The lack of any public activity around the Queen’s Birthday shows how the concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia. History editor Dr Glenn Davies looks at the purpose of the Queen’s Birthday public holiday.
QUEENSLANDERS will take the day off work today, not in recognition of their hard work, but to recognise a monarch who will most likely be sleeping through the public holiday held in her name.
It’s the third such day Australians have put on for the Queen this year. I’ve written before that it has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Around Australia, the Queen's Birthday public holiday is held on the second Monday in June — except in WA and Queensland. WA had its Queen’s Birthday holiday on Monday, 30 September and, in Queensland, the holiday is today.
My grandmother will be 94 later this year. She's a hardy soul, but there's no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader. Even though retirement plans for many people keep going further and further beyond 60, Queen Elizabeth II has still well and truly exceeded this.
In October 2016, Queensland had become a little less "Queenie" with the move of the Queen’s Birthday holiday from the second Monday in June to the first Monday, but no one seems to have noticed the move.
Surely, this must be the most irrelevant and outdated of all public holidays? The Queen’s Birthday 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 and that Australians are subjects of a foreign crown — the opposite of democracy and liberty.
The lack of any public activity in Australia around the Queen’s Birthday is a clear example of how much the entire concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia.
In 2012, Australia completely ignored the Diamond Jubilee. The same happens every Queen’s Birthday — both actual and official. Although the Queen’s Birthday public holiday is observed as a mark of respect to the Sovereign, there are never any public celebrations or community engagement around it whatsoever.
So, what actually happens on this day? Nothing. Perhaps a practical use for the day would be for Australians to reflect on what it means to be a citizen in Australia.
The 1999 Referendum asked Australians to support a president appointed by a two-thirds majority of parliament. Others preferred that the people elect their president and so joined monarchists in defeating the proposal. It says much about the state of the republic debate that these differences have not been resolved in the intervening two decades. A second referendum can only succeed if republicans unite around a preferred model and means of selecting a president … Republicans should look for ways to resolve their differences and advance their cause before moving to a second referendum.
This has already occurred in some areas, such as through changing titles or oaths to make clear that public officials owe their allegiance to the Australian people rather than the British monarchy.
Perhaps it is also a time to consider how we appoint the governor-general and state governors. The method of appointment of the governor-general can be changed without the need from a referendum. Also, the workability of direct election, where people vote for their state governors, could be trialled. This only requires a change to state legislation. It is an opportunity for everyday Australians as well as political leaders to use the benefits of Australia’s political structures to test out different ideas and approaches.
Australia retains a strong body of republican sentiment, but what is needed is the necessary community and political momentum to bring about constitutional reform. This can be kick-started by looking for ways in all our lives to test different options, remove links to the monarchy wherever possible and, as a result, strengthen republican understanding within the community.
A check-list of activities could include (among others):
- running creative activities, such as short story competitions;
- identifying Australian products, such as beer, with a republican backstory;
- considering the link to other national public days, such as Wattle Day;
- changing policy platforms in organisations, such as the Queensland Teachers’ Union, the Scout Movement;
- helping to change the name of organisations to no longer have a monarchical ring;
- questioning changes in Australian currency;
- considering why animals have monarchical names;
- reflecting on moments in your own life;
- identifying buildings, parks, locations, public infrastructure, such as bridges, named after Australian republic supporters; and
- refusing to accept an Australian knighthood!
In 2014, I asked if it isn’t “time to break free?” The Australian Monarchist League line is that celebrating the Queen’s Birthday, both actual and official, has nothing whatsoever to do with a republic and everything to do with honouring the Queen of Australia.
I disagree. I’ve written before that it has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday: 21 April 2019.
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 the Queen is getting 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 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. He celebrated officially in May or June because there was less chance of it being cold and drizzly during the outdoor event.
Like the Queen, Paddington Bear also has two birthdays a year. The marmalade-loving bear from deepest, darkest Peru has birthdays on 25 June and 25 December.
The monarch’s official birthday celebrations (as opposed to actual birthdate) 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 has continued with this tradition. In 1959, after several years on the throne, the Queen changed it to the second Saturday for convenience.
Perhaps of more relevance to Australia, is celebrating the birthday of our own homegrown "Queen". In 2019, Queenslanders could spend the October long weekend celebrating the 25th birthday of our own Queen, by watching The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
It appears Australians will turn out and show respect to the Queen when she is here but when she is not, then the concept of monarchy becomes irrelevant. Australians may like the celebrity surrounding the monarch and the royal family when they visit Australia but are totally uninterested in any form of royal celebration when the "party girl" is not here. You can’t have a party without the "party girl" — which brings up the issue of an absent head of state.
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. Monarchist's can prattle on endlessly about how retaining the monarchy brings stability and is cheaper than having a homegrown head of state and the like. But when you boil it all down, you can't escape the fact there's something a little unnatural about a grown child of, shall we say, 230 years, still electing to live in mummy's back bedroom.
Deciding to pack our bags and finally leave our Buckingham Palace nursery room isn't being rude to the Queen. It's just the natural order of things and the Queen has reportedly acknowledged as much to past prime ministers. How many more Ashes tours must we endure with the Barmy Army taunting us with their song, 'God Save Your Queen'? Time to cut the apron strings, assert our independence and let one of our own people serve as Australian Head of State.
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.
Australia today is one of the world’s great nations, with a bright future that must be 100 per cent in the hands of the Australian people. We are ready to move on from our colonial past and become a fully independent nation with fully Australian national institutions, including our own Head of State.
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