May 28

Australia’s first republican movement

 It is not widely known that in addition to the present republican movement, there were two earlier versions in Australia. Both failed, and both had features which are most unattractive. So it is not surprising that today’s republicans do not want Australians to remember them. In The Cane Toad Republic, 1999, I told the story of the first republican movement, which arose in the late nineteenth century. Before that, there were individuals who for some reason or another declared themselves republican. But there was no movement as such. That changed in the late nineteenth century with the development of the white Australia policy. Knowing the colonial authorities were liberal on issues of race-The Queen-Empress showed herself totally devoid of any racism -the most extreme adherents of that policy expressed it in terms of republicanism.

During a debate in the referendum campaign in Perth ( I was with Reg Withers and Bill Hayden and we were against Daryl Williams, Senator Stott Despoja and Professor Greg Craven), I recalled the fact that republicanism of that period was intensely racist. This provoked some outrage from the mainly republican audience, so I read them some of the observations on race made by that flagbearer of nineteenth republicanism, The Bulletin. There were no more objections. The nineteenth century republican movement was extremely racist.






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