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Tongan Dancers at 70th Commonwealth celebrations

British Commonwealth 70th Anniversary

Marking any significant anniversary is an important time for celebration and reflection. The 70th anniversary of the British Commonwealth of nations on 12 March called to mind the importance of Britain in establishing the modern Australia and the other 52 nations which form the loose “family”.

Celebration, because 70 years is a long time for so many diverse countries to hang together, however imperfectly, through wars and disruption, internally and internationally. Through sanctions and corrections, aberrations, decline, disasters and mutual support, the spirit and intent of the Commonwealth has held firm. That is worth celebrating!

How this could be when the European Union, established with such noble intent a mere 25 years ago, shows signs of crumbling. On reflection one looks to the leadership, language and law bequeathed by Britain to all its “dominions”.  We should be grateful.

Leadership

The leadership of Queen Elizabeth II has been impeccable: stable, reliable, intelligent, non-partisan and gracious (as in the British national anthem), with a deep sense of events in the context of history – a remarkable example for every head of family.

Language

While each country has added its own inflection, nevertheless the English language remains a valuable means of “connectedness” (the theme of the anniversary celebrations) between the Commonwealth countries and with the rest of the world. That language allows us to advance understanding has no doubt contributed to the relative cohesion of the member nations, despite the diversity of cultures, local language, religion and dance. Representatives of the different faiths spoke in English about the connectedness of their faith amongst the faithful and throughout the Commonwealth. Music and dance performed at the celebration showed both cultural diversity and universal joy of singing, movement and music.

Law

Alongside language, perhaps the most enduring bequest to each country is common law derived from iterations of the Magna Carta (Great Charter) which embed the rights of citizens to due process under the law. Separation of powers between the government and the law, together with freedom of speech, religion and the press, underpin rights, responsibilities and respect that together create cohesion within and between countries.

Rightness of the spirit of the Charter was evident in a British Library exhibition marking the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John and the council of Barons on 15 June 1215. The exhibition showed the flow of the influence of the Charter to the new world of the Commonwealth and to America, to be described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.

Although implementation of the law may be imperfect from place to place and from time to time, there is an assuredness that ultimately justice will be served.

Those who exploit such hard won freedom to spout collectivist notions of failed socialism and communism, and who trash our history, are blight on the spirit and initiative of free countries of the Commonwealth. Freedom and the enterprise it fosters are the primary attractants for refugees and those fleeing failed, despotic or communist regimes. Not many are lining up to migrate to North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, Russia, or Brunei, where, with the introduction of Sharia law, one could easily lose an arm or a leg or be stoned to death for alleged offences.

Getting together

It wouldn’t be a family that didn’t get together occasionally. War and sport are two arenas that have strengthened bonds between Commonwealth countries – i.e. dealing with serious issues of threats to our freedom and occasionally getting together for fun and games.

In many arenas of war, Commonwealth countries have stood alongside British leadership, with all its flaws, to defend our freedom. In doing so, the spirit of our nation has been forged as “standing by your mates”, from time to time further reinforced during natural disasters. Daily we ought to be grateful and honour what has been achieved, even as together we commemorate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we forget!

Every four years we come together as a family to play in the Commonwealth Games, most recently on the Gold Coast in 2018. National pride is on display, from even the smallest of nations of the Commonwealth, as each performs to its geographic and physical strength: speed from Caribbean countries, endurance from African nations and swimming from Australia’s natural water advantage.

Then there are other very hotly contested sports bequeathed by Britain, from which much delight is found in defeating the originators – cricket, rugby and tennis. Sub-continent countries have taken to cricket with a passion and now excel, while small South Pacific nations produce large, tough, speedy rugby players who thoroughly enjoy the contest. Fun sure beats fighting!

Loyalty

Loyalty to a faith, country and Commonwealth demonstrates a respect for the religious and political traditions that have produced law and order and attendant benefits of a relatively peaceful society. Appreciation is deep amongst those who have firsthand and even second hand experience of totalitarianism, socialism and communism with their murderous outcomes that cost the lives of over 100 million people in the 20th century. So recent in history, yet so easily cast aside when values change.

Today the weight of moral authority comes from the left. As Marxism became no longer credible, western leftist intellectuals transformed the terminology so that today’s values are social factors of gender, race and religion couched in terms of oppressor and oppressed – always divisive; always about power, ever destructive!

We must never be blind to the flaws of the history and traditions derived from being a member of the British Commonwealth, just as we must be ever alert to the threats to the very best of language, law and culture that we have inherited. Together we must be willing to stand up for those precious values in the public square, or we will forget.

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