Tag Archives: colonialism

Friday essay: 5 museum objects that tell a story of colonialism and its legacy



This wooden dish from Broome, pre-1892, was made by Yawuru people, collected by police and later presented by the Commissioner of Police, Colonel Phillips, to the WA Museum.
Courtesy of the WA museum

Alistair Paterson, University of Western Australia; Andrea Witcomb, Deakin University; Gaye Sculthorpe, The British Museum; Shino Konishi, University of Western Australia, and Tiffany Shellam, Deakin University

Two new Australian museums are emerging from old ones as the year draws to a close.

The new Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney assembles rich collections from across the campus, and the WA Museum Boola Bardip (Noongar for “Many Stories”) has opened in Perth. Museums remain relevant in a globalised world where stories of objects and collecting connect people, institutions, places and ideas.

Our Collecting the West Project, in collaboration with the Western Australian Museum, the State Library of WA, the Art Gallery of WA and the British Museum, explores the history of collecting in WA since the late 1600s.

We are tracing the role of collecting in histories of empire, exploration and colonisation; the relations between natural history and ethnographic collecting; the role of state instrumentalities and private individuals; and the networks between them.

Here, we highlight five objects, some displayed in Boola Bardip’s Treasures Gallery, to reveal how they can provide us with insights into history, values, emotions and power.

One of the new exhibition spaces, the Ngalang Koort Boodja Wirn gallery at Boola Bardip.
c Michael Haluwana Aeroture

1. Everything was contemporary once — Corona Smoking Bucket, 2020

On March 26 2020, the WA government suspended tourist operations on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) to support the government response to the pandemic. Australian citizens aboard the Vasco de Gama cruise ship were directed to be quarantined on the island from Monday March 30.

Whadjuk monitors Ben Ugle and Brendan Moore were on the island to support conservation works at the heritage site — a prison that once held Aboriginal people from all over WA, where many died.

The two Whadjuk men chose to perform a smoking ceremony for the island’s transition to pandemic quarantine facility. Smoking ceremonies are often conducted to cleanse a place spiritually, such as after a death, to welcome people, and as a sign of respect to people including past elders.

Corona Smoking Bucket: a metal beer bucket used for a smoking ceremony.
Courtesy of Wadjemup Museum Collection.

A metal tin was found for the smoking ceremony — given the unplanned nature of the event, the only suitable vessel they could find was a Corona beer bucket. Seeing the irony in the serendipitous use of this object, the “Corona Smoking Bucket” was collected for The Wadjemup Museum on Rottnest Island in March 2020.

Like many objects, this bucket symbolises several histories: the fact of its collection, the impact of a global pandemic at a local level, growing recognition of Indigenous cultural practices and the connection between an Indigenous smoking ceremony and the island’s dark history of Aboriginal incarceration (circa 1838-1931).

These histories compete also with the island’s later use — as the site of decades of annual school leavers’ celebrations, reflected in the presence of the Corona bucket.




Read more:
Indigenous medicine – a fusion of ritual and remedy


2. Collections carry emotions — Shell, Shark Bay, 1820

This watercolour and ink drawing of a beautiful shell — the Volute ethiopienne — was drawn from a specimen brought back from Shark Bay in 1820 as part of the French Freycinet expedition. It can now be found in the State Library of Western Australia.

Shells from WA were prized for their beauty, part of the Enlightenment’s love affair with discovering the diversity of the natural world.

Drawing of Volute ethioienne specimen, Shark Bay, 1820. A. Provist.
Freycinet collections, State Library of Western Australia, ACC 5907A/12.

Aboriginal people have long valued shells for ornamentation and exchange. Shells were also attractive items for some of the earliest European explorers of the WA coast.

In 1697, for instance, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch sea captain working for the Dutch East India Company, collected a number of shells from Shark Bay, including a nautilus and a conch. He failed to find the shipwreck he was searching for, but helped to chart the coast. The English explorer William Dampier arrived in 1699 and some of the shells he collected in Shark Bay ended up in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

French explorers followed. Nicolas Baudin’s expedition took a considerable number of shells back to Paris, where they can now be seen at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle.

In his journal of the Baudin expedition, the naturalist François Peron described a mussel he found on the shore:

Of all the species of mussels known so far, the one that I discovered [in Shark Bay] is incontestably the most beautiful. Stripped of its marine coating, it shines with the most vivid colours of the prism and precious stones; it is dazzling, if I may say so.




