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Prince Charles's Australia

Nick Bryant | 14:32 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

In the week that the son of a Yorkshire miner celebrated Australia's classlessness and egalitarian spirit, the heir of a reigning monarch did much the same thing. From the pit to the palace, Australia is getting rave reviews.

It was Sir Michael Parkinson who noted: "For someone brought up to conform to the strict boundaries of class and privilege in post-war Britain; to feel inhibited, shackled even, by the limitations imposed by accent, education and the fact of being a miner's son; for this person to encounter fellow human beings to whom none of these things mattered at all, was a joyous revelation."

But during a speech at an Australia Day reception in London, Prince Charles came close to ventriloquising precisely the same sentiment.

Reflecting on the two terms he spent at Geelong Grammar School in Australia in the mid-1960s - Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer are fellow alumni - he noted: "I was able to go around relatively privately and find out an awful lot about that part of the world. As you can imagine I have a huge affection as a result. I've been through my fair share of being called a 'pommy bastard' I can assure you! Look what it's done to me. My God it was good for the character. If you want to develop character, go to Australia. As I say I have a huge affection for it."

What both of them were essentially saying was that this is a country where your background does not really matter - or certainly nowhere near as much as it does in Britain, where I suspect there are still people who feel constrained by "the strict boundaries of class".

All of which brings us to "Cassandra", who has been playfully badgering me in the comments sections of the recent postings to reveal where I went to school. Before ending her suspense, it is worth pointing out that it's the first time anyone has posed this question since I arrived in Australia.

In certain circles in Britain - high society weddings, perhaps, or the editorial offices of Tatler - this is often something of a conversational ice-breaker. But like Parky and Prince Charles, one of the things I like most about Australia is that people tend to take you at face value rather than making judgments or even worrying about your social or educational background.

Perhaps it is because Australia is an immigrant nation, and thus a land of fresh starts. Perhaps there is a legacy from the earliest days of white settlement, when so many of the early settlers were convicts who wanted to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps it is because people here are less obsessed with education as a social indicator and more impressed by housing or money. Perhaps it is because character has more currency in Australia than class. Your thoughts please.

For what it's worth, I went to a comprehensive school on the outskirts of Bristol, and have never attended a fee-paying school in my life.

But truly, who cares? Few in Australia, I suspect, and an increasingly fewer number in my homeland, as well. In the crossflow of cultural and social influences, it is another way in which Britain is becoming more like Australia. Don't draw too many conclusions from our Old Etonian prime minister, take-me-as-you-find-me classlessness is in vogue. More Shane Warne than Hugh Grant.


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