Paris will never sink

The Great Arms of the City of Paris have told many stories since 1358, but perhaps most importantly of all, a story of continuity over 650 years of troubles and dramatic changes.

The motto of the city, Fluctuat nec mergitur, is usually translated into English as ‘She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink’, or in French ‘Est battu par les flots mais jamais ne sombre’.  Its a story of resilience, and a perfect reminder that however gloomy and scary the times may seem now, a great city always rises again.

See and reflect upon the Arms of one of the world’s great cities.  We are all in that boat.  Paris will never sink.

Paris Coat of Arms

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Vale Australia’s Third Knightage

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week announced the abolition of the third Australian knightage – or, as the jubilant Fairfax-Murdoch press complex and the even more triumphant social media opinionists shouted, he “abolished knights and dames”. What a man!

I have in earlier posts (Why Knighthood Matters in 21st Century Australia, Honours for the Honourably Challenged) supported the restoration of the knighthood level in the Order of Australia or elsewhere within the Australian honours system. I continue to do so. However, the enraptured celebrations of the Turnbullistas, and the square metres of media space given to the gleeful FitzSimons-Turnbull republicans to broadcast their support for this bold, brave move, have given me pause to reflect upon the nature of the latest abolition and the character of the responses to it.

The responses, as far as I can guage, fall into six main categories: the anachronistic, the nationalistic, the vulgar, the Abbott-hating, the derisive and the simply confused. It’s quite a raffish, larrikinish ensemble, and I’ll consider each in turn.

The anachronistic. Anachronism is one of the principle reasons given by the PM for abolition. Describing something as anachronistic means it is in the wrong time (like an 18th century clock in a 21st century room).  In the academic world it is a pejorative, but it is used in the vernacular to mean something like old-fashioned or out-of-date, although not necessarily bad. Apparently, it doesn’t apply to titles such as Adjunct Professor or Honorary Doctor, and it certainly doesn’t apply to the Melbourne Cup, won a few days later by Prince of Penzance (although I heard one sports commentator this morning, apparently desperate to stay in the new zeit, call it Pirate of Penzance!), with the jockey described in much of the press the next day as the Cup Queen of Queen of the Sport. Anachronism, it seems, can be quite desirable in some circles.

The nationalistic. This has perhaps been the most bellicose of the responses, with all sorts of claims about imperial honours, toadying to the palace and the general un-Australianess of allowing someone to have the uppity pre-nominal title Sir or Dame which is contrary to our legendary egalitarian (and I mean, legendary). The knighthoods were a level within the Order of Australia, and unless Australia is now an Empire, and they are awarded to imperial subjects in oh, I don’t know, say Manus or Nauru or Mawson, such claims are the ultimate in 1950s cultural cringe made by nationalistic Rip van Winkel’s still stuck nostalgically reading the Bulletin of the 1890s.

The derisive. In many ways a variant on the anachronistic and nationalistic strands, found especially in the medium of cartoons that can be relied upon to depict the characters in some sort of medievalist setting and, by implication, casting anyone not antagonistic to knighthoods as anachronistic and deserving of being cast out of the polis. The fact that these depictions and allusions bear little, if any, relationship to the actual medieval world is beside the point. This is the Medieval Australia we never had, but apparently must have now, to show the cleverness of the anti-knights, to have existing prejudices confirmed through a cartoon medium that always contains a sense of epicaricacy.  To be ahistorical is to be modern.

The vulgar.  Another variant on the nationalistic, and particularly favoured in the cold anonymity of social media commentary. Those not sufficiently opposed to knighthoods, those who received knighthoods, and of course Tony Abbott, are generally described in very short, often single-word sentences that, in a sort of unconscious anachronism, rely almost exclusively on a broad knowledge of terms popularly considered to be old Anglo-Saxon words for cursing and describing those who have annoyed or offended, and intimating physical violence will be used on dissenters.

The Abbott-hating. The focus of these responses was on characteristics attributed to the former PM, with nationalism and vulgarity heavily featured. A key element in these responses is the acceptable racism of Brit-bashing, in which a circular narrative positions Abbott as a foreigner because he was born in Britain, and because of that he must retain some sort of genetic loyalty to a foreign monarch, which means he is British and so un-Australian (any nationality can be inserted into this old formula). There is a strong whiff of American birtherism and Social Darwinism in some of these responses, which along with the nationalistic and vulgar strands points to the capacity for the internet to both connect closed minds and to keep them truly closed.  It is an ironic response in a migrant society.