Read more:
Friday essay: the voyage of Nicolas Baudin and ‘art in the service of science’


3. Mokare’s place — Spear-thrower, King George Sound, (Albany), c.1831

This spear-thrower was collected by Alexander Collie, the government resident at King George Sound between 1831-33, who formed a close friendship with Menang Noongar man Mokare.

Such historic objects remind us that many collections of plants and objects were formed with the expert assistance of Aboriginal people who knew the land intimately.

Spear-thrower, Albany.
British Museum, 1613225872

The spear-thrower also highlights how objects can embody moments of unexpected friendships, such as the close relationship that developed between Collie and Mokare. Mokare lived with Collie in his hut in the settlement of Albany in 1831, and when near death, Collie asked to be buried beside his friend.

Collie had worked as a naval surgeon and sent objects he collected back to the Royal Navy’s Haslar Hospital Naval Museum at Portsmouth, to assist in naval education. In 1855 the admiralty disbanded the museum, depositing the spear-thrower and other objects in the British Museum.

In 2016-2017, the spear-thrower, along with other objects collected by Collie, returned to Albany to be displayed in the Yurlmun exhibition, which focused on the meaning of these collections to Menang Noongar people today. Despite these objects being only a temporary loan from the British Museum (where they are now in storage), the Menang people viewed their arrival as a “return home to country”.

The objects collected by Collie point to the role of the Royal Navy as a key network of colonisation; the agency of individual Aboriginal people in processes of colonial collection and the potential of these collections to highlight not only the role played by Indigenous people such as Mokare but also the cultural knowledge contained in the objects themselves.

A portrait of Mokare by Louis de Sainson (1833).
Wikimedia Commons

A much earlier collection of weapons, also from Albany, hints at the complexity of collecting practices undertaken within colonial contexts. A Royal Navy surveying expedition, captained by Phillip Parker King, visited King George Sound in December 1821. The crew were engaged with the Menang people in a prolonged and intimate trading exchange for two weeks. In exchange for ships’ biscuit, the crew collected:

one hundred spears, thirty throwing sticks, forty hammers, one hundred and fifty knives and a few hand-clubs.

By contrast, at Hanover Bay on today’s Kimberley coast, a few months earlier, a cache of Worrorra weapons and artefacts were taken as a retaliatory theft for the spearing of the crew’s surgeon.

The crew members related this theft in their journals with the language of revenge: “taking possession of”, “riches”, “spoil”, “prize” and “treasure”, where they took pleasure in “capturing” an Aboriginal “depot”.

These collecting moments reveal different kinds of intimacies — of friendships and violence, trade and exchange — that occurred during early coastal encounters. They also explain why there is no early material from WA in Western Australian collections — most went to Britain as a result of these imperial networks.

4. Colonialism never dies — Wooden dish, Broome, pre 1892

This small wooden bowl carries a history that hints at the role of colonial state instrumentalities in collecting. It is part of a large collection at the WA Museum known as the Phillips Collection.

Wooden dish from Broome, pre-1892, made by Yawuru people, presented by the Commissioner of Police to the WA Museum.
Courtesy of the WA museum

George Braithwaite Phillips was the commissioner of police between 1887-1890. His family was amongst the first colonists to emigrate to the Swan River Colony (now Perth), coming from Barbados, where they owned sugar plantations.

Phillips had been a high profile civil servant and the commandant of the Western Australian Military Forces. From those positions he was able to commandeer a large network of policemen throughout the colony to collect both Aboriginal material culture and human remains.

Many of the Aboriginal objects collected by police, though not the ancestral human remains, were displayed at International Exhibitions in Paris, Glasgow and Melbourne.




Read more:
The violent collectors who gathered Indigenous artefacts for the Queensland Museum


The collection, which included this bowl from Broome, made by Yawuru people, helped form the new Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery in 1894. (The bowl can now be seen at WA Museum Boola Bardip.)

Bernard Woodward, the museum’s first director, continued to ask Phillips for help in sourcing both ethnographic objects and human remains, many of them destined to be exchanged for natural history specimens and ethnographic material from other parts of the world.

So, this bowl is a powerful object. It speaks to Aboriginal cultural practices, the police as active agents of colonisation, and the complex terrain of colonial encounters and their aftermath that form part of the museum’s own inheritance — now slowly being addressed in consultation with relevant communities.

