where both Chartist and Young Ireland veterans played leading roles. Political prisoners such as Scottish Martyr Thomas Palmer and United Irishman Richard Dry hastened our economic progress as entrepreneurs, while others such as Chartist William Caffey, the son of a West-Indian slave, became influential trade union activists. While still prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land, the intellectual Young Irelanders became the focus for the anti-transportation campaigners agitating colonial self-government. They published the radical journal Irish Exile to agitate for liberal reforms and even Indigenous rights, mounted innovative court actions against the legal basis of their treatment, and leaked stories to sympathetic journalists that rallied opposition to convictism throughout the eastern colonies. Rebel Irish aristocratic William Smith O’Brien even drafted a democratic constitution for Tasmania to encourage activists seeking responsible government.

The failure of transportation to silence political dissidents owes much to their media savvy and skill at exploiting the theatre of trial and punishment. Not unlike recent campaigns to free Nelson Mandela or Julian Assange, leading political convicts such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Young Irelanders and the Fenians became the focus of mass movements in Britain, Ireland and North America mobilised to secure their release. A virtual library of published convict memoirs and pamphlets ensured contemporaries learned of the struggles ideals, and sufferings of the exiles. Not surprisingly, when finally pardoned many were welcomed home as heroes, and some even tasted political success. French-Canadian revolutionary Xavier-Prieur, who had laboured on the Parramatta road and was detained with fellow Patriotes in the region of Sydney harbour now known as Canada Bay, became Canada’s Superintendent of Prisons. Young Ireland prisoner and medical practitioner Kevin O’Doherty saw the promise in the colonies and climbed the greasy pole to become Queensland’s first minister for Health, later winning a seat in Westminster. Returning to Muir’s spirited odyssey around the globe, a succession of derring-do rescues, climaxing in the dramatic Fenian escape from Fremantle gaol aboard the Catalpa, revived hopes for political comrades back home and in the colonies, demonstrating just how connected Australia was to international liberation movements.

On the sidelines mocking Britain’s crisis of authority and imperialism were radical democratic citizens of the still-young American republic. American democratic zealots together with liberals of goodwill provided material and moral support for Britain’s rebels. There were those Americans such as the Patriot Hunters and the Irish diasporic nationalists who went further still, boldly rescuing political prisoners from Australian gulags as in the celebrated Catalpa breakout and invading British territory in Canada and Ireland. To imperial Britain, the United States was an exporter of revolution and terrorism. Unsurprisingly, when captured in Canada, American ‘privateers’ were also banished to the empire’s maximum-security prison at the ends of the Earth. Far from an alien culture across the Pacific, American democracy, borne by traders, whalers, sailors and touring intellectuals was an insistent influence and much discussed model for post-colonial self-government in nineteenth century Australia, and not surprisingly left a mark on our federal constitution.[vi]

The stories of the transported radicals reveal a contested empire in which dissent and revolution jostle with hope and glory. Australia was bequeathed an inspiring legacy.Liberalism, democracy, responsible government, trade unionism, working-class politics, and post-colonial nationalism all arrived in the colonies in chains. Yet through the alchemy of martyrdom, spirited resistance, canny campaigning back home and in the colonies and dramatic escapes these radical ideas broke free of convict fetters to disseminate around the world. They became the common sense of liberal nation-states and left strong influences in Australia’s political culture.

The ground-breaking Victorian and New South Wales constitutions of the 1850s, granting universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, short parliaments, secret ballot and large measure of colonial autonomy were very much influenced by the Chartist and Young Ireland programs, the Canadian struggle for self-determination and ideas going all the way back to Muir and the United Irishmen. These radical constitutional innovations conceded by a mother country keen to avoid the spectre of Chartist or Irish dissent in Australia, were made irreversible by the spilt blood of the rebels fighting under the Southern Cross at Eureka in Stockade.


Doudiet: Swearing on the Southern Cross (Eureka Stockade)


Although the Young Ireland revolution of 1848 ended in debacle, its intellectual romantics invented a new cultural vocabulary of Irish nationalism to help their countrymen to once again imagine governing themselves and, through their gifts as communicators, transformed their imprisonment in faraway Van Diemen’s Land into a symbolic triumph.Young Ireland’s cultural efforts to imagine a new nation, even before it was a political reality, was adopted in Australia with gusto, in the Bulletin, an antipodean version of The Nation that sang and versified a new Australian nation, racy of the soil, of mates and larrikins ahead of Federation and ANZAC.

Surveying the living Australian traditions that the transported radicals, rebels and protesters fertilised, some with their bones, one legacy remains unborn. The seeds of republicanism, liberal and abstract in the pamphlets of the Scottish Martyrs, passionate and romantic in the speeches of Young Ireland, populist and democratic in the memoirs of the American patriots, was ploughed into our colonial soil but is yet to bear fruit. All of these rebels and reformers agreed that a republic was more than simply replacing the monarch with a president. A republic was about liberty, extended to all citizens through thoroughly democratic institutions and bills of rights. This plant, which republican poet Henry Lawson called the "Young Tree Green", broke the soil in the 1880s but was trodden down in the rush to Federation and an imperial war. It grew a little again in the 1990s, only to wither and die.

