Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This week The Queen is visiting Australia for the sixteenth time since 1954. I have a vivid memory of the third of those official visits in 1970, to mark the bicentenary of the arrival of James Cook aboard H.M.S. Endeavour. I was five, and in the first grade at Grimwade House. Every schoolchild received a little medal to commemorate the event, and mine is somewhere. I must find it. Dad and Mum took me down to Port Melbourne to witness the arrival in Hobson’s Bay of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Not too far from Station Pier I waved my small Union flag with tremendous vigor, and was in every other respect beside myself with excitement. I have no recollection of seeing anything or anyone larger than a couple of brightly colored specks, descending the gangplank, and transferring to the snappy little tender that brought the sovereign, the Duke, Prince Charles (aged 21) and Princess Anne (19) all the way up the River Yarra, not I suspect an experience in those days that was ever likely to become etched upon their collective memory. Nevertheless, the drama created by the gradual approach of an ocean-going vessel as big, as sleek, and as glamorous as Britannia, and the certain knowledge that The Queen was definitely on board, these outshone anything that is now ever remotely feasible in the conveyor-belt desolation of a modern airport, even the patch of cement that is from time to time with pluck designated as the V.I.P. Apron. So to some extent when I think of The Queen, as I quite often do, I think also of that childhood vision of Britannia steaming up Port Phillip Bay. I think of the immense crowds, too, Maie Casey, Mr. Gorton, Jumbo Delacombe, Miss Mountain, Mrs. Woods, and the huge black Rolls Royce Phantom VI that I gather still lives in Canberra, and by no means in semi-retirement.

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