When I was a 10-year-old at my cold English boarding school, I learned in History, that ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire.’
It is something that stuck in my mind when I first met the Queen, as a young girl at Buckingham Palace.
My dad was there to receive a medal for his services to that British Empire.
Liberal deputy leader Sussan Ley says her father was a spy who worked in the service of the late Queen and the British empire
He was an intelligence officer (spy) who worked for Queen and Country and had done his bit to keep the sun shining across Her Majesty’s vast global realms, including Australia.
An empire on which the sun never sets is a phrase that has been reserved for the great global empires of world history.
The Persian tyrant Xerxes I coined the phrase before he invaded Ancient Greece to extend his conquests and fought the legendary King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans.
But it wasn’t just the Ancients and the Brits that have laid claim to global empire.
The Spanish and the United States are in the mix as well.
In 1897 a magazine article titled ‘The Greatest Nation on Earth’ boasted that the sun never sets on Uncle Sam.
Ms Ley writes that it is ‘absolutely right that we mark a historic moment’ such as the passing of the long-serving English monarch
But as the sun sets on the second Elizabethan Age and we farewell the beloved Queen Elizabeth II, here in Australia what are we to make of all this talk of Empires and Realms; of Kings, Queens and Consorts?
Because in truth, this vast sunburnt country seems a world away from notions of empires and kings.
To Australians, Earl is just another name, like Mick or Steve. And a Marquis is something you rent for a 50th.
You might find yourself asking the question, why should I care?
Well, it is absolutely right that we mark a historic moment such as this.
It is absolutely right that we mark the extraordinary life and service of the late Queen.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign spanned British prime ministers born over a century apart
We are living through historic times and there is perhaps no better example than the life of the Queen.
The second Elizabethan Age captures some of the most significant decades of human history.
It is hard for us to fathom the breadth and pace of change, throughout the Queen’s life.
The Queen’s reign spanned Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill born in 1874 to Liz Truss, sworn in days ago, born in 1975.
Let that sink in.
She didn’t just meet Winston Churchill, she held audiences with him.
She saw 15 British Prime Ministers, 14 Presidents, and 16 of our own leaders come and go.
The Queen was a bridge between the 19th and 21st centuries, she was a living connection to the trials of our past.
Crowned at just 25 years of age, called by fate, to a duty unexpected, she weathered the winds of change.
The Queen’s 70 years of to the Commonwealth are being marked in nations around the world, including Australia
A member of the Greatest Generation she lived through the battle to defeat the Nazis and their fascism.
She saw the rise and fall of communism and lived through the spectre – and prospect of – nuclear Armageddon.
She helmed the monarchy through a world rapidly connecting and digitising.
She deftly led the Commonwealth as it democratised and evolved.
Incredibly she never ceased in her service.
In the final years of her reign, she kept her people together through a pandemic.
Ms Ley says that even in her death the Queen was able to unite people in a way that is increasingly rare
In her final hours of service, she saw off – and welcomed – yet another British prime minister.
For 70 years she gave unfailing public service to the people of the Commonwealth.
Indeed, her contribution has not ceased at her passing. Because even now she is still bringing people together.
The seemingly unending queues of mourners streaming through Westminster Hall reflected a great coming together of people from all ages and all stages of life, from all backgrounds and all ethnicities.
Such moments of national unity seem to be far harder to find in modern times.
As much as we wished the sun would never set on the Queen’s incredible life, set it has.
In recent days, we have rightly reflected on her contribution.
Even as Australia is set to steer its own path we should remember the great contribution the Queen has made, Ms Ley argues
In coming months and years, Australians will reflect upon what all this now means for our nation’s future and how we wish our national affairs to be conducted.
These were not questions the Queen ever tried to stop us from pondering.
Indeed, during the last Republic referendum, Her Majesty made it very clear that she would always respect the wishes of Australians and the decisions that we made.
As the sun rises on a new King and a new chapter, we should not fear having those important national conversations.
Nor should we forget the incredible role the Queen played in bringing us all together.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury said at her funeral the Queen kept her promise of lifelong public service.
Her contribution, and the solidarity it has generated, was such it could put pause to any republican’s commitment.
Yet once we have marked her contribution, I know Australia is big enough and old enough to have a fresh look at this debate in our own Australian way.
While there will be many views in that debate we can all agree Her Majesty’s personal impact has been global, colossal and overwhelmingly for the good.
Sussan Ley is deputy leader of the federal Liberal party and was a minister in the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments