Queen takes in flower show amid curtsey flap

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II kicked off the first full day of her Australia trip with a visit to a flower show Thursday amid a flap over Prime Minister Julia Gillard failing to curtsey.

The queen and Prince Philip arrived in the nation's capital Canberra on Wednesday to a ceremonial welcome attended by hundreds of schoolchildren and VIPs, including Gillard and Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

The Welsh-born Gillard, who favours Australia becoming a republic, shook hands with the monarch rather than curtsey, a permissible protocol but one that sparked controversy on television, radio and social media.

Bryce, the monarchy's representative in Australia and the first woman to take the role, did curtsey as she greeted the queen.

But Gillard said she did what made her comfortable.

"The advice that was given to me was very clear -- that you can make a choice with what you are most comfortable with," she told reporters.

"That's what I felt most comfortable with. The queen extended her hand and I shook her hand and bowed my head."

The 85-year-old monarch is extremely popular in Australia, with an estimated 75 percent of the population turning out to catch a glimpse of her during her maiden 1954 tour.

This visit -- her 16th to the former British penal colony and first since 2006 -- is set to be much more low key, and possibly her last.

Having spent the night in the visitors' suite at Government House -- the residence of Bryce and her husband Michael -- the queen, wearing a lilac floral print dress, formally received the governor-general on Thursday morning.

Joined by Prince Philip, she then took a barge around Lake Burley Griffin to Commonwealth Park for the Floriade flower show, which has been given a special spruce-up in honour of the occasion.

Thousands of cheering people lined the foreshores of the lake on a glorious spring day to catch a glimpse of the monarch as the navy Admiral's Barge, which was transported from Sydney for the occasion, headed to the wharf at the park.

The royal couple are spending most of their 10-day trip in Canberra, with outings to Melbourne and Brisbane, before leaving for Perth where the monarch will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on October 28.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, who joined the queen on her tour of Floriade and like Gillard did not curtsey, said it was an honour she was spending so much of her time in the nation's capital.

"I visited the park yesterday and the Floriade team and the volunteers have clearly pulled out all stops to present a magnificent venue for our special visitors," she said.

While in the Australian capital the royal couple are also set to lunch with about 40 people -- reportedly including actor Geoffrey Rush who played a speech therapist in "The King's Speech" about the queen's father King George VI.

They will also visit the Australian war memorial, meet Australian Defence Force personnel and attend a Presentation of the Colours at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

On her day-trip to Brisbane, the queen will meet victims of devastating floods and Cyclone Yasi this year, while in Melbourne she will ride on one of the city's iconic trams.

But the royal party will bypass Sydney, Australia's most populous city.

© 2011 AFP

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