2017 marked the 70th platinum anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and Prince Philip. It was on November 20th 1947, before Elizabeth ascended to the throne, they were married at London’s Westminster Abbey. It is a great achievement in anyone’s estimation. Not only has the monarch provided political stability but also has set an example for marital stability during times of great testing, tribulation and incredible changes of social attitudes. Speaking on the occasion of their 60th anniversary in 1997, the Prince said the secret to their marriage was “tolerance and different interests”. The formula has obviously been successful.
The Palace has announced that there will be no public events to mark the occasion, but there is no doubt there will be many private functions to recognise the anniversary.
The Queens has served her people well, even republicans admit to this. On September 9th 2015 she became the longest serving monarch in British history, breaking Queen Victoria’s 63 year old reign. It was unlikely that she would become Queen at all. In 1936 with the unexpected abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII had the crown pass to her father, George VI thus paving the way for Elizabeth to ascend to the throne. On February 6 1952 she and Philip were in a remote part of Kenya when the news came through of the death of her father who had been ill. Queen Elizabeth II (although technically speaking Queen Elizabeth I for Scotland) was crowned Queen, June 2 1953. A young lady had inherited enormous responsibility, yet she did not shun the prospect.
On taking her oath at the coronation she promised to “govern the people” of her various realms, not the Government of the day nor to serve the Government, but the “people”. Her role is an independent identity. She finished by publicly stating, “The things which I have before promised, I will perform and keep, so help me God.” She certainly has fulfilled her oath. How many governments, politicians, public officials have done likewise? She serves her people.
Her and the Prince’s relationship with Tasmania came very early in 1954. Indeed, she was the first resigning monarch to embark on a tour of the crown’s expansive Dominions. First it was to Fiji in the Pacific and other British possessions, then an extensive tour of New Zealand. Aboard the royal yacht Gothic they sailed into the Tasman Sea where the Royal Australian Navy vessel, HMAS Australia took over escort duties sailing first into Sydney Harbour and elsewhere on the mainland.
Then it was Tasmania’s turn, when on February 20th the Gothic glided into Hobart. After the vessel’s berthing, the Royal couple were taken to the Town Hall to be met by the Lord Mayor of Hobart, Sir Richard Harris, the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Ronald Cross and Premier Robert Cosgrove. It was notable the first official gathering in their Australian tour was in Hobart when 22,000 school children gave a display at North Hobart Oval.
In my possession I have a beautiful glossy red-covered souvenir of the “Opening of Parliament by The Queen 1954.” It was presented to me by the late Dr George Howatt, an American Political Scientist who was a great admirer of Constitutional Monarchy. It is an attractive presentation A4 size which gives a detailed account of the historical occasion. The Royal couple then toured Tasmania and eventually left our shores.
Since then of course there has been substantial changes throughout the world. Worse of all was the “dark decade” in which Charles and Diana divorced (1996) followed by Diana’s death (1997) and before that the burning of Windsor Castle (1992) the year when looking back was described by the Queen as her “annus horribilis”. Yet come 2017 the Queen is greatly revered world-wide, a lady who has fulfilled when she promised to “sincerely pledge myself to your service…throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.” (Coronation Day Speech, June 2, 1953). How many politicians have said that and if they have, fulfilled their pledge?
Over the decades since 1954 there have been a number of visits by the Royal couple to Tasmania, 1963, 70, 77, 81 and 88. The last being the year 2000, but can I add just this? This last time one of Prince Philip’s functions was to unveil a plague to our naval history at Anzac Park, Lindisfarne at which I attended. I noted however, those loyal subjects such as I, together with my friend, the late Michael Hodgman were held back from the event by barriers. The Prince then arrived to do the honours accompanied by officialdom who were by reputation, republicans, I mused about the comical situation of it all….loyalists held back, while republicans were in the official party. There is no doubt in my mind, the Prince was very aware of this….the first thing he did when alighting from the car, was to turn and wave to us….I still l have the photograph.
The Royal Couple’s devotion to each other and their belief in the institution of marriage sets an example to all. When in Australia near 50 per cent of marriages fail and their average span is twelve years, it is important the example they have set is recognised. When the two Fabian Socialists, Gough Whitlam and Lionel Murphy brought in the Family Law Courts, Murphy boasted that “this will destroy the family”. Now couples can be divorced after just twelve month’s separation and neither party are required to give a reason why they wish to divorce. Made all too easy.
Reg A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author and Tasmanian Convener for Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.