The Royals Visit Australia
Just like football finals and backyard barbecues, royal visits to Australia have become part of our ritual.
While republicans grouch about what they see as a bunch of British interlopers, the tours keep on coming and Australians, young and old, keep on turning up for a look.
Monte Luke and his photographers have a long history of covering these visits, dating back to 1927 when Prince Albert (father of the present Queen and later to be King George VI) visited with the Queen Mother (then the Duchess of Cornwall and Wales) to open the new Parliament House in Canberra.
In 1958, more than 30 years later, the by then widowed Queen Mother returned on a solo tour.
This Monte Luke photograph of her with the Governor-General Sir William Slim and his wife was taken in Canberra, probably at Government House. The three week tour covered all the mainland capitals with the focus on outdoor events. She went to a surf carnival, garden parties, a racing meeting and even a rodeo. There was an amazing scene in Sydney’s George Street where more than two thousand women crowding in for a glimpse had to be pushed back by police. ”Give us a fair go, coppers!” one woman was reported to have yelled, while another shouted “Let’s have a look at her!” Very un-Queen Mum like, indeed.
But the royalist of royal tours had come four years earlier in 1954, when the present queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, became the first reigning monarch to tour here. She had only been crowned the previous year (1953) and so the arrival of his young, beautifully dressed woman and her handsome military man of a husband caused mass excitement. For two months they ranged far and wide, from city to country.
Australia’s population at the time was eight million and it is estimated that three-quarters of them saw the couple somewhere along the way. There was no television in those days, so thousands who had been at royal events would then flock to the cinemas in the following days where newsreels provided on-going coverage. The Prime Minister of the day Sir Robert Menzies, the most ardent of royal supporters, seemed to sum up the nation’s mood when he said “It is a basic truth that for our Queen we have within us, sometimes unrealised until the moment of expression, the most profound and passionate feelings of loyalty and devotion”.