Anger at Olympic 'insult' to Queen

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The Independent Online

An article by the celebrated author Robert Hughes in Sydney's official Olympics programme has enraged the country's monarchists. Mr Hughes, the historian and art critic who wrote The Fatal Shore, the great novel about the nation's convict roots, was lamenting the country's failure to become a republic.

An article by the celebrated author Robert Hughes in Sydney's official Olympics programme has enraged the country's monarchists. Mr Hughes, the historian and art critic who wrote The Fatal Shore, the great novel about the nation's convict roots, was lamenting the country's failure to become a republic.

The eight-page article, An Australian Looks At Australia; Essays And Observations On The Land I Love, analyses class, multiculturalism and white Australia's relationship with Aborigines.

Mr Hughes says: "Our sense of identity, I feel, shows moments of folly, weakness and irresoluteness, as exemplified by our vote to keep Queen Elizabeth II, a foreign monarch, as head of state, as though no mere Australian was worthy of the office."

Later, he writes in the £6 brochure of the "expiatory sacrifice" of 61,919 Australians who "died for British imperial interests" in the First World War. He describes the arrival of American culture in Australia as "an escape from the ghastly good taste and censorious conservatism associated with a monarchist culture".

Mr Hughes, New York-based art critic for Time magazine, was a passionate and high-profile campaigner for a "yes" vote in last year's constitutional referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. Australians voted by a narrow majority to retain the Queen as head of state.

Australian monarchists say his article is a politicisation of the Olympics and they want the programme to be withdrawn. Philip Benwell, national chairman of Monarchy 2000, said: "We take exception to this, not because Hughes has made these comments - it is his right to express his views - but because the organising committee has used the platform of the Games to incorporate comments which are essentially promoting a republic.

"The Games should be sacrosanct, above politics, above the monarchy-republic debate. It is a disgrace that this has been done."

In a section on "Britain And The Republic", Mr Hughes writes: "Well, obviously, I support the republic for one quite simple reason. The head of state of a country should be a citizen of that country. It seems ludicrous to me that anyone should believe that there isn't one person among more than 19 million Australians alive who isn't fit to be the head of state.

"Democracy is about looking on a level with your fellow citizens. This is not about hostility to Queen Elizabeth II or to any other member of the House of Windsor. It is about getting the last colonial anomalies out of our system."

The 168-page brochure was produced under licence by Sports Illustrated, the American magazine and Olympics sponsor. It contains a competition schedule and maps of the principal Olympic venues, but a large portion is devoted to lengthy and erudite articles.

Thomas Keneally, the award-winning author of Schindler's Ark, writes about his childhood in Homebush, the Sydney suburb which is the Olympic venue. The Aboriginal author Archie Weller outlines the indigenous perspective on the Games - in a piece that could equally be regarded as "political", although no one has complained about it.

Mr Hughes rejects traditional notions of Australian egalitarianism. "Don't believe anyone who tells you Australia is a classless society," he says, because the country was born "with the most absolute of class distinctions - between criminal and law-abiding, the bonded and the free".

He describes the relatively small number of Aborigines left in Australia - 380,000, or 2 per cent of the population - as "a morally large thorn in white Australia's side". He continues: "More than ever before in Australian history, whites are compelled to redefine themselves against the once-silent, but now intensely vocal, Aborigine ... Until white Australia faces its problems, it will be unable to come to terms with its own history in relation to the present, and Australians will continue to question their identity." A spokesman for Michael Knight, the New South Wales Olympics minister, said: "It is an opinion piece about Australia by a historian and well-known republican. Such pieces are by their nature political, but that in no way amounts to politicising the Games."

In a passage headed "The New Australians", Mr Hughes writes: "Political correctness is one of the big scourges of Australia, as in the US. We tend to fetishise multiculturalism, and yet it is a fact that Australia can claim to be one of the only successful multicultural democracies in the world. Our level of racism seems lower than America's, and though, like Americans, we are apt to harp on about rights at the expense of our duties and obligations, we do it somewhat less."

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