When the National Capital Authority (NCA) put the call out for people to share their experiences meeting the Queen during one of her visits to Canberra, no-one could have imagined the wealth of personal stories that would surface.
For the NCA, it was the perfect way to populate its latest exhibition, The Queen and Me: The Exhibition, which opens on 2 June. For the people of Canberra who experienced a special moment with Her Majesty, it was a joy to revisit such a memory.
Exhibition curator Ros Hull said the NCA received more than 120 responses to its call-out, ranging from photographs of Canberrans with the Queen to signed photographs to menus from the royal luncheon aboard Qantas Empire Airways from her inaugural visit in 1954.
So what did HM have for lunch on that momentous day? All we can say is we hope she was hungry. She had iced paw paw for starters, poached snapper (with hollandaise sauce) for entree, grilled French lamb cutlets with garden peas and saratoga potatoes for main and what was apparently the latest in desserts – neapolitan ice cream. But wait, there’s more: Australian cheese, cream crackers and coffee.
The NCA exhibition is one of many around the country and the Commonwealth designed to mark the Queen’s 70th anniversary on the throne. She visited Australia 16 times throughout her reign, from 1954 to 2011, including 13 visits to the nation’s capital.
“Canberrans certainly have some fine memories of those visits,” Ros Hull said. “What was particularly special were the comments people made about her and all the personal stories that have come out.”
One of the first people to see the call-out for memories of the Queen in Canberra was Catherine Dunin whose two daughters, Lily and Arabella, met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh back in 2011. Lily, who today, at 17, has survived a rare heart disease and been named Canberra’s Young Citizen of the Year, was very excited back then at the prospect of meeting royalty.
“I remember it all happened very quickly,” said Ms Dunin, who stood next to Lily just before she presented the flowers to the Queen.
“There was a lot of protocol involved beforehand, like what Lily had to do and how to address the Queen and what she could and couldn’t say.
“She had a couple of practice goes at the curtsy a few hours before and she, well, almost mastered it.”
Ms Dunin said one of her strongest memories was watching the Queen get off the boat on Lake Burley Griffin – it looked like “she wobbled a bit”.
“I remember looking at her, she was by herself, but she still had a strong and powerful presence – even though she wobbled a bit.”
Ms Hull said The Queen and Me exhibition would also feature items like the Royal Standard that was on the official car during the 1963 tour – on loan from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – and signed photographs of the Queen which were given to all the drivers, many of whom were staff officers from Duntroon, of official vehicles throughout the 1954 tour.
A photograph of the Queen officially opening Bonython Primary School will also be on show.
But the one memory that particularly appealed, Ms Hull said, was that of young William Clayton, whose mother Sharryn took him to see the Queen in Canberra during her 2011 visit.
Sharryn had picked flowers from her garden to give to the monarch and William, from all accounts, was very pleased to be there for the occasion. But they were forced to wait some time for the Queen’s appearance and, by the time she got there, William was “a little fussy”. After thanking her for the flowers, the Queen, herself a mother of four, told Sharryn her boy was “spirited” and on leaving, added, “good luck”.
Sharryn and William have lent the raincoat and gumboots he was wearing on that day to the exhibition.
Ms Hull said the personal messages she’s received about the visit provided fascinating insight into the monarch and how her public welcomed her in Canberra.
“I was really touched by the very genuine respect and love people have for her,” she said. “People would say things like, ‘she’s just like my grandma’, ‘she was so gracious and spent so much time with us’ and “I can’t believe she recognised us from that other event where we saw her’.”
The Queen and Me: The Exhibition, opens at the National Capital Exhibition, Regatta Point, on 2 June, as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations marking 70 years on the throne. The exhibition runs until 31 December, 2022.
More information is available on the NCA website.