Queen praises Australia's flood victims
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was Monday met with rapturous scenes in the Australian city of Brisbane where she applauded its courage in recovering from devastating floods.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers packed the banks of the Brisbane River, engorged just nine months ago with floodwaters that submerged 30,000 homes in Australia's third-largest city, to catch a glimpse of the queen.
Wearing a pistachio dress and hat, the 85-year-old monarch smiled and shook hands with those among the thousands of fans who stood for hours in the searing spring sunshine for a chance to see her.
Her aides struggled under the weight of scores of bouquets, stuffed koalas and other gifts including a boomerang offered by children at Southbank, where a huge cheering crowd waving Australian and English flags hailed her arrival.
She and Prince Philip took a luxury yacht cruise along the river with Queensland state premier Anna Bligh, who pointed out areas that were submerged less than a year ago, as they sampled local fare including rum and sand crabs.
The queen attended a private function with disaster victims and rescue workers, before holding court with a pair of gumleaf-chewing koalas as she reopened a rainforest walk washed out by the floods.
"It was with great sadness that I followed the terrible consequences this past January of your normally peaceful river rising up," she said at the unveiling ceremony.
"The loss and destruction was harrowing to see."
January's floods brought Brisbane to a standstill and dozens of people died as huge swathes of northeastern Queensland state vanished underwater after massive rains.
The region was still reeling from the floods when a powerful cyclone battered the coast, devastating homes and crops.
Paying tribute to the "resilience and courage of Queenslanders who bravely picked up their lives and rebuilt them", the queen also thanked Brisbane for the enthusiastic reception, commending their "energy and optimism".
"Prince Philip and I have been greeted with great warmth and good humour in the true Australian spirit, and I have seen the fortitude, ingenuity and determination of the people of Brisbane to overcome the setbacks of last January," she said.
The queen's grandson, Prince William, met Australian flood victims earlier this year, and Buckingham Palace also made a private donation to flood relief.
Bligh said the royal visit had lifted the city's spirits and was a shot in the arm for flood families and rescue personnel who had "done it very tough".
"I think it will mean a lot to them that she's taken the time to come to Queensland in a very, very hectic schedule," she said.
The monarch is in Australia to open a Commonwealth summit on Friday, her 16th and possibly last tour of the vast continent, which will also take in Canberra, Melbourne and Perth.
She was the guest of honour at an exclusive luncheon Sunday with prominent Australians including Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, who recently starred in a film about her father King George VI, "The King's Speech".
Prime Minister Julia Gillard met the queen on Friday and said she was enjoying her trip.
"She is in very good spirits, very interested and engaged in everything about Australia," she said.
"She has been a point of stability in a changing world, I think our nation has looked to her as that point of stability."
© 2011 AFP