Why we give a quiche about the coronation

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“The world’s greatest pageant.”

That’s how Australia’s 13th governor-general, Sir William Slim, described the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. “We shall all rejoice.”

He wasn’t wrong, as Nell Geraets reported today. Half a million people teemed into the city centre in a display of reverence and revelry unlikely to be replicated in celebration of a single person – at least in our lifetimes. There was dancing, singing and prayer. The Age estimated about 500 children were separated from and returned to their families during the pandemonium. All without mobile phones – perish the thought!

There was dancing, singing and prayer as crowds gathered in Melbourne on June 2, 1953, to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.Credit: Argus Collection, The Age Archives

Tomorrow night, during the coronation of King Charles III, I predict that Melbourne’s streets will be somewhat quieter. That doesn’t mean people won’t be marking the occasion in a more 2023 style, probably in front of the television sets they didn’t have at their disposal in ’53.

King Charles and the royal family will celebrate by dining on quiche, with green salad and boiled potatoes. In The Age newsroom, our journalists and editors will lubricate their keyboards with pizza grease as they document the historic event. There will be a big contingent in the newsroom to make sure the coronation is given the attention it deserves.

We realise it’s not everyone’s cup of English Breakfast. People inside and outside our newsroom regularly ask me why we bother covering the royals. But I believe it is an important part of what we do, and the coronation, in particular, is a rare and historic event.

That might sound strange coming from the editor of a publication that will tomorrow editorialise that an Australian republic is inevitable and Charles may turn out to be our last king. But we know that despite the diversity of opinions on the monarchy, King Charles himself, his family, their profligacy and an Australian republic, many people are still fascinated by the royal family.

My assessment is that most of our readers probably share the view of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is in London warming up his vocal chords for his public oath of allegiance to the new King. His view, in his own words: “I think you can be a lifelong republican, which I am, and still respect our institutions.”

So we will unpack the pomposity, critique the ceremony, examine the nature of the man at the centre of it all. We will watch how Princes Harry and Andrew, at arm’s length from the rest of the family, acquit themselves. We will consider what, if anything, it all means for Australia. We will gawk at the pageantry. We will roll our eyes at the fuss.

The pomp and ceremony has already begun as the Diamond Jubilee State Coach gets an outing during rehearsals for Saturday’s coronation.Credit: James Manning

We won’t take all of it too seriously. As I have flagged in these notes before, we aren’t afraid of having a little bit of fun. The anachronistic nature of the coronation is bound to provoke a bit of laughter. I mean, could you shout your allegiance at a television screen in Brighton or Broadmeadows without descending into laughter?

But ultimately, like it or not, this is the coronation of Australia’s king. So we will cover it well, with depth and attention to detail.

There are several reasons for this. We know many of our subscribers like it. We know many of you engage with it and spend a lot of time ingesting our coverage.

The most important factor, in my opinion, is about leadership. How our leaders conduct themselves matters. What they believe, what they say and the values they uphold are consequential to the way our society functions. Scrutiny of leaders, be they royals, politicians or business leaders, is a central theme of our coverage.

It has been a busy week for leadership changes in important institutions. Andrew Dillon was announced as the AFL’s new CEO, replacing the outgoing and outgoing Gillon McLachlan. Vanessa Hudson was appointed Qantas CEO to replace Alan Joyce after his 15 years in the cockpit. Like the King’s, both of those coronations were a long time coming.

The leader of the Victorian Liberals, meanwhile, faces a test from within his own party and threats of a federal intervention from an unpopular federal Liberal leader in Peter Dutton. And just a couple of weeks ago, Daniel Andrews faced a test of his leadership in his response to an IBAC finding that a training contract was improperly awarded to a Labor-affiliated union after staff in the offices of the premier and health minister pressured health department officials.

Leadership takes many forms and it’s important that publications like ours shine a light on how our leaders behave. How they respond to crises matters, as does the way they conduct themselves generally and the issues they hold dear. That’s one of the reasons why tomorrow night there will be a newsroom full of journalists and editors at The Age, live-blogging, writing and eating pizza, doing their best to explain the bizarre ceremony of an archaic institution.

Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

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