5. Collections are commodities — Red figure hydria, 350-320BC

This red figure vase (circa 350-320BC), probably from Bari
— then a Greek colony — was, according to the museum’s first art and craft register, given by Professor E H Giglioli in 1902. Giglioli (1845-1909) was the Director of the Museo Zoologico in Florence — a zoologist and anthropologist remembered as the father of Italian science.

Red figure hydria (water jar), Bari, Apulia, southern Italy.
Courtesy of the WA Museum.

He visited Australia in 1867, writing a book on Australian Aboriginal people. Giglioli understood the uniqueness of WA’s flora and fauna, seeking valuable specimens with which to build his own collection and to trade for other specimens from elsewhere in the world.

Giglioli sent Roman and Etruscan antiquities he acquired in Italy to Perth in exchange for natural history specimens, human remains and ethnographic material.

Collections circulated through collecting institutions, often exchanged or bartered. Giglioli exchanged the WA material with the Smithsonian Museum.

In Australia, antiquities from Europe had their own rarity value. Widely understood as the foundation of Western culture and aesthetics, antiquities were hard to come by in colonial society.

In 1904, Woodward wrote:

it is of paramount importance that the local craftsmen should have good examples to study, in order that they may successfully compete with their fellows in the older centres of civilisation.

The notion of civilisation was especially important in a young nation. Colonial societies, wanting to demonstrate their rightful place amongst civilised societies, often purchased copies of originals.

So it is not surprising Woodward wanted to exchange Western Australian natural history and ethnographic specimens for objects representing the high end of European artistic production or material representing the birth of European civilisation.

This was part of his effort to educate Western Australians into what they thought was the best that Western civilisation offered.

While this was a way for museums around the world to build their collections, it also involved practices that are totally discredited today and which many find deeply distressing. It is important to know about this history and address its legacies. 

The collections made by early explorers and settlers, sometimes in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, are important for their role in the development of knowledge about WA, opening up areas of scientific discovery and knowledge about First Peoples, the richness of the state’s flora and fauna and our shared historical experiences.

They are also tangible symbols of colonialism and its legacy today.The Conversation

Alistair Paterson, ARC Future Fellow, University of Western Australia; Andrea Witcomb, Professor, Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies, Deakin University; Gaye Sculthorpe, Curator & Section Head, Oceania, The British Museum; Shino Konishi, ARC Research Fellow, University of Western Australia, and Tiffany Shellam, Senior Lecturer in History, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Relics of colonialism: the Whitlam dismissal and the fight over the Palace letters


File 20180109 83553 1bhucel.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A reversion to imperial imbalance in the British-Australian relationship began with the Whitlam government’s election and ended with its dismissal.
AAP/NAA

Jenny Hocking, Monash University

This piece is republished with permission from Commonwealth Now, the 59th edition of Griffith Review. Articles are a little longer than most published on The Conversation, presenting an in-depth analysis on the relevance of the Commonwealth of Nations in today’s geopolitical landscape.


We will make better decisions on all the great issues of the day and for the century to come, if we better understand the past. – Gough Whitlam

The celebration of the “Queen’s birthday” in Australia is a perfect reflection of a fading, remnant, relationship. Commemorated in the Australian states as a public holiday on three different days – none of which is her birthday – and honouring an event of dubious significance, the “Queen’s birthday” reminds us that, despite our national independence, the symbolic ties of colonial deference remain.

The “Queen’s birthday” may seem a fitting if absurd genuflection to a powerless relic of a former time, and in itself confirmation that the Queen no longer has a role in post-dominion matters. But things are not always as they seem.

Neither sovereignty nor national independence flowed neatly from federation. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act created Australia as a federation of the former colonies and a constitutional monarchy, with all the tension inherent in that term – between a democratic government chosen by the people and a monarchical head of state whose ultimate constitutional power stemmed solely from inherited aristocratic assumption and unchallenged legal privilege.

The gradual devolution of Australian autonomy appeared assured at the Imperial Conference of 1926. This affirmed the relationship between Great Britain and its dominions as being that of:

… autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown.

The critical qualifier in this proclamation of an imperial gift of national autonomy, equality and independence is this: “though united by a common allegiance to the Crown”.

The imperial assertion of continued dominion allegiance to the Crown was a stark counterpoint to the proclaimed national autonomy. Indeed, it undermined the very autonomy and equality of nations the conference so proudly affirmed.

