Seventy not out

Patrick Ferry
Monday, 7 February 2022

It's an innings which has broken all the monarchy's records – 70 not out. This year, Queen Elizabeth II marks her 'platinum jubilee' – the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne. For this historic milestone, let's look back to February 1952, when the start of the Queen's reign was marked in Australia.

The King is dead ...

When 26-year-old Princess Elizabeth became 'the Queen' on 6 February 1952, she was in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand for a much-anticipated royal tour. Although her father King George VI had been seriously ill for some time, his sudden death at just 56 still came as a shock to the public.

Following protocol, Australia went into official mourning. Parliament in Canberra suspended its sittings. Flags were flown at half-mast. Thick black borders appeared around the edges of government stationery and army officers donned black crepe armbands. Black drapes were even hung above the entrance of the General Post Office in Sydney as a mark of respect. On the day of the King's funeral, the nation officially observed 2 minutes of silence.

... Long live the Queen!

Meanwhile, on 8 February, amid what the press described as 'mild pageantry at Canberra', a crowd gathered to hear the Governor-General of Australia Sir William McKell formally proclaim Princess Elizabeth:

Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of this realm, and of all her other realms and territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Supreme Liege Lady in and over the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Governor-General's proclamation ended with the prayer that the new Queen would be blessed with 'long and happy years to reign over us'. One wonders whether any of the proclamation's signatories envisaged that Queen Elizabeth II would reign over their grandchildren and great-grandchildren 70 years later?

Of course, the new Queen had to postpone her visit to Australia, heading back immediately to London. When the royal tour finally went ahead 2 years later, it cemented the relationship between Australia and the Queen. For many communities, their first 'close encounter of a regal kind' occurred in a typically Aussie setting: at their local cricket grounds, sporting ovals, racecourses and surf clubs.

An enduring but changed relationship

That relationship has endured since then, weathering a major constitutional crisis in 1975 ('the Dismissal') and surviving the strong push for an Australian republic in the 1990s. However, Australia's political, economic and social evolution has fundamentally changed the dynamic between 'Queen and country'. In the 1950s, widespread deference, adulation, even reverence shown to the Queen was virtually inseparable from support for the Crown as an institution. Today – whilst the Queen still enjoys public respect, admiration and even affection – a large number of Australians question the relevancy of the monarchy to contemporary Australia and its future.

Long to reign over us?

This poses the inevitable question: how long will the monarchy survive in Australia when the Queen's long reign draws to a close?