BRISBANE. The queen is following me. When I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, straight from the Kanak rebellion in New Caledonia, the first thing I saw in The Mercury was that Liz Douce and Philip were arriving from Perth. I flew to Melbourne.
There, The Age headlined her appearance to open “First Impressions: The British Discover Australia,” a luminous exhib of the European naturalist mastering his amazement at the flora and fauna down under. Then I came to Brisbane for the Expo’s opening—to discover that the Royals were initiating that as well.
And now I read in the Sunday Mail here in the Big Brisbee (Aussies can’t resist ending anything without a diminutive suffix) that her next stop, Canberra, for the opening of the Mitchell / Giurgola federal center, is also mine. Come on, Queen. Lay off.
I’m taking the overnight bus to Sydney tonight (on my 15-day Koala Pass!), so I’ll get there before she and Phil do on the yacht Britannia. I assume that the British Secret Service is on to the bogus petition I circulated in Pittsburgh last March when Prince Charles so impressed me at the Remaking Cities conference that I urged Liz Douce to retire early so P.C. could take over. I was only kidding, fellas. Well, not really.
Now Thatcher’s Number Two, a lout named Norman Tibbett, is alleging that P.C. is a closet socialist, talking rot about inner city rot because he’s never had a real job in his life. Such drivel. P.C. has been trying to get the Brit private sector to renew the grim old towns that don’t give their underclasses any sense of hope.
Anyway, anti-monarchist that I am, I got a good lesson in the uses of British royalty yesterday at the opening of the Expo. The most fascinating exhibit is called “UNIvations,” playful Aussie-ese for university innovations, a pitch to Queensland voters that the profs are earning their salaries at the three U’s (Q, Griffiths and James Cook) as well as at Brisbane’s now-forming Bond U, (named for the philanthropist eponym whose other benefaction to the community is the production of XXXX lager, allegedly so named because Aussies are too dim to spell “beer”).
I saw samples of mariculture, supersonic shock tube tests for aircraft at 21,000 kph, rehabilitation of mining land, koala stress research (the sweet beast was snoozing when retired journalist Ken Branch took me through) and many other impressive enterprises of the local profs.
But the real treat was schmoozing in their green room with Sir Theodore Bray, the 83-year-old retired editor of the Courier Mail, the first journalist to be knighted in Australia (I told him most American journalists are considered benighted by our pols, and he giggled genially).
Teasing him about how an American prole should address a knight: “Should I call you Sir Bray or Mr. Theodore?” He needled back by saying, “You can call me Ted,” a bit of reverse politesse that stunned the assembled professors in his entourage.
That knight wiped me out. He founded, named and was the first chancellor of Q’s number 2 U, Griffiths, named after Samuel G., the man who brought “free compulsory education” to Q-land, and went on, after an early political career when he was known as “oily Sam” for his slippery tactics, to become one of the most distinguished jurists in Aussie history, chief justice of their Supreme Court.
Sam had obviously been a role model for Ted, who beguiled me with his stories about the Journalist of the Year award, Aussie’s Pulitzer, which he supervises. The night before, Sir Theodore Bray had been among the 200 guests to mingle with Q. and P. aboard the Britannia, berthed up the river at Newstead. It was direct evidence about how the Commonwealth meritocracy functions.
Boy, if all the knights had the balls and brilliance of Bray, I’d be a donkey to complain. Honors are as honorees do. Sir Ted, I’m humbled.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, May 18, 1988