Victoria, it’s a milestone day!
Today, August 5, 2020, marks a full 170 years since Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent to the act that would carve a new state from the tyrannical rule of the colony of New South Wales.
When the news arrived by boat some months later, it apparently set off a week of partying. Maybe not so much this year.
Huddled in our homes, sipping capsule coffee and watching a truncated version of AFL beamed live from Queensland, the anniversary this year may be subdued and tinged with sadness, but there is cause for optimism.
Not only because Victoria has frontline health staff second to none in tackling this unprecedented health crisis, but also because it’s confirmed what we already knew about ourselves – we are independent, forward-thinking and resilient.
We might even let our good humour come to the fore.
Western Australia is always threatening secession, Tasmania for all intents and purposes already has, and everyone wishes Queensland would; perhaps the Independent republic of Victoria is an idea whose time has come?
And that’s not buying into the community-killing hysteria being whipped up by the usual suspects about Dictator Dan and the Socialist People’s Republic of Victoria – no, this would be more in line with our very own Eureka rebellion.
That little escapade not only gave Victoria a decent flag to call its own, but could also be reclaimed to cross-party political lines as an origin story, involving early union types and small business and independent contractors who just love a booming cash economy.
Victorians have always had an independent streak and none other than the Premier’s wife, historian Catherine Andrews told ABC Melbourne in 2015 that Victoria’s initial push for separation in 1870 from NSW stemmed from that desire to forge a different path.
“We were very opposed to the way in which the NSW government was managing our funds and managing us as a government. We didn’t want convict labour. We didn’t want convict settlement,” she said at the time.
“This was about saying ‘look we are going to determine the way that we live, by ourselves and for ourselves’.”
While there has been plenty of criticism for the way her husband has managed the pandemic, the #istandwithdan hashtag on Twitter at least suggests the Premier’s commitment to fronting up each day.
Not so much, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who on Monday copped some Victorian clap backs when he urged Australians to ring their friends in Victoria to sympathise and offer support.
“Yeah, nah,” was the resounding mood, “send beer and chocolate instead”.
Faux sympathy and one-liners often sink down south, with Victoria usually charting a different course to the rest of the nation.
The gold rush ushered in a more multicultural society here and the riches built Marvellous Melbourne, before the boom went bust and we started destroying our magnificent buildings from the 1950s in order to look more modern.
We’d come a long way from the World War II privations depicted on TV by The Sullivans – “Damn this war, Grace” – or even being the setting for Neville Shute’s brilliant doomsday yarn On the Beach.
Melbourne even had an Olympics in the sweet spot before that event became just another bloated marketing exercise.
The irony of the current lockdown is that Victoria has often been the most outwardly looking state – trying new things and putting its own spin on them.
Victorians have long been the most republican of states, with 49.84 per cent of us voting ‘yes’ in the 1999 referendum – the tipping point likely to have been the split republican vote on the question of the direct election of the president.
Some have even argued that Victoria could follow its destiny and – if not become a republic in its own right – lead the way by dispensing with the state governor.
The Independent Australia journal has argued that as the most republican-spirited state in Australia, Victoria could more easily break its bonds with monarchy because only the legislature needs to endorse a constitutional amendment.
That would, of course, leave a big empty house in the Botanic Gardens, but it might be a fitting place to usher in a new era, with a new figurehead that straddles monarchy and Melbourne with ease – anyone for Dame Edna Everage as interim head of state?
As Sir Les Patterson famously said: “I’m a Sydney man I reckon it shows”, the Dame from Moonee Ponds could be the ideal compromise candidate to help bind our wounds with her uniquely Victorian brand of kindness and backhanded home truths.
And it’s not as if we have to dispense with all monarchist trappings, Victoria’s new currency could be called the Crown, thus making the most of all those redundant gaming chips from the cobwebbed casino on the Yarra where the largest free childcare centre in the world would be built.
The anti-maskers and Sovereign staters would be treated kindly, but forcefully, offered safe passage to Queensland, where they would be free to talk like Americans and swap notes with Pauline Hansen in blissful sunshine with meter maids.
And we’d get the footy back. Of course we would.
The interstate teams would be issued passports and welcomed to play here all year round, with the MCG chockers again and everyone on the beers as the home-and-home season extended from January to the week before the Melbourne Cup.
The seven weeks until Christmas is reserved for outdoor art gallery viewings and the annual city-country house swap that brings all citizens together to “walk a mile in that guy’s shoes”.
It’s all ahead of us Victorians – hunker down with your heads held high for just six more weeks and anything, absolutely anything, is possible.