Every time a dog cocks its leg to urinate on the Federation Pavilion in Centennial Park, Sydney, a terminally ill Australian mother dies alone, separated from her inter-state kids. And for every canine that runs freely, and illegally, within ten metres of the pavilion, a driver of a car with Victorian number plates is refused service at an outback Queensland corner store.
The causal relationship between these events might seem obscure but compared to the official dicta that paper masks prevent the transmission of Covid and dying from an experimental vaccine is better than catching a virus with no symptoms, my logic is irrefutable. So, how are these events linked? To answer that, let’s visit the pavilion. On this sunny Sunday in June, it is a picture of pleasant 21st century complaisance. Dozens of people mill about while their dogs run, chase balls, lie in the sun and, when the opportunity arises, try to hump each other.
This part of the park is a shallow gully; the gathering place for people and their dogs is the flat area at the bottom. The bank on one side consists of rehabilitated bushland and everywhere else is dotted with mature oak, fig, pine and gum trees, giving the place a faintly European feel. To complete the scene, planes fly overhead, a van sells coffees and ice-creams, and the people, for a change, talk to each other rather than stare at their phones. On the couple of occasions when someone else’s pet wanders over to me looking for a pat or some food, its owner apologises and a short, convivial chat ensues.
The only anomaly in this setting of secular civic harmony is the weird 8m-high pavilion, plonked almost in the middle of this expanse of grass. It is circular, made of sandstone, with thick columns around the outside supporting what might be a zinc roof and dome. Around the dome are inscribed the words, ‘Mammon or millennial Eden’, an obscure reference to a long-forgotten Australian poem. There are gates between the columns through which you can see inside but which are perennially locked; entering is forbidden, although muddy paw prints indicate that dogs stray inside. Not that anybody cares. There is no plaque explaining the pavilion’s significance and nobody looks even mildly curious about its presence. In the middle of the pavilion is the federation stone, the only remnant of the gala event held here on January 1, 1901, when, in the presence of dignitaries from around the world, a choir on the western side of the gully (consisting of 15,000 singers, according to one historian) and masses of spectators, Australia became the world’s newest nation at the dawn of a new and optimistic century. That century turned out to be the bloodiest in history, but this new nation emerged from it strong and free, an achievement worth acknowledging, if not celebrating.
Around the pavilion is a ring of stone inlaid into the lawn, within which dogs are not allowed. Nobody pays it the slightest attention. One of the columns bears the putrid mark of a dog having cocked its leg, a gesture once used by cartoonists to symbolise disrespect. It seems appropriate. When I walk around the pavilion, I notice a couple of small plastic bags filled with dog turd, dumped by a dog’s owner instead of walking to the bin at the edge of the park.
The proclamation of federation was, at the time, one of the most exciting events to ever occur on this continent. The procession of representatives and dignitaries attending the event began at Domain park and followed a route similar to the modern-day Gay Mardi Gras. And gay it was, by the contemporary definition at least. Tens of thousands of people lined the route, cheering trade unionists, firemen, soldiers (including, among other Commonwealth military, the Queen’s own Royal Horse Guards), foreign dignitaries, judges, academics, church leaders, politicians and the man who would that day be sworn in by the governor-general as the first prime minister of the new nation, Edmund Barton.
Like the modern Mardi Gras, the party that night was spectacular. The city was lit up with electric lights, the streets were filled with revellers and much alcohol was downed in the official celebration at the Town Hall while fireworks flared over the suburbs. Towns and cities across the new nation joined in the new spirit of ‘One People’, as the sign over the gate to Centennial Park called it. One of the remarkable aspects of this historic celebration is how enthusiastically all levels of government participated. The mayor of Echuca on the Victorian side of the Murray River led a military march to the middle of the bridge, where he met his NSW counterpart from the town of Moama and shook his hand, burying the towns’ acrimony over interstate tariffs, after which the good burghers joined together in celebration.
Perhaps the outpouring of nationwide goodwill was because nobody realised that what they had created would one day become a behemoth at the top of the most over-governed country in democratic history. Nor should they have. As he went about his business as prime minister, Barton remarked that he could keep all the federal government’s affairs in a single briefcase.
Premiers using the Covid ‘pandemic’ to revive antipathy between the states for political gain are not the only officials who are trampling on our sacred and once seemingly indestructible but now unwieldy federation. The Centennial Parklands Trust, funded by the state government, oversees the usual range of woke projects. It invites people to ‘join our wellness programs, let your kids discover nature and fun in our holiday programs, or discover the rich cultural heritage of the parklands yourself’. Its educational programs ‘will bring you a bit closer to the beauty of nature’. But not history. I emailed the park’s managers asking if it was appropriate to have dogs running around the Federation Pavilion and whether they had any plans to encourage park users to show this sacred site a bit more respect. I received no reply.
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