“Australia will probably leave the monarchy,” he added gloomily between sips of Iron Jack lager. “And I don’t think that’s a good thing for our country.”
From the Caribbean to the Pacific, Elizabeth’s death has reignited debate over whether countries should oust the monarch as head of state. For some, the accession of the less-popular King Charles III — extending the reign of the House of Windsor — has sparked discussions about colonial history and what independence really means.
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But Australia has been here before. In 1999, a failed Republican referendum revealed a nation deeply divided on the issue. Many urban areas voted for the proposed republic, while more conservative places like Windsor rejected it. What killed the initiative, however, was that Republicans could not agree on the choice of an Australian head of state.
With centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hoping to hold another referendum on the issue within six years, there is still little sign of consensus.
“The crown has done a lot of damage,” Ayeesha Ash said, especially to the indigenous people, as she waited outside a popular vegan restaurant in the Albanian part of Sydney’s inner city. The 30-year-old, who has Caribbean and Maori ancestry, said becoming Australia would be a “good first step to getting under the thumb” of those responsible.
Colonized by Britain in the late 18th century, Australia became a sovereign nation in 1901, but retained the monarch as head of state. The crown plays a limited and largely ceremonial role, but it nevertheless became controversial in 1975 when the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor General, exercised his power to dissolve a stalled parliament, sparking a constitutional crisis and reshaping the Republican Party. sentiment fueled.
Memories of ‘the resignation’, as it is called Down Under, lingered as Australia held its Republican referendum. Polls showed that about 57 percent of people were in favor of becoming a republic. But the referendum received only 45 percent of the vote because many Republicans disagreed with the proposed model in which parliament would choose the governor-general’s replacement.
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“Those Republicans wanted a direct election of a head of state, so they campaigned against the referendum,” said Anne Twomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney. “They thought, ‘Next year we’ll come up with our version.’ It never happened. We have been waiting a long time and most of them have died and never saw the republic they really wanted.”
The Australian Republic movement has since tried to build support for a different model in which the legislators of each of the eight states or territories would nominate a candidate for head of state, who would then run against each other in a national vote.
The death of Queen Elizabeth has brought the issue back into the limelight, while also making it temporarily difficult to deal with, Twomey said.
“On the one hand, the death of the monarch and the automatic accession of a new king without any action in Australia is a bit confrontational,” she said. “We’d like to think we’re controlling these things in Australia in a political way so that people might start thinking more about a republic. And also the loss of a revered queen may seem like a fitting end to an era and time to think about change.”
But Elizabeth’s death has also sparked some royal nostalgia in the remote former colony, she said, and the Australian ethos of giving someone “a fair chance” means many here will be reluctant to write off the new king.
“There will be a battle for public sentiment,” Twomey said.
Albanian, who is in England for the Queen’s funeral, has said now is a time to mourn, not debate whether Australia will become a republic. He has suggested he could take up the issue in his second term – if he wins one – and only after another referendum on creating an Indigenous “vote” or advisory body for Parliament. If that referendum fails, Albanians are unlikely to pursue one in a republic, Twomey said.
Referendums rarely succeed in Australia, and the last time they did was nearly half a century ago. There is a sense of political sluggishness in this rich and stable country, where preferential voting drives governments to the center and governments are often voted out – because of mistakes – rather than in.
That slowness is strongest in places like Windsor, Australia’s third-oldest colonial settlement, about an hour outside of Sydney. In 1999, 56 percent of people in the area voted “no” to the proposed republic.
“For many of us, she’s the only queen or monarch we’ve ever known,” said Sarah McMahon, mayor of the city of Hawkesbury, which includes Windsor and other nearby towns. “I think that’s kind of a sadness because people are always wondering what change can bring, and what that will do for Australia.”
McMahon, a member of the conservative Liberal party, sits under a portrait of the Queen in the council chamber, where she recently held a minute’s silence for the late monarch.
The river town was given the name Windsor in 1810 because it reminded a colonial official of the royal town in England. But it wasn’t until 1970 that Queen Elizabeth II became the first monarch to visit the Australian site with her surname.
Workers cut down part of the fence surrounding the town’s sports ground so Elizabeth and her husband could inspect a parade of cows and horses, the local newspaper said. Around 3,000 people also gathered around St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, where the royal couple paid a short visit. The site is now marked by a small plaque where a bouquet of white lilies had recently been placed with a card bearing the address: “To her late majesty.”
In the center, an Australian flag flew at half-mast in front of Roger Sherrington’s home. Sitting on his porch with his retired greyhound, Digger, the 77-year-old declared himself a proud monarchist. He was born near London at the end of World War II, when a teenage Elizabeth had worked as a British Army mechanic before moving to Australia in 1962.
“She was spotless, no scandal,” he said when asked why he revered the Queen so much that he kept a portrait of her in his shed. “There were all kinds of trauma around her and she kept her calm.”
Australia would one day become a republic, he admitted. But he hoped it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime.
“It wouldn’t be catastrophic,” he said as he went for a walk with his graying greyhound. “But if the system isn’t broken, why would you want to change it?”
Some Republicans in Windsor struggle with that question. On the street outside the Macquarie Arms, one of Australia’s oldest pubs, Ben Sullivan said he voted “no” in 1999 because it was “crazy” for parliament to elect the head of state. Even now, the Republican said his vote would depend on the details of a new referendum.
“The queen has actually done nothing wrong,” he said. “So you have to offer people a good alternative.”
But in Sydney’s inner-city Albanian district, where nearly two-thirds of residents voted ‘yes’ in 1999, there is less sympathy for the crown.
“It is sad that the Queen has passed away, but we have to move on,” said Ash, adding that she could not forget the accusations of racism against the royal family. She saw the moment as an opportunity for Australia to ‘forge our own identity’.
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“We should have been a republic years ago,” agreed Jack Horton, 71, as he sat at the Charles Dickens Tavern in central Melbourne, where 71 percent of people voted ‘yes’ in 1999.
Most Australians agree on one thing: their dislike for Charles.
Back in Windsor, at the Royal Exchange pub, Piirlaid said he feared a few years of the new king would lead his country to sever ties with the monarchy.
“You don’t like Prince Charles?” the owner, a Chinese immigrant, asked from behind the bar.
“He’s actually an adulterer,” said Piirlaid, 44, with a frown. “I’m more of a traditionalist.”
Frances Vinall in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.