History editor Dr Glenn Davies explores the growing distance between the British Monarch and the people of Australia.
Queenslanders took the day off work; not in recognition of their hard work, but to recognise the British Monarch who will most likely be sleeping through the public holiday.
The first King’s Birthday public holiday in Queensland, which now commemorates King Charles III’s birthday on 19 November, is another demonstration of our denial of choice. Since his birth, Prince Charles has known he would take over the top job. Then one morning last year, Australians simply woke up to hear news from Britain that has changed our country for decades to come.
Australians did not choose King Charles III as our Head of State. It is a disgraceful fact that without constitutional change, the citizens of Australia will never be consulted on our head of state.
Australians love their public holidays, even if the reason for the occasion is a little vague. For goodness sake, we even have a public holiday in Melbourne for a horse race and in Brisbane for an agricultural show. Nevertheless, the purpose of the King’s Birthday public holiday is the vaguest of them all.
The King’s Birthday public holiday doesn’t remind us of anything good about our country. At worst, it tells us Australia’s head of state gets the job by inheritance. The lack of any public activity around the King’s Birthday public holiday shows how the concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia.
It’s time for an Australian head of state to be not only one of us but also willing to turn up.
In fact, since King Charles III became Australian Head of State, he has yet to grace any of the Commonwealth nations that still call him their King with his presence.
King Charles III is King of Australia by birthright and he has held that lofty position for over a year now, yet our King hasn’t made the trip to visit us. In fact, he hasn’t been to any of the Commonwealth nations which still call him their King and Head of State. He’s visited Germany, Romania and, within the last few days, he sipped champagne in France, but he hasn’t found time for us.
Prior to becoming our King, then Prince Charles only visited Australia 16 times. He’s fast approaching his 75th birthday. He’s had decades to travel down under to get an idea of who we are as a people and to truly understand who we are a nation. He’s only managed around one visit every five years. Some of these were extended visits, such as his days at Geelong Grammar on exchange as a schoolboy, while others like the last visit in 2018 were for only a few days — yet we still call him King of Australia.
It begs the question, does the monarchy take us for granted?
It’s time for an Australian to be our head of state and do the job full-time, rather than working from home at Windsor Castle where they can’t even be bothered Zooming into the office at least once a week.
We are a unique multicultural country and we need someone who understands how to embody us, to be the guardian of our Constitution, to be a unifying symbol at home and someone we are proud to see representing us abroad. They should be elected on merit, not gifted the position by birthright. They should have the skills and work experience to do the job.
The person should be one of us, responsible and accountable to us, and unwaveringly loyal to us and only us.
And, they should be willing to turn up.
In Britain, the King’s Birthday is celebrated on the first Saturday in June. In New Zealand, it’s the first Monday in June and in Canada, it’s in the middle of May. The Canadian celebration is called “Victoria Day” because it was created to honour Queen Victoria. However, over the years the Canadian holiday has changed to include the reigning sovereign’s birthday as well.
The idea of two birthday celebrations was introduced 250 years ago. Earl Charles Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, stated former Queen Elizabeth II received a second multiday celebration now, thanks to historical tradition.
So, George decided he'd have a second birthday and the idea stuck:
“Anyone who's been King or Queen of England since has a summer birthday, so that we have a hope of some sunshine.”
Since 1748, the British monarch's official birthday has been marked by the parade known as Trooping the Colour — usually held on the king or queen's actual birthday. But Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910, was born in November. Yet he celebrated his birthday officially in May or June because there was less chance of it being cold and drizzly during the outdoor event.
The British monarch’s official birthday celebrations (as opposed to the actual birth date) began in Australia in 1912. The monarch after Edward VII – King George V – helpfully had a birthday on 3 June. Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI, whose birthday was unhelpfully in December, reintroduced the tradition of an official birthday by having his official birthday on the second Thursday of June.
Elizabeth II continued with this tradition. However, in 1959, after several years on the throne, she changed it to the second Saturday in June for convenience.
And yet it has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledged the birthday of former Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday, and at different times in different states. Around Australia in 2023, the King’s Birthday public holiday continues the tradition set by the Windsor line holding the official birthday in Australia on the second Monday in June — except in Western Australia on Monday 25 September and in Queensland on Monday 2 October.
We have our own identity as Australians. The Royals represent Britain, but cannot represent us or unite us as Australians. Australians believe in freedom and equal opportunity, not that some are born to rule over others.
We come from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe and this ancient land. Our shared commitment to our common future is what binds us together. Standing against this is the elevation of Charles III.
We can have respect and affection for Britain and its celebrity royals but still question why we do not have our own head of state. The royals are welcome to visit as representatives of Britain, but I look forward to when the British people and their royal family will welcome a visit by the first Australian head of state.
In the words of Sammy J:
So to our King, we say g’day and we praise his DNA, his ever-loyal subjects across the sea.
We might have golden soil and a bit of wealth for toil, but us Aussies are still girt by monarchy.
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