You can’t deny that the coronation of a British monarch is a significant event. There now have been two in my lifetime. I was in primary school when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. And now when my faculties are again waning to childlike levels there has been another. A few weekends ago, embellished with the pomp and ceremony which the British seem to excel at, another monarch has been duly anointed.
Prince Charles after waiting seventy odd years to ascend the throne was duly crowned King Charles lll.
Now, as you might have gleaned from previous blog essays, I am definitely not a monarchist. But the monarchists had a field day with the coronation. Little old ladies camped on the roadside for forty eight hours or more just to catch a glimpse of the Royals in the coronation procession.
Apart from some minor scuffles by dissenters, the Coronation and the events surrounding it passed peacefully and seemed to bring joy and a sense of unity to many of the British population and those monarchists in the far flung parts of the British Commonwealth.
Even as a republican I empathised with these demonstrations of loyalty and national pride. (I couldn’t bring myself to watch the TV coverage of the coronation but it was not to be avoided being front and centre of most news bulletins.) But it seemed to me to be particularly mean-spirited to try and hose down the joy of the monarchists on this particular (for them) special occasion. However my reticence was certainly not shared by the ABC!
Just prior to the coronation, the ABC chose to air a 45 minute discussion by a panel who were not only republicans but apologists for indigenous victimhood. Discussion was dominated by ABC figurehead Stan Grant who hosts Q&A . Grant spoke decrying the impacts of colonialism on the welfare of indigenous people. He emphasised claims of victimhood and tried to link the welfare of disadvantaged indigenous people to the monarchy.
The discussion revolved about what historian Geoffrey Blainey once termed the “black armband” view of history. Listening to the indigenous victims you would think that before colonisation indigenous people lived in Utopia and the advent of colonisation took all that away from them.. But life before colonisation was still very difficult for the original inhabitants of our land as amny historians will attest.
Ultimately, colonisation paved the way for the Australian democracy which has brought benefits to all Australians, whether indigenous, British colonists or the latter migrants who came from all over the world. A democratic government has underpinned our way of life and bringing with it the rule of law, education, health services and welfare for the needy for the benefit of all citizens.
Certainly the indigenous inhabitants at the time of European settlement suffered gross indignities. They were dispossessed and murdered (some 20,000 of them according to Blainey) and were sometimes despised for the colour of their skins and (as it appeared to the new arrivals) their primitive culture.
(Their culture was a utilitarian one. In most part Australia is an inhospitable land where survival is difficult. It is a triumph of Aboriginal culture that its original inhabitants could survive where Europeans could not. But any study of Western culture will show that cultural advancement prospered where plentiful food allowed human ingenuity to be applied to things other than mere survival. Australian aboriginals seldom had such luxury,)
But external conquest was not a singular experience of Australian indigenous peoples. From time immemorial the world’s peoples have been subjugating one another. Indeed, as the prehistorians of Australia inform us, in the millennia of indigenous occupation of Australia, there were a number of waves of migration from the north and the west. This is seldom recognised by Aboriginal activists who would like to have us think that the indigenous folk who occupied Australia before European settlement had always been here.
The activists like to portray European settlement as the “European invasion”. Well in this respect some of their ancestors were invaders also.
Stan Grant and his ilk use such terminology to instil guilt in contemporary Australians. This is a puerile tactic to reinforce their sense of victimhood. They ignore that indigenous Australians areguilty of the same misdemeanour.
I have at least three objections to the protests of the indigenous victim protestors.
Firstly no matter how much Stan Grant might protest his victimhood as a result of European settlement, his own fame and standing is derived from media technology which emanated from European settlement. If it were not for colonisation he had no chance of being acknowledged beyond his tribe or adjoining tribes! Grant, himself is a product of Western post-colonial technology.
Secondly, our considerable migrant population had nothing to do with the colonisation of Australia. They have benefitted from it but have no responsibility for its implementation.
Thirdly, those of us of British heritage, so many generations after colonisation, were hardly participants in the process. So even if the activists deem that colonisation was a heinous event that was deleterious to the welfare of indigenous people it seems particularly vindictive to have modern day descendants assume the blame.
But returning to the coronation, it would seem in seriously bad taste to have this discussion contemporaneous with the coronation of Prince Charles. Surely the ABC would have known that the audience would be rusted on monarchists who would be enjoying the traditional coronation ceremony. As a result the ABC discussion attracted almost 2,000 viewer complaints which is a record for the ABC.
But there are bigger forces at play here that warrant our attention. Victor Davis Hanson in his book The Dying Citizen, points out Western progress to advanced societies was always dependent on superseding tribal allegiances.
The new antitribalist mindset redefined life as something more than just hunting, gathering, subsistence farming and continually warring for resources. Under all those guarantees of citizenship without class, ethnic or racial qualifications, people flourish. Without them, they end up a pre polis Greek backwater like the wilder regions of Acarnania or Ambracia – or in our own day, a Somalia, Sudan or Rwanda. A society that spends its time feuding over tribal and ethnic loyalties never has the resources to focus on its collective freedom, accomplishments and security and certainly cannot hire, admit to higher education, or reward and punish on the basis of merit.
In many ways the strength of a nation requires subjugation of such sectoral interests. Identity politics has encouraged the re-emergence of tribalism based not only on race but on gender and other minority interests. These minorities demand special consideration, often at the expense of the interests of the majority.
It is difficult to balance such competing interests, and unless carefully managed they raise concerns for our democracy and freedoms.
The attempt to install in our constitution an indigenous voice to parliament is a manifestation of this problem.
As a result of the coronation commentary, Stan Grant has stood down as host of Q&A. He has also suffered racial vilification which is to be deplored. But no matter how he and like-minded indigenous people complain about their victimhood supposedly imposed on them by colonisation, history can’t be revised. And more than that, Australia is by and large a tolerant society that cares for all its citizens irrespective of their backgrounds. Moreover it is futile and petty to try to advance the sense of indigenous victimhood by trying to make us feel guilty about our history.
Despite the failings of British colonialism it has conferred many benefits on us all, including our indigenous population.