Why An Australian Constitutional Monarchy
Written by Neville T Bonner   
Saturday, 20 August 1994
Breathes there a man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said

"This is my own, my native land..."

I speak these words as an Aboriginal Australian - a native in the absolute sense.

Here, Down Under, was the land mass now known as Australia, inhabited by approximately 350,000 of my ancestors from the Dreamtime. These 350,000 were divided further into five hundred clan groups.

Not one square inch of this land mass was unclaimed or unknown to them. My ancestors were a food-gathering, hunting people who lived strictly within their tribal boundaries: adopting a crop-rotation type of existence, in that their lives revolved around the crops provided by nature. My forebears' relationship with the environment was vastly different from the white man's. They did not depend so much on technological skill to subjugate the environment as on specialised knowledge and understanding. At no time did they disturb the fragile balance of that nature of which they were a part. Those who lived so long before me did not plunder the resources or wealth of the land which was so much a part of them, and consequently they knew nothing of territorial jealousies and property madness as known in our materialistic world of today.

There was some trade, some barter between tribes, but there was no uniformity of warfare. I stress that: no uniformity of warfare, in spite of the courage of tribal elders. These elders, collectively, were responsible for the enforcing of tribal group laws; for the instruction in and the supervising of customs, all of which had been handed down to them. There was a chain of command. Also, it was the elders' responsibility to see that there was no breakdown in the relationship of one person to another, or of one family to another.

I suggest that this 'counselling' as to social behaviour is unmatched in our general community today. Yet my forefathers were branded as savages, of the lowest order.

Here, then, in 1788, was the land mass now known as Australia, inhabited by the unique race, the Australoids. From the lush seaboard through the arid desert dwelt my ancestors, unsullied, happy, in tune with the land - our earth.

It was then, in 1788, that the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove and took possession in the name of the Monarch, George III. My ancestors, with all their sophistication, had - as I have said - no uniformity of warfare. Thus the fabric, the very core, of Aboriginal society was in due course destroyed.

Our numbers were depleted to 65,000 at the turn of the twentieth century. We strove to adapt to the new form of control (termed, from 1901, constitutional monarchy). And, to our credit, adapt we did. That which you had experienced by evolution over thousands of years, we grasped onto in the short space since the invasion of 1788; a mere two hundred and six years. Personally, it is one of my wonderments that we are never given credit for such a feat.

The history lesson now over, I turn to constitutional monarchy for Australia. As the elder statesman of the Aboriginal race, and tribal elder by inheritance of my Jagera tribal country - which takes in the entire watershed of the Brisbane River in Queensland - I had no hesitation in participating as a signatory of the charter of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. Why did I participate, you could well ask after the history lesson I have just recounted? My emotions are manifold. But first, as an Aborigine, I ask: why should my race, who through immense suffering adapted, as I mentioned earlier on, to constitutional monarchy, be yet expected to adapt to change once more? No, no. That is not on. Especially since not one iota of change will occur to benefit the indigenous race, under a republican government in whatever form.

Come on, those who advocate a republic for Australia! Don't try and fool this old murri, who has lived seventy-two years, has been there, done that, and endured so much along the way.

You would know that I served in the Federal Parliament for twelve years. And there a fervent belief of mine was firmly endorsed. This was a belief that we must preserve, always, our present form of government, and live under a constitutional government with democratically elected parliaments. I quote from the ACM Charter: "independent courts...dedicated executive governments..[I believe that] the standard of duty and service of all these branches of our government is symbolised by the Crown."

It has been my pleasure - both as a parliamentarian and as a private citizen - to travel widely abroad. I have yet to find a style of government superior to ours. So I question the motives of those advocating change.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire Aboriginal community, but certainly I speak on my behalf of my own vast clan, of those Aborigines with whom I have been in touch, and of those who have contacted me. And I warn those who advocate a republic: do not be mistaken in thinking that those of us who feel there is nothing to celebrate on the current Australia Day (26 January) would thus stand firm against constitutional monarchy for Australia. For, by a strange quirk, the 'causes' are not necessarily joined.

In conclusion, let me repeat:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said

"This is my own, my native land..."

So in this, my own land, my absolute native land, I say: Here I stand, metaphorically, with woomera and spear in hand, in defence of Australian constitutional monarchy.

Neville T Bonner, AO, was a Jagera Elder, and a charter member of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, who served (1971-1983) as a Queensland Senator. This is an edited version of a speech Mr Bonner gave to Australians for Constitutional Monarchy on 4 February 1994.