What does this older idea of a republic have to offer Australian democracy today? Have we not attained the crowned republic sought by the colonial radicals? Although many thought so in the past, new oligarchies emerge to take the place of the old. The commons needs not only to be defended, but also regularly returned to the people, so that it may serve new times and the newly disenfranchised.

At the time of Federation, Australia was known as the social laboratory of the world for innovations such as female suffrage and the peaceful introduction by of social democratic measures such as pensions, arbitration and the minimum living wage by a partnership between New Liberals and Labor. But today there is something profoundly wrong with the relationship between government and the people in contemporary Australia. While the people still participate, pay their taxes and give consent, a certain narky quality has entered into our politics. Blue-collar and rural Australians feel locked out of political representation, excluded by well-educated technocrats who seem to run everything, including politics. Particular migrant groups and Aboriginal people have reasons to be estranged from a form of government that leaves them under-represented yet over-policed. Last year’s Federal election was noteworthy for its dull plodding bread and butter bribes and incredibly shrinking vista for the nation. Both Labor and the Coalition cynically doled out a municipal grab bag of ‘announceables’ in place of policy. What was on show was the gulf between the governed and governors — the tradies and home-makers being courted and the professional political class pretending for a few weeks that it’s down with ordinary voters. But there is more to democracy than wearing fluoro vests and hard hats and voters reacted to this cynicism by electing a well-hung parliament where rural mavericks and inner city radicals hold the balance of power. Cross-class alienation with party-politics as usual was manifest.

[AUDIO: Listen to Dr Tony Moore speak about his book Death or Liberty on ABC's Conversation Hour with Richard Fidler.]

Simply voting for a parliamentary representative every three years no longer gives citizens a sense of control over government and state institution. In an era of rigid party discipline, the stacking of parties with obedient hacks and the growing presidential style of rule by prime ministers, we truly are subjects, as monarchy implies. But with decline of parliament’s sovereignty over the executive, the ancient powers of the Crown vested in ministers are a ruse behind which skulks an oligarchy — the rule of the many by the few. If Australian governance alienates most of us perhaps it is because its form retains many colonial features designed to do just that. Whereas government services such as schools and police in the United States and Britain are often accountable to local communities through direct or municipal election, here they remain trapped in the colonial model where the centrally located representative of the Crown dispatched its officers to administer HMG’s laws to a people who could not be trusted. Though self-government was introduced early, the people’s participation was limited to parliamentary election and juries, rather than an ongoing say over the operation of schools, hospitals or the constabulary as occurs in Britain or the United States. Where boards exist they are too frequently stacked with political mates rather than meritocratic or reflective of the community or stakeholders. The post-1990s triumph of managerialism and spin, combined with the deformation of party factions into executive placement agencies has only served to further distance ordinary people from the institutions that govern their lives and all but extinguished the principle of ministerial responsibility.


In 1999, most Australians did not want to give the oligarchy the power to choose the new president, but wanted to assume that power themselves. A 21st century republicanism must enlarge our concept of the commons beyond the old colonial idea of the Crown, ministers and public service, supplement representative democracy with other mechanisms for ensuring popular participation, reducing hierarchies in government and making those tiers that remain directly accountable to their communities. Mindful of republican virtue’s vigilance against corruption, we can build on the post-war trend John Keane has identified as ‘Monitory Democracy’. Just as Australia led the world with electoral commissions, and permanent commissions against corruption, so might we shine a clearer light on the preselection of parliamentary candidates and the internal governance and inter-relationships of political parties, unions and business. Why not elect the boards of all federal government ‘quangos’, such as the ABC, CSIRO and the federal police? Imagine the policies, ideas and passions that elections for the full ABC board would generate. If you doubt that the ABC remains shackled to its imperial origins as an off shoot of the BBC (inaugurated under Royal Charter) note how easily the older British Aunty pulled the colonial upstart into line over the Chaser’s bid to satirise the William and Kate’s nuptials.


People are disaffected with the political "oligarchy"


We could go further. Just as Americans elect their county judges, district attorneys and sheriffs, why don't we have elections for important local officials and executives who are currently appointed by the government, making them accountable to those populations? These moves accord with the principle of subsidiarity, where control of a service is instituted closest to those affected by decisions. Rather than controlled from the centre by vast departments in the colonial style, schools and hospitals could be managed by locally elected boards. New digital technology is a tool for enhancing democracy, but not just enabling new modes of political participation through electronic voting. In the same way that freedom of the press and the ‘republic of letters’ was a partner to democracy in the age of Thomas Muir, so too is new media activism and citizen journalism to government accountability today.

