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Royal celebrations in Australia, but Coronation lights scrapped for Sydney Opera House

12 May 2023

Tony White

Part of the assembly. And, no, that’s not blood on the floor below the banner: it was a poorly curated glass of Cabernet-Sauvignon

Part of the assembly. And, no, that’s not blood on the floor below the banner: it was a poorly curated glass of Cabernet-Sauvignon

AUSTRALIANS seldom need a reason to party, but the Coronation certainly provided a gilt-edged justification. Our Sydney time zone had the ceremony starting at 8 p.m. — perfect for a Saturday night’s revel. My daughter and her family hosted 45 family and friends at a gathering to celebrate this great occasion and watch the broadcast.

I was 12 years old and growing up in Kenya when Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne. There was no television then, but my father had bought a new radio for us to follow a crackly broadcast of the Coronation ceremony. We were only 15 minutes into proceedings when a spiral of smoke rose from the radio, accompanied by the aroma of burning Bakelite. Dad had used the wrong voltage setting: our Coronation experience was brief.

Fast forward seven decades, and we were now gathered at a wall-mounted television screen the size of a dinner table. Of course, with so many guests of all ages and interests, most in royalty-themed fancy dress, a buffet dinner in progress, and drinks flowing freely, there was a degree of attention deficit, and the more motivated of us arranged to view the recorded broadcast quietly in days ahead.

As in the UK, the republican movement in Australia is active and vocal. Polls show monarchists and republicans moving back and forth across the 50:50 line. For the republicans, the monarchy is an obsolete embarrassment: “Australia should have an Australian as head of state.” Monarchists, on the other hand, hold that the present constitutional arrangement has served us well for more than a century without tainting our national identity; their catchphrase is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Having sworn allegiance to HM Queen Elizabeth on two occasions — once with the Royal Air Force, on joining the Cambridge University Air Squadron, and next with the Australian army — I remain firmly in the monarchist camp.

The contest can at times be mean-spirited, as in our new Labour state premier, who decided to cancel the planned Coronation-themed lighting of the sails on the Sydney Opera House. Major national events, such as the Olympic Games, National Road Safety Week, and several Aboriginal anniversaries are routinely commemorated in this way, but this historic event — global in impact — was deemed unworthy.

We attend St Jude’s Anglican Church, in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. It was built in 1865 to a design echoing the village church in Randwick, Gloucestershire, from where Simeon Pearce, the founder of “our” Randwick, came. It has the most easterly bells in Australia. As with a number of other churches, St Jude’s rang a two-hour peal on Saturday afternoon. Notable among the bell-ringers was 91-year-old Enid Roberts, who had rung bells for the late Queen’s coronation in 1953, and is still very active in towers around Sydney.

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