 The simply confused. All of the above strands will be evident in these responses to some degree. It is characterised by the ad nauseam references to imperial honours, and illustrated in one Fairfax opinion piece that, on the one hand, actually said something sensible and even supportive of Prince Charles, but then, almost as if surprised by this, concluded he would have made a suitable candidate for an Australian knighthood. Prince Charles was made a knight in the Order of Australia in 1981! Never let historical accuracy get in the way of political rhetoric.  A Murdoch opinionist demanded to know why the Queen had to approve changes to the rules of the Order, in a casebook example of never letting actual knowledge about the Order get in the way on forthright opinionising.

These responses reveal much about the people who use these tropes. They suggest that the media savvy anti-knighthood warrior is one who is thoroughly and consciously modern (although in a post-modern world, does that make them already anachronistic?), who is truly, really, 100% Australian (with no qualms about living on stolen land), who is never short of a clever phrase, sharp response or derisory smirk to anything that offends them, who can easily hurl the rude or tasteless witticism at any time, who may have a special reserve of bile for Tony Abbott and/or any or all current or former elected office holders, and who, perhaps more than anything else, wears their mind-numbing ignorance of the Australian honours system or honours generally as a badge of pride.

Some things have not been evident in the responses, most notably any actual knowledge of the Australian honours system, any real signs of actual republicanism or monarchism, and perhaps most disconcertingly in a liberal democracy, anyone brave enough to stick their head above the parapet and question, let alone dispute, the abolition. The reported response from the leader of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy saying the abolition was simply revenge by a republican for 1999 may contain some shard of truth, but it essentially conforms to a rhetorical framework set up by the abolitionists in which such responses can be cast as fuddy-duddyism and turned to support their characterisations of those who don’t agree with them. Passion in the face of derision will only ever encourage the tormentor.

This post is not a defence of Tony Abbott’s approach to the Australian knightage. As Prime Minister, Abbott mishandled this whole issue from the beginning. The surprise announcement of their restoration, apropos of nothing at the time, was a bad omen from a man who had promised a ‘no surprises’ government. The quality of the early appointments seemed to overcome this surprise until another surprise, an Australia Day appointment of Prince Philip as a knight. Australia Day is the nationalist’s day, when they try and pretend there was no invasion in 1788, and so their online response at what they perceived as the hijacking of their day became the story du jour in the ‘old’ media, who needed to do little to turn such frothing content into printed words other than give instructions to some cartoonists. They had such fun with that that it became impossible for anyone to defend the appointment without also being subject to a self-righteous bollicking in the middle-class press.

By the time Abbott tried a tactical retreat on the issue by returning the right to nominate knights to the Order of Australia Council (from which it should never have been removed), he had inflicted a grievous wound on the third knightage. More than anything else, the interaction (or failure of interaction) between Abbott’s office and a content-hungry media revealed to the public the shemozzle within the political classes. The knightage had been dangerously politicized, worse in a way than the old honours-for-mates knighthoods of the 1980s that finally killed off the first knightage. The Order of Australia Council could have made recommendations for knighthoods after this point, but seems to have instead opted for silence.

Tony Abbott had a chance to invest some of his political capital, while it still existed early in his term, in a broad public discussion of the Australian honours system and how it could be improved (and there’s plenty to improve). That would have provided a context for introducing the idea of restoring knighthoods, and ensured a more reasoned discussion. Even if the outcome had not been a restoration then, it would have opened up discussion about appropriate means to honour achievement and merit in ways that are more inspirational than the current system and that may, one day, have provided a space for restoring the knightage. Rather, a hubristic moment was allowed to prevail over an opportunity for introducing a considered and enduring change that could appeal to tradition, to moderation and to the generations who had not experienced the ignominy of the end of the first knightage and were curious about the idea.

Instead, we have now had to endure the degrading spectacle of the mainstream and online media yet again participating in and shaping the hunt, well-blooded by the recent years of priming the leadership battles with which the political classes have been amusing themselves. Bringing down a prime minister is now passé, but nasty personal attacks on Prince Philip, criticisms and sly imputations that people such as Dame Marie Bashir or Sir Peter Cosgrove were just grubs with their snouts in the trough, and any number of ever-more bizarre conspiracy theories, especially online, really showed an ugly, callous and spiteful element in the character of our country and, indeed, in many of us.

Abbott’s method of restoring the Australian knightage proved to be unacceptable, and in this his cryptic personality played a role. However, the virulence of the anti-knights is cast from the same mould, as is the pseudo-casual and smug manner with which Prime Minister Turnbull dispatched the third knightage. If only one lesson is learned from this whole fiasco, it should be that neither politicians nor the media (that is, the political classes) should be allowed anywhere near the honours system, especially in shaping the system and its rules, or participating in the nomination or assessment components of that system, although they should remain eligible for awards. As it is, any chance to review and ‘modernise’ (in the current lexicon) the Australian honours system now seems to have been lost for another generation.

