We did but see Her passing by…
There are some events that are imprinted indelibly in our minds. For me, the first visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Australia 60 years ago still conjures up vivid memories—I saw her not once, but three times!
The Queen arrived in Sydney on 3 February 1954. I witnessed her arrival with awe and excitement as the Royal Yacht Gothic was escorted into Sydney Harbour by a column of Royal Australian Navy ships led by HMAS Australia. My grandparents took my sister and me to Taronga Park Zoo to watch the pageant on one of those sparkling Sydney summer days. The harbour was crowded with onlookers and craft of all sizes which greeted the Gothic’s arrival with welcoming blasts from sirens, whistles and hooters. The atmosphere was festive–even the large tortoises at the zoo had been decorated for the occasion with union flags painted on their shells.
The Gothic anchored in Athol Bight and the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh boarded the royal barge which moved slowly through a mass of small craft decked out in bright colours. The royal couple alighted at Camp Cove to begin their two-month long Australian visit. They were welcomed by the Governor-General, Field Marshall Slim, the State Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, Prime Minister Menzies and State Premier, Mr Cahill.
That evening my sister and I walked with our grandparents from their North Sydney flat across North Sydney Oval to a vantage point overlooking the harbour where we watched a stunning fireworks show. Naval ships in the harbour were festooned with lights. Fireworks erupted around the sky. At the end of the show, a lighted picture of the Queen and Duke appeared in the sky. How could we sleep after such excitement?
On another occasion, I was present when the Queen and Duke visited North Sydney Oval. They stood in an open Land Rover on a breathlessly hot, humid day. My most vivid memory of that day is a soldier in the guard of honour fainting without abandoning his pose.
Later, my school turned out with other local schools en masse at Wakehurst Parkway near Narrabeen. After an interminable wait, the Queen swept by as the massed school students waved miniature union flags and cheered loudly!
After the royal couple left Sydney, we followed the royal visit around Australia on the radio and, occasionally as a special treat, at the Cinesound newsreels in the city! There was no television yet (not until the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956) but nevertheless we thought ourselves very fortunate to enjoy the royal visit!