Last January, our Prime Minister, with an astonishing lack of understanding of what it means to be an Australian today, gave Prince Philip a knighthood.
Today, our treasurer indicated that he will work towards making our country a republic (something that really should have occurred at the time of federation in 1901).
Both of these news items take me back to a time in the 1990s, when I was teaching several English language classes to engineering students at a university in Tunis, Tunisia, where we were living at the time. (Most of them were already fluent in French and Arabic).
It was a sharp learning curve for both them and me. On my first day, each time I walked into a new class and introduced myself, the students burst out laughing when I said I was Australian. I finally asked the last class of the day what was so funny about Australia…?
One student, braver than the rest, told me that in Tunisia that had a saying, “When my ship sails for Australia…” — meaning the day that their wildest dream comes true. Australia was their Eldorado, their idea of Utopia, and the idea of going to Australia to live was akin to winning the lottery. They laughed because the idea that an Australian would want to come to Tunisia was both funny and utterly incomprehensible.
[This story is the prelude to the present influx of migrants across the Mediterranean. The despair of young people in North Africa is not something that started yesterday. The history of that is long; the world just chose to ignore it.]
But what was the thing that made these students really crack up? That happened later. During lessons, I tried to encourage them to talk in English as much as possible, and they were always eager to learn about Australia. They knew little, except that it was a land of wealth, where everyone could live a good life. They wanted to know details — for example: What government did we have?
“And who is your Head of State?” one asked.
So I explained about the Governor-General and our relationship to the Queen. Of — incomprehensibly — Britain.
They looked at me in total astonishment.
“Are you not independent, like us?” another asked. “Why would you have a Queen of another country as your monarch? C’est incroyable!” Unbelievable indeed and, to me at the time, highly embarrassing to have to admit.
And that was when they really cracked up. Yep, part of the rest of the world thinks our relationship to the Queen is high comedy.
Bring on the republic, please!