Republic Opinion

Queen's birthday absurdity demonstrates denial of choice

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With three public holidays per year, even the Queen might have been confused as to when her actual birthday was (Image by Dan Jensen)

Australians recently had a public holiday for the former Queen Elizabeth II to mourn her death, however, yesterday was another holiday for her birthday. History editor Dr Glenn Davies explores the reasoning behind these multiple public holidays.

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 Queen’s Birthday public holiday every year is the vaguest of them all.

Queenslanders took the day off work yesterday; not in recognition of their hard work, but to recognise the British Monarch who will most likely be sleeping through the public holiday.

The former Queen Elizabeth II turned 96 on 21 April 2022 and passed away on 8 September 2022. Even so, the “Birthday of the Sovereign” public holiday will still be known as the Queen’s Birthday, even though King Charles III was born on 19 November.

The Queen’s Birthday public holiday in Queensland, which now commemorates King Charles III’s birthday in November, is another demonstration of our denial of choice. 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.

Since his birth, Prince Charles has known he would take over the top job. Then one morning, a few weeks ago, Australians simply woke up to hear news from Britain that has changed our country for decades to come.

Polls show Australians do not approve of Charles as King — even in the afterglow of former Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the height of his “honeymoon” period. His support is unlikely to get any better than it is now. This is the high water mark for the Monarchy.

Even so, multiple polls show a majority of Australians aged under 35 want Australia to become a republic. Young Australians say there’s no place for a monarchy in our nation’s future.

National Director of the Australian Republic Movement (A.R.M.) Sandy Biar said that it showed how ridiculous it was for Australia to have a head of state that lived on the other side of the world:

“The head of our country should be someone who lives here, is proud to be an Australian and is in touch with Australians. Apparently, more than 5.1 million Australians holding a day in the Queen’s honour still isn’t enough to get the attention of Buckingham Palace. It’s time the day was set aside to honour those who would truly appreciate it instead, such as our frontline service men and women and volunteers.”

In Britain, the Queen’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.

As Spencer said, George II was

“...born in the depths of winter and they decided they couldn't celebrate his birthday in the winter every year because there's all sorts of pageantry.”

 

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 for convenience.

It has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of former Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Around Australia in 2022, the Queen’s Birthday public holiday was held on the second Monday in June — except in WA on Monday 26 September and in Queensland on Monday 3 October.

The Queen’s Birthday public holidays don’t remind us of anything good about our country. At worst, they tell us Australia’s head of state gets the job by inheritance. The lack of any public activity around the Queen’s Birthday public holiday has shown how the concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia. 

Although the Queen’s Birthday public holiday is observed as a mark of respect to the current Sovereign, there are never any public celebrations or community engagement around it whatsoever. No Queenslanders feasting on finger sandwiches, washed down with a pot of Earl Grey tea, followed in the afternoon with re-watching The Crown.

Under Queensland’s Holidays Act 1983, the “Birthday of the Sovereign” is a public holiday to be observed on the first Monday in October. Even though King Charles III was born on 19 November, the current date is unlikely to be changed. However, from 2023 it’s most likely there will be a King’s Birthday public holiday in Queensland.

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 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.

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.

Now is the time to take action.

You can follow history editor Dr Glenn Davies on Twitter @DrGlennDavies.

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