When The Queen came home to Australia in 2006, most in the media speculated, and some even announced, that this was likely to be her last. After all, they said, Her Majesty had celebrated her eightieth birthday. To most commentators, the idea of their working beyond the usual retirement age is preposterous. But Australians then saw The Queen standing alone on a platform under Sydney’s hot summer sun as the National and Royal Anthems were played, and climbing unaided and departing from the stage in the Great Hall in Parliament House Canberra, delivering fine speeches, greeting and charming her former prime ministers, Messrs.Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke, as they rushed to take her hand just as they rushed to throw themselves on what they thought was to be the victorious republican bandwagon to campaign against her in 1999. Australians understood then that, no matter what the media said, there was no reason why she should not continue to come home to Australia and her other realms, and to visit other lands.
Just this year, France received her with great honour and respect when, as Queen of Canada, she presided at the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Her visit even over shadowed the opening of the French presidential election.
Reporting that The Queen would have a quiet day at Windsor Castle to mark her 81st birthday, the London Daily Telegraph of 21 April, 2007 stated the obvious – that most people her age spend not only their birthdays quietly, but most days during the rest of the year. But in addition to her daily engagements at home, The Queen is now making a State Visit to the United States, 50 years after her first, when President Eisenhower was still in office. This is for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in the state of Virginia, which is named after Queen Elizabeth I.
We could not help but remark on the warmth and courtesy with which the Virginian officials and legislators welcomed her at the airport and at the state legislature. Their behaviour contrasted, and that embarrassingly, with that of some of our Australian politicians before and during The Queen’s homecoming in 2006, particularly in the NSW Parliament and about the Opening of the Commonwealth Games. The visit of The Queen to the US has created great interest there and around the world. It was obvious from the television screening of the event that the Virginian legislators were especially honoured that she addressed them, and touched by her expression of sympathy about the outrage at Virginia Tech. (In fact one of our American readers had written last week to tell us that The Queen would deliver a special message to the families of the victims of that tragedy.) From the world television transmissions, the legislators gave the Queen three standing ovations. And in Her Realm of Australia, in the New South Wales Parliament, the previous presiding officers have moved her portraits to places where the public cannot easily see them.
In reporting The Queen’s 81st birthday, the London Daily Telegraph made a point of The Queen’s great experience, and the tradition within which she acts. This is something which is unknown to republics. “How different,” the Telegraph said, “her steadiness and devotion to duty are from the party tactics of fly-by-night politicians. The British do not wear their hearts on their sleeves, but know how to reciprocate quietly loyal service. Today they can feel, if they do not sing, God Save The Queen.” And so say Australians, who also see through their own fly-by-night politicians, as they luxuriate in early retirement, enriching themselves from contacts made while in office. When it comes to the crunch, Australians will realise that a republic is about MMP – many more republican politicians with their snouts in the trough.
And in case any republican challenges my statement that Australians honour and respect their Sovereign, he or she should remember what 80,000 did in Melbourne last year when the republican authorities tried to snub The Queen by banning the playing of the Royal Australian Anthem. They stood up and sung the eight bars of the Royal Anthem which Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was allowed to sing.
And by way of an addendum, I must mention that I recently saw the film, The Queen, agin. This was my second viewing, this time on a liner in the Pacific. It will not be my last. At the end of the film, I saw and heard something which neither I nor my companions had ever experienced on a cruise before. This was when the audience, mainly made up of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Britons and New Zealanders, broke into spontaneous and loud applause. Although the scriptwriter says he wrote it as a hatchet job, what Dame Helen Mirren has achieved is to capture, exquisitely, that sense of duty and service to the people which has always guided Elizabeth II, as Princess, as Queen of her several Realms and as Head of the Commonwealth. Long May She Reign.