Inside the Collection

Quentin Bryce and Republican symbolism

Badge in favour of Australian Republic 1994
Powerhouse Museum Collection object 94/227/4. Gift of Erica Mann, 1994.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce surprised Australia by mentioning two controversial issues at the conclusion of her final Boyer Lecture. She spoke with her usual grace as she presented positive opinions on both marriage equality and a future Australian republic. While the first issue has only risen to prominence in recent times, the idea of becoming a republic has a long history. This badge, probably made in the 1990s, uses the 1854 Eureka flag as a symbol of republican sympathy. I think it was refreshing to hear Bryce’s forthright declaration that she shares that sympathy, and that she also cares deeply about human rights. The media attention served to prompt me, and I hope others, to listen to her lectures in full.

The badge appropriates an illustration from a 1937 children’s book, ‘Blinky Bill and Nutsy: two little Australians’, and substitutes the Eureka flag for the current Australian flag. The Museum would be very interested to hear from the person who made the badge, as we like to clear up such mysteries about collection objects. The National Museum has stickers that (judging from the description) bear the same image, and perhaps someone used such a mass-produced sticker to make our badge; the image on the badge is off-centre, which suggests it was home-made but does not prove the point.

Blinky Bill was created by Dorothy Wall, but when the Australian Republican Movement gained permission to use the character as its mascot in 1993, the copyright holder was Yoram Gross Film Studios, which in the same year created a 26-part TV series, ‘The Adventures of Blinky Bill’. In this series, Blinky Bill, Nutsy and their friends worked together to rebuild their village after it was destroyed by humans, a theme that resonates with Bryce’s Boyer theme of getting things done as a community, being neighbourly and expressing an ‘ethic of care’.

Just as some conservatives have reacted angrily to Bryce’s expression of her opinions, so some were outraged when Blinky Bill was enlisted in the republican cause twenty years ago. Then executive director of Australians For Constitutional Monarchy, Tony Abbott, took a strong position, stating:

“Hijacking people’s symbols is typical of the manipulation and indoctrination that occurs in many republics. Didn’t our republicans say it would be different here?”

He then injected a little bipartisan humour, adding:

“Blinky Bill isn’t interested in politics and he’d develop a twitch if asked to join a political party. When kids read Blinky Bill stories they should think of wholesome adventure. Now they’re going to be reminded of Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating.”

You don’t have to agree with the Governor General’s opinions on gay marriage or an Australian republic to be inspired by her lectures. They are packed with human stories and insights into her own and others’ activism, practical neighbourliness, and quiet diplomacy aimed at achieving social justice overseas as well as in Australia. If you don’t agree when you start listening, you might be convinced by the end of your journey with this remarkable Australian, for whom the personal is truly political.

Written by Debbie Rudder, Curator

One response to “Quentin Bryce and Republican symbolism

  • The phrase ‘Cultural Independence for Australia’ was used by nationalists and the Maoist CPA M/L much earlier than the 1990’s. I suspect the image featuring Blinky Bill and the Eureka flag was also produced by either the Australian National Alliance (1977-80) or the CPA M/L.

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