Everyone who was around at the time JFK was killed knows where they were when the news, immediate and shocking, was released by worldwide media – a tragic event forever etched in the collective memory of modern day western civilisation.
Similarly, Australian baby-boomers and their families will never forget the year 1954 when H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth 2nd accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited Australia for the first time.
Unlike the horror of JFK’s assassination this was an almost deliriously happy event for millions of Australians, who after the rigours of the depression and loss of life in WWII reaffirmed their love and loyalty to the monarchy of England.
The young British royals (they were young, Elizabeth 29, Philip 34) left behind two small children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, to embark on a six month tour of the Commonwealth.
A costly undertaking for both Britain and the countries visited, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, it was intended as a gift to reward all those who had worked tirelessly to support the British war effort.
There’s no question that Queen Elizabeth, ably assisted by husband Philip, did a splendid job – travelling from major cities to small towns they delighted crowds that lined the route with smiling good humour and seemingly inexhaustible interest in local people and their achievements.
This splendid job is the subject of the documentary film, When The Queen Came To Town, now showing at Palace Cinemas.
Part of the Emirates British Film Festival 2014, it draws on 35mm Technicolor Cinemascope film footage, news reels and home movies shot by those who were in the crowd as the royal entourage either passed by or visited specially planned events.
Narrated by Bert Newton in a low key manner – no need to use anything but the simplest language to describe eye witness reaction.
The Director, Maurice Murphy has allowed the well put together film clips to speak for themselves.
When The Queen Came To Town captures the unrestrained enthusiasm for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s grand tour; ecstatic crowds of well wishers waved flags and cheered until they were hoarse.
Population increase caused by mostly post-war European migration and affordable air travel yet to whet the Australian appetite for change and inclusion in world events, the film is a nostalgic look at an Australia where isolation from the rest of the world was still enforced by the tyranny of distance.
The film, part social history, part entertainment is a backward look at fifties Australia.
You can gain a great glimpse of a time gone by when woman’s rights, republicanism, global financial crisis, same sex marriage and terrorism were unheard of – public debate determined by who won The Ashes and articles in The Australian Woman’s Weekly.
The news clips are reinforced by interviews with those who were there, front and centre, when the royal couple passed by.
The interviewees all have fun touching stories of their close encounters with the Royals – waiting hours in the sun for a quick look, chosen to present a bouquet, queued at a railway station to cheer the royal train or taking part in special events.
The stories all have a similar thread: how happy and proud they were to be, for however brief a time, in the presence of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
A testament to the forbearance and sheer hard work undertaken by Elizabeth and Philip as they travelled far and wide to greet the people of Australia.
So where was I when all this was happening? My mother, a great horse racing fan, took me to Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse on the day of the Queen’s visit.
Pushed through to the rails by kindly onlookers, I had a bird’s eye view as Elizabeth bravely walked alone along a track trodden by Melbourne Cup winners.
Separated from my mother, my legs were wobbly as I stood on tiptoe, my eyes focused on the petite figure, who, dressed in a nipped in waist, full-skirted outfit.
She appeared to be wearing little or no makeup yet had skin of an incomparable loveliness. And, I can’t remember the colour of the Queen’s outfit but I can remember the roar of the crowd as she passed by and my concern for her ‘aloneness’ as with a slight smile and a wave she acknowledged the affectionate cheers.
But wait a minute… there’s more.
My mother must have had a good day at the track because we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne’s fledgling CBD.
Walking down to Flinders St. Station for the journey home, we were stopped by barricades and joined a group of onlookers… Elizabeth and Philip’s car transporting them to an official dinner was due shortly.
In only a moment the royal tour car appeared, moving slowly, interior lit, the royal couple, dressed in evening clothes were resplendent in the back seat.
Flemington race track, my chance to engage with Queen Elizabeth, this was my opportunity to get a close-up of Prince Philip – decked out in tails, wearing medals, his blonde hair and blue eyes shining he was… drop dead gorgeous.
For a brief moment his gaze held mine – for a little girl from the suburbs of Melbourne it was unforgettable.
Lorraine Bayly, acts as storyteller to a group of 4-6 year olds, which glues the narrative and news reels together in chapter form.
She explains the whys and wherefores of the ‘Princess’s trip to the Great South Land’.
This works well as the children are all cute as, their expressive faces and ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ endearing.
Amongst all the filmed official events former Australian Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies is a towering figure.
His oft repeated poetic quote on his meeting with Queen Elizabeth: ‘I did but see her passing by and I will love her till I die’ almost as famous as the 1954 tour.
Like R.G. I did ‘see her passing by’ and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘I will love her till I die’ I will always have fond memories of a young woman of indomitable spirit.
With her father recently deceased and separated from her children, she travelled with her husband a very long way to bring joy and mutual feelings of respect to the Australian people.
If you were around during the 1954 tour then When The Queen Came To Town this is a must-see – if not,, then you will enjoy the feel-good experience of seeing 50’s Australia.
It was as yet untroubled by times ahead, its people united in good fellowship and who knows?
You might just be lucky enough to see your Grandma or Grandpa in the crowd.
Janet Walker, Special Features Victoria, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014