On Friday morning, I was in the process of waking up when Miss came in to tell me that the Queen had died.
There was a long pause as I processed the news.
Indeed, how could I process that news when there had been no precedent in my lifetime?
The Queen has always been there.
Not just over there either. She came out to Australia 16 times, although I never went to see her. However, my husband Geoff had that honour, although he barely remembers it. When the Queen toured Australia in March 1977, an eleven year old Geoff went down to Hobart with his older married sister to see her. The Queen clearly made a huge impression on young Geoff. All he remembers is buying his first guinea pig “Fifi” down there and taking her home. Apparently, his mother was “not amused”.
Reflecting on my own memories of the Queen over the last couple of days, probably my strongest memory is having her portrait hanging in our school hall, as it still does in schools and all sorts of buildings around Australia and the Commonwealth. I didn’t question it at the time. The Queen was simply everywhere in this subtle way which was largely unconscious and flying right under the radar. However, in a macabre way, it’s like she was watching us all those years and like the Mona Lisa, had eyes which not only followed us around the room, but through life. She was simply always there.
However, for many of us, our relationship with the Queen and the monarchy is complex. For starters, I’m a Republican and I don’t like what colonialism has done to First Nations people around the world. Australia had been deemed terra nullius (or unoccupied) by the English when they came here and the Aboriginal people were classed under flora and fauna and weren’t counted in the Australian census until 1971. Now, the Queen is a figurehead and couldn’t interject in politics, but it raises a significant question mark in my thinking.
Here in Australia, we also had The Dismissal in 1975. When I was only six years old, Australia was rocked by an seismic constitutional shock. Gough Whitlam, our democratically elected Prime Minister was sacked by the Queen’s appointed representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who then appointed the opposition leader, Malcolm Fraser, as Prime Minister of the caretaker government. While I’m really not sure how much say the Queen had in all of this and I believe it was minimal, it was quite a shock to many Australians who thought we’d come of age, that the so-called “mother country” could step in like that. Not unsurprisingly, Gough Whitlam didn’t go quietly either! On the steps of the then Australian Parliament House he famously said:
Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General!
Whitlam’s words immediately became legend, and they still air routinely on TV and maybe even at the odd BBQ. I had a friend back in the day who used to have a few too many drinks and quote Gough at parties. Indeed, I can clearly remember him quoting Gough and falling spectacularly into my parents’ swimming pool fully clothed right on cue. There is obviously a very long story behind that and the rights and wrongs of what happened way back then, but I will mention that an election was held and the Australian people voted in Malcolm Fraser and the Liberal Party by a clear majority.
Then, along came Lady Diana Spencer. The entire world was dazzled and the Queen along with Prince Charles headed backstage. I’d just turned twelve when they got married on the 29th July, 1981 and the entire world went mad with Diana fever (except for Prince Charles as it later turned out). I madly cut out photos and stories of Diana and pasted them in an exercise book. We all wore blouses with Diana’s trademark bow tied at the neck. One of my friends also had the misfortune of being carted off to the hairdresser to get a Lady Diana haircut which didn’t suit her at all and took years to grow out. Princess Diana’s light shone so bright that the Queen seemed pretty dull by comparison.
However, then, the Queen got the job of sorting out the fall out from two family divorces followed by the shocking tragic death of Princess Diana and her absent silence. The House of Windsor really seemed to be teetering on the brink then. Yet, in hindsight, she was actually putting her family first focusing on the needs of those boys who had lost their mum. So, what appeared to be cold and heartless to the public at the time, was actually incredibly compassionate and humane.
Some time after the death of Princess Diana, the Queen seemed to find a second wind and her popularity started to soar. Indeed, she started to capture the public affection in a way her mother had done and she almost seemed to become everyone’s second grandmother while still commanding respect as Queen. Indeed, my all time favourite footage of the Queen was with her having tea with Paddington Bear at Buckingham Palace during her Platinum Jubilee. I absolutely loved it, especially when she pulled the jam sandwich out of her trademark handbag. Who hasn’t had a jam sandwich at some point in their lunchbox at school and she was so sweet and relatable and it will be such a delightful treasure for her family to pass onto future generations.
Yet, there was so much more to the Queen.
Too much more to refer to it all here.
However, I’d particularly like to draw attention to her war service during World War II. There was also her and Margaret’s delight celebrating VE Day and leaving the balcony of Buckingham Palace and mixing incognito with the people, which she described as one of the best times of her life.
It is also admirable that as a young 25 year old embraced duty and her destiny and rose up to be an exemplary Queen and world leader.`
The Queen was also a working mother in an era where most mothers stayed at home and she helped open the door for working mothers around the world.
Since Her Majesty passed away, I have been drawn towards her many weighty words of wisdom and have come to appreciate her unfathomable depth, integrity and faith. She has so much to teach us, even now that she’s gone. After all, she reached the age of 96 very well lived years. She had met so many, many people and travelled so extensively around the world and absorbed so much. She was an absolute treasure and fortunately she’s left an enormous legacy behind.
