A Critical Audience with the Queen


Enter HRH Elizabeth II

Thank you very much for your most kind welcome to the Ray Hughes Gallery here in Surry Hills for the presentation of the 2007 Pascall Prize.  

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land: Frank Lowy; Gerry Harvey; John Simon.

It is rare indeed for the monarch to travel so far for such an insignificant occasion, but I am happy to patronise you all, and to lend Majesty to what otherwise be a very dull affair.

Prince Philip could not be with us as he is dining with relatives in Cabramatta.

It is now 55 years since I won this pageant then I was crowned and given a sash for my interest in travelling, horse-riding and meeting people. In that time I have lunched with Presidents, dined with Kings, picked nervously at my plate with New Guinea Highlands head-hunters, and I have spoken English with Pauline Hanson.

I am delighted to be in Sydney. I wasn’t exactly invited to APEC but I was able to declare the CBD officially shut.

I am also disappointed I can’t attend the Spring Carnival at Royal Randwick due to the outbreak of equine flu. In a bewildering bureaucratic bungle, my representative here, Major-General Michael Jeffery has been barred from Royal Randwick, simply because he’s a GG. Apparently, Princess Anne has been excluded on the same grounds.

These observations may not have much that is overtly literate, but there is undoubtedly a lot more in common between creative writing and horses. That is, beyond the spelling yard.

It is sometimes sung that ‘the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.’ Let that be a lesson to you, Clover Moore. But then, always the old gives way to the new; new forms, new definitions, and new expressions of Australian culture, like the evolution of this Award itself.

I note that the Pascall Prize used to award creative writing. It now awards Criticism “ criticism in arts, literature, music, architecture, gastronomy and film.

I am an actor of sorts, though I’m no Helen Mirren as me, she carried her handbag on her right arm. (Clearly not born to the role.) However, we are linked historically her mother’s grandfather was butcher to my father’s great grandmother, Queen Victoria. Which no doubt explains why she reduced my walk to an unsavoury mince.

Still, she’s artistically versatile: having already played Elizabeth I, and she’s about to play yet another generation of my family, in a sequel entitled Dirty Harry 2.

Tonight’s national bestowal seeks to draw the best from this community of specialists but, as a nation, Australia is not given much to criticism, perhaps because of its relative youth and inexperience.

Except in sport and only sport has been specifically excluded from the Pascall. In the week of the [Rugby World Cup qualifiers] and Grand Final Week, is it any wonder that football commentators and others need no encouragement? If the Iraqi War were a football match, I’m sure the executive, the coaches and their teams would’ve had it sorted out a long time ago.

The physical world we live in needs re-appraising time and again. In the Pascall Prze’s Architecture division, say, you could perhaps invite Prince of Wales to decide what is, and what is not a carbuncle. He could make this together with Cam [coughs] ill [splutters] a.

Left to his own devices, he can become despondent about his seeming lack of position.

Like nuns, great artists tend to die in threes. Ingmar Bergman, Pavarotti and Marcel Marceau each searched for an individual expression of the human condition. Of course, in the present climate, you might consider the awarding of the Pascall Prize to the best spin-meister in the political scene or indeed, in the present climate, the present climate itself.

My current Australian Prime Minister may put himself up for an award, not as a critic/cricket tragic, but simply as a tragic.

Only this morning he telephoned me with his election strategy, saying:

Look, I will tell the electorate: I am as Aussie as the Outback, I am as true-blue as Uluru; As I said to the US President: I am the Australian Bush.

I congratulate the nominees for the award, and I have much pleasure in declaring open the Pascall Prize, and god speed this year’s winner: Paul Byrnes.  

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