Ditch the Queen's Birthday for a holiday that matters to Australians
DANIEL FLEMING WRITES IN THE AGE - The Queen's Birthday holiday has become a tradition without ceremony. Most Australians appreciate the long weekend but prefer to shop, head to the ski fields or go to the football instead of toasting her majesty.
Yet public holidays reveal who we are, and occasionally who we were. They commemorate great people, events and movements. Australia Day recalls the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, Anzac Day symbolises sacrifice and nationalism, Good Friday is a day of Christian mourning and Labour Day celebrates workers rights. In the US, Martin Luther King Day invites reflection on racism and non-violence.
Of course, the meanings of holidays are contested. Not without justification, Indigenous Australians criticise Australia Day as the celebration of an invasion and critics complain that Anzac Day glorifies war and is over-promoted. Despite such debates, these holidays are relevant.
Holidays encourage communities to celebrate shared values and beliefs. The exceptions are when we suspend social mores and let our hair down. New Year's Day allows us to recover from the night before. Irrelevant holidays are another exception and the Queen's Birthday is Australia's most irrelevant.
The Queen's Birthday is out of kilter with modern Australia. The monarch's birth has been celebrated here since 1788 and until 1936 was held on the birth date of the king or queen.
After King George V died the holiday was fixed near his birthday of June 3 and it is now celebrated on the second Monday of June, except in Western Australia and Queensland. The holiday once symbolised our faith in empire. However, since Queen Elizabeth II began her reign in 1952, it has declined in importance and is not celebrated with the fervour of yesteryear.
Like the monarchy, the Queen's Birthday holiday symbolises inherited power, privilege and wealth – values counter to the egalitarian democracy Australians celebrate. We know that elections renew our political system and equality suits us better than inequality, so our celebrations should reflect those values.
Most Australians rarely think about the monarchy. When former Prime Minister Tony Abbott knighted Prince Philip he shocked us into thinking about the institution and the subsequent uproar occurred because we knew he wanted to wind back the clock to an era that had obviously passed.
However, while we do not want discarded symbols to return, the status quo fosters an unthinking acceptance of other royal traditions that permeate our society and institutions. The monarch is embodied on everything from our currency to royal commissions to crown land.
Instead, we could have our prime ministers on coins and notes, and have Commonwealth commissions and federal lands. Why not have a Barton or Deakin Street, instead of King Street or Queen's Parade?
If the republic comes we should drop the word royal from all manner of institutions including the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Military College at Duntroon and the Royal Australian Mint.
We do not need royalty for a soldier to shoot straight or for a dollar to be worth a dollar. We could even rename Queensland.
The Queen's Birthday holiday ought be abolished, along with our constitutional monarchy and its symbols. We should live in an Australian republic that celebrates a new national holiday based on democracy and equality, when royal titles and privilege matter less than elections and fairness.
The monarchy does not suit us any more and we should choose our own head of state.
If not, we will soon have a King's Birthday holiday.
Daniel Fleming has a PhD in history on public holidays. He is also a member of the Australian Republican Movement. Originally published in The Age