Peter FitzSimons and the power of a two-year-old in a cardie

I FEEL sorry for Peter FitzSimons.

I didn’t once upon a time.

If you were looking at all of humanity over the whole of time and you were asked to place FitzSimons on a spectrum of least to most fortunate, I think you’d safely drop him at the level of “bloody lucky bastard”, with an ego just healthy enough to enter a room a smidgin before his body does.

Not George Clooney “bloody lucky bastard”, mind.

Or Bill Gates “bloody lucky bastard”, or Richard Attenborough, Ricky Gervais, Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese or Albert Einstein “bloody lucky bastards”, who’ve earnt the moniker because they’re geniuses in their own fields – or in George’s case just look good – but an Oz form of “bloody lucky bastard” who’s made the most of being born in this lucky country.  

FitzSimons remembers a happy childhood on a Peats Ridge farm. He played rugby union for Australia when Australia could play rugby union at international level and win games over a consistent period. He married a beautiful and talented woman. He writes books Australians love to read. He dropped a pile of weight and became a role model for middle-aged men who want to drink less, live longer and realise Sundays don’t start at 2pm with a hangover.

To all intents and purposes he leads a charmed life and we shouldn’t give him a thought, other than to occasionally acknowledge him as a “bloody lucky bastard”.

Until Thursday, May 4 when everything changed.

It started quietly.

“Buckingham Palace has called all staff in for an emergency meeting,” said a Newcastle Herald journalist reading off a Twitter feed on that morning.

Before we go any further I want you to imagine a little colony of meerkats going about their business. A couple might be scratching at the dirt. A few more might be rolling around wrestling. Some would be eating. Others would be digging holes, sleeping and doing what meerkats do. Then imagine the little colony gets a whiff of something unusual on the breeze. They’re not sure what the whiff is or whether it’s trouble, but they’re all standing to attention, little noses twitching, eyes scanning the horizon - alert, not necessarily alarmed, but poised for action.

That was what it was like the other day when a bunch of journalists heard that something might have happened somewhere a long way away to people who live in a palace and have their tea served by butlers.

That was what it was like the other day when a bunch of journalists heard that something might have happened somewhere a long way away to people who live in a palace and have their tea served by butlers.

Then the questions started.

“What time is it over there?” “Why would they call all staff in for a meeting at 3am?” “Who’s saying there’s an emergency meeting?” “The source is the Daily Mail. Why are we even bothering?” “But what if there’s something in it?” “It must be a death. They wouldn’t call all staff in at 3am to tell them about a royal wedding, would they?” “Who could it be?” “It must be Prince Philip. How old is he?” “Maybe it’s the Queen. Wow. Do you think Charles will be king or will it be Will?” “Can they even do that?” “Maybe it’s not the Queen or Philip. Who’s another royal they’d have an emergency meeting about?”

It went on like that for a bit, and every time there was another Tweet or hesitant, speculative comment on social media from media outlets across the world, a fresh round of questions would start in the office.

That’s when I started to feel sorry for Peter FitzSimons, to the point where I thought if I ever run into him I might give him a hug.

He might have led a charmed life until now, he might have seemed to conquer every obstacle thrown his way, but on May 4 the reality of what he’s up against as chief spruiker for an Australian republic was devastatingly clear.

We can’t let go.

If the possible death of a 96-year-old man on the other side of the world could spark the kind of response that it did – and remember that Prince Philip’s last real contact with Oz was when the majority of us died of embarrassment after a prime minister’s captain’s call made him a knight of Australia – then we’re not quite over the monarchy yet.

Prince Harry smooches an American starlet at a polo match and in the time-honoured way of these things, suddenly too many of us are talking about possible royal nuptials.

Princess Charlotte turns two and people are talking about what they were doing when her grandparents arrived in Australia in 1983 with Charlotte’s father, Prince William. Then they look at the photo of little Charlotte in a yellow cardie and sigh that her grandmother isn’t alive to be with her, and the royal family ensures an Australian republic remains a mythical fantasy off in the never never yet again.

Poor Peter FitzSimons.

Here he is, putting the argument in a rational way so that every Australian can understand.

“We are either a proud multicultural nation or we are a lost mob of white fellas on an island in the South Pacific still believing in the magic possibilities of the institution we left 200 years ago,” he said in a recent interview.

And here many of us are, proud to be Australian, openly scornful of a system with an upper class the rest of Australia would have to bow and scrape to, and yet we can’t seem to work up the energy to break the tie with Great Britain.

At a meeting in Sydney on August 15, 1853, a big crowd objected strongly to a proposal for a NSW Parliamentary Upper House where members would be appointed by the monarch’s man, the Governor, similar to the appointment of members to the British House of Lords, rather than be elected by the people.

The crowd rejected a likely “bunyip aristocracy” and the class divisions and hereditary titles that would go with it.

And yet, here we are.

This story Fan the royal flush first appeared on Newcastle Herald.