‘I did but see her passing by…’ Prime Minister of Australia R.M. Menzies. (1963)
Early in February 1954, a group of WWI diggers travelled down to Sydney to see the young Queen Elizabeth. She was on her first tour of Australia, following the coronation. Describing the occasion for the Blue Mountains Advertiser one old fellow said; ‘ When I saw Her Very Gracious Majesty the Queen and her ruggedly handsome husband…….a lump the size of a marble slipped up in my throat and nearly chocked me.’ He insisted that the most elaborate picture published of Her Majesty had not done her justice. Furthermore, he was astounded that ‘…such a magnificent piece of Dresden like and Queenly humanity could stand up to the hypnotic gaze and thunderous cheering of millions of her fascinated subjects, and yet retain her freshness and charming personality.’ Another of the old soldiers expressed his admiration more succinctly; ‘She’s a bloody beaut.’
Meanwhile, Katoomba was preparing for its own royal occasion, with a civic reception to be held at the Echo Point look-out. The Mayor was to present Her Majesty with a book of scenic Blue Mountains photographs, taken by the well known adventurer/photographer Frank Hurley. I was fascinated to read that the images had been coloured by a local woman with her own royal connection. Her name was Miss Vial. She was the granddaughter of William Vial, the man who stepped in and saved Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh from an assassination attempt at Clontarf in 1868.
Schoolchildren arrived at a newly spruced up railway station from surrounding villages. They were each given a plastic medal and a red, white, and blue balloon.
The Queen and her party arrived by train from Bathurst after a stop at Lithgow, where the bunting was out along the station platform. There was the obligatory motorcade along Lithgow’s main street, which was lined with thousands of flag waving youngsters and their parents.
Lithgow’s special effort involved a red, white and blue striped ‘blanket carpet’ for the dais. It was woven at the local woolen mill. The carpet was later cut into small squares as souvenirs. I wonder if anyone still has a piece?
At Katoomba it was estimated that 75,000 people lined the route from the station to Echo Point
Health and safety did not appear to be a major issue;
Crowds were massed around Echo Point, clinging precariously outside the safety fence at the cliff top, sitting on boulders to watch the welcoming ceremony.
And was it all a great success?
Well of course it was! Under the headline KATOOMBA FASCINATED THE QUEEN, a reporter waxed lyrical about the whole event, especially the fact that the royals stayed ten minutes more than was scheduled.
Their official welcome was the most beautiful of their tour……When the Mayor of Katoomba, Ald. A.F.C. Murphy, asked the Queen if she would like to walk down to the lower lookout for a closer look at the valley she stepped from the dais and accompanied him down the steps on the cliff face. There was a blue haze on the distant mountains, but as the Queen walked to the lookout the sun broke through the overcast sky. The valley gleamed in sunlight and the gaunt cliffs of Mt. Solitary facing the lookout turned red. The Jamieson Valley has never looked so lovely. The Queen said that her mother told her how beautiful the Mountains were, and she was sure her children would like to see them when they grew up.
It’s worth noting that the royals were away from their children Charles and Anne for six months on their extensive Commonwealth tour, which included 58 days in Australia.
Then it was off on a scenic drive to Leura before the royals headed back to Sydney.
NOTE – In April 2014 it was the Queen’s grandson William who stood at Echo Point with his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
I should add that although I live in the Blue Mountains now, I was a three year old living in Tasmania at the time of the 1954 royal tour. My siblings and I were taken by neighbours (we didn’t have a car) to see Her Majesty drive by. I have only the vaguest memory of it. She was waving from a dickie seat, leading many Tasmanian children to grow up thinking she had been in the boot of a car.
I presume my husband Rob saw her down south in Glenorchy, because his mother gave me a set of souvenir napkins.
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