October 19

Welcoming back an old friend

This is the headline in the leader in The Australian today, 19 October 2011, the day when The Queen of Australia lands in the national capital  on her 16th visit or, as the Canadians put it , her homecoming.  From one of the most prominent campaigners for a republic in the referendum, this is a very warm message and does them great credit.


AUSTRALIA was a different country when an estimated three-quarters of our then nine million people turned out to cheer the young, glamorous and newly crowned Elizabeth II on her first visit in 1954. Robert Menzies was prime minister, a post-war baby boom was building a stronger nation, the White Australia policy was entrenched and we were still riding on the sheep's back.

Today, Australians welcome the Queen for her 16th visit of what has proved to be a long, enduring friendship. The turnout for this visit will be more low-key than the cheering crowds that greeted the royal couple more than half a century ago but it will be especially warm and affectionate because some tip it could be the last time she makes the long haul Down Under.

The Australian has long believed that Australia's ultimate destiny should be a republic. Only a brave person would predict when that change might occur, however, after the thumping defeat of the 1999 republican referendum and the emerging popularity of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge among younger Australians.

Such is the esteem in which the Queen is held that the republican question should not be revisited during her reign, which has already covered 12 British prime ministers and 11 in Australia. Equal rights aside, her extraordinary reign shows why British Prime Minister David Cameron's move to allow the eldest children of future monarchs to assume the throne, irrespective of gender, deserves to succeed.

Even those who would prefer an Australian-born head-of-state acknowledge that the Queen's dedication to duty, stoicism and professionalism in remaining apolitical has illustrated the stable benefits of constitutional monarchy to best advantage.

While highly privileged, she has consistently put that privilege to good use and been one of the driving forces in helping to refashion the former British Empire as the Commonwealth.

Never one to wear her heart on her sleeve, she has the knack of engaging warmly with the thousands of people she meets, whatever the circumstances, and keeping her speeches succinct and to the point. Her sensitivity and insight in the Irish Republic earlier this year were masterful, never more than at Dublin's Croke Park, site of a British massacre of Irish civilians in 1920.

In Australia, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have seen more of the cities, towns and backblocks of all states and the territories than many Australians.

After their early, triumphal visits in which they traversed one end of the nation to another, they returned to mark the bicentenary of Cook's discovery of Australia, celebrated the opening of the Sydney Opera House, the National Gallery of Australia, Expo '88, the new Parliament House in Canberra and much else.

This visit will be a mixture of serious politics with the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, fundraising at a "Great Aussie Barbecue", sightseeing with a tram ride in Melbourne, Floriade in Canberra and an important outreach acknowledging Queensland's flood victims and emergency workers in Brisbane.

At 85 and showing robust longevity similar to her mother, the Queen is due to celebrate her diamond jubilee next year and has four years to serve to overtake her great-great-grandmother Victoria's record as Britain's longest-serving monarch.

We wish her well and welcome her among us.



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