By Stan Stewart.
My first visit to New Zealand was in 1977 - I was to speak at a national education seminar. Arriving in Auckland in the afternoon, I was accommodated in a downtown hotel. Just before 6.00pm, I exited the hotel onto Queen Street. The street was empty. There were no traffic and no people. I was puzzled. Where had everyone gone? My hunch was there had been a warning of nuclear attack and people were in underground bunkers.
It took me a while to learn that Kiwis loved to eat in their homes. The city workers were not in underground shelters. They had hurried to their homes for the evening meal.
Another surprise awaited me in kiwi homes. In three consecutive homes I visited, a picture of the Queen or the royal family was displayed front and centre in the entrance hall. On some occasions, there would be a tea towel with an emblazoned royal image hanging on the wall, too precious to be used for wiping dishes. Aussies were also members of the British Commonwealth, but it was not our custom to have photos of the royals in the entrance porch of our homes. Another strange thing to me was that my hosts often talked about going ‘home’. Where was ‘home’? Some town where they had grown up? Eventually it dawned on me that ‘home’ was England or Scotland, or the British Isles.
The remembrance of ANZAC is still fresh in our minds. Reading the statistics of Kiwis involved in both wars is sobering. No commonwealth country gave so much support per capita to Britain in both wars as that which was forthcoming from New Zealand. This loyalty to Britain was not just on paper or in ceremonies around flag poles. In two wars, the young men and women of New Zealand supported their motherland on a heroic, unequalled scale.
Above, I tell of my experience New Zealand in 1977. In 2023 attitudes have changed a lot. Increasingly I hear and read republicanism sentiments. I think it is even more strident in my home country, Australia. Against this background, I thought it might be useful, at least to me, if I wrote down how I am feeling about the coronation of King Charles III. I think the monarchy is a link to the past. The current Royal family, the Windsor’s, can trace their ancestry back to King Alfred the Great, in 871AD. There are 37 generations. In my life, I have been aware of two monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. My father greatly admired King George. He told me often of how during the blitz, the king would walk amongst the burning ruins of London. “He was a man of the people.” Dad said. From my own research, I know how much he was an encouragement to ordinary people and how he strengthened Winston Churchill’s hand.
In some ways, Queen Elizabeth’s story is intertwined with my story. She weathered many family storms and scandals. An entire industry of women’s magazines was sustained by news, rumours and innuendos focusing on her family. Actually, her story over these years was not unlike the story of my own family and other families with whom I share friendship in this country. I think she did misstep once or twice but, she really did ‘keep calm and carry on’ as is written on so many posters.
From time to time, I read diatribes about the wealth of the royals. In fact, Kiwi citizens pay nothing towards the upkeep of the monarchy. When the royals (including the King) do work for New Zealand, they do so as volunteers. From my observation, reading, television, online, etc, I believe Queen Elizabeth did, and now our new king is doing, all that royalty can possibly do to encourage and support our country and importantly, ‘democracy’. They try to uphold a standard of service, not aways successfully, but on the whole, they inspire me. All products and projects associated with Charles (and before him, Queen Elizabeth) are of the highest standard.
I try to imagine what we would put in their place if we cut our ties with the royals. What would it be in Australia - my home country? Our national obsessions are football, pokies and the beach, with an insatiable appetite for the long weekend. At last, we are recognizing the beauty and depth of the Aboriginal culture, but this is far removed from the life of most Australians. Their dreamtime stories have profound truth, but they have not come out of the evolution of technology that has brought us to the current day. Occasionally, I hear criticism of the wealth of the royals and their estates. I believe the Royal Family and their ceremonies; their possessions bring enormous wealth to Great Britain. The properties, the pomp and circumstance that surround the Royals and their life is an enormous draw for tourism to Great Britain. The world looks on in awe and so they should.
Anyway, as you will have guessed, I have no problem with saying, ‘God bless the King and long may he reign.”
Caption: King Charles and Camilla.