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Brisbane’s Republican Bridge Opens

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The Ted Smout Memorial Bridge has been claimed as Brisbane’s new republican bridge.

by Dr Glenn Davies

THOUSANDS of people are expected to attend the opening celebrations on Sunday, 11 July at the Sandgate and Redcliffe ends of the 2.7km bridge. Queenslanders are being encouraged to walk the distance across the bridge, with tickets for the opening ceremony in the centre of the bridge sold out weeks in advance. But it is the selection of Ted Smout as the name to honour the new bridge that has created a symbol for Brisbane’s republican movement.

The former Sandgate man was Queensland’s last surviving World War I veteran, who died in 2004 at the age of 106. Edward David Smout was older than the Australian nation, having been born at Brisbane in the colony of Queensland on January 5 1898, three years before the Australian colonies federated. For the first century of his life he witnessed Australia's journey from being a colony to a Federation and a nation. He had fought for king and country in World War I but became a staunch republican. The change in view was underpinned by a direct understanding of the appalling cost of life that Australia, as a colonial attachment to the United Kingdom, suffered in World War I.

At first he was angered by the disregard he believed the British forces held for the Australian diggers in World War I and later by the brusqueness of a British Customs officer. In 1998 he was treated with great appreciation when he was invited to France to be endowed with France's highest decoration, the French Legion of Honour. Upon returning home through Heathrow Airport with three other World War I veterans – in the aliens queue - all four were treated appallingly by an officious British airport guard. His medals had activated the alarm on the metal detectors and, in his words, "some bearded idiot insisted on frisking us despite the protest of our carers". There were 300 passengers on the plane and they were the only four searched. Ted was disgusted because they had been treated with honour in France but like criminals in Britain. "When the French honour our heroes more highly than the British, the formal severing of our lingering links to the Empire cannot be far away", he said at the time.

The Ted Smout Memorial Bridge is, at 2.7km, the longest bridge in Australia

Ted Smout was an active campaigner for an Australian republic. In 1999, at 101 years of age, he was the first person to sign the Australian Republican Movement’s Founders Book. "I think it is an absurdity to have the Queen as head of state. The Crown has served its purpose but it has outlived its usefulness and that`s not being disrespectful", he said. In 2002, he was honoured as an ARM Life Member.

Ted’s younger brother Arthur, and his wife Betty both continue to be active republican supporters. At 102 years of age Arthur displays the longevity of the Smout clan. “Ted was so active in the local community. He would see it as a ‘People’s Bridge’, as everyone’s bridge, as a ‘republican bridge’”, said Mrs Smout.

The 2.7km bridge will be the longest bridge in Australia. The republic has also been a long time coming. Perhaps as drivers are glancing at the expanse of Bramble Bay, or considering whether the pelicans sitting above will hit their targets, they can reflect upon the memory of Ted Smout and his staunch desire for an Australian republic.

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