Shedding colonial ties can take time, but the TikTok clock is ticking
Labor’s Senate President Sue Lines (who last week said we should ditch the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of each day’s sitting) directed Thorpe to say the oath properly. Thorpe did so, but in a tone of such naked sarcasm that no one could mistake her contempt.
It was a stunt, sure. But it is pretty wild that Australian parliamentarians are made to declare allegiance to the Queen.
And while Liz may never have donned a pith helmet herself, it’s undeniable she is the figurehead of an ex-colonial power which has a great deal of blood on its hands. The confrontation of this history means even royal tours these days are fraught.
Once, royals could rely on polite silence when visiting the Commonwealth outposts their forebears exploited. No more – in March, when Prince William and his wife Kate, our future queen, took an eight-day tour of Belize, Bahamas and Jamaica, it wasn’t all flag-waving children and military parades.
In Belize, they faced protests. In Jamaica, the prime minister told the Cambridges his country would be “moving on” to become a republic (just as Barbados did in 2021), and in the Bahamas a government committee urged the royals to make a “full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”. Yikes.
We are living through an exciting period when history is being re-examined, and there is a heightened awareness of the damage wrought by colonialism.
In 2021, Scott Morrison’s government announced that the words “young and free” would be swapped for “one and free” in the national anthem (interestingly, the change was made by proclamation of the governor-general, the Crown’s representative).
It now seems astonishing how easily Aboriginal history was erased when the anthem was proclaimed in 1984 (again, by the governor-general).
Living royals are not the only ones feeling insecure – historical figures are also falling victim to this spirit of reappraisal, a trend that has picked up speed following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
Winston Churchill is still venerated by many politicians, and seen, by older generations at least, as a symbol of anti-fascist defiance and patriotic heroism.
New biographies change the lens – a 2021 book on Churchill by Geoffrey Wheatcroft portrays Churchill as “not just a racist but a hypocrite, a dissembler, a narcissist, an opportunist, an imperialist, a drunk, a strategic bungler, a tax dodger, a neglectful father, a credit-hogging author, a terrible judge of character and, most of all, a masterful mythmaker”, in the words of the New York Times. Oof.
Another recent biography by Tariq Ali argues that the post-war veneration of Churchill represents a nostalgia for empire.
Churchill led the fight against Nazi Germany, and saved the world from fascism.
But there is no doubt he was racist – he used the n-word and he called Chinese people “pigtails”.
Ali points out that in 1937 the great man said indigenous people in North America and Australia had been colonised by a “stronger race, a higher-grade race”.
The BBC coverage of the current Commonwealth Games has been tinged with scepticism, with one studio presenter asking her sports panel: “What does the Commonwealth mean in modern society?”
The diversity of the new parliament has been much commented upon.
Lidia Thorpe and Chandler-Mather are Greens politicians, and Thorpe is Indigenous, but perhaps the real “diversity” they represent is their relative youth. Thorpe is 48, a member of Generation X, and Chandler-Mather is just 30, a Millennial with a more relaxed concept of masculinity.
After he was chastised for his nude neck, he posted a TikTok video highlighting the fact that his question, once he was allowed to ask it, had been about public housing.
Likewise, the new teal independents are largely Gen X women.
They look young compared to the older male politicians who have traditionally dominated our politics, in their suits.
And their ties, of course.
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