Surely, the time has come for a Royal flush

John Hanscombe
December 6 2023 - 12:00pm

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I blame John Le Carre. Somewhere in his 1996 novel, The Tailor of Panama, is buried one of his best-ever lines, a tidy put-down of earnest dreariness: "Sounds like The Guardian on a wet Monday."

I'd forgotten about it until yesterday, when another news outlet gushed that King Charles and Queen Camilla were planning to visit Australia next year. No disrespect intended - well, maybe just a bit - but the newly minted 75-year-old monarch excels at drear.

Even when he speaks about the most dire topics, like climate disaster, he seems utterly exhausted from the effort of opening his mouth to address the commoners. He looks bored, impatient to get back to his vast estates. There he was the other day, dressed in grey, giving the opening address to COP28 in the UAE. His words were powerful but their delivery about as electrifying as a flat D cell battery.

So, for me anyway, the monarch's visit is less exciting than the prospect of reorganising the sock drawer. If anything, it will remind me of our ongoing, unhealthy obsession with the Royal family. And the fact that, despite our mythological larrikinism, informality and egalitarianism, as a country we still doff our caps to them upstairs.

The latest Royal uproar - the fuss over King Charles and Kate Middleton discussing the colour of Harry and Meghan's then unborn child, Archie - surely tells us enough is enough. Our head of state worrying about the skin colour of his grandchild is distasteful but should come as no surprise. The King's own father was renowned for his cringeworthy, casually racist comments. We would have been none the wiser were it not for a misprint in a Dutch edition of a book about the Royal family that named King Charles and Kate Middleton as the source of those comments.

A quarter of the way into the 21st century, we should call time on this British institution.

Even the Brits themselves are divided over the monarchy. A YouGov opinion poll released in September found only 30 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 believe the monarchy is "good for Britain", a 50 per cent plunge in a decade. The oldies, though, still love the monarchy, with 77 per cent of people over 65 registering their approval. Pollsters predict overall support for the monarchy will decline even further as that older cohort dies off.

Yet still we persist. Otherwise sensible friends glue themselves to The Crown series for the latest retelling of scandals from living memory, the point at which I gave up because I'd seen the grubbiness play out in real life. Some take sides with inordinate passion in the soap opera that is Harry and Meghan, even though it has absolutely no bearing on their lives.

The UK's interest in the Royal family is understandable. The country bears the cost directly. Back to The Guardian, so cuttingly - if unfairly - sledged by Le Carre. It recently exposed how on old custom was pouring millions of pounds into the King's Duchy of Lancaster by taking possession of the estates of dead people with no wills or known next of kin. A skerrick of the money found its way to charity but the lion's share went to renovating properties that were rented out by the Duchy at a profit, which benefits the King.

Can't see that sitting well with the Aussie sense of fair play.

HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you rate King Charles? Do you follow the Royal family's trials and tribulations? Or are you perplexed by our ongoing fascination with them? Should our coins carry the King's head? Email us:

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Broelman's view.
Broelman's view.


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- The official cash rate has been held steady at 4.35 per cent, delivering a welcome pre-Christmas reprieve for embattled mortgage holders and renters. In a widely anticipated decision, the Reserve Bank of Australia decided at its last meeting for the year to leave its interest rate unchanged, effectively giving borrowers a two-month holiday from the threat of higher repayments.

- Universities and media organisations have been urged to do more to restore trust in government and politics. Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt laid out his concerns in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, ahead of his retirement after eight years in the role. Research by the university found more than seven in 10 Australians think people in government only look after themselves.

THEY SAID IT: "Royalty is either going to do very well with cloning, or it's going to disappear completely." - Douglas Coupland

YOU SAID IT: Summer brings days at the beach and nights disturbed by illegal fireworks.

Jane writes: "I'm currently in China and it is customary here to let off fireworks for weddings. Not just at the wedding, but at 4am and then random times on the day of the wedding, outside their apartments. Good job I am visiting family that could let me know what it was, as I thought they were shots being fired! I am here during a 'lucky' time to get married, so I have been woken up several times during my stay. While they are a great show I hate to think how many people get injured here."

Philip wants a complete ban on fireworks, after an incident on his acreage in northern Tasmania, when a friend set off fireworks: "We didn't think too much about it at the time. But the sheep were spooked by the noise. Later, I noticed one sheep standing alone with its head down and its guts fully on the ground. Its left side had been completely torn open by an upturned mouldboard plough. I then had to put the sheep out of its misery, I now hate fireworks for the misery they cause to animals."

Scott writes: "Fireworks are an absolute waste of government and council monies. There must be better ways to amuse the community. Sydney seems to waste the most. A lot of dollars for a very short time of display."

"Fireworks should be banned outright," writes Heather. "Wasteful, polluting, worst of all they are terrifying for all wildlife, pets and farm animals, any creature within sight and hearing of these firework 'shows'. The enormous cost is unjustified, the money should be spent where it is needed most. Each city tries to outdo each other so it is worse every year. Bread and circuses."

Margaret writes: " I have a house on a NSW North Coast beach and our sleepy village is plagued with fireworks too. And don't get me started on the big public events where the equivalent of a hospital or school vanishes in minutes. Not to mention the environmental effect of all that smoke. I pray for rain every time."

"We were at the mercy of some neighbourly illegal fireworks a few months back at our usually peaceful rural property in north west Tasmania. Distressed animals and wildlife were going in all directions. Without notification or permit, fireworks ignited by 30 to 50-year-old knuckleheads who forgot to grow up. In Tasmania, one night of the year is dedicated to a legal cracker night. You apply for a permit, pay the $85 fee and your go collect your assigned 20 kilograms of fireworks from gleeful suppliers. There is no control as to whether a cracker night was ever intended, no control as to whether all fireworks were discharged on the night, no control over a weather dependant event or any control over the storage of unused fireworks. It is merely a legal avenue for rednecks to acquire a large quantity of fireworks to terrorise who and whatever they choose at any time, day or night."

Maggie writes: "Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks are overdone and boring. There is too much excess (yes, I know that's a tautology). There are no problems with fireworks in my quiet country town, but your beach-weekend-dead-of-the-night fireworks are to some extent predicable. Might not the cops be able to organise the occasional swoop/operation?"

"John, I couldn't agree more about the expense and noise pollution from fireworks," writes Helen. "To say nothing of the environmental pollution with all that smoke. I don't understand why big celebrations like New Year's Eve could not have visual displays with lasers. Personally, I have always loathed the noise, and everything else about fireworks, but accept the right of other people to enjoy the spectacle. If lasers were used instead of fireworks for public occasions and fireworks were totally banned nationally, sanity may prevail and dogs may have fewer nights of terror. Keep up the good work."

Stu writes: "As some jurisdictions have found, synchronised drone performances are much cheaper, reusable and more spectacular."

"Fireworks are a cliché," writes John. "How many times can we really ooh and ahh at that same exploding sphere that's been around for hundreds of years. A company that polluted the sky like that would soon have its chief executive in jail. Why not try something different? Laser light show? Coloured drone formations?"

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.