The view from Billinudgel

Knocking back the bling
The Queen’s Birthday holiday and its honours are relics we’d be better off without

Once more we have had to endure the archaic farce of the yearly Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and surely in 2015 enough is enough. It is time to consign this outdated ritual to the dustbin of history where it belongs.  

For a start it is not, and never has been, the Queen’s birthday. The custom began in England in 1738 but it was perpetuated in Australia when our first governor, Arthur Phillip, promulgated the birthday of King George III, a demonstrably mad monarch who did nothing for the colony except to sign the relevant papers that set it up as an English prison. In 1936 it was moved to the second Monday in June for a permanent mid-year holiday.

For what it is worth, the present queen’s natal day was 21 April, inconveniently close to Anzac Day, our real national holiday. It is not celebrated at all, except perhaps by David Flint and Tony Abbott in the privacy of their own homes.

And the honours? Well, we have one honours list on Australia Day, and surely that is sufficient – more than sufficient. Although Gough Whitlam got rid of imperial honours, he baulked at killing off the whole silly system, with the result that we are stuck with a substitute.

And however extolled our Australian awards might be, that are always seen as not quite the real thing – a bit of a bunyip aristocracy. Tony Abbott’s revival of real knighthoods has only compounded the embarrassment. And the awards themselves, however worthy, are always regarded as a little suss. The process has been reformed, removed from the politicians and given to an independent body of arbiters. But there is always the whiff of patronage, of the feeling that the rich and famous, the powerful and influential, people who know someone who knows someone who wants a favour, are capable of jumping the queue.

The real achievers, of course, don’t need or want the glittering prizes and are known to refuse them; they know who they are. The praise of their peers, their relatives and friends is rather more solid than the bauble in the box.

And then there are the also-rans, recipients of the Medal of Australia, the lowest of the awards for the lowest of the achievers: the public servants, community workers, second-string actors and athletes, even (shudder) journalists – they are almost a humiliation rather than an accolade. They say not that you merit glory, but that you have never done much with your life; here’s a token of appreciation to console you with the fact that you have never been caught nicking the cutlery either.

Our own beloved publisher, Morry Schwartz, at least came in a notch above the medals. But Morry, you are better than that.

And then there is the military list, nearly half the total, a completely separate category. If the brass has to hand out medals, let it keep them among themselves – Anzac Day would be the most appropriate occasion. And giving a gratuitous AM to a VC winner like Keith Payne is almost an insult.

The Queen’s Birthday and the lucky dip that goes with it are well past their use-by dates.  If we must have a winter piss-up, let’s commemorate those who have knocked back the bling and all that goes with it. Now that would be something worth celebrating. 

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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