Is this the Queen's Aussie swansong?
A sea of flags and flowers greeted Queen Elizabeth during her last visit to Australia in March 2006. Her 11-day tour which begins Wednesday includes Brisbane, where thousands of homes were flooded in January and more than 30 people died. (ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
There’s a touch of sadness that surrounds the Queen’s visit to Australia beginning Wednesday, a sense that this may well be the last time the Down Unders will have the British monarch on their soil.
She is 85 after all — though in very good health — and it’s expected she will be curtailing overseas excursions following next year’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Queen and Prince Philip (lets not forget he’s 90!) touch down Wednesday for the 16th royal tour by this monarch to this country, dating back to 1954. Her last visit was in 2006.
The only country she has visited more is Canada, with 24 tours. Her tours of Australia, though, have tended to be longer stints, for a total of 249 days during her reign. She has spent 211 days on Canadian soil, where she more often targets provinces or areas rather than embark on cross-country marathons.
This will be an 11-day visit to Australia, culminating in the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth on Oct. 28.
"People want to catch their last glimpse of the Queen," Philip Benwell of the Australian Monarchists League told AFP.
"There's a feeling of excitement, of anticipation which we didn't get on the few earlier visits since 2000. And whilst I don't think it will be the Queen's last visit because as long as she can travel she will want to come and meet her people, it could be her last visit to the states that she's now visiting."
Australia has had a love ‘em-leave ‘em relationship with the crown. The high point may well have been the Queen’s first visit in 1954 (see video below), when she spent two months visiting about 70 different towns and cities.
Against that backdrop, however, the country’s republicans were making inroads to rid themselves of the foreign monarch. In 1999, they mustered 45 per cent support in a national vote aimed at turning the country into a republic.
Twelve years later, the Queen’s impending tour seems to have inspired a nostalgic resurgence in the Queen. An opinion poll last week showed support for a republic was just 34 per cent, its lowest level in 23 years.
That number may shrink even further as the new generation of royals, in particular William and Kate, inspire some loyalty among a young generation. Will and Kate could well be hitting Australia during 2012 to help the Queen celebrate her 60 years on the throne.
The Queen was always a master of good timing and, in the twilight of her reign, it’s expected she will get a warm welcome Down Under, where even anti-monarchists have doffed their hat to her, if not her title.
“There won’t be the same passionate excitement as we’ll get when a young Prince William and his wife come but there will be enormous respect and affection, including from those who are republicans,” Professor David Flint, who heads a group of Australians for constitutional monarchy, told the Telegraph.
As for her health, there was some concern last week when, for only the third time in five years, she pulled out of an official engagement at the British Museum. The next evening, however, she was back to business, hosting a reception for 350 Australians living in Britain. (Above photo, shaking hands with model Elle Macpherson).
“The Royal Family is very robust,” said Flint. “I don’t think we can write her off just yet.”