King Charles’ big mistake in visiting Australia in 2024

Australia, in the eyes of the British royal family, has long been viewed as the equivalent of a particularly expansive, overly-hot spare room – that place you stash awkward bits and bobs, broken vacuum cleaners and princes in need of a day job.

Like Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (Governor-General for two years in the 1940s); like, as he was known then, Prince Charles in the 1960s to experience a bit of a rugged Australian education to butch him up a bit; and then Charles again in the 1970s when prime minister Malcolm Fraser had the idea to install him at Yarralumla.

Even in 1981 in the weeks before her engagement was announced, Lady Diana Spencer got posted down here for a spell at the NSW home of her mother Frances Shand-Kydd to keep her out of sight.

Occasionally though, the House of Windsor turns up in Australia for some other reason than to essentially hide out or develop calluses, coming instead to do a carefully stage-managed spot of pressing the pasty white flesh and allowing us as a nation to touch the hem of their sturdily-made garments.

Thus on Wednesday the worst kept royal secret came out, that is, King Charles the Third, by the Grace of God King of Australia is headed our way.

Come October, Charles and Queen Camilla will be packing their co-ordinating orthopaedic lace-up footwear to do some Antipodean waving, their first trip to our part of the world since ordering in new dog-resistant throne covers.

And to this news I say, don’t. Stay away. That is, I reckon, if His Majesty wants to stay on as our Head of State.

Yes, yes, we all get why they are coming. We are a Commonwealth realm domino that they can’t afford to let get too wobbly, especially at a time when His Majesty’s dominion is shrinking faster than his sons’ remaining hair(s). Better pop down here, bust out his trusty Anderson & Sheppard linen suit and Panama hat combo and do his best to look charmed by our fauna, flora and bussed-in flag-waving schoolchildren.

But trust me on this. Don’t come.

I think there’s every chance that Charles and Camilla visiting Australia won’t just translate into a nice bit of royal waving and the couple doing the occasional walkabout with an immediately identifiable landmark in the background but will be a massive bust.

If such a thing as apple carts still existed, they could be about to be upset.

Right now, as a nation, we don’t really spend much, if any, time thinking about the fact that our Head of State is a bloke who lives a 22-hour flight away and turns up once or twice a decade to stay at Admiralty House and have his shoelaces ironed in close proximity to the harbour.

The late Queen might still appear on our $5 notes but we don’t really think that much about how deeply woven, into our constitution and our laws, the monarch is.

If I was suddenly called in to give the Palace advice on all of this, a clarion cry I am shocked not to have received, I would say that the current Clarence House- Canberra dynamic, of the Palace’s sort of benign negligence is actually working out quite nicely for them.

We are not fretting or raging about the fact that our laws are given Royal Assent in the name of some paternalistic foreign figure who probably has to keep a laminated sheet next to his Clarence House IBM Pentium to remind him of the full complement of nations he rules over.

Rather, the King and his family are more of an entertaining curiosity, fundamentally unconnected and unrelated to our lives. That we the people have no say over who holds the highest authority in this land is not something that keeps anyone much aside from perhaps Macolm Turnbull up at night.

Polling done in September by YouGov Australia found that only 32 per cent of Australians think we should become a republic as fast as possible, while 35 per cent fancy keeping the constitutional monarchy set up.

Maybe the situation would have been different if we had not just lived through several years of sanitising our mail and becoming painfully au fait with nasal swabbing; maybe we would find it galling that in a purported democracy, our elected, chosen Prime Minister still technically can be sacked by a man in London who only got the job because his great-uncle David AKA Edward VIII buggered off to France and Wallis’ bony embrace.

And maybe things would be looking different if the 2023 Voice to Parliament referendum had not exacted such a traumatic toll on the country’s psyche; if there was any sort of glimmer that we might be ready to forge a new, better Australia for the 21st century.

Moreover, there are a couple of big flashing problems with Their Majesties’ Oz 2024 jaunt.

For one thing, they are hardly making us feel special or particularly important. We are only being treated to Their Presences thanks to the fact that Samoa is hosting the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They are going to be in the neighbourhood so they are going to pop in to stand next to the first chlamydia-free koala that Taronga Zoo staffers can wrangle.

That’s hardly much of an effort in terms of hearts and minds, their trip here just a convenient add-on.

A bigger issue though is that Their Majesties will be the first major royal tour of Australia since the heady, ebullient days of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wildly successful 2018 one.

While enough water has flowed under the Sussex bridge in the five years since then to refill the Adriatic Sea, twice, back then the duke and duchess were met with the sort of rapturous feverishness normally reserved for hairless quintets of boybanders or Messiahs.

How can or will Charles and Camilla avoid the comparisons?

I struggle to see thousands of Sydneysiders waiting hours to catch the briefest of glimpses of two septuagenarians who probably packed an entire creaking leather valise pull of corn plasters.

It will be a bit like seeing behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz – this? THIS is a King? Why he’s just a wrinkly grandfather who is incredibly well read and has spent his entire life committed to doing good. That’s nice and all but … where’s the magic?

What I fear will be unavoidable come October will be the King and Queen’s dearth of sizzle or wow or mystique.

They are two hard-working, committed people but will they help a nation fall in love with royalty all over again? Will they buoy support for a hereditary monarchy with their magnetism and charisma?

That is up there, in the likelihood stakes, as Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York joining a silent order of nuns who are morally opposed to the wearing of Alice bands and lunchtime Chablis.

All of this, of course, would be a different kettle of fish if it was William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales being shunted our way. Now those two, well, I bet we could find two koalas for them to pose with … maybe three …

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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