Princess Elizabeth was traveling to visit Australia in 1952 when her father King George VI died. She returned to England without visiting. However, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Australia 16 times, usually on important milestones, anniversaries, or celebrations of Australian culture. I favour Australia becoming a republic but, nevertheless, over the years I have seen the Queen on a few occasions during her numerous visits. And her 70 years of service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is certainly quite extraordinary.
On 25 April 1970, I was amongst the crowds when she officially inaugurated the Captain James Cook Memorial which was built to commemorate the Bicentenary of Cook’s first sighting of the east coast of Australia. The memorial includes a water jet located in the central basin and a skeleton globe sculpture at Regatta Point of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, showing the paths of Cook’s expeditions.
I was there again the following day, 26 April 1970, when the Queen opened the National Carillon on Aspen Island in Canberra. The carillon has a symbolic value in the link between Britain and Australia. It also has some historic value for its association with the commemoration of the 50th jubilee of the founding of Canberra.
When the Queen again visited in 1988, my job saw me responsible for many aspects of all the Bicentennial events in Canberra including the outdoor entertainment for the opening of the new Parliament House on 9 May. Royal “flags”, “designed” by me, were flown from numerous flagpoles during the visit, much to the chagrin of certain officials who objected to “pennants” being flown from flagpoles!
As a result of my job responsibilities, I was one of the people invited to attend the Royal race meeting with the Queen on Sunday 8 May. Of course, we were not actually with Her Majesty rather we were all seated several rows in front of her (with an empty space in between) and were instructed not to turn around and look at her.
The Queen officially opened the new Queen Elizabeth II stand at the racecourse and presented the trophy to the winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Bicentennial Stakes, a weight-for-age event over 2000m carrying prize money of AUD$100,000.
Despite the instructions, various people (myself included) took opportunities to peek and some of us also captured some images albeit from a distance.
On the evening of the same day, I attended a “dress rehearsal” in the new Parliament House for the following day’s main event. Guests were able to roam through the new building and many took the opportunity to sit in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Representatives chamber. We experienced the entertainment the Queen was to hear the following day and enjoyed refreshments. I have no photographs of the event – my memory suggests we were not allowed to take any.
I was, of course, outside for the official opening of the new Parliament building, so did not actually see the official party that day, but I was close by and able to photograph the protestors who hung large banners on the outside walls.
On 20 October 2011, I was on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin when the Queen travelled along it from Government House and many folk waved flags and their hands. The boat was too far from the shore to make out Her Majesty (or anyone else) from where I was looking.
Earlier this year, the National Capital Authority put out a call for anyone who had met the Queen to submit photos and their stories for potential inclusion in a planned exhibition celebrating the Platinum Jubilee. The exhibition was to be included in the permanent National Capital Exhibition in the Regatta Point building where Her Majesty had stood to see where the Lake would be once rain fell and filled up the created expanse for it. I decided to submit one of my photos of the Queen from 1988 and the story associated with it.
On 23 May I received an invitation for myself and a guest to attend the opening of The Queen and Me.
So, I accepted for myself and my wife. And, at 4.30PM on 3 June 2022, we arrived at the event and very soon found my image and story had been included.
We perused the other parts of the exhibition, listened to some amusing stories told by the organisers, had some light refreshments, took some photos and chatted to one of the organisers and a few other guests.
As we left the building around 5.15PM we saw that the nearby Water Jet, along with the Carillon and some other buildings on the lake shore were lit with a purple colour. So I grabbed another photo on my phone. We subsequently learned it was Royal Purple and was part of the celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee.
As part of Australia’s celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating her 70 years on the throne, on 4 June 2022, there was a ceremony on the island where the National Carillon stands.
Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, renamed it from Aspen Island to Queen Elizabeth II Island. He described it as a “fitting salute” to the monarch. “Today we celebrate her long life and 70 years of service to Australia and the Commonwealth, including no less than 16 visits to our shores.”