Australian Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan used the 80th anniversary of the so-called “bodyline” cricket series against England to call for renewed debate on his nation’s allegiance to the British monarch.
“The events on the cricket field during the summer of 1932-33, coinciding as they did with the events of the Great Depression, helped awaken a democratic and egalitarian assertion of Australian national sovereignty,” Swan wrote in an op-ed article published in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper today. “Reflecting on those events will eventually have another legacy, too, in hastening the approach of an Australian republic.”
A referendum to create an Australian head of state and break the nation’s ties to the British crown failed in 1999 amid divisions over how a president would be selected and affinity for the reigning queen. While the ruling Labor Party supports a move to a republic, it maintains the issue isn’t a priority and is unlikely to be addressed while 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II remains on the throne.
Swan, the nation’s treasurer, said he wrote the article in part “to re-energize a discussion” about Australia becoming a republic.
“I, as a lifelong republican, don’t believe in inherited privileges,” he said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in Brisbane today. “We had a very significant debate in the ‘90s. I want to see a very respectful conversation about a future Australian republic in the years ahead. But I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen any time soon.”
Bodyline refers to tactics employed by the English cricket team -- bowling fast, accurate balls at a batsman in the days before helmets -- to intimidate and restrict the Australians, specifically targeting star player Don Bradman.
Anger erupted in the southern city of Adelaide in January 1933 when one Australian batsman was hit in the torso and another in the head, fracturing his skull, according to the Cricinfo website. Mounted police were mustered outside the ground in response to the uproar and concern about a pitch invasion, it said.
“At its core, Bodyline amounted to a calculated attempt from the English cricketing establishment to attack the Australian cricket team,” Swan wrote. “As esteemed cricket historians Ric Sissons and Brian Stoddart concluded in their chronicle ‘Cricket and Empire,’ from a British perspective Bodyline was principally about teaching Australia ‘a lesson in imperial superiority.’”
Australia was beaten 3-1 in the 2010-11 Ashes, its first home series loss to England in 24 years. It had lost the prior best-of-five contest in the U.K. The sport’s oldest international rivalry resumes this year with series in both countries.
Swan’s article appeared the day before Australia Day, the national holiday. It marks the 225th anniversary of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Britain and raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by commander Captain Arthur Phillip.
The Australian government is due to call an election later this year.
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