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into the Australian way of life : DATELINE SYDNEY

God Save Anyone Who Can Keep Track of This

September 16, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — Where was the queen during the opening ceremony?

Probably at home in Buckingham Palace, watching on the telly.

Although Queen Elizabeth II is Australia's head of state, she wasn't invited to Sydney's Olympics. She wasn't necessarily uninvited, either. But she is well schooled in etiquette and knew that it wouldn't be in her best interests or those of her Australian subjects to crash their party.

Australia has been linked to the monarchy since 1788, when England used the area around Sydney Harbor to dump convicts after America closed its shores to them. (The English are known to this day here as Pommies or Poms, from the POHMIE (Prisoners of His Majesty's in Exile) that the prisoners had emblazoned on their clothing.)

But a century later, on Jan. 1, 1901, the colonies established the Commonwealth of Australia.

The queen still rules, according to Australia's constitution, through her representative, the governor-general, but hasn't really used her power in the last quarter of a century.

The federal government decreed in 1984 that the country would have its own anthem, "Advance Australia Fair." But no one knows the words. The elderly think the anthem is still "God Save the Queen." The young think it's "Down Under" by Men at Work. Everyone compromises on "Waltzing Matilda."

The Australia Act of 1986 formally designated England as a foreign country. Yet, the queen hangs on. Australians went to the polls last November to determine whether they should form a republic, totally independent of the royal family. "A Resident for President," bumper stickers proclaimed. The queen won, although not because she is particularly popular.

The theory is that Australians couldn't decide how to replace her, by creating a system for Parliament to appoint a head of state or by allowing the people to do it by a popular vote.

Before they fire the queen, they probably will have to take another small step, such as removing the Union Jack from their own flag.

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