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I'm quite contrary about Our Mary

By Greg Barns - posted Tuesday, 18 October 2005

While no one would wish anything but the best for Crown Princess Mary, her Danish husband, Crown Prince Frederik, and their newborn baby, the media and political circus that has surrounded this birth last Saturday is out of all proportion.

The Australian media have worked themselves into a frenzy about Mary and her little prince. You expect such conduct from much of the media and the women's magazines, because Mary's life is the stuff of 19th century fairytales, but the political reaction has been absurd.

In Tasmania, Mary's home state, Premier Paul Lennon wants to give every child born in that state last Saturday a pair of suede booties, because Mary bought some on her last trip to Tasmania earlier this year. And Lennon is preparing to ship off a couple of Tasmanian devils to Denmark while his Victorian counterpart, Steve Bracks, is giving the Danish royals a restored tram.


All good innocent fun, you might say. But if you stand back and think about it, there's something disturbing about this outpouring of community largesse.

The Danish royal family, like all other European monarchies, is an anachronism in the values it represents. It is based on the notion that because you are born into a particular family, you are automatically privileged. It is also a sexist institution. Boys come before girls when it comes to ascending to the throne. And if you are lucky enough to be born into, or marry into the Danish royal family, you live an opulent taxpayer-funded life forever.

In short, the Danish royals represent values that are the antithesis of the Australian belief in a meritocracy. Australians like to think, and our politicians, in particular, are fond of trotting out this line, that we don't have much truck with aristocracy and those who, simply by accident of birth, are elevated above the rest of us.

This country, so the argument goes, was built on the values of egalitarianism. We admire the individual who achieves excellence because they utilise their talents.

So what is it that is so special about Mary's story that makes the birth of her child so worthy of thousands of words and pictures and politicians clamouring to rush gifts to Denmark?

Nothing really. She is, by all accounts, a decent woman who fell in love with someone who happened to be a prince. That's it, end of story. She is not a Nobel prizewinner, a Rhodes scholar, a sports star or a world-class artist or musician.


Yet if Mary were, say, a star with the Royal Ballet in Britain, or a brilliant chemist who won a prestigious science prize, would politicians be lavishing her with gifts and would she be gaining the same media attention? The answer is no.

You only have to compare the frenzy over the birth of Mary's son with the recent news that Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, Australian scientists, had won the Nobel prize for their work on stomach ulcers.

Sure, these two doyens of international medical research were front-page news for a day or two and Prime Minister John Howard rightly spoke effusively of their achievements, but the media caravan quickly moved on. In contrast, you can expect to see weeks of media coverage now about Mary and her baby.

Would there have been the same overwhelming reaction to Mary's baby if she were married to an African tribal elder or a European president? Once again, it's unlikely. Australian Kirsty Sword, who is married to East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, gets only 53,000 mentions on a Google search, while Mary gets 1,750,000.

No doubt many critics will say this article misses the point - that celebrating the rags-to-riches story of Mary is nothing more than a wonderful escape in these dark days of terrorism, earthquakes and tsunamis. At one level that might be right.

But what does it say about Australian society in the 21st century that we are still prepared to pay so much attention to someone whose only claim to public fame is that they have married into the European aristocracy?

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First published in The Age on October 18, 2005.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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