A right royal birthday

Patrick Ferry & Charles Hewat
Tuesday, 14 November 2023

On 14 November 2023, His Majesty King Charles III turns 75. The National Archives looks at his long association with Australia, as reflected in the national archival collection.

Salutes, congratulations and a puppy

In November 1948, Prince Charles' birth was marked in Australia with salutes fired by the defence forces. Flags were flown on public buildings. A congratulatory telegram was also sent to London on behalf of the Australian government and people.

Individuals, communities and organisations across Australia sent their own messages too. Some also offered gifts. The Country Women's Association of NSW was chuffed when their handwoven cot and pram blankets were accepted. Most gifts though, were politely declined on protocol grounds. Some, were impractical to accept, like an Australian terrier puppy.

Off to school in the bush

In 1966, 17-year-old Prince Charles studied at Geelong Grammar's Timbertop campus. Originally enrolled for just one term, Prince Charles enjoyed the experience and stayed on for a second. Governor General Lord Casey later described the Prince's stay as a 'complete success':

It can be said without a doubt that he has got a lot out of his time at Timbertop … he told me, of his own accord, that he had enjoyed it all very much.

Crowds, cricket and Countdown

The Prince of Wales visited Australia again in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. His 1967 visit was a solemn one, representing the Queen at the state memorial service for Prime Minister Harold Holt. Other visits though, had moments of informality. These ranged from impromptu walks amongst the crowds, to enjoying a game of cricket. On one occasion, he was interviewed by a very nervous Molly Meldrum on the ABC's popular Countdown program. On another, Prince Charles was photographed behind the wheel of his limousine with his driver taking the back seat!

Dashed dreams

During these visits, Australia and its people made a very deep impression on Prince Charles. Indeed, he had his heart set on purchasing a property here. This dream though, was dashed by an economic crisis back in the UK and reservations from the Palace.

There was also speculation that Prince Charles would become Australia's governor general. There were precedents, but by the 1970s the concept of appointing a non-Australian to the position was controversial. The political fallout from the 1975 dismissal made a royal appointment impossible.

Welcoming the Waleses

The 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer attracted one of the largest audiences in Australian television history. When they toured Australia in 1983, it was a blockbuster. Huge crowds turned out to welcome them across Australia. Subsequent visits by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1985 and 1988 were also very popular.

Security scare in Sydney

Prince Charles' solo 1994 tour came two years after his split from Princess Diana. During this visit, there was a major security scare in Sydney. At an Australia Day event, a protestor fired blank shots at the Prince, who was unharmed. 

Responding to republicanism

During the same visit, Prince Charles addressed the debate about whether Australia should become a republic. He acknowledged that this was a decision for the Australian people. According to Prince Charles, the debate itself was a sign of a 'mature and self-confident nation'. He continued:

Whatever course you ultimately decide upon, I can only say that I will always have an enormous affection for this country.

A referendum to establish Australia as a republic failed to obtain majority support in 1999 so Australia remained a monarchy. In September 2022, Prince Charles became king following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.