Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 23, 2023

The Queen is Dead (2023) by Stan Grant, review by Heidi Norman, reproduced with permission from The Conversation

In the light of recent events, it seems timely to reproduce (with permission though Creative Commons) this review of a book from The Conversation

Published and viewed today: May 23, 2023 6.05am AEST

Stan Grant’s new book asks: how do we live with the weight of our history?

Heidi Norman, University of Technology Sydney

This month, journalist and public intellectual Stan Grant published his fifth book, The Queen is Dead. And last week, he abruptly stepped away from his career in the public realm, citing toxic racism enabled by social media, and betrayal on the part of his employer, the ABC.

“I was invited to contribute to the ABC’s coverage as part of a discussion about the legacy of the monarchy. I pointed out that the crown represents the invasion and theft of our land,” he wrote last Friday. “I repeatedly said that these truths are spoken with love for the Australia we have never been.” And yet, “I have seen people in the media lie and distort my words. They have tried to depict me as hate filled”.

Grant has worked as a journalist in Australia for more than three decades: first on commercial current affairs – and until this week, as a main anchor at the ABC, where he was an international affairs analyst and the host of the panel discussion show Q+A. The former role reflects his global work, reporting from conflict zones with esteemed international broadcasters such as CNN. His second book, Talking to my Country, won the Walkley Book Award in 2016.

Review: The Queen is Dead – Stan Grant (HarperCollins)

In this new book, Grant yearns for a way to comprehend the forces, ideas and history that led to this cultural moment we inhabit. The book, which opens with him grappling with the monarchy and its legacy, is revealing in terms of his decision to step back from public life.

Released to coincide with the coronation of the new English monarch, Charles III, The Queen is Dead seethes with rage and loathing – hatred even – at the ideas that have informed the logic and structure of modernity.

Grant’s work examines the ideas that explain the West and modernity – and his own place as an Indigenous person of this land, from Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi and Dharawal country. That is: his work explores both who he is in the world and the ideas that tell the story of the modern world. He finds the latter unable to account for him.

“This week, I have been reminded what it is to come from the other side of history,” he writes in the book’s opening pages. “History itself that is written as a hymn to whiteness […] written by the victors and often written in blood.”

He asks “how do we live with the weight of this history?” And he explains the questions that have dominated his thinking: what is whiteness, and what is it to live with catastrophe?

The death of the white queen

In his account, his rage is informed by the observation that the weight of this history was largely unexplored on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s death last September. The death of the white queen is the touchpoint always returned to in this work – and the release of the book coincides with the apparently seamless transition to her heir, now King Charles III.

In the lead-up to the coronation, “long live the king” echoed across the United Kingdom. Its long tentacles reached across the globe where this old empire once ruled, robbing and ruining much that it encountered. The death of the queen and the succession of her heir occurred with ritual and ceremony.

Small tweaks acknowledged the changing world – but for the most part, this coronation occurred without revolution or bloodshed, without condemnation – and without contest of the British monarchs’ role in history and the world they continue to dominate, in one way or another.

Grant argues the end of the 70-year rule of Queen Elizabeth II should mark a turning point: a global reckoning with the race-based order that undergirds empire and colonialism. Whereas the earlier century confidently pronounced the project of democracy and liberalism complete, it seems time has marched on.

History has not “ended”, as Francis Fukuyama declared in 1989 (claiming liberal democracies had been proved the unsurpassable ideal). Instead, history has entered a ferocious era of uncertainty and volatility.

Grant reminds us that people of colour now dominate the globe. Race, as we now know, is a flexible and slippery made-up idea, changing opportunistically to include and exclude groups, to dominate and possess.

Grant examines this with great impact as he considers the lived experience of his white grandmother, who was shunned when living with a black man, shared his conditions of poverty with pluck and defiance, then resumed a place in white society without him.

