Last week, I was one of a sea of Australians who rose to bethink Gough Whitlam. Fitting its subject, the Whitlam canonizing was sweeping. It was as abundant a admirable adventure of Australia’s change aback the war as it was a account of the activity and fable of a towering, bombastic ex-prime minister. This was a academic political rite clashing any in active memory.
Thirty-six years earlier, Robert Menzies’ accompaniment burial had featured a Scots’ Church service, led by three “Very Reverends”, with readings from Prince Charles and abundant hymns. Whitlam’s accompaniment canonizing was captivated at Sydney Boondocks Hall, featured a announcer MC, an Academy Award winner, two Indigenous elders and all-embracing music from Verdi, Berlioz and the Dylanesque Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody.
Menzies’ had the bombinate of bagpipers, hearkening to the highlands of Scotland. Whitlam’s had the bombinate of a didgeridoo, hearkening to Australia’s built-in heart. Anniversary man, of course, had been built-in to advantage in Victoria.
At the Whitlam memorial, a ample army was sandwiched amid Boondocks Anteroom and St Andrew’s Cathedral. Fixed on that attribute of modernity, a collapsed mega-screen, the army played “yay or boo” afore the canonizing to the accession of above and confined politicians. Cheering was the adjustment of the day, with booing aloof for the two contempo Liberal prime ministers, John Howard and Tony Abbott.
NSW accompaniment MP Peter Phelps objected that no-one had jeered Labor PMs accessory the aftermost prime apostolic memorial, that of John Gorton. The adverse was obvious, but inapt. There was no army at Gorton’s memorial. Yet central anniversary of those memorials, backroom was on display.
At Whitlam’s memorial, the Labor-oriented admirers central the anteroom acclaimed best high-profile guests but with capricious enthusiasm. Speakers again wove belief of Whitlam’s assignment into acicular comments about according befalling and anti-discrimination. At Gorton’s, above attorney-general Tom Hughes approved animus on Malcolm Fraser, a bound in the audience. Ironically, Whitlam had been at duke to animate Fraser during this humiliation.
Forty years before, my ancestor took me to Lang Park to watch a rugby alliance test. Whitlam had appeared again and been about booed. Reputedly, he angry to the well-loved bounded agent and football ambassador and quipped:
I didn’t realise you were so abhorred up here, Comrade!
As a adolescent I anticipation this funny. My parents, small-business bodies but Whitlamites, anticipation it beneath so.
Four weeks aback I was reminded of this. I watched an NRL army boo the roof off Olympic Stadium as Abbott was introduced. By apple standards, Australia is well-governed, but it is not air-conditioned to about accept this.
Our politicians’ lot is to abrasion whatever slings and arrows the demos cares to bung at them. Political dness at Australian gatherings is no account for cultural cringe. The booing alfresco Whitlam’s canonizing was authentic pantomime: afterwards all, crowds spell disinhibition.
Australia does not do all-embracing political ritual often, appropriately it does not do it well. In contrast, Britain has its approved aristocratic pageants, the US its four-yearly inaugurations.
The booing alfresco the Whitlam canonizing was impolite, but Australian backroom is rarely otherwise. It was additionally the casual reflex of an contrarily acquiescent army that stood for the best allotment of four hours, best apprehensive why.
The Prime Minister’s Office was afflicted by the appeal of those registering to attend, and fabricated no accomplishment to acquisition a beyond area adjacent to advertisement to the overflow. Yet the red carpeting was immaculate, the RAAF fly-past precision-timed and the choreography and symphonic choir superb.
In short, Australia is acclimated to accouterment agreement to baby coteries of VIPs and celebrities. This is a analytical realisation in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism. But that capitalism is a cultural achievement that percolates from beneath rather than actuality institutionally embedded. It is additionally one based on an adequation of manners, not any adequation of abundance or power.
Political ritual, nonetheless, is all about us. Every year or so we amble off to the polls, in the bigger civil ritual of all. It is a easygoing one, with little of the advertising of the Olympics, Oscars or alike a US election. But Australians assume to affliction for it that way. We adopt the ritual of the accustomed to the ritual of abundant ceremony.
We are accountable to vote, aloof as we are accountable to go to school, anniversary act a rite of citizenship in the broadest sense. And fittingly, in the capital we vote at schools. Children abound up and return, generally as parents, to accurately pencil their mark on a election cardboard aloof as they pencilled marks in an exercise book continued before. Alfresco these academy and bounded halls, venues of community, sausage sizzles and fundraising stalls jostle for amplitude with those spruiking their party’s cause.
This week, Brisbane will be overtaken with political ritual as the G20 comes to town. At aboriginal glance it seems odd to characterization the G20 a “ritual”. This is a austere set of able meetings, but whatever all-embracing co-operation is won, or all-embracing acknowledgment milked, the G20 is ultimately theatrical.
The G20’s capital date is aloof for leaders and their entourages. They accumulate to be photographed in bounded garb, to be accustomed at academic cocktail parties and alike to shirtfront anniversary other.
Then there is the off-Broadway show. Demonstrators mime their abounding causes, the added spectacularly the bigger to grab cursory media attention. With policing apropos arising from a 100-page, bespoke G20 (Safety and Security) Act 2014, locals are either beat the arena or black the hubbub.
Death unleashes a host of emotions. Melancholia for a being anesthetized and times past; abhorrence and frustration; accepting and reconciliation; pride and prejudice. The Whitlam canonizing was alloyed with two forces: anniversary and tribalism. Like any old clan, Laborites apperceive how to re-tell and admire their history and how to resent rivals and attend grudges.
The faculty of anniversary was account by a absolute faculty of mourning. Not aching for the Old Man, as Noel Pearson dubbed him. Grief was muted. Whitlam was 98 and a richer activity is almost imaginable.
It was a rite of self-mourning by Labor; aching its absent body rather than the accident of Whitlam. This is a movement that fears its abundant achievements are abaft it. While the Whitlam bequest is rich, Australia is beneath socially autonomous now than it has been aback Federation.
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