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.