A Tribute to our Late Queen Liz, with Post-Colonial Afterthoughts
By Loz Lawrey
As my tremulous fingers tickle my laptop keyboard, late this night in my campervan (currently parked on Wiradjuri land), my mind travels back, back to another time…
‘Twas 1967. I was sixteen, incarcerated in one of those most conservative institutions: an Anglican (or “Church of England”, as we said back then) boarding school.
Uniquely white-bread Australian, it was the colonial emulation of its British educational avatar: the boarding school, always a convenient place to park the kids during their teenage years when the conventional wisdom of the day dictated that career obligations and overseas postings mattered more than keeping the family together.
These private religious schools, whether Anglican, Catholic or otherwise would do their level best to indoctrinate their hapless students with religious dogma and ultra-conservative values, as well as an entrenched and inalienable belief in a class system that would always maintain the social status quo, with the rich (ie “successful” and “entitled”) on top and others (“poor”, “other” and “lesser”) way, way down below.
All this overlaid with that ghastly pompous veneer of religious justification plastered over its ungodly (dare I say it?) agenda…
Ah, white-bread religion (white Christians only, please)… always justifying that implication of colonial mastery and white supremacy that permeates our “Australian culture” to this day, as the current exposure of entrenched historic racism within Australian Rules Football exemplifies.
I’m amazed that I and a few friends from that time didn’t completely succumb to the conservative brainwashing, although I’m not sure we came through completely untainted.
Silly young boys we were, but our eyes, meanwhile, were on world affairs: What on earth was happening in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco? Who were the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? Would man actually walk on the moon? Had you heard “Purple Haze” yet? The new Beatles’ album? What were those Israelis doing to those poor Palestinians? And what was this “civil rights” movement in America about?
The history we were being taught at the time ignored the true custodians of Australian culture, the native Australians who had occupied this island continent for over 60,000 years.
“Australian history” in the 1960s was a celebration of colonial occupation. The frontier wars? Never mentioned.
At the time, the attempted genocide and cultural demolition of Aboriginal people was in full swing, as stolen generations victims can testify.
At white-bred boarding school, however, we had no idea.
The arrogance, self-entitlement and ingrained racism of those invading white colonialists, who regarded all “foreign” natives and their cultures as inferior, has imbued our Australian society for over two hundred years and it remains in clear evidence today.
To myself and my fellow boarding school detainees, the Australian society that surrounded us in the mid-sixties seemed irrelevant and out of touch.
Locked up in boarding school, some of us were subscribing to Time Magazine in our mid-teens as our own assertion of independence, our way of embracing and trying to comprehend the affairs of the wider world beyond Australian conservatism…
I learned that politics can be the tool of oppressors and exploiters.
But life’s for learning, right? And at the age of seventy-one I understand much more than I did then.
But I digress… This is about our late queen.
Drowning as we all are in the apparently endless, bottomless ocean of public grieving and media squawking that “tradition demands” following the passing of a monarch, it occurred to me that rather than taking refuge from all news channels and retreating to Netflix and YouTube while Royalty dominates the airwaves, I might humbly add my own tribute to our late Queen Liz (that’s if I can reach up high enough to add it to the by now very high pile of obituaries and reminiscences).
Because, let’s admit it: She was the very exemplar of public service, and the absolute embodiment of the very model of a modern monarch.
And yes, she was there, a “presence” throughout my time on this planet: “The Queen”.
To most Australians, she was a fixture, our overarching monarch. After all, from 1954 to 2011, she visited us sixteen times!
Hey, that was her job, wasn’t it? To be Queen of the Empire, overseer, promoter and maintainer of that relic of British imperialism that is the “Commonwealth”.
It could be said that British church/state imperialism, with its overtones of invasion and occupation, of native suppression and eradication, was nothing more than fascism and authoritarian control dressed up as a congenial collaboration of disparate cultures and ethnicities.
A now-forgotten Australian PM (as recently as 2013-2015) venerated as “western civilisation” that unrequested imposition of English “culture” upon native populations.
Yes, the role of the Queen of England was always to maintain the appearance of a “commonwealth” of nations happy to be dominated, exploited and controlled by Mother England.
It was a role she inherited and one which she inarguably did her very best to fulfill.
And yet, and yet… preserving British dominance was the mission she inherited and to which she gave her all, and within the parameters of her own upbringing and understanding, it always seemed a noble cause, I’m sure.
Over the years, despite our familiarity with her image, she remained a remote figure to many of us, the titular head of the Church of England and… oh yes, that’s right… the Queen of the United Kingdom and the “Commonwealth of Nations” also known as the “many conquered lands of empire”, of which our own Land of Oz is but one among many.
No one with open eyes could argue that she didn’t do her absolute best, however, within the parameters of her own understanding and the worldview and title she inherited.
So here it is: my own tribute to our late Queen Liz:
Point one: You rock, and always did, your Majesty!
Anyone who really watched you over the years knows that your life was a masterclass in public service.
Point two: And then, as I said previously, ’twas 1967…
On this particular day, as was customary, we convened in the boarding school dining room for lunch. The headmaster and his teacher minions sat at the high table, students submissively subservient at the lower tables, Hogwarts style.
Teenage hormones rampant (scientists understand this stuff), brain in neutral, uninspired by the meatloaf (which we called “elephant turd”) and mash offering (my vegetarianism was incubated here), I flick a spoonful of mashed potato over my shoulder in an act of misguided irreverence.
Behind me, on the wall above, that classic photographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth (young, beautiful and wearing the crown) that permeated my younger years…
The flung mash landed squarely upon Her Majesty’s left cheek, much to the amusement of my tablemates.
Fearfully, I glanced at the occupants of the high table, those who had the power to punish and suppress me.
None of them had even noticed!
Chuckles and nervous giggles all around… I’d got away with it!
After the many failures of various kinds I’ve had to endure in my life journey, this is one success I cling to this day.
No disrespect, Your Majesty.
At the time, Queen Elizabeth was a remote yet familiar figure to me, part of the Australian/colonial architecture, if you like.
Yes, I flung a little mash and it landed by chance upon the Queen’s portrait.
You know the one, that timeless image of a beautiful woman in her prime, wearing the royal crown and exuding that superiority and wisdom we commoners expect to perceive in the monarchs we accept.
I assure you all, there was neither malice nor republican nor anti-royalist sentiment involved.
I was, quite simply, young, stupid and sometimes out of control.
That is my pathetic defense.
And now I lay my tribute down:
I’m sorry, Your Majesty.
Thank you for your sincere service.
I know you did your very best, and who could ever do more?
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