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Royal visits to Australia

A photograph of street decorations in George Street during the visit of HRH the Prince of Wales, 1920.

Street decorations in George Street during the visit to Sydney of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, June - July 1920, photograph: b&w. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Since the first British settlers came to this country more than 200 years ago, many Australians have been enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the British monarchy and its royal family.

There have been over 50 royal tours to Australia since 1867, but only six prior to 1954.

While former Prime Minister Robert Menzies' description of the importance of the Queen seems 'over-the-top' nowadays, it perhaps summed up the feelings of millions of Australians at a time when the monarchy's popularity was at its zenith:

It is a basic truth that for our Queen we have within us, sometimes unrealised until the moment of expression, the most profound and passionate feelings of loyalty and devotion.

The early visits: consolidating distant sympathies

The first royal visits to Australia produced incredible and, at times, unrestrained enthusiasm. They also set the tone for nearly a century and a half of royal visits.

The inaugural visit - 1867

The 1867-68 visit of the little-known Prince Alfred to Australia was the very first by a member of the British Royal family. The tour - to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane - was tumultuous, to say the least. It produced an outpouring of national exaltation ... and of national shame following an assassination attempt on the Prince.

On 12 March 1868, Irishman Henry James O'Farrell shot the Prince at a public function in Clontarf, Sydney. O'Farrell was immediately arrested, and was convicted and hanged on 21 April that same year.

While the Prince made a quick recovery and was able to leave Australia by early April, many public 'indignation' meetings were held around the country in the weeks after the assassination attempt (around 20,000 people attended an indignation meeting in Sydney the day after the attack).

Embracing nationhood - 1901

The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 meant that King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had to prepare for a Coronation in 1902.

Yet a royal tour of the British Empire was still a priority, so the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York stepped in for the King and Queen. On 16 March 1901 they set sail on the Ophir for an eight-month goodwill, overseas tour. The Duke's main task was to inaugurate the first Australian Federal Parliament in Melbourne.

Their arrival in Melbourne was spectacular. They were met by a huge flotilla of boats. Their reception was warm and enthusiastic wherever they went.

The inauguration of Parliament was an historic occasion highlighted by the final words of the Duke's speech:

Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives, it affords me much pleasure to convey to you this message from His Majesty. I now, in his name and on his behalf, declare Parliament open.

The tour, which took in all Australian states, was a great success. Nationhood had not dimmed Australia's love of the royals and the 'mother country' (an estimated 100,000 attended the royal landing in the Domain in Sydney).

The 'digger Prince' - 1920

A photograph of crowds during the visit to Sydney of HRH the Prince of Wales, 1920.

Crowd gathered at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney on the western shore of Farm Cove, during the visit to Sydney of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, June - July 1920, photograph: b&w. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Edward, the Prince of Wales arrived in Victoria on 2 April 1920 representing his father, King George V. His mission was to thank Australians for the part they played in World War 1.

Australia embraced the Prince and his reputation grew throughout the visit. His heavy agenda and the enthusiasm that greeted him everywhere he went meant that he was forced to take a one-week break before heading for NSW.

Australians warmed to his humour and modesty and he endeared himself to them further by making light of a rail accident in which his carriage overturned in Western Australia. The Prince was unhurt and thanked the officials for arranging the 'harmless little railway accident'!

He was affectionately known as the 'digger Prince' - the ultimate Australian compliment.

The modern era - Queen Elizabeth II

The monarchy consolidated its broad appeal over the years. The 1927 arrival of the Duke and Duchess of York at Sydney Harbour attracted the nation's first million plus congregation.

This royal popularity continued to grow with the advent of air travel and more sophisticated 'on-the-ground' transport, which meant more regular royal visits to Australia.

A reigning monarch sets foot in Australia - 1954

On 3 February 1954, the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning monarch to set foot on Australian soil. She was accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

A photograph of Queen Elizabeth on a tour of the Flying Doctor Service base at Alice Springs, 1963.

John Mulligan, Queen Elizabeth on a tour of the Flying Doctor Service base at Alice Springs, 29 March, 1963, negative: acetate b&w. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Australia was swept up by the excitement of her visit and the reception throughout the nation was incredible. Their visit took in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Highlights of the visit included the opening of the third session of the 20th National Parliament in Canberra and an exultant welcome by 70,000 ex-servicemen and women at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Other visits

Opening the Opera House - 1973

Other significant visits since 1954 include the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's 1973 visit to Australia. Her principal duty was to open the Sydney Opera House, an event that gained worldwide attention.

The Diana phenomenon - 1983

The visit of Prince Charles and his 21 year-old wife, Princess Diana, caused a sensation. Also accompanied by their first son, Prince William, they landed in Alice Springs on 20 March 1983. The young Diana struck a chord with the populace and gave a boost to the flagging popularity of the royals in Australia (and worldwide).

Opening the new Parliament House - 1988

On 9 May 1988 the Queen opened the new Parliament House in Canberra, on the second last day of an almost month long visit to Australia. During this visit she also opened Darling Harbour in Sydney and World Expo 88 in Brisbane. The trip included visits to Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

The XVIII Commonwealth Games - 2006

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, was in Australia in March 2006 to open the XVIII Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Their five day visit from Sunday 12 March to Thursday 16 March included visits to Canberra and Sydney, as well as Melbourne.

In Sydney on Monday 13 March the Queen attended Commonwealth Day celebrations including a Commonwealth Day Observance at St Andrews Cathedral and a reception at the Governor-General's Sydney residence, Admiralty House.

For a full list of Queen Elizabeth II's visits to Australia see the official website of the British Monarchy. The National Library of Australia has a list of her speeches in Australia from 1954 -1992.

Useful links

Last updated: 14th November 2007
Creators: ACME