And what we are now left with? Dame Quentin Bryce, Dame Marie Bashir, Sir Peter Cosgrove, Sir Angus Houston and Prince Philip, and by implication Sir Ninian Stephen and Prince Charles (from the second knightage) none of whom were politicians, and who each have been recipients of the highest honour bestowed by the Commonwealth of Australia, have had their reputations questioned, their dignity trashed and even their physical appearance ridiculed by an ugly mob sharing the shadenfreude delights of the political classes, in our very own Australian virtual Place de la Revolution. That’s cause enough for national shame, but even worse is that the ugly mob was us. No-one defended our actual, living, feeling ‘knights and dames’. They were, by our silence, thrown to the arm chair revolutionaries, and we all played the role of Madame Defarge, click, click, click. By our silence we let it happen to them, and no amount of disruptiveness, agility, nimbleness or modernity will hide that.  It was an expression of sublime anachronism.

 Vale the Third Knightage.

SepiaGreen | a new blog for book reviews

A new blog has been added to the suite of mrbbaskerville’s blogs, for posting and discussions on reviews of books, journal articles and so on.  The new blog is called SepiaGreen, and there is a link to SepiaGreen in the top right hand corner of this page under the heading ‘Go to my other blogs’.  The name reflects my interests in cultural (sepia) and natural (green) history and heritage.

The banner image, shown below, is a photograph of the beautiful translucent marbled inside cover of a copy of a book containing speeches and addresses given by Prince Albert that was published in London in 1862 and presented by Queen Victoria to the University of Sydney.

IMG_4529_3

The review of David Phillips’ book, Emblems of the Indian States (2011), formerly a page attached to this blog, has been transferred to SepiaGreen.

Eating our Coat of Arms: imagining a Commonwealth Cuisine

The idea of eating Australia’s coat of arms occupied some media attention over the 2013 Australia Day long weekend when a fast food chain marketed its ‘coat of arms burger’ (rather confusingly as ‘a new anthem that you eat’).  As is often the case in such discussions, ideas of what constitutes a coat of arms were rather hazy.  For this article, it means the whole design, known as the full achievement.

What was meant as edible in the above case was the supporters of the Commonwealth Arms, the kangaroo and emu (reduced to a meat patty).  It apparently did not include the black swan in the Western Australia quarter.  The lions in the New South Wales and Tasmania quarters, and the piping shrike in the South Australia quarter seem unlikely culinary items.  The wattle sprays usually depicted with Arms might contain foods such as wattle seed and wattle flour, but they weren’t included in the patties.

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of the Commonwealth of Australia, granted by Royal Warrant in 1912

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of the Commonwealth of Australia, granted by Royal Warrant in 1912

The Arms of the states and territories set out a veritable degustation: Queensland has sugar cane, wheat, beef, lamb and venison; New South Wales has wheat and kangaroo; Tasmania has apples, hops and fresh water; Victoria has kangaroo, olives and corn; South Australia has wheat, vines and citrus fruit; Western Australia has kangaroo and swan; Northern Territory has kangaroo, conch and cockles; ACT has swans and rose and Norfolk Island has kangaroo and laurel (bay leaf).

The inclusion of edible elements in national coats of arms is a feature of some three quarters of Commonwealth countries.  The Bahamas has a blue marlin and a conch; Barbados has sugar cane and dolphin; Canada has maple and rose; Cayman Islands has pineapple and turtle; Dominica has banana; Grenada has roses, corn and banana; Guyana has sugar cane and rice; Jamaica has pineapples and crocodile; St Kitts and Nevis has sugar cane and coconut; St Lucia has roses; Turks and Caicos Islands has conch and lobster; Kenya has chicken; Lesotho has crocodile; Mauritius has sugar cane and venison; South Africa has wheat; Namibia has oryx; Botswana has beef, sorghum and fresh water; Zimbabwe has fresh water and kudu; Zambia has maize; Tanzania has cloves; Ghana has cocoa; Seychelles has tortoise, coconuts and swordfish; Bangladesh has rice; Malaysia has pinang (areca or betel nut); Maldives has coconut; Pakistan has wheat and tea; British Indian Ocean Territory has turtles; Ascension has turtles; Tristan da Cunha has lobsters; South Georgia has venison; New Zealand has wheat; Solomon Islands has crocodile, turtle and shark; Tuvalu has mussels and bananas; Cook Islands has flying fish; Fiji has cocoa, sugar cane, coconut and bananas; Samoa, Tonga, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Cyprus and Malta have olive branches.  The United Kingdom has roses, shamrocks and thistles.

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Tristan da Cunha, assigned by Royal Warrant in 2002

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Tristan da Cunha, granted by Royal Warrant in 2002

This list does not included representations of sheep as wool or a golden fleece rather than meat, or of horses.  Deer, as a metaphor for venison is included, as are thistles and other plants mainly known only to ‘wild food’ connoisseurs.  There are occasional examples of edible national emblems outside the Commonwealth, such as the olive branches of the Israeli Arms, or US state seals and other emblems, but they are uncommon.  More usual are agricultural implements, especially in former communist state emblems, but they are no longer common.

There are two rhetorical questions often asked: are Australians the only ones who eat their national symbols?  Does eating national symbols show disrespect for the symbols and/or the nation they represent?

As this quick survey shows, Australia is far from being alone in having edible and culinary symbols and elements in its national Arms.  In fact, a very diverse and tasty ‘Commonwealth menu’ could be prepared that should suit many gastronomic tastes, drawing upon wild and farmed animals and plants, spices, herbs, seafoods and sweets.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for a budding restaurateur?

The issue of disrespect or offence is more complex.  Eating a nice swordfish steak does not immediately bring the Seychelles to mind, yet it is one of their national heraldic beasts.  However, if a dish is listed on a café menu as a country’s ‘coat of arms’, do we defile their sovereignty by eating it?  Another fast food chain recently withdrew its ‘Virgin Mary’ labeled dish of chips with tomato flavouring after complaints that it (the name) was offensive to Catholics.  So, is it the denominating of a national coat of arms or a religious icon as a ‘food’ that is the problem?  After all, kangaroo meat is freely available in supermarkets and butchers, but I never seen it marketed as ‘Dexter Supporter’, or any sort of coat of arms.  Should the namers of new fast foods be scorned for their lack of cultural sensitivity, or should heraldists ‘piggyback’ on their view that any controversy generated by such names is free advertising and good for their bottom line, as a means to educate the public about national and community symbols?

A confusing culinary message?   Image by Andrew Leigh, Cosmos, 2008: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/opinion/fry-me-kangaroo-down/

A confusing culinary message?
Image by Andrew Leigh, Cosmos, 2008: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/opinion/fry-me-kangaroo-down/

None of the media commentary suggested that being offended by the marketing or eating of produce that is also represented in national symbols should be against the law.  A civic space remains for public debate and comment – and therefore opportunities to promote heraldic knowledge and understanding.

Do we, for instance, by some sense of appreciation for culinary heraldry, come to understand something of another culture when we knowingly eat its symbols?  Do we, in some primal sense, absorb something in the same way a warrior might have once eaten his defeated opponent’s liver (or other organs) to both honour and ingest his warrior spirit?

What if we slice and eat a cake with a national coat of arms depicted in the icing? Perhaps respect is shown or offence avoided more by the way a ‘heraldic food’ is served and consumed than by the way it is marketed?  Is leaving most of the swordfish steak on the plate, or using the armorial cake in a juvenile food fight, really where offence is given – to the fisher, the farmer, the cook, the cleaner, the rubbish tip attendant? Similarly, is the not uncommon practice of placing a coat of arms in a floor pattern, where it is walked on every day, disrespectful?  There are no simple answers, and it is important to understand the context for these issues.

Heraldically, however, there is an interesting question of why does food, or food sources, feature so prominently in British-influenced national heraldry?  We might suppose that it would be a feature of Mediterranean, Chinese, Indian, South East Asian or Middle Eastern heraldry, of cultures where me imagine cuisines are so much more exciting and adventurous than our own.  It is a question probably more suitable for debating over a long, slow lunch, and I look forward to any reader’s thoughts on these gustatory ‘brain food’ delights.  Bon appétit!

(Originally published in The Australian Heraldry Society’s Members’ Circular, No. 158, January-February 2013)

References:

‘Coat of Arms Burger Launch @ Grill’d, Shafto Lane, Perth CBD’, www.Perthfoodjournal.com

‘Royal Bunfight: Monarchists warn Grill’d will roo its menu’, MX, 21 January 2013, page 1

http://www.franchise.net.au/news/grill-d-criticised-for-coat-of-arms-burger

‘Advance Australian fare’, The Cook and The Curator – eat your own history, 26 January 2013,

http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/advance-australian-fare

‘Stay in Touch: With a happy face and a sandwich to go’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4th February 2013, page 14

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/first-world-problems