Nostalgia at Queen's 'farewell' Australia tour
Australians prepare to welcome Britain's Queen Elizabeth II for her 16th tour Down Under this week, with the possibility of it being her last sparking renewed interest in the 85-year-old monarch.
Despite Australia's reputation as an egalitarian, irreverent and youthful nation, and its fitful starts towards becoming a republic, the country's head of state remains a much loved figure in the former penal colony.
Thousands are expected to gather to see Her Majesty as she visits a flower show in Canberra, cruises along the Brisbane River and attends a barbecue in Perth during her October 19-29 visit to open a Commonwealth summit.
"People want to catch their last glimpse of the Queen," said Philip Benwell of the Australian Monarchists League.
"There's a feeling of excitement, of anticipation which we didn't get on the few earlier visits since 2000.
"And whilst I don't think it will be the Queen's last visit because as long as she can travel she will want to come and meet her people, it could be her last visit to the states that she's now visiting."
Since her first epic two-month trip in 1954, the Queen has made 15 visits to Australia, venturing from sheep farms to the Outback, from the Great Barrier Reef to opening the harbourside Sydney Opera House in 1973.
Her most recent visit was in 2006, when she opened the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
The Queen's 2011 tour, built around her opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth on October 28, will feature a public event every day but will be far less grand in scale than her first trip, which was the largest event in Australian history according to historian Jane Connors.
Connors, who wrote her PhD on the two-month royal tour, said some 75 percent of the population were estimated to have taken to the streets to see their young monarch in the pre-television days of 1954.
"There was a big thing about seeing her -- there had never been a reigning monarch in Australia and there was an obsessive, a compulsive feeling, that we had been founded in 1788... and she was the first reigning monarch to come and see how well we'd done," she said.
While the 1954 tour was almost seven years in the planning, with every school child given a book about the Queen, and every level of government and the army involved, the 2011 visit will be much more low-key.
The Queen, who will again be accompanied by Prince Philip, will meet those affected by last summer's devastating floods and cyclone in Brisbane on October 24 and open the new Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne two days later.
In Canberra, Her Majesty will meet Welsh-born Prime Minister Julia Gillard and in Perth she will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which takes place every two years.
Buckingham Palace aides have reportedly refused to rule out future visits Down Under but Elizabeth II is expected to cut back on long-haul trips after next year's Diamond Jubilee.
Connors said this week's tour will be nothing like the 1954 extravaganza during which the Queen visited some 70 country towns and all state and territory capitals except Darwin, making approximately 100 speeches.
"It will be so different because if there is a sense that this will be the last one then it will be much more nostalgic," explains Connors.
"1954 wasn't nostalgic. '54 was about a young woman and a post-war world full of hope and optimism.
"And so this young Queen came to see us and it was all about hope and youth and moving forward and this one will be so different. It will be about the ageing and our elderly really, coming to see her one last time."
Australia became independent from Britain in 1901.
© 2011 AFP