You might be unaware, but millions of Australians chose not to view the saturation television coverage of last Saturday’s royal wedding in London. Their numbers included numerous good citizens of a non Anglo-Saxon background, hardcore Republicans and those that view any reverence for the outdated British aristocracy as an anathema to the egalitarianism that has long defined Australian society.
Millions obviously did and given the media frenzy that preceded the event and the whole soap opera saga, it’s not hard to see why. It’s also difficult to think of an occasion in recent times that devoured such a sheer mass of TV and newspaper space – particularly in Australia as opposed to other Commonwealth countries with a symbolic tie to the monarchy.
On Saturday evening major stories such as the school shooting in Houston and the plane disaster in Cuba were pushed into the background on the Seven, Nine and ABC news broadcasts with extended live crosses to Windsor Castle. Gushing news anchors could hardly contain their delight as they speculated whether Meghan Markle would be fronting the ceremony in a wedding gown whipped up by an Australian designer – “Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful!”
Ever since the first settlers invaded there’s been a movement to maintain a kind of ‘bunyip’ aristocracy in Australia, mimicking their English counterparts with select private schools, exclusive gentlemen’s clubs like the Melbourne Club, a superior way of speaking, an impeccable table etiquette and of course an undying devotion to the monarch. During the Menzies era, when we still sang ‘God Save The Queen’ and regarded England as the homeland, society matrons would queue to be presented to the Queen whenever she toured the country. In those days the ‘curtsy’ was a full bending of the knees, the kind of subservient posture that Henry VIII would have demanded.
Unfortunately for these devoted monarchists, Australia has never done snobbery very well, unlike the English upper classes who have made a fine art out of it. Class here is defined almost purely in economic terms, rather than by birthright or some ludicrous inherited title.
These days the British monarchy exists more as a taxpayer funded tourist attraction, constantly fuelling the tabloids and trashy women’s magazines. It’s an industry that employs a small army of household staff, security, servants, royal watchers and makers of tacky souvenirs, generating millions of pounds annually. The fact that elements of the family are dysfunctional, like Charles and Camilla’s adulterous affair and Prince Andrew’s association with the notorious Jeffrey Epstein, only makes for a more engrossing narrative, straight out of the saucy pages of Barbara Cartland.
Now that an American in the shape of Meghan Markle has chosen to sign up for a soap opera bigger than Days Of Our Lives, royal watching is certain to enter a new dimension. You would hope that in modern multicultural Australia, that this kind of obsessive voyeurism would be contained to a minority but the media are guaranteed to never let up. When there’s a hole in the nightly news broadcast or the need for some feel good injection, the royals always have something to offer.
Even if Australia does eventually become a Republic our reverence for the British monarchy is likely to take years to dissipate. Further intrusion by commoners and foreigners such as Markle may well help to dilute the exclusivity of the family. Who knows?
Some years ago, we missed what could have been a golden opportunity to reap total havoc within the cloistered halls of Buckingham Palace and reduce the whole dynasty to a disgraceful shambles. At the time, believe it or not, Donald Trump was seriously suggesting that he would be a suitable suitor for the then freshly divorced Princess Diana. Had this union ever been formalised in a wedding ceremony at Windsor Castle, surely all hell would have broken loose. Hookers would have been awarded their own special entrance at the Palace, Ivanka deemed the Duchess of ‘Suss-Sex’ and the rest of the royal family promptly fired. Buckingham would have been renamed Trump Palace and Jeffrey Epstein appointed to replace the Archbishop Of Canterbury. If only!