Queen wraps up rapturous Australian tour

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II Saturday wrapped up an immensely successful tour of Australia in which tens of thousands flocked to catch a glimpse of their monarch, perhaps for the last time.

As she prepares to celebrate 60 years on the throne, the queen's enduring relationship with her far-flung realm has been on full display, with huge crowds greeting her with flowers and cries of "God Save the Queen".

Addressing tens of thousands of flag-waving wellwishers gathered in sunshine alongside the banks of Perth's Swan River shortly before her departure, the queen said she and Prince Philip had "enjoyed our visit immensely".

"We have been overwhelmed by your kindness and support," she said as she thanked Australians for coming to see her on her 16th tour Down Under.

"I can think of no more fitting way to end my visit... than in this idyllic Swan River setting which I have enjoyed on so many occasions.

"Once again we will return to the United Kingdom with fond memories."

The visit to open a Commonwealth summit in the Western Australian capital on Friday has been tinged with nostalgia, with constant references to the queen's first visit to the country as a young woman in 1954.

About 75 percent of the population is estimated to have seen the queen on that tour, during which she visited all major Australian capitals except Darwin, as well as 70 country towns.

This time too the 85-year-old monarch has met with rapturous receptions in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with thousands lining the streets to see her pass by on a barge, car and even a Melbourne tram.

The monarch also appeared to be looking towards her legacy as she officially opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting calling for an organisation "fresh and fit for tomorrow."

Her visit was capped by a historic agreement by the 16 nations which have the queen as head of state to change their laws to allow the succession to pass to a female first-born for the first time.

The succession debate intensified with the wedding in April of her grandson Prince William, the second in line to the throne, to Kate Middleton.

Wearing a purple-tinted floral dress and short white coat and matching hat, the queen and Prince Philip met Perth residents at a "Great Aussie Barbecue" as their final public engagement in Australia.

A short time later the couple waved goodbye from the doorway of the British Airways plane carrying them back to Britain.

The queen, who last visited Australia in 2006 to open the Commonwealth Games on Melbourne, is a much respected figure Down Under despite frequent murmurings about the former colony breaking ties with Britain and becoming a republic.

But with the popular queen on the throne, and some republicans describing themselves as "Elizabethans" who hold a personal respect for the queen rather than the institution she represents, moves towards a republic have been muted.

Australia's Welsh-born Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that the queen had been received with "a great degree of affection" since arriving on October 19.

"So there is a sense of personal connection with the queen which has been very on display," Gillard said.

© 2011 AFP

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