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What First Nations Australians think of King Charles III’s coronation

By Indigenous affairs correspondant Carly Williams

Posted 21h ago21 hours ago, updated 1h ago1 hours ago

A black and white photo of queen elizabeth in the passenger seat of the car with police and crowds surrounding her
Queen Elizabeth II visits Alice Springs in the 1950s.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia)

The last time there was a coronation of a British monarch, Arrernte elder Patricia Miller was a five-year-old schoolgirl living in Mparntwe, Alice Springs.

As the late Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at London’s Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, another world away in Central Australia, Dr Miller and her schoolmates dressed in yellow crepe paper for a special demonstration on an Alice Springs football oval.

an archival black and white photo of an aerial view of children sitting in the shape of the queen's crown on an oval
Children gathered to form the Queen’s crown on Anzac Oval in Alice Springs to mark her coronation in 1953.(Supplied: Meredith Peterson)

“We did a giant outline of the crown [to celebrate] the crown going to be placed on Princess Elizabeth’s head when she became Queen,” Dr Miller reminisced.

“I can remember crouching down and staying very still for quite a long time.

“When we look back on it, we were part of history.”

In the years since, Dr Miller has kept that memory in her mind during visits from the royal family, including several meetings with King Charles III.

“A very gracious man,” Dr Miller recalls of then Prince Charles when she met him as he disembarked a plane during a 2005 trip to Alice Springs.

The pair later had a “one-to-one chat”, Dr Miller said, adding that she met the monarch again in Darwin years later.

Dr Miller plans to watch King Charles III’s coronation on TV from her Alice Springs home. And while she feels nostalgic about her fond memories of meeting the King, she said she won’t be “officially” pledging her allegiance to the new monarch.

Patricia is standing in the middle of a delegate and King Charles at an event
Senior Arrernte custodian Patricia Miller has met King Charles several times.(Supplied: Patricia Mills)

But she does muse about the King’s future potential reconciliation plans.

“I’m a treaty person,” Dr Miller said.

“I grew up with the word treaty, and I still got it in my head.”

In a statement, the palace told the ABC: “His Majesty has met Australian Indigenous leaders both during his numerous visits to Australia and in the UK.”

“He has a long record of engaging with and listening to Indigenous people and will continue this as King,” it said.

The statement also shared the King’s thoughts on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum for what is believed to be the first time, saying it “is a matter for the Australian people”.

The monarchy has left a complex legacy for some First Nations people.

It was King Charles’s great grandfather, King George V, whose Australian representative, the governor-general, signed off on policy — such as the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act — that gave government power to remove First Nations children from their families.

Photocopied versions of the first two pages of an ordinance from the 'Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910' 
Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910 allowed the chief protector to take custody of, or control, Aboriginal people.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia )

There remain many diverse views on the royal family’s role in colonisation. Dr Miller, however, holds Australian local, state and federal governments accountable for past wrongs.

“From my perspective, they (the royal family) are so far away, so Aboriginal people here don’t see them as the bosses,” she explained.

“But if you speak to somebody else from a different era, you’ll probably get a different answer.”

‘A global shift’

Lynda is smiling at the camera with her arms crossed and is wearing an orange wool jumper
Wiradjuri Badu activist and educator Lynda-June Coe wants King Charles III to apologise for the British empire’s historical mistreatment of First Nations Australians.(Supplied)

“I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty” are not words you’ll hear Wiradjuri Badu activist Lynda-June Coe say during the coronation — or ever.

“I think it is absurd that there is an expectation for our mob, and colonised peoples globally, to pledge allegiance to the head of an institution which represents the theft of our lands and demise of our communities,” Ms Coe said.

“I will not be participating in my own cultural erasure in this way.”

A palace spokesperson told the ABC the offer to pledge allegiance to the new king on the weekend would be “very much an invitation to join in the words of the Coronation Service should people wish to, as opposed a request or expectation”.

The sovereign still reigns over 14 Commonwealth countries, including Australia and Canada, but change is in the air.

Barbados recently cut ties with the monarchy, and Jamaica says becoming a republic is on the cards for it too.

The Australian federal government has ruled out a referendum on a republic in its first term, but has suggested it will hold one if it is re-elected in 2025.

Read more about King Charles III’s coronation:

Pared-back affair

For “sustainability and efficiency” reasons, Saturday’s coronation will be the first time since 1727 that a recycled crown will be used for the coronation of a consort instead of a new one that has been commissioned.

The coronation itself will be shorter and with fewer guests. The British government has not confirmed how much it is spending on the event, but some estimates put it at between $90 million and $180 million.

Ms Coe is wondering if King Charles’s reign will be a modern and more empathetic take on traditional British imperialism.

An Aboriginal man in a suit with a painted face plays the didgeridoo directly towards the stomach of a smiling Prince Charles.
Cairns-based Indigenous performing artist David Hudson plays a didgeridoo in front of Charles in France in 2018.(Supplied)

“I believe Charles belongs to a generation which has more global awareness of the impact of empire and settler colonialism,” Ms Coe said.

“There’s been a whole shift in terms of how we understand the world that we live in, but also the global structures.”

Ms Coe added that King Charles has a historic opportunity to rectify the harm caused to Indigenous peoples.

“I believe a formal apology is definitely on the cards, but we need to see something with substance,” she said.

“Our mob have long called for treaties — treaties with the Commonwealth [and] with the crown, so those two could actually work hand in hand in how we formulate a justice package for the 200 years of suffering of our mob.”

Opportunity to right wrongs of the past

Michael is wearing a black blazer and smiling at the camera. He is holding up a black t-shirt with the petition printed on it
Yorta Yorta man Michael McDonogh has printed the petition to the British Monarch on T-shirts.(ABC News: Carly Williams)

For Yorta Yorta man Michael McDonogh, the coronation is an opportunity to remind the monarchy about the activism of his ancestors.

Mr McDonogh is the great-great-grandson of William Cooper, who in the 1930s founded the Australian Aborigines’ League to lobby state and federal governments.

A photocopy of the petition that William Cooper sent to King George
The petition that Yorta Yorta man William Cooper sent to King George VI.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia)

On January 26, 1938, Mr Cooper produced a petition that he would later send to King George VI, asking for better treatment of Indigenous people and Aboriginal representation in federal parliament.

“The petition itself, I think, was a last-ditch, desperate effort,” Mr McDonogh said.

“He needed the King, he needed someone to intervene because the government of the day, they were not lifting his people up.”

Mr McDonogh said King Charles III should acknowledge Indigenous people’s plight and past wrongs committed by the Australian government in the name of the crown.

“It’s his chance to finally step up and really make a change for the better and declare that he will improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” he said.

A black and white photo of queen elizabeth in the passenger seat of the car with police and crowds surrounding her
Queen Elizabeth II visits Alice Springs in the 1950s.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia)

By Peace Truth

Life is like a bunch of roses. Some sparkle like raindrops. Some fade when there's no sun. Some just fade away in time. Some dance in many colors. Some drop with hanging wings. Some make you fall in love. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 🫂