Five years after the Imperial Conference, the Statute of Westminster gave statutory expression to the principles of equality established at the Imperial Conference and vested full legislative authority and independence in the “dominions”.

Nevertheless, it remained the case that some bills would continue to require the Queen’s assent to be passed into law. The Statute of Westminster also granted dominion ministers the right of direct access to the sovereign. This access had previously been available only indirectly through UK ministers and reflected their then incomplete post-colonial status.

The ‘Queen’s birthday’ is celebrated in Australia on three different days – none of which is her actual birthday.
AAP/Jodie Richter

A fight for independence

Yet, in reality, neither of these critical junctures in the evolving British–Australian relationship created the clear-cut path to national independence that these paternalistic statements of ceded imperial power might suggest.

Although the dominions were entitled to separate representation at the League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations, as made clear at the Imperial Conference, the cultural expectation of continued British primacy and Australian dominion subservience remained.

It can be seen in the British attitude toward the efforts of Australia’s minister for external affairs, H.V. Evatt, to champion the role of the smaller nations against the Great Powers at the San Francisco conference in 1945 that established the ground rules for the UN.

Evatt’s insistence that Australia would take its own independent position as an autonomous nation in these high-level international negotiations infuriated the British representatives at the fledgling discussions over the UN.

At a preliminary meeting of Commonwealth nations in London, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had bemoaned Evatt’s defiant independent stance.

Describing the Commonwealth as “the third of the Great Powers”, Churchill argued that the Commonwealth could only maintain its influence by ensuring unity among members and speaking with one voice – and that one voice of course would be Britain’s, not Australia’s.

These expectations of British administrative, legal and political authority, based more in the established imperial mindset, behaviours and networks than an exercise of formal political control, remained powerful resistors to change throughout the 20th century.

The undercurrent of lasting imperial privilege and hierarchy proved to be a major obstacle in ending the complex web of residual colonial ties across legal, constitutional and political domains.

In particular, continued allegiance to the British Crown as the imperial condition of dominion nationhood was a political oxymoron. It cast an impossible constraint on the form of national autonomy, while Australian allegiance to the British Crown was superimposed on the representative model of parliamentary democracy.

The fundamental contradiction this established at the heart of the Australian polity remained largely dormant during the long years under the avowed Anglophile prime minister Sir Robert Menzies, until inevitably rupturing along the faultlines of divided allegiance – to the British Crown on the one hand and to Australian democratic governance on the other – with the 1972 election of the Whitlam Labor government.

Australia’s continued allegiance to the British Crown above all else was a theme of the Menzies/Churchill years.
Keystone-France/Getty Images

Whitlam tries to loosen the ties

Gough Whitlam came to office with a core policy agenda of ending the residual colonial ties between Australia and Britain.

Although largely seen as ceremonial and symbolic, these colonial links were to be immensely significant in the trajectory of the Whitlam government and its dismissal threeyears later.

Whitlam moved rapidly on some of these. He ended the British honours system and introduced Australian honours, introduced an Australian national anthem to replace God Save the Queen, changed the Queen’s title by removing arcane references to God and Empire, and, in 1974, removed the words “God save the Queen” from the official proclamation dissolving parliament.

Eighteen months after his second election victory in the double dissolution of May 1974, Whitlam was peremptorily removed from office by the Queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, without warning and despite Whitlam maintaining a clear majority in the House of Representatives at all times.

Concerns were immediately raised over the possible role of Buckingham Palace and British authorities in this unprecedented vice-regal action. The suspicion that the Queen knew more about Kerr’s intentions than has ever been publicly acknowledged has grown in recent years with the Queen’s embargo of her correspondence with Kerr at the time of Whitlam’s dismissal.

Of all the residual colonial ties, the one that Whitlam found particularly abhorrent, and was determined to sever, was the right of appeal from some state supreme courts to the Privy Council. In his view:

No people with an ounce of self-respect would allow decisions made by their own judges … to be overruled by judges sitting in another country.

Whitlam described this as an “absurd” and “ludicrous” situation. Yet his efforts to end remaining state Privy Council appeals were stymied at every point.

Whitlam’s attorney-general, Lionel Murphy, reported he had struck nothing but intransigence, non-co-operation and obstruction from the British authorities in the government’s moves to implement this core policy.

