Thai-Australians mourn loss of their King

Thai-Australians mourn loss of their King

SBS World News Radio: Thai Australians will gather at Buddhist temples around the country tonight to mourn the loss of their homeland's long-time king.  

Academics and diplomats are remembering a man they found was always well in touch with the Thai people.

His death, after seven decades on the throne, has left a gaping hole in the country's psyche.

In Thailand and across the world, the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the age of 88 has been met with an outpouring of grief.

A spokeswoman for the Thai community in Sydney, Dr Songsri Foran, says the loss for the Thai people is more than she can describe.

"We feel like we have lost a shining light, the wisdom for the country, the spiritual inspiration that has united and bound the Thai people from all walks of life in Thailand and elsewhere in every corner of the globe. No words really could describe the great loss of the nation, I would say."

Former Australian diplomat John Milne served in Australia's embassy in Bangkok in the 1980s.

He, too, emphasises what a man of the people the King was.

"And from that time, I remember His Majesty, the King, was loved by and adored by all the people of Thailand. He was a man of the people, and, at that time, he was very active and he went to rural areas and the impoverished areas of Thailand and encouraged projects and work to help develop those areas. So, not a king who was aloof, he was one who was very much a man of the people."

The emotion was apparent outside the hospital where he died, the crowd chanting "Long live the King" into the evening, many holding pictures of him, and young and old alike in tears.

Some fainted amid the heat of the crowd and the emotion and were carried away on stretchers.

Patrick Jory is a senior lecturer in South-East Asian history at the University of Queensland.

He says the significance of the King's death just cannot be exaggerated.

"He's the longest-reigning monarch in the world. He's the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. He's been a monarch over a very tumultuous period in Thailand, from the Second World War right up through the Cold War and right up through the last 10 years of political instability. Thai people have grown up understanding King Bhumibol as the embodiment of the Thai nation and of being the father of the Thai people, and now he ... he's gone."

As Thai-Australians gather at Buddhist temples to pay their respects, Patrick Jory says there will be many questions about just what happens next.

"You have to be a brave man to predict Thai politics. It tends to be very unpredictable. But I think, in the short term, we will see Crown Prince (Maha) Vajiralongkorn succeed to the throne. There's a mourning period for the duration of this year -- we're still under a military dictatorship, we shouldn't forget. Beyond that, then perhaps we may see something, because there are still some deep divisions in Thai society, some unsolved political issues that will need to be addressed."