When the Queen Came to Town

WHEN THE QUEEN CAME TO TOWN. Starring Lorraine Bayley, narrated by Bert Newton. Directed by Maurice Murphy. 78 minutes. Rated G.

It was in February 1954 when the young Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, toured the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. That was 60 years ago! To celebrate the event, this documentary compilation of newsreels of the time has come to Australian screens. The interesting question is, who would like to see this film?

For anyone 20 or under, the Royal Tour will seem like ancient history, a kind of antiquarian exercise. Actually will seem this way to people under 30, perhaps even under 40. But for those who were there, it will be a nostalgia tour.

Sharing a personal note with others who remember the events. We stood for a long time outside St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney to catch a passing glimpse of the Queen, which was probably the main experience for most Australians, though one man in the film says, as she passed, it was like watching her in slow motion, a glimpse of her that he would never forget. Be that as it may, as schoolchildren, those from the Southern Highlands as well as the coastal area, were all gathered in Wollongong Oval. This means that we had, rather distantly, a 360° view of the Queen as she was driven round the Oval. In the film, we see only the young girl who made the speech for the Queen in Wollongong, battling the wind blowing her hat off her head. You will see what I mean about the kind of film that it is and who will enjoy it.

It should also be said that for monarchists this experience will be majestic. For Republicans, it could well be rebellion-rousing!

One of the aims of the film is to show what Australia was like 60 years ago, most of the oldies being interviewed (and there are quite a lot of sharing their memories) have a deep hankering for the niceness and peacefulness of the 1950s. Someone mentions there was no need of Neighbourhood Watch. Perhaps it was. Perhaps we were rather isolated from the rest of the world and that did not matter too much. We do see scenes of Torres Strait Islanders dancing as well as the Pitinjara men performing a corroboree, the first in the presence of a woman to whom they confided the secret meaning. But Bert Newton reminds us that aborigines were not citizens in their own country.

The film is narrated (more nostalgia) by Bert Newton and his text makes him sound like a deeply royalist fan. Then there is a classroom set, with Lorraine Bayley (more nostalgia) narrating to a group of little girls, all dressed as little princesses, what the Royal Tour was like in terms of fairy tales. And the film is divided into several chapters, each introduced with a pale pastel colouring. Speaking of pastel, one of the chapters talks about the Australian passion for fashion, praising her Majesty for wearing ordinary clothes that women could, and did, imitate (she had 100 outfits and I think we saw most of them during the film).

There is historical background of George VI becoming King, his death in 1952, the Coronation of the Queen and her setting out on a six month voyage at the end of 1953, with glimpses of her time in Fiji and in Tonga. There is also some coverage of the visit to New Zealand.

It looks as though every town and city that she visited gets a look in in this film, some visuals as well as comments from those who are there and remember. These remind us that England was the mother country, we were all loyal, the flag-waving was extraordinary. She is seen in public receptions, opening State parliaments, opening the Federal Parliament – as well as seen cattle in Royal Show, meeting Don Bradman and cricket greats, watching a surf carnival on Bondi Beach…

Director Maurice Murphy wrote the script for the film as well as directed. Interestingly, while we see Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, accompanying the Queen and on covers of the Women’s Weekly (quite a number of these), he is not mentioned in connection with the Queen except for one of those oldies, laughing and reminiscing, quoting his, “I did but see her passing by…”.

There is a great line from one woman who presented the bouquet to the Queen and remembers that when the Queen fact her, she said “that’s okay”.

It is interesting for those looking at the Queen, her energy, her etiquette and protocol, and to remember that she was only 27. And the Duke of Edinburgh seems unfailingly smiling.

60 years is a long time in anyone’s lifetime, especially judging from the members of the audience during the screening. It was certainly another world. Australia has changed extraordinarily. But, the Queen is still there. The Duke of Edinburgh is still there. But the film does remind us that Australians welcomed the Queen as Queen of Australia in those days but so much has changed, so much, that one wonders how relevant the monarchy is, in fact, to present-day Australia.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out 27th November 2014.


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