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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

WHY THIS AUSSIE LOVES THE QUEEN

As Australia tries to ban Norfolk islanders from singing God Save The Queen, Down Under’s best-loved writer pens an adoring, light-hearted tribute to Elizabeth II

Written by Kathy Lette
The inhabitants of Norfolk Island, situated 1,400km off the coast of New South Wales, are direct descendents of mutineers of the Bounty. Well, this week another revolt is threatened after residents were ordered by the Australian government to replace their official anthem of God Save The Queen with Advance Australia Fair.

Originally inhabited by East Polynesians, Norfolk Island was colonised as a convict settlement. In fact, my ancestor, Joshua Peck, served out some of his prison sentence there. When the Pitcairn Islands became too small for the descendants of the mutineers of HMS Bounty, Queen Victoria handed them control of Norfolk Island.

So far, the island’s 2,000 residents have refused to comply with the newly appointed Aussie Government’s Norfolk Island Administrator. At the Norfolkian annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Show last week, attendees mutinied all over again by proudly belting out a rendition of God Save The Queen while waving Union Jacks.

Now, you would think that the descendents of pirates, renegades and felons would have no allegiance to a castle-encrusted, corgi-caressing Royal Family, 11,000 miles away. Mention ‘the Queen’ to most Norfolk Islanders and I’d have presumed they’d think you were referring to Elton John.

The reason for such a deep display of monarchist devotion is, apparently, a deep respect for Queen Elizabeth. The Queen has proved to be a psychological stealth weapon, flying right under all republican radars. Of course much of this affection is to do with nostalgia. Nostalgia is that irrational emotion that makes things seem a million times better then, than they are now.

The Queen reminds us of a time when all problems were solved by putting the kettle on. The hardest drug we took was Coke – as in Cola. Aids, Isis, ebola and global warming were not gnawing at the national psyche.

Growing up in the colonies, the Queen has been sewn into the fabric of our lives. I first met her when I was 11… along with about 10,000 other people. As school captain, I’d been bussed to Kurnell to await the unveiling of a plaque to celebrate Captain Cook’s landing in 1770.

For hours we broiled in the sun like lobsters. And then, finally, the fanfare. Peering through the pigtails of the girls in front, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the flared nostril of some flunkey and the weary wave of a white glove. And then I heard the most rounded vowels imaginable crackling over the tannoy. It was the Queen, addressing her sunburnt subjects. And the crowd roared with the kind of adoration usually reserved for a rock star.

I didn’t have another close encounter of the Royal kind until 40 years later at Australia House, on the Strand. When the High Commissioner introduced me to the Queen, I cheekily explained how Australians had embraced inverted snobbery.

‘If you can trace yourself back to a convict, that makes you Antipodean royalty,’ I told her. She smiled broadly, which I interpreted as encouragement.

‘As my ancestors were transported on the first and second fleets, that makes me the crème de la crim! So, G’day,’ I teased, ‘from one aristocrat to another!’

The intake of breath from the surrounding guests was bordering on the asthmatic. But the Queen, who smiled broadly, really must have seen the funny side as I was then invited to Buckingham Palace for a soirée in preparation for her tour Down Under. (Can’t you imagine the staff frantically hiding the silverware? ‘Quick! The convicts are coming!’)

The queue to meet Her Maj snaked right down the staircase. After greeting 200 or so overawed guests, the poor Queen was in a coma of tedium. Her smile was frozen to her face in a polite rictus… Then I rocked up before her wearing my corgi suit. (An Aussie girlfriend ran it up for me when I was broadcasting for the Royal Wedding. The miniskirt and jacket are covered in little comic corgis, wearing diamanté- encrusted tiaras.)

Once again, there was the horrified gasp from onlookers. One of her courtiers wore a facial expression usually associated with an examination of the prostate. All eyes were on the Queen. How would she react?

Well, she threw back her head and let out a loud, delighted laugh.

I then winked at Prince Philip. ‘I am slightly worried that one of your corgis might mate with my leg, though,’ I confided, mischievously.

‘Oh, get on with you,’ he replied, mock gruffly…

At least I hope it was mock. (If you don’t hear from me, I’ll be in the Tower. Or being transported back to Norfolk Island.)

Without a doubt, it’s the Queen’s mix of humour and stoicism that means that even her most wicked and wild subjects, including mutineers, don’t yet want to come in from the reign.

Kathy Lette’s latest novel, Courting Trouble, is published by Bantam Press, priced £11.99.


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