As it happened…beyond the stories – a look back at a right royal tour

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip drive past school children in Queensland, 1954 (State Library Qld)

Twenty-nine years ago, we media monitored every move by the Queen, on her fourth visit to Western Australia. And the crowds came out as usual.

Because of the monarch’s incredible fortitude and longevity, nobody dared question how many more visits the Queen would make to WA.

Indeed, 10 years ago, the Queen bounced back to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth before heading east.

So news from the Palace, proclaiming no more Queen world tours, has passed surprisingly quietly in Australia.

Ending a perfect run of successful WA visits (15 to Australia) for the Queen and Prince Philip from 1954, everything went like clockwork 29 years ago. But it was the end of an era.

There may be more Royal tours, but they will never be the same. For her successors, there won’t be the same adoration. People will turn out for Charles and Camilla as well as William and Kate but not in the same numbers, nor in the same glorious, welcoming spirit.

The curtain has fallen on that towering degree of bowing and scraping. And respect.

Even those with republican sympathies cannot ignore the majesty of Her Majesty. There will never be the same thoughts for her heirs.

How many royal generations before republicanism rolls into Australia?

Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch of Australia to set foot on Aussie soil, on 3 February 1954. She was 27. She came to WA in 1963, 1981, 1988, 1992 and 2011.

When the Queen left Perth for her first visit to Albany, more than 25,000 school children lined the route from Fremantle to Guildford. A banner read: “Please bring the Royal children next time you come.”

Since 1867 there have been 50-plus Australian visits by Royal Family members, with just six before 1954. Not all went smoothly.

Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and son of Queen Victoria, was the first member of the royal family to visit Australia, in 1867, during his world voyage. 

He missed WA, stopping at Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney where he received a violent welcome.

While picnicking on Sydney’s Clontarf beach on 12 March 1868, the Duke was shot by Henry James O’Farrell in an assassination attempt. But he recovered and seven months later sailed on to New Zealand.

Then, in 1881, Prince George, 15, came to Australia with his brother, Prince Albert Victor of Wales, 17. Midshipmen in training, they sailed into Albany on HMS Bacchante, then took a passenger ship to South Australia, went overland to Melbourne and sailed on a navy ship to Sydney. 

In 1901, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and his wife, Alexandra, were set to sail here but Queen Victoria died on 22 January and they had to prepare for a coronation in 1902. 

So, Edward’s son Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York, and Mary, filled-in. They landed in Albany aboard SS Ophir and sailed on to Melbourne where the Duke opened Australia’s first federal parliament. 

In 1920, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived in Victoria on behalf of his father, George V, to thank Australians for their role in World War I. He was flanked by the legendary Lord Louis Mountbatten.

In WA, their railway carriage overturned near Bridgetown. Neither was fazed with the prince climbing out clutching his papers in one hand and a cocktail shaker in the other. He reportedly commented that “at last, something has happened outside our program.”

Edward, Prince of Wales (right) escapes unhurt from a train crash, south of Perth, in 1920.

The Queen’s tours, however, rule supreme. In the year after her succession to the throne, the Queen and Prince Philip undertook a six-month grand tour of the Commonwealth.

Over 58 days in Australia, they visited 57 cities and towns across all States and territories except the Northern Territory. They kicked off their Aussie expedition from Fremantle aboard the royal yacht Britannia.

During that national tour, 75 per cent of the population turned out to catch a glimpse of their Queen.