Last night, I watched a fabulous documentary: Elizabeth : The Unseen Queen Have you seen it? I highly recommend it. The Queen talks you through numerous home movies and shares her wisdom on life, which is really worth pausing on and processing for yourself. I didn’t really come across her incredible wisdom during her lifetime, but now I’ve found it, I’m holding on and digging deeper. She is an outstanding and very human role model for us all. After all, she lived through almost a century of world history, but she was also a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend. She also lived with an incredibly strong faith, which seemingly breathed life and hope into every nook and cranny of her incredibly rich and complex life. While she certainly had her standards and there were always very strict protocols about approaching the Queen and how she was to be treated, despite her incredible wealth and world standing, at least I don’t believe she was ever too big for her boots, and she kept walking.
This resilience is perhaps her most admirable quality of all. Whatever happened around and within her, she kept going. She kept performing her duty and greeting the red box daily with enthusiasm and a smile. We all could learn a lot from that. Indeed, as we do experience a sense of grief, we can think about what we have personally learned from Her Majesty and what we’re going to carry forward.
How do you feel following Her Majesty’s passing? Do you have any special memories? Or, have you written something yourself? If so, please leave a link in the comments. It’s so good to share our thoughts at a time like this and come together.
I think it must be my first memory because it was 1954 and I was three years old. I was sitting on my Daddy’s shoulders in inner Sydney watching a car going past containing the Queen. I remember shouting at the top of my voice
Queen Elizabeth came to Wollongong in 1970 but I was going through my Republican phase and didn’t go to see her. However when Charles and Diana arrived here in 1988 I took my 8 and 6 year olds to see “royalty”.
Now I expect we will become a Republic in the next few years but bear no animosity to King Charles and hope we would remain part of the Commonwealth.
So glad you read this Linda and we can have a bit of a chat.
When I was studying history at uni, a group of PhD students came to speak to us about their research projects and one young woman was doing hers on the 1954 Royal Tour and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. It sounds like the equivalent of Beatlemania. People went crazy. You were so young and yet you remember being there. I’ll have to ask my parents again about it.
Its been interesting thinking about becoming a Republic but seening the benefits on continuity through the Queen’s long reign. Having someone who is beyond the election and political process. What really sounded beneficial was the Prime Minister’s weekly meetings with the Queen and being able to talk to her about anything and know it wasn’t going to leak and to be able to get good advice. A few ex Prime Ministers mentioned the benefit of that. It sounded very beneficial.
If you haven’t seen the doco I mentioned , it’s very worthwhile and contains so many pearls of wisdom and reflections on what matters in life.
So many thoughts and feelings.
I must say I’ve never understood emotionally why you guys (New Zealand and Canada too) stuck with the Q as head of state. No one in Britain cares what you do, that’s for sure. You’ve been independent since the 1930s since Dominion status was confered. Probably you’ve not changed because you like having someone above politics. Having a president will remove that. Just try and imagine who that might be…
As for Gough William that’s all down to you. The Queen had no role beyond a rubber stamp.. You choose your Gov General not us. She just rubber stamps it. Ditto the treatments of indigenous people. That’s been down to you for the last 100 years. Sure colonial behaviour was appalling and terra nullis dreadgul, but really Britain’s role in that so far as Oz is concerned is v historic. You’ve had plenty of time to resolve those problems.
So her death is a huge shock and im still numb. It makes sense for you to reconsider who your head of state should be. As with everyone else who’s hung on to the current incumbent. Whatever works for you.
I’ve often wondered why we keep such a costly cruel antiquated institution… but then I wonder what would replace it… and I’m happy to stick rather than twist.
Interesting to read. Most of us here in the UK expect that Canada and Australia and New Zealand will become replublics in the not too distant future. No one can replace the Queen. Here in the UK we continue our ancient traditions. I guess elsewhere the links with past British History doesnt mean so much anymore.
That Paddington video really humanized the Queen-I hadn’t seen it before. We send our deepest condolences to all those in the realm as well as to her family.
Well, being from America and always fascinated with the royal family, I felt the true and only real royal has passed. She was an amazing woman, and it baffles my mind at what adversities she has had to overcome, and all done with such pride, head held high and a straight backed. Never faulting for a moment. Even in her last act duty days before her death. I admired her as a woman. Now that Charles is King, I await to see how the people react to him. In my opinion, (for all that’s it worth, lol) William should be King, I think that is what the country needed at this time, follow the true protocol, Charles has been divorced and in my opinion is a Pompas ass. Well, that’s my opinion. There will never be another Queen like Eizabeth. I did grieve her death, as the entire world did. I am sorry for her loss.
It was quite a jolt and many of us paused life for a bit and grieved, reflected on her life and a lot of incredibly qualities we perhaps hadn’t been conscious of during her lifetime.
Charles has grown on me but he was starting out on a low base. He has taken a strong stance on the environment and climate change and walks the talk. Highgrove uses recycled water and is very environmentally conscious. I saw a documentary about it and I was very impressed. Whether he can still speak out as King is another story but he can still be influential in other ways.
I read a story today which said that Charles sees himself in a caretaker role. Starting the job at an age when the average Joe is retiring is odd to say the least. I think he deserves to have a go at being King after waiting so long. Not sure about him being divorced and all the stuff that went on there but he probably would’ve married Camilla years ago if his circumstances had been different. I also think him stepping up now gives William more time with his family and for their children to lie low. Well at least relatively so.
How are you going?
I’m in the middle of working on some photo books for my Mum who is starting to get dementia. It’s such a big job but I’m making progress. Had been get some sleep now though.