And writing of his mother, the other Elizabeth, Grant elaborates the complexity of identity not confined to the colour of skin, but forged from belonging to people and kinship networks, and to place – which condemns the pseudoscience of blood quantum that informed the state’s control of Aboriginal lives. This suspect race science has proved enduring.

Grant’s account of the death of the monarch is a genuine engagement with the history of ideas to contemplate the reality of our 21st-century present.

Liberalism and democracy = tyranny and terror

In several essays now, Grant has engaged with the ideas of mostly Western philosophers and several conservative thinkers to explain the crisis of liberalism and democracy. Grant argues that, like other -isms, liberalism and democracy have descended into tyranny and terror.

The new world order, dominated by China and people of colour, is in dramatic contrast to the continued rule of the white queen and her descendants.

In this, perhaps more than his other books and essays, Grant moves between big ideas in history – the Enlightenment, modernity and democracy – to consider himself, his identity, and his own lived experience of injustice, where race is an undeniable organising feature.

In this story he explains himself, as an Indigenous person, “an outsider, in the middle”; “an exile, living in exile, struggling with belonging”; living with the “very real threat of erasure”.

Love, friendships, family, Country

In the final section of the book, Grant’s focus switches to the theme of “love”, and to friendships, family and Country. He speculates that his focus on these things is perhaps a mark of age.

Now, he accounts for the things in life that are truly valuable – and this includes deep affection for the joy that emanates from Aboriginal families. Being home on his Country, paddling the river, he finds quiet and peace.

The death of the monarch of the British Empire, who ruled for 70 years, should speak to the history of empire and colonial legacy and all its curses – especially in settler colonial Australia. Yet her passing – which coincides with seismic change in the global economic order with China’s ascendance and the decline of the United States and the UK, the global cultural order and the racial order – has been largely unexamined in public discourse in Australia.

The history of colonisation and of ideas that have debated ways to comprehend the past have been a feature of Grant’s intellectual exploration, including on the death of the queen. As he details in his new book, the reaction from some quarters to this conversation has exposed him to unrelenting and racist attack.

In this work and in others, exploration of the world of ideas to understand the past and future sits alongside accounts of the everyday; of the always place-based realities of Aboriginal accounts of self.

The material deprivations and indignities, the closely held humility that comes with poverty and powerlessness – shared socks, a house carelessly demolished, burials tragically abandoned – are countered by another reality: the intimacy of most Aboriginal lives, characterised by deep love, affection, laughter and belonging. These place-based, “small” stories Grant shares sit alongside the bigger themes of modern history, such as democracy and freedom.

In this latest work, Grant details his sense of “betrayal” at the discussion he sought about the monarch’s passing and the discussion that was actually had, the history of ideas and his own place in this.

And now, of course, he has announced his intention to exit the public stage. Racism, we are reminded, is an enduring feature of the modern world – a world yet to allow space for an unbowing, Wiradjuri-Kamilaroi-Dharawal public intellectual.The Conversation

Heidi Norman, Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Creative Commons licence does not permit any editing, but it does not include permission to reproduce images and I was only too delighted to remove an image of the coronation.


  1. Stan Grant says clearly that he isn’t retiring because of racism, he is retiring because he has received no support from the Murdoch-captured ABC in the face of unrelenting attacks from the Murdoch press.

    And the expressions of support from his (white) peers is too little, too late.

    And his retirement obscures the fact that he was one of the (many) conservatives foisted on the ABC by the Murdoch captured Liberal government.


    • Yeah, well, all those arguments are all over Twitter as well.
      I’m interested in the main point of his book (that is, according to the review) which is that we should, as a nation, in the wake of the queen’s death and the coronation of her offspring, be revisiting our connection to the crown.
      It is not clear to me because I haven’t read the book whether he means a root-and-branch modernisation of our horse-and-buggy constitution, whether we have to repudiate colonialism entirely or whether he means revisiting the prospect of a referendum for a republic. But it is ridiculous that we cannot have a conversation about it.


