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The early years

The more radical form of nineteenth-century Australian republicanism is distinguishable from the conservative tradition by its emphasis on nationalism. Dr Mark McKenna argues that this is a Labor tradition. But it was broader than that, and not all those associated with Labor were republicans.

Indeed, all Australian Labor prime ministers have been monarchists, with the exception of Bob Hawke – an indifferent republican in office, and Paul Keating. (Gough Whitlam became republican after, and probably because of, his dismissal.) The best-known early nationalist republicans came to prominence well before the birth of the Labor Party.  Today, many official republicans seek to frame republicanism as a choice between Australian independence and fealty to the former mother country.

 This was certainly Paul Keating's position, and it was also true of the radical nineteenth-century republicans, at least until the end of the transportation of convicts and the rise of responsible government in Australia.  The first noteworthy great republican figure of the nineteenth-century was undoubtedly the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, a minister of religion.He also had the habit of collecting money from new immigrants on the basis that they would immediately receive land grants. They did not. As a result, he was sent to gaol- until his supporters raised sufficient funds to release him.







Needless to say, this did not help the reputation of the republican cause. The Sydney Morning Herald described Lang as "arrogant, intolerant, and a scheming charlatan".  NSW Premier Sir Henry Parkes and other colonial leaders soon saw that linking republicanism to self-government would be fatal. They distanced themselves from Lang, who attempted to reform his Republican League, with a targeted membership of 10,000.

A public meeting was called on Australia Day 1854 for the launch, but only thirty people attended. Lang's bleak republican dawn brings to mind Tony Abbott's comment that some of the 1993 public meetings across the country called by Paul Keating’s Republican Advisory Committee (with generous taxpayer funding and with all those republican celebrities) could have been  held in a telephone booth.

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