Many of the changes that have brought us closer to a republican form of government or enhanced local sovereignty, whether the popularly elected colonial legislative assemblies in the 1850s, abolishing state and federal appeals to the British Privy Council, or overturning terra nullius have not required referenda, as they operate at the level of legislation, the common law or in the state jurisdiction where constitutions may be amended by parliament as occurs in Britain. In this spirit, republicans today should campaign around a democratisation platform that may be implemented in steps by the federal and state parliaments to build momentum for the referendum necessary to have an elected head of state. Far from by-passing the people, pro-republican candidates for parliament, whether in parties or independents, can present their reform platform in elections to seek a mandate.

Unfortunately, the managerial oligarchy that currently control the ALP, have much to lose from grassroots participation in the state and constraints on ministerial prerogatives derived from the Crown. The hard men of the factions have been known to deride popular participation outside their carefully manipulated preselections as a beauty contest that will lead to the election of Kylie Minogue!Some on the broader or union left oppose alternatives to centralisation as a ‘liberal’ or privatisation agenda against ‘big government’, and fear creeping Americanisation of our Westminster system. Ironically, Britain has moved much further towards community control of local state services such as schools than its former colony. Instead of retooling democracy for the twenty-first century, Australia’s leaders across the political spectrum have indulged a national talent for bureaucracy-building and managerial surveillance—an illiberal tendency in our public life that is perhaps a colonial hangover from the vast convict apparatus erected on our shores to catalogue, control and coerce human beings. The radical political prisoners, including the many working class protestors, unionists and Chartists had no reason to idealise the British state that had exiled them to our fatal shore. Too many modern progressives – the natural constituency for republicanism - forget the centrality of liberty to our cause, and instead embrace the state as great and powerful friend, surprised when its ministers and officials curb our freedoms to protest, favour big business mates or cruelly lock up refugees. But in the spirit of Hawke and Keating’s liberalisation of Australia’s economy in the 1980s and 90s, opening up the twentieth century state to the winds of civic empowerment could be the great next wave of reform. A participatory republican citizenship might even become a glue that binds Australians of different ethnicities, religions, regions and subcultures, as we come to define our national identity by the principles through which we govern ourselves, in preference to nostalgic racial categories or superficial cultural preferences that have long masked our hybridity.

[Follow Independent Australia on Facebook and Twitter]

Despite a republic being a plank of the ALP’s platform, the Labor government has done little creative thinking about what such a polity might look like, beyond the admirable idea of including indigenous Australians in the constitution. If the Australian people are to make the huge leap from a monarchy to a republic, they will want it to be worth it. What has been missing in this tumultuous year - beyond the refrain ‘what about me’ - is a narrative of where our leaders will take Australia. Thus Labor’s initiative for self-government by public schools is left to dangle alone, without reference to a bigger agenda about putting people before bureaucracy. A wholesale democratisation of our old system of government that enlarges our civic spirit may just inspire. When it came to the republic Julia Gillard channelled St Augustine- yes Lord, but not quite yet. But what if the coming republic is the narrative!

(This essay was based on talks given by Tony Moore to the Australian Republican Movement in Melbourne and Sydney, and a shorter version of this written essay was originally commissioned by the Australian Literary Review available as ‘Liberty at the Core’ from ALR Online. Tony Moore will be speaking at the Sydney Writers Festival on Friday 20 May at 1 pm, on the panel 'Radical Sydney' with Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill. The session is hosted by the Historic Houses Trust and will be held at the Mint, Macquarie Street. The three historians will be in conversation with Robbie Buck of ABC radio 774. For more info, click here.)




[i] J. Curran and S. Ward, The Unknown Nation: Australia After Empire, Melbourne University Pres, 2010.



[ii] W. Aly, What's Right? The Future of Conservatism in Australia, Quarterly Essay 37, Black Inc., 2010.



[iii] G. Rudé, Protest and Punishment: The Story of Social and Political Protestors Transported to Australia 1788-1868, Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 1, 10.



[iv] T. Moore, Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia, 1788-1868, Pier 9 (Murdoch Books), 2010.



[v] J. Gerrald, Court Transcript, 17 May 1795, quoted on sign marking the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Gerrald, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, Botanic Gardens Trust, 1996.



[vi] See C. Pybus and H. Maxwell-Stewart, American Citizens, British Slaves: Yankee Political Prisoners in an Australian Penal Colony 1839-1850, Melbourne University Press, 2002.



Tony Moore will be speaking at the Sydney Writers festival Friday 20 May at 1pm on the pnel Radical Sydney with Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill.

The session is hosted by the Historic Houses Trust and will be held at the Mint, Macquarie street. The 3 historians will be conversation with Robbie Buck of ABC radio 774:

more info:












Recent articles by Dr Tony Moore
Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals transported to Australia

    As Premier John Brumby signals that his government will take action ...  
Australian Republicans'' long struggle for liberty, sovereignty and democracy

An Australian Republic is about much more than just having an Australian head of ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate