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Mixed reactions to day of mourning holiday

Today, September 22nd, is a public holiday and day of mourning for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Whichever side of politics, monarchism and republicanism you are on, it was a remarkable reign and one conducted with unflinching grace and dignity throughout very challenging times for post-war Britain and the Commonwealth, writes Andy McCourt.

Aboriginal flag SHB
Symbol of hope for the future - as the late Queen would have wanted


The public holiday today has been received by small businesses, such as the majority of sign shops, with mixed feelings. Not all businesses and essential services can take the day off and this means penalty rates, shortage of staff who take the public holiday and, in general, more costs levied on already struggling businesses. Others find it appropriate to pay respects to someone who was, after all, our head of state for seventy years. History will judge her well.

Queen Elizabeth II has been described by the incoming Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe as a ‘coloniser.’ This is false – she was in fact a de-coloniser as post-war history shows. She continued the de-colonising work begun under her father King George VI. Elizabeth II was Queen regnant of 32 sovereign states during her lifetime and just 15 at the time of her death. Under King Charles III, this number will undoubtedly reduce further.

This de-colonisation is no accident. It is a structured acknowledgement that the age of empires is over and the aim is to, as far as possible, keep all of the countries and protectorates previously part of the British Empire in the free world, democratic and not under tyranical yokes. Those chosing to remain as part of the Commonwealth of nations, can only do so if they embrace democratic values. By the 1960s, Harold MacMillan’s ‘Winds of Change’ speech to the South African parliament portended the end of Britain’s footprint in continental Africa

Dismantling an empire is no trivial task, as Rome will attest to. Simply evacuating countries, as Rome did with Britain around 410AD, will leave doors open to opportunistic and often barbaric invasion – and this is just what happened until the last, Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans were of Viking origin, who had settled in Northern France as part of a treaty that avoided Paris being destroyed. Wlliam the Conqueror had a valid claim to the English throne. Incidentally, every acre of land previously ‘owned’ by a Briton, was ceded to Norman Barons who then controlled it all, built castles and massacred anyone who resisted their conquest. Sound familiar?

Whether or not the British Empire should ever have existed is another discussion but, it was borne in an age of European ‘Voyages of Discovery’ that pitted Britain against France, Portugal, Spain The Netherlands, Belgium and later Germany in a quest for overseas territory, spheres of influence and trade routes. If Australia had not been colonised by Britain, we’d all be speaking French or Spanish, as most of South America does. I collect old maps and one of them has Australia down as ‘New Holland.’

Remembering Queen Elizabeth II is just that – celebrating an incredible life of achievement. It’s not an excuse to decry historical eventualities or incite hatred and rebellion. Her work will continue and, we in Australia can all hope, will result in further recognition of the wrongs inflicted on the indiginous population of Australia in the early years of colonisation, and a reconcilliation that respects the astonishing 40-60,000 year tenure of our first Australians.

Quite recently, the Aboriginal flag begun flying alongside the Australian one, atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is symbolic of hope for the future, a healing that will improve the standing of our great nation in the world community of nations.

Of one thing I feel certain and that is, when Queen Elizabeth II learned of the co-hoisting of the Australian flag that bears her standard, and the Indiginous flag (which in vexillographic circles is regarded as an excellent one); she would have been gratified that another step in her gargantuan work had been accomplished – with the baton firmly passed on to her son, heirs and parliaments to oversee the rest.

Enjoy your day off if you are having one, and we’ll be back next week.