Returning from his first visit to England as prime minister in 1973, Whitlam was clearly frustrated by the UK’s reluctance to end colonial ties when he told reporters, more in hope than confidence:

We are a separate country from Britain. We are an entirely independent country.

A tense meeting with Edward Heath, the British Conservative prime minister, the following year saw little change. An exasperated Whitlam again declared that:

All these colonial relics are incompatible with the position of Australia as a separate, sovereign country.

When the Whitlam government was removed from office by Kerr, three years later, these state-based appeals to the Privy Council remained, unchanged.

Gough Whitlam aimed to end the residual colonialties between Australia and Britain.
AAP/Alan Porritt

What we know about the Palace’s role

The archival records of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) covering these official visits are at once illuminating and disturbing. They show a troubling lack of respect for such a significant engagement with a senior member of a new Australian government.

Murphy’s visit was, after all, the first official visit by any of Whitlam’s cabinet to England. And yet, even before his arrival, the FCO files show that British authorities viewed Murphy, and indeed the Whitlam government itself, as a troublesome interloper whose presence they barely tolerated and whose policy concerns they did not share.

More than mere intransigence, or even simply a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Whitlam government, these archival records disclose profound breaches of confidence, secrecy and even deception of Whitlam by the FCO, the British High Commission in Canberra, and the Queen’s private secretary Sir Martin Charteris. They show a partisan pattern of disrespect for and undermining of the new Labor government.

Most significantly, far from any equality of national status, “in no way subordinate one to another” professed at the Imperial Conference, these files reveal the FCO’s brazen presumption – “our right as the colonial power” – to deceive the prime minister, to liaise in secret with the conservative states and, ultimately, to intervene in Australian politics to prevent the government holding a half-Senate election to resolve a stalemate in the Senate over the passage of supply bills.

From October 16, 1975, opposition senators refused to vote on the government’s supply bills, which provided the annual funds for government expenditure. In the new political vernacular, supply was “blocked”.

Calling the half-Senate election, which was then due, had been Whitlam’s resolution to this unprecedented situation since the day supply was first blocked. The Labor caucus had voted unanimously in support of Whitlam calling the half-Senate election “at a time of his choosing”.

The FCO files document a rapid breakdown and reversion to imperial imbalance in the British-Australian administrative relationship that began with the election of the Whitlam government and ended with its dismissal. They reveal a deep suspicion of the new government that quickly led to secrecy, deception and to routine breaches of the highest levels of confidentiality by both the British prime minister’s office and the Palace throughout the terms of the Whitlam government.

Most alarming is that the FCO files also reveal overt British involvement in Australian politics in the weeks before the dismissal – specifically with the half-Senate election due at that time and which Whitlam was to call on November 11, 1975, to end the blocking of supply in the Senate.

Kerr’s papers in the National Archives of Australia provided the first glimpse of the Palace’s role in the dismissal.

Although there are some who continue to claim that the Palace was not involved, this has increasingly become more a matter of faith than fact. Revelations from Kerr’s papers, the Palace letters, and the FCO’s files have rendered that position untenable.

We now know that Charteris wrote to Kerr in October 1975 to discuss action the Palace would take if Whitlam became aware of Kerr’s plans to remove him from office and sought to recall him as governor-general. Charteris told Kerr that the Palace would, in that instance, “try to delay things”.

This communication between the Queen’s private secretary and the governor-general over the position of the governor-general himself is politically and constitutionally shocking. It reveals the Palace to be in deep intrigue with Kerr, to protect his tenure as governor-general, in the weeks before the dismissal – unknown to Whitlam.

It was also a breathtaking rupture of the vice-regal relationship. At the heart of this relationship in a constitutional monarchy is that the appointment of the governor-general is made by the Queen on the advice of the Australian prime minister alone. This has certainly been the case since 1930, when King George V accepted Labor prime minister James Scullin’s advice to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as governor-general.

Despite being vehemently opposed to Isaacs’ appointment, the King told Scullin:

… being a constitutional monarch I must, Mr Scullin, accept your advice.

For the Queen’s private secretary to intervene with Kerr himself on the question of the governor-general’s tenure was a staggering breach of that relationship.

From this point on, knowing that Kerr was considering dismissing Whitlam and concerned that Whitlam might then recall him, and having agreed to a course of action in order to protect Kerr’s position should Whitlam do so, the Palace was already involved in the dismissal.

Buckingham Palace was in deep intrigue with Sir John Kerr in the weeks before he dismissed the Whitlam government.
EPA/Will Oliver

The fight over the Palace letters

The letters between Charteris and Kerr are part of the so-called “Palace letters”. This is the secret correspondence between the governor-general and the Queen, her private secretary, and Prince Charles, in the weeks before the dismissal.

Although these letters are among Kerr’s papers and held by the National Archives in Canberra, they are closed to us. This is because the Palace letters are considered “personal” and not official “Commonwealth” records. This is despite Kerr’s own description of them as his “duty” as governor-general, and despite their obvious significance to our history.

The Palace letters are embargoed until 2027, “at her Majesty the Queen’s instructions”, with the Queen’s private secretary retaining an indefinite veto over their release even after this date. It is quite possible, then, that they will never be released.

The Palace letters are extraordinarily significant historical documents. They are contemporaneous real-time communications between the Queen and her representative in Australia, written at a time of great political drama, and are a vital part of our national historical record.

At the heart of this still-secret vice-regal correspondence was the prospect of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, which Kerr had already raised in September 1975 with Prince Charles and Charteris.

The designation of the Queen’s correspondence with her representative in Australia as “personal” means they do not come under Australia’s Archives Act, which relates only to official “Commonwealth records”.

And so, in a rather neat catch-22, the decision by the National Archives to deny access to the correspondence cannot be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

There is only one way to challenge this decision: through a Federal Court action, which is a complex, expensive and onerous proposition. This is clearly an area in need of legislative reform to ensure a viable appeal process is in place for records described as “personal” in this way.

In an effort to secure the release of the Palace letters, I launched an action against the National Archives in the Federal Court last year, with a legal team working on a pro-bono basis and supported by a crowdfunding campaign. This concluded in September 2017; the decision is anticipated within months.

At the heart of the case is this central question of just what constitutes “personal” as opposed to “Commonwealth” records. Lead barrister Antony Whitlam (Gough Whitlam’s eldest son) argued to the court that “personal records” would be records covering matters “unrelated to the performance of Sir John’s official duties”, and that this could not extend to correspondence between the Queen and her representative in Australia prior to the dismissal. He said:

It cannot seriously be suggested that there was a personal relationship between the Queen and Sir John Kerr.

It is difficult to see, from common sense alone, that the correspondence between the Queen and her representative in Australia could in any way be seen as “personal”. The precise legal points on which the question of Palace letters’ status will turn – whether as personal or Commonwealth records – will be a different matter.

The case itself has brought to light a significant amount of new historical and contemporary material on the relationship between the Queen and the governor-general and its implications for Australian national sovereignty.

One thing that can be said is that from the moment this case came before the court, the question of the release of the Palace letters changed irrevocably. Their status and their release will now be determined by an Australian court, according to Australian law – and not as a quasi-imperial grant of release by the Queen.

This alone is an historic and important outcome that ends one of the few remaining “colonial relics” that continue to deny us access to historical documents relating to the Queen about a historical episode also relating to the Queen.

The continued embargo by the Queen of the Palace letters and the revelations from the British archives of the FCO all point to the lingering imperial power that comes from an incomplete severance of colonial ties. They show above all that the residues of colonialism, the “imperial aftermath” in Whitlam’s words, can never be fully extinguished until Australia becomes a fully independent republic.

It is surely absurd that in the 21st century we can still see the Australian prime minister giving an Australian knighthood to the Queen’s consort, Prince Philip, and that the governor-general, the Queen’s representative in Australia, can still dismiss an elected government on the basis of claimed “reserve powers” derived from, and in the name of, the Queen.

As an independent autonomous nation, Australia has a right to know its own history, including and in particular the records pointing to British involvement in that history, if we are to ensure such a profound rupture in our political structures and denial of our national sovereignty cannot happen again.

This troubling time in our history and in the Australian–British relationship is also critical to our decisions as we recommence the debate over the inevitable move toward a republic.

The fundamental issues to be confronted in that debate will relate absolutely to the events surrounding the dismissal of the Whitlam government: how to protect the institutions of democratic parliamentary governance, how to secure the formation of government in the House of Representatives, and what the powers of the new, Australian, head of state should be.


The ConversationYou can read other essays from Griffith Review’s latest edition here.

Jenny Hocking, Emeritus Professor, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


%d bloggers like this: