Monday, June 11, 2012

More Queen than Bohemian Rhapsody: This week in Queensland

Our Maj, the Queen, her honours and wistful knights of the pineapple

By sheer coincidence (I’m sure) my theatre subscription play last Saturday was the Dario Fo’s ‘Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman’.  We were aware that it would not be quite what one might anticipate for a day at the theatre and, on the day, by about interval, I was kinda over it. I’m lukewarm about the monarchy at the best of times (though not necessarily a republican—more on that later) and, now that I’ve retired ‘being ironic’ from my lexicon (see last week’s post), I was stuck a bit with a performance that tried quite hard most of the time. I enjoyed watching some of my favourite Brisbane actors tread the Powerhouse boards and I know I’m getting distracted when I start focussing on the music (live and solo in this instance, quite well done).

The coincidence was that this weekend was the first of two public holidays in honour of the Queen, at the end of Queensland Week, with a Queensland Day (6 June) in a week that the Queen celebrated her diamond jubilee and the Queensland Cabinet sought to reinstitute Queen’s Counsel over Senior Counsel silks (though I doubt many will want to be King’s Counsel, when that time comes). More Queen than Bohemian Rhapsody this week!

But as news started to filter through late on Sunday night about the Queen’s Birthday honours suddenly the play resonated more strongly. Perfect timing really. First, former Howard government minister, now ‘professor and chancellor’ Robert Hill was awarded an AC. When news of that ‘well-travelled scholar’, former premier Peter Beattie was to receive the ‘highest’ honour (the ‘not-quite-a-knighthood’) on the Queen’s Birthday I started to feel like I was on stage in a Dario Fo play, (but not as the cross-dressing make-over queen, Grosslady—that was just too perfect for Eugene). Peter Beattie, the now Prof Gareth Evans, Joan Kirner…a proud roll-call of, erm, Labor Party stalwarts accepting humbly, of course, the honour. I have not lived a hypocritical-free life, so I shall not cast stones in their general direction (as a first draft Dario Fo character might say), but really do these people merit such accolades?

In another coincidence, just last week during one of my occasional chats with 612ABC’s Spencer Howson we were talking about the creeping monarchical tendencies of the Newman Government—planting of Jubilee trees (well, OK), the SCs to QCs shift and, we sort of joked, the return of knighthoods (arise Sir Spencer)? I said then I didn’t think such accolades should be given to politicians, sportspeople and celebrities, but to those whose work is essential but goes largely unnoticed. Acknowledging those people in our community is important. Well, well, I wouldn’t have guessed Mr Beattie would come as close as is possible to the gong by week’s end.

The twitterverse had much to say of course. Now, regular readers will know that I am on a mission to recultivate trust in our political institutions, to respect the offices of prime minister, premier and the like; that I really believe that it is not beyond us to renegotiate the social contract. Except…when it comes to politicians getting these gongs. Some in the twitterverse agreed, some didn’t. I just think that politicians by and large have high-profile and public opportunities all the way through their vocational calling. They are reasonably well-remunerated and can quite often pick up post-political careers (though sadly, not quite the case for Joan Kirner, according to today’s news).

The news focus is on the AC and AO winners (and, for the record, I am also a tad sceptical about academics gaining such awards for ‘doing their job’). Occasionally one or two other ‘less notables’ make it through the headline noise. I generally scan the lists to get a sense of who we (or the Queen) are honouring. It is by-and-large the ‘less notables’, the people at the OAM end who contribute selflessly to community; the emergency service personnel who go above and beyond their duty—who see things many of us will never imagine. Today, for example, Gold Coast sporting legend Daphne Pirie, I was pleased to learn was awarded an AO. As a junior hockey player growing up on the Gold Coast in the 1970s, Daphne was an absolute inspiration and developed hockey on the Coast while running a business with her husband and raising a family. To me, it seemed, she spent more time at that Isle of Capri training ground pushing us to be the best we could be, than probably her family saw of her in those years.

I’m not opposed to honouring members of the community who contribute in ways that shepherd us towards being the best we can be, to be a good society, to be a trusting and respectful society. At present, we do this through an honours system which tries to mostly unshackle us from our monarchical cuffs. Just occasionally, we can't quite let go. One day, we may be independent enough to honour our best in other, more original ways.

And if we are in a universe where a former premier really is a well-travelled scholar, (SCHOLAR, mind you!) and can accept an AC on behalf of others ‘who did all the work’, then I fear I really am trapped in a Dario Fo play. Thanks to QTC for preparing me so on Saturday.