Australia loves a royal visit. You are sure to have images in mind of crowds, photographers, glamourous outfits, military inspections, flapping plastic union jacks, excited children, and many bunches of flowers.
Part of the thrill in bygone days was perhaps due to our geographic distance from the throne. The lengthy voyage was not undertaken lightly then, though now the cost of preparation and security overshadows any considerations about distance.
For the people in late 1940s South Australia, a royal visit was to be a memorial of victory in the second great war. King George VI was scheduled to visit Australia in 1949 with his wife Queen Elizabeth and daughter Princess Margaret. The visit, which was to take in many of the smaller cities and communities around the nation, was to be a sort of tour of thanks for the loyal efforts of the Australian troops.
Programmes were drafted, speeches were written – including the drafting of royal replies – events were planned, and biographies collated of each person who would meet the Royal Family.
But the King became ill and the tour was cancelled.
In late 1951 the venture was re-opened. The King’s health was still poor, so it was determined that his daughter and heir Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh would make the tour in his place.
The programmes were re-drafted, speeches were tweaked, event plans were dusted off, children’s dances were choreographed and rehearsed, biographies were updated, and a new set of biographies, programmes and events was published into small booklets for use by various personnel along the route.
The royal couple set out in early 1952 via Kenya. On 6 February 1952, they were informed that the King had died, and the now-declared Queen Elizabeth and her consort returned to the United Kingdom. Following her coronation in 1953, plans began again for a visit to Australia and New Zealand. Again the programmes were re-written, speeches were updated, choreography developed and rehearsed, biographies were reviewed, and a new set of booklets was produced.
This time, as it neared nine years since the end of World War II, the emphasis in the speeches would be less focused on gratitude for war service – though that was still an important element in the biographies – and more focused on the commendation of the nation’s industriousness and progress. Finally, the tour went ahead.
Photographs from the official album of the 1954 Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh (GRG24/140 Item 72) have been reproduced on our Flickr site.
Since they were created by the Office of the Chief Secretary (Premier), the preparatