Nigh on a hundred years ago, just before the battle of Fromelles, that great chronicler of Australia's wartime experience, Charles Bean, noted something inspiring about his fellow correspondent, Keith Murdoch — even beyond the fact Keith had just been acknowledged as the prime mover the year before in saving the lives of thousands of his fellow Australians by taking on the British establishment, and "insisting" they be evacuated out of Gallipoli, intact.
"He is wholly Australian," Bean had noted in his diary, "and nothing except Australian. I never realised the qualities of this type before but there's a great deal more in it than I was wont to give Murdoch credit for. These young Australians aren't afraid of any other creed and they'll go a long way . . . They think the world would be better for being Australian and they tell it so whenever they can."
Bean had spotted the most wonderful phenomenon. While the Australians had marched away to the war as the loyal sons of the British Empire – ready "to fight for Great Britain to the last man, and the last shilling", as the man who would be Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, had put it – here was a new nationalism arising, a revelatory notion that we were an entirely different breed from the Brits, our own people. It was a notion, Bean said, that Murdoch – in the very vanguard of this new Australian-ness – "makes a religion of".
100 years on, of course, no-one doubts our separateness. The problem remains however, we Australians remain subjects to the top tier of "British" government. In an historical anachronism, even though Australia is a separate nation which prides itself on its egalitarianism, on its embrace of the fair go, we still draw our hereditary Head of State from the most elite family on the planet; living 25,000 kilometres away in a palace in London. No Australian child will ever be good enough to fill that role because they are not born to that family.
I am, you are, we are Australian and we must call that for what it is – not right, and simply not fair.
Last Monday, I became the Chair of the Australian Republic Movement – The "ARM Chair", as one of the twitterati dubbed it. We have just one goal. We want to find a way forward, where we can gently, and respectfully, extricate ourselves from the ties that bind, so that we can become a free-standing Republic beneath the Southern Cross.
We know it will be difficult, that there will be many naysayers but for what it's worth, here is our plea.
On this issue, can we just make an exception to our usual, recent way of doing things? John Howard used to say that "the things that unite us Australians are far greater than the things that divide us". In recent times, however, the things that divide us seem myriad, as we break up into Liberal and Labor supporters, Fairfax and Murdoch readers, Muslim and Christian believer, Warmists and Denialists, Clive Palmer and Everyone . . .
Couldn't we just get together on this one thing? Find a way forward, where we turn to each other, not on each other? Yes, I've been far from gentle on the subject in the past, but from now on I'm going to try to follow my wife's advice, I'm going to try – to use her considered phrase – to "not be a loud dickhead about it".
The way forward the ARM proposes is this. Some time in the next five years the government must put a simple question in front of the Australian people: "Are you in favour of having an Australian as our Head of State?" If that comes back at over 50 per cent, we then move to a yet to be determined form of democratic engagement – a Constitutional Convention – to choose a preferred model. And then we go back to the people, for a referendum, asking them to choose between the old model and the new model.
We believe we can get there. It requires only bipartisan support, and given that my friend Tony Abbott is likely to be our last Monarchist Prime Minister, the next electoral cycle will see that ultimately delivered. With a Prime Minister and Opposition Leader supporting it, declining to score political points on it, with the rest of us going gently, we can do this! And what a legacy it would be for that PM and Opposition Leader to be a part of.
Yes, there are those who say we will be disrespecting our "history" to do such a thing. But, seriously, how wonderful would it be to instead be a part of "making" history, of doing something that is so long overdue.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
And it is possible to come together. For the first time, ever, this one oped piece you are reading right now is being published simultaneously in the Fairfax and Murdoch press across this great country.
For, of course, 100 years on, we really are, thank you Keith Murdoch, "wholly Australian and nothing except Australian." Let's at last, have a system of government that reflects that.
And then let's belt the Poms in the Ashes.
Peter FitzSimons chairs the Australian Republican Movement.