The Magna Carta and I share a birthday. So of course I always got that question right at school but the significance of it has wafted away over the years until its 800th anniversary commemoration celebrated with a bit of pomp and ceremony, speeches, a big brass fanfare, plaque unveiling, the Federation Guard and mandatory cuppa and slices at Magna Carta Place. Where? Yes I hear you, it’s across Canberra Avenue from the Canberra Croquet Club.
The lesson for the day came from AWM Director Brendan Nelson in an exemplary speech about the nexus between the Magna Carta and the Defence forces, so good, Ian Matthews, former editor of a local paper, said it should be published in its entirety on page three of that paper. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was more perfunctory in his truncated version of the events of 1215, sounding not too disimilar to a morning show's cartoon version where poor old King John was dragged away protesting he'd changed his mind. The PM emphasized of course the essential tenet that nobody, not even a king, is above the law. Interesting considering the pressure the government is under about the purported payment of monies to people smugglers.
This place was planned and built by members of the Australia Britain Society and is a larger version of the one at Runnymede where King John was 'encouraged' by the rebel Barons to sign the Archbishop of Canterbury's draft Magna Carta. The Runnymede memorial was financed by the Americans who with us have a 1297 version of the Magna Carta. Ours wisely purchased in 1952 from the Kings School Bruton in Somerset (where the cider apples grow) for 12,500 pounds sterling. Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and Sir Harold White of the National Library of Australia were responsible and in today's money its probably the most valuable document owned by the Australian people and spends its days on display on the first level of Parliament House where scores of school children trudge by every day.
On a sunny June Sunday with visiting school childeren corralled to watch the proceedings, probably unaware of the significance until bussed to Magna Carta Place and wandering locals out for a constitutional, knowing that the Magna Carta first drafted in 1215 as a document took many years, many kings and many changes to become so significant, it augurs well for us to be prepared for change to our Constitution that makes us all equal....absolutely and irrevocably.