  2. I haven’t read this book yet, but I have read his other two. Nailing my colours to the mast, I am a strong supporter of Stan Grant and I believe he had every right to call into question our ongoing links to the UK and the crown. I didn’t see the actual discussion preceding the coronation, because I wasn’t watching. I had absolutely no interest in the event or what it represented, but of course am perfectly happy with others wanting to watch it all.

    The very fact that Grant feels the need to step away for a time (I don’t believe he has said he is retiring permanently) because of the abuse that has been heaped on him, shows how right he is about the ongoing damage of those links.

    It is a great pity that the people now rushing out to say they support him weren’t doing so and calling out the abuse when it was happening. When someone like him is damaged and silenced by racial abuse, we are all the losers.


    • The head honcho of ABC News (who I heard yesterday on ABC radio) said that he regrets etc., but that there is a longstanding convention amongst serious journos that they themselves should not be the story and they have been reluctant to take on the abusers for that reason. At the same time, he acknowledged the vitriol against ABC journos has to be tackled. He mentioned the harassment of the usual suspects e.g. Leigh Sales, Lisa Millar but not those clowns who (mostly out of ignorance e.g. Jane Norman, Greg Jennett) made such a hash of covering the federal election and are failing us on coverage of the conflict in Ukraine too). He says, and it’s probably true, that Murdoch and News Corp are deliberately fanning the flames of the abuse because #NoSurprise they want to take down the ABC.
      (It’s clear that there is confusion about who hates the ABC more, the left or the right, and which way their bias lies. I think it varies, but I can usually tell, and I don’t like it when I can tell which side a journo supports or what their agenda is. The days when you couldn’t tell are long gone because of generational change.)
      What I don’t understand is why they *invite* social media into their programs. Even ABC Classic FM wants to know our opinions about classical music. Why? They interview people who are completely ignorant and barely coherent for their opinions about the news. Q&A invites the audience to join in on Twitter etc. They’ve brought the tactics of shock jocks into our living rooms and seem surprised at how nasty some people are. It makes no sense to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A brilliant essay about a magnificent book, a book that should be read not only by every Australian, but by everyone.


    • The thing is, Carmel, it’s not going to be. Nobody is listening any more and everyone’s talking in their own little echo chamber. The way Indigenous issues have blown up out of control with people (including First Nations people themselves) fighting on all sides because of the referendum makes me think that positions are hardening and hearts will be broken the way they were when John Howard sabotaged the republic referendum. I don’t think there’s any way to salvage it now, unless they separate the two questions into recognition in the constitution, and the Voice (without the executive government bit) so that people can vote for one but not the other. And that’s not likely to happen because Albanese has nailed his colours to the mast.
      It is so sad.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I see what you say, Lisa. Even though so much has gone into the ‘echo chamber’, one can perhaps still HOPE that there are enough sane people still listening. But I do take your meaning.


        • It’s like that horrible divisive plebiscite all over again, and I fear that the damage, unless there is the resounding win which I despair of, will last.


  4. Thank you Lisa for publishing the essay


  5. I can hardly bear to listen to ABC Classic FM. All the announcers want to be my best friend and have me text in what I am doing while I am listening. The whole thing is being dumbed down, including the music, so when I do have it on if I am driving, as often as not they are playing film or even video game scores. And as for the tweets on Q&A …!

    Like you, I am horrified at the way things are going in the lead-up to the referendum. It will crash and burn and about the only thing to say about that is that that will reflect not just the racism of the mob, but the inability of the majority who like to think they are aware and supportive to face up to the ugly realities of our history and also our present. It is indeed heartbreaking.


    • Thank goodness for PBS-FM!
      I remember writing my review of Thomas Mayor’s book about the Uluru Statement (Finding the Heart of the Nation) and feeling so hopeful, but from the moment First Nations voices were heard in strident opposition I thought the referendum was doomed and it’s only got worse. People will blame Dutton but I think that there are more than just him who will have to bear the responsibility. We are supposed to be voting on a Voice and all we can hear is a clamour of voices abusing each other. (Yes, Noel Pearson, I’m looking at you, but not only at you.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I ordered a signed copy of this (about a month ago) and it only arrived yesterday. We definitely need a conversation about our links with the Crown. I honestly don’t understand why Australians are monarchists. I reckon the UK will become a republic before we do because there is so little support for the royals there. I saw the sun total of 5 minutes of the Coronation on TV and it looked like something out of Monty Python… 😆


    • LOL If I’d known Stan Grant was talking about this I might have watched it.
      No, I wouldn’t. I can’t stomach the fawning and the reverence and the trivial chit-chat about hats and children and the other rubbish that miraculously even made it into the headlines at the ABC online.
      I haven’t willingly watched anything to do with the royals in *decades*. I’ve only seen bits and pieces that they’ve inflicted on us in news bulletins. I have better things to do with my time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Did I tell you that time I deliberately fled London when William & Kate got married so I wouldn’t have to put up with all the media bollocks around it? I went to Abu Dhabi to visit my sister only to discover she was planning to watch the royal wedding on TV because her two girls (one was about 10, the other 5) were obsessed with princesses! So my brother-in-law took me out to an all day brunch where you could eat and drink as much as you liked for a set price in a really posh hotel on the water, and so we had the *best* time eating amazing food from around the world and drinking loads of cocktails while completely ignoring anything remotely royal. It was a brilliant day!


        • That sounds excellent!
          Mind you, I would have been legless after two cocktails:)


  7. I’m not feeling very coherent about any of this right now, so until I do – tweets on the news – argh!!! Every time someone dies, the best we get is an innane obit tweet! And don’t get me started on the fawning news coverage of Kyle Sanderlands marriage!


    • It’s The Spouse who turns on the news in this house.
      Because none of it is really news anyway.


    • The news in this country is TERRIBLE. The commercial channels are race-to-the-bottom “infotainment”. I *never* watch it. Channel 4 News in the UK is about the only thing I miss about living in London. It was balanced, informative, relevant and free from sensation.


      • Agreed. And the fact that most people are satisfied with it just shows how my own profession has failed in the clear thinking department….


  8. An important point Stan Grant made was the media and whether the media can do it better.

    I think the ABC is struggling to work out how to work in this media environment. It’s a bit damned if they do – such as engage with social media in the ways you mention Lisa, respond or not when the journos become the story, etc – and damned if they don’t. I don’t have the answer but I’m sure glad they are hanging in there trying. There are people there who really care, I believe, and it’s not easy.

    We were driving home today from a very quick trip to Melbourne over the weekend, and thinking how glad I am to be Australian. But that feeling is so fraught, and I have no idea what to do with it.

    My oh my I’ve rambled!


    • I dunno… we used to be friends of the ABC, but these days I honestly feel I can do without it. They don’t produce any entertainment I want to watch, and every time I see that bragging about being ‘Australia’s most trusted news’ I have to suppress my rather unladylike response.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t followed much of what’s been going on with Stan Grant due to general busyness with moving house – but the dumbing-down of our citizens at least as far as educational standards was so evident in the Central West where I was living. Secondary school teachers (public schools, not private) I used to chat with were struggling with apathetic students and even more disinterested parents. One teacher told me she despaired of the future of Australia. This teacher had given a class of 15 year olds the task of writing one page about themselves at the start of the year – she said over a third of the class handed back an empty sheet with only their name written at the top – she said they couldn’t be bothered having to focus and concentrate.

    What hope!

    (Slightly off topic, but not completely!)


    • No, not really off topic because it shows what an uphill battle it’s going to be to achieve anything worthwhile when young people are as lazy and disengaged as that…


  10. Interesting book yes maybe it is a turning point point I think it is a time for an outdated institution to
    Change and catch up with modern times so many of the other royal around Europe have


    • Well said Stu.
      The news about the cost of the funeral and the coronation was shocking when you think about so many having hard times in Britain.


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