I am old enough to remember as a primary school pupil being marched down to the local station and loaded onto the old Brisbane rattlers for a run to the Exhibition Grounds to see the Queen and Prince Phillip do a spin around the main ring.
If you need a readymade crowd, a bunch of unquestioning schoolkids is an easy option, especially so in Joh’s Queensland in 1970.
Five years later, the Queen’s man in Canberra sacked an elected Prime Minister, and while the nation got over it, the flaws and contradictions in our constitutional arrangements remain.
Besides hereditary monarchy being an anachronism in the modern world, the issue of Australia’s head of state being a foreigner and her representative still holding considerable powers under the Constitution is something Australians still have to confront and resolve.
So it is welcome that the Australian Republican Movement is still kicking, particularly after a cunning John Howard put it to the sword in the 1999 referendum by splitting the vote, allowing two republican models to be put to the people.
One proposed that the parliament choose a president while others wanted a directly elected head of state.
Alas, the republicans running the show have not learnt from that experience, proposing a hybrid model that still would mean an election for president.
Under the Australian Republican Movement proposal, each state and territory would nominate a presidential candidate, and the federal government would nominate three, from which voters would select a president.
There are countries that manage to have an elected president who defers to parliament and the prime minister, such as Ireland, but if ARM thinks Australians are going to embrace their latest plan, it is sadly mistaken.
Besides the country having much bigger fish to fry at present and Australians generally being averse to changing a system that on the surface at least is working, the role of the Governor-General has become so reduced by successive Prime Ministers that the position has faded into symbolic irrelevance.
Public reception to the new proposal has varied from lukewarm to outright hostility, with Paul Keating, the legendary Lizard of Oz, who dared place his hand on the monarch, skewering it in his usual inimitable style.
He has always opposed the establishment of a rival centre of power to the PM and the Parliament. He says that experimenting with a “US-style” presidency would threaten Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy and possibly throw up a demagogue like Donald Trump.
He says Australia would be better off sticking with what we have.
There is not much point in holding a national presidential election or popularity contest for a position that is supposed to be perfunctory. It is more likely to evolve into something more than envisaged.
It may be the case of careful what you ask for.
The appointment of an Australian head of state should be left in the hands of Parliament, along the lines of the 1999 proposal for a two-thirds majority.
More important is clarifying the responsibilities and powers of the head of state and its relationship with Parliament. Not to mention finally acknowledging First Nations people in the Constitution.
A minimalist proposal that removes the monarch as head of state and replaces the Governor-General with a president appointed by Parliament is far more likely to succeed than the more radical one.
There is a lingering fascination for the British royal family that can be hard to understand, especially with the Charles and Diana saga, and now Prince Andrew’s troubling past and the circus that is Harry and Meghan.
Part of that is the cult of celebrity and the Wills and Kate phenomenon, which is the Firm’s best asset, but even the arguments related to our historical ties to the Motherland do not stand up when becoming a republic does not preclude Australia from staying a member of the Commonwealth.
The biggest plus for monarchists is really indifference. Polls might show that most people favour a republic, but when it comes to getting there, they are not so keen on the actual work.
And there is little appetite from the main political parties.
Some may see the imminent end of the Queen’s long reign as an opportunity to reignite the debate, but the republican movement will have to do better than this if change is going to come.
God save them when the Cambridges ascend. Schoolchildren won’t have to be marshalled, they’ll be pleading to turn up.