‘It’s all smoke and mirrors: The tawdry joke that has become our honours awards’

Jul 04, 2020
How does one come to the attention of the Queen's representative, the Governor-General, and who decides they are worthy recipients of an Honour Award? Source: Getty Images

It was recently that time of year when the Queen’s Birthday Honours were announced in Australia. A variety of awards were bestowed to an even greater variety of Australians, all of whom have contributed something substantial to our community in one way or another. This year was no exception.

There was also much media attention highlighting the number of politicians, both ex and serving, among the list of 710 Award recipients. This led me to wonder just exactly how does one qualify or come to the attention of Her Majesty’s proxy, the Governor-General, in order to receive a Queen’s Honour Award? Who nominates them and who decides who gets what Award?

It seems anyone can nominate free of charge by filling in an online application form. Nominations should outline the contributions the nominee has made for the betterment of Australia, for example in politics, sport, science, the arts and so on. The Council for the Order of Australia then recommends to the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General, who is worthy of being awarded an honour. The Council mostly consists of high-level public servants, previous award recipients, a few serving politicians and a selection of businessmen and women.

I recently watched, for the second time, the entire 30 episodes of the award-winning TV series, The Crown during coronavirus lockdown. It’s a wonderful historical drama laying bare the everyday life and tribulations of the British Royal family. I can still hear the words that an exasperated Prince Phillip exclaimed on several occasions echoing in my head: “It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all a big circus”.

Prince Phillip would exclaim these and similar sentiments when attending the seemingly endless occasions of awarding titles, attending pageants and complex ancient rituals. He also made similar comments regarding his family’s titles, regalia, uniforms, medals, swords, jewels, symbols, real estate and other royal accoutrements.

It’s clear from his comments that he was trying to make it obvious to all concerned that there was no real substance or power connected to any of the aforementioned, and that it was all an illusion of godliness, power and importance, and that the only power is found solely with how others viewed or perceived them. It’s all about perceptions. But of course the TV series, The Crown, is only a TV series.

I’ve sometimes wondered about the various awards bestowed throughout the world as there are so many nowadays; and are the awards and their recipients all worthy of merit?

I once knew a religious cult leader whose main selling point was his rare and coveted Saint Denis of Zante medallion that he proudly wore upon his chest and that he claimed was awarded for his great humanitarian works. Upon investigation, I discovered that President Bush Senior was also a recipient along with other very influential people. Further investigation revealed that in order to receive this rare award was simply a matter of making a one-off monetary payment and nothing more. If you look carefully, as I once did, you might even find a Saint Denis of Zante award medallion for sale on eBay.

By chance, a few years ago, I came across the website of The Principality of Hutt River (PHR). Here I learned about a quirky self-proclaimed and independent principality, or micro-nation, located about 500 kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia. Founded in 1970 by Leonard Casley, this huge cattle and sheep station, comprising of 75 square-kilometres, proclaims itself a separate and sovereign nation within mainland Australia, and is currently ruled by His Royal Highness Prince Graeme, Duke of Gilboa, Earl of Canan, Prince and Sovereign of the Principality of Hutt River and its Territories.

The (PHR) sells its own postage stamps, coins, passports, visas and other collectables. It also offers a variety of Royal Awards or Orders of Merit too numerous to list here. Scrolling through its website I further discovered that anyone can nominate anyone, by using an online application form, for an Order of Merit similar to the selection procedure of the Council of the Order of Australia.

Unable to contain my curiosity at the time, I asked a friend of mine to nominate me and in return I would nominated her for a PHR Award: besides, it’s free. If our nominations were successful the type of Orders or Awards that we would receive would be selected personally by Prince Graeme on New Year’s Day.

Surprise, surprise, we were both awarded Companions of the Order of Wisdom and Learning (COWL), for the pursuit of excellence in education, the advancement of knowledge and the encouragement of rational discourse.

Queen's Honours Awards a tawdry joke
Garry’s Order of Wisdom and Learning, awarded by HRH Prince Graeme himself! Source: Garry Greenwood

We were also presented with Certificates of Authenticity and a catalogue from which we could buy a limited edition COWL Medal, with ribbon, in a velvet case with the Principality Great Seal printed in gold inside the lid.

Seriously though, just call me Garry.

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