HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER 2022
Only one serving British monarch has ever visited Australia. Only one British monarch has ever had her head appear on Australia’s decimal currency. 87 percent of Australians have only ever known one monarch in our lifetimes.
If the first Elizabethan Age represented the English renaissance, the second Elizabethan Age is marked by its extraordinary longevity. As the Prime Minister pointed out this morning, it spanned 16 Australian Prime Ministers, starting with Menzies; 16 Governors General, starting with McKell, and included 16 visits to Australia, the first lasting two months.
Queen Elizabeth did not live here, but during her 70-year reign, she met more Australians and travelled to more parts of Australia than most Australians. She made a broadcast over the Royal Flying Doctors’ network from Broken Hill, opened the Opera House and this Parliament House, consoled Australians who had suffered loss, and sent thousands of congratulatory messages to centenarians and couples celebrating their diamond anniversaries.
My home town of Canberra witnessed some of the most remarkable moments in Queen Elizabeth’s visits to Australia. If you’ve ever taken a tour of parliament, you may have heard the guide tell you that by being in the House of Representatives, you’re in the one place that the monarch can never enter. The convention has existed since 1642 when King Charles I, accompanied by armed guards, entered the English House of Commons and attempted to arrest some of its members. His actions led to the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I in 1649. Since then, no monarch has ever entered the House of Commons, and – so the tour guides might tell you – the Australian House of Representatives.
But it isn’t true. On 14 February 1954, a 27 year-old Queen Elizabeth paid an unofficial visit to Old Parliament House. The speaker, Archie Cameron, asked if she would like to see the House of Representatives, suggesting that it would be ok because it was a Sunday, and “it’s a long time since Charles I”. Queen Elizabeth said yes, the doors were unlocked, and she spent seven minutes in the House – making her the first British monarch to enter the people’s house for three hundred years.
Traditions can change.
Reading the accounts of that 1954 visit is a reminder of a far-away age. At the state ball, members of parliament were told that they could only bring their partners if they were married. Guests were served pheasant, boar’s head and Scottish salmon. Many practiced their curtseys. The Canberra Times proudly reported that 40,000 people saw the Royal couple when they arrived. Not bad for a city of 28,000.
Queen Elizabeth saw Canberra evolve. When she visited in 1977, she remarked “We first came here 23 years ago, long before there was a lake and when the capital was described as ‘seven suburbs in search of a city’. That city has now been found, and it is one of charm and character; it has become worthy of the nation.”
On her 1988 visit, Queen Elizabeth visited Canberra’s Thoroughbred Park, joining Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the grandstand that is now named in her honour. They shared a love of the sport, and the day was immortalised in one of those iconic Hawkie photos. Like Hawke, many Australians related to her enjoyment of horse races, as well as her other well known passions – marmalade sandwiches, corgis, family, faith, a commitment to service and charities.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II is a reminder that – as Noel Pearson has pointed out - Australian national identity involves the confluence of three powerful rivers. Indigenous Australians have occupied this land for at least 65 000 years, a period that predates human settlement of Europe. The second source of identity comes from the British institutions that underpin our legal system and market economy, and binds us together through colonialism, shared sacrifice in war, and a common culture. The third river is multiculturalism, which has seen Australia successfully integrate a higher share of migrants than virtually any other advanced nation.
Like many of my fellow citizens, I would like to see an Australian head of state. But that transition will only happen with a proper recognition of our history, and the role the monarchy has played in it. To be a more complete Commonwealth, we must acknowledge our past as we work together to build a stronger future. In that history, no monarch has been more significant than Queen Elizabeth II. May she rest in peace.