A delightful song of the 1930’s opened with these words: “I’ve danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales". I was reminded of this when I came across a piece by Barry Everingham, the oxymoronic republican Royal-watcher, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7April 2007. Mr Everingham’s unique form of journalism seems, like the song, to be made up from conversations based on conversations based on conversations based on conversations etc. Using this technique, he has claimed to be privy to confidential conversations between The Queen and Tony Blair, and The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Just in case readers treated Mr Everingham’s piece with the scepticism he deserves, it was accompanied by an obviously digitally enhanced photograph of The Queen looking with apparent concern at a young David Hicks. As if that wasn’t enough, the technique of “headlying” was used. (That is the name I give to the technique of writing a headline which is not supported by the story). The headline was “It seems HM is not amused by Guantanamo Bay”. The fact is, of course, that neither Mr Everingham, the Herald , nor I have any idea what The Queen thinks about Guantanamo Bay or indeed David Hicks. The Herald would of course know that some people, especially those who turned the page after glancing at the headline will now think The Queen has indicated her views.
The story was, in one respect, different from the usual attacks Mr. Everingham has for long been pouring out against The Queen, the Royal Family and the Governor- General. He was actually quite nice to The Queen. Perhaps he has seen the Helen Mirren film, or accepted that the public have come to realise the impeccable service she has given for 55years as Sovereign. Or perhaps he decided to use The Queen as a weapon in what is a piece directed against his political foes in Australia.
That said, the story is otherwise typical Barry Everingham. He says he wrote to The Queen about David Hicks, and received a prompt reply. So far so good. We reported here on 2 December 2006, the Palace shames Her Majesty’s NSW ministers in the time they take to respond to aggrieved citizens. Mr. Everingham says his letter was referred to the British Foreign Secretary, and not Alexander Downer. Without seeing his letter, it is difficult to know whether he was raisng British or Australian issues. Incidentally, Mr Everingham refers to our Foreign Minister as Lord Downer of Baghdad, a form of address invented by his fellow republican Mike Carlton, Herald columnist and presenter of a low rating AM breakfast programme in Sydney. Mr. Carlton so over uses this title he must assume that SMH readers invariably slap their thighs and fall about whenever he pens this brilliance.
In any event Mr. Everingham tells us excitedly that his letter “opened up a can of worms”; and had been “all over Whitehall,” “Her Majesty had kept an eye on the process”…and “Canberra had been in the loop.” Where did Barry learn this news which he describes as “startling”. It was all from a telephone call from “someone I trust.”
I sent this letter to the editor of the Herald:
Your report, “It seems HM is not amused by Guantanamo Bay”, (7-8 April 2006) aided by the picture of a concerned Sovereign superimposed on one of David Hicks, suggests that The Queen has made known a difference of opinion between herself and the Australian government over Guantanamo Bay – surely an indication of a constitutional crisis. Of course, neither you, nor your correspondent Barry Everingham, nor I have any idea of The Queen’s views on this. But unless the report is read carefully, a reader would think relations between the Sovereign and the government were in dispute.
Royal watching, a mix of fact, speculation and rumour at the best of times, is made curiously morbid when its principal purpose is the destruction of the very institution watched. A republican royal watcher is surely an oxymoron.
So who is Barry Everingham, Royal Watcher? As we mentioned in this column on 23 April 2006, Mr. Everingham enjoys a unique distinction among Australia’s journalists. He is the only journalist to have been expelled from the Canberra Parliamentary Press Gallery. Both Senator Ray and Senator Ryan (a passionate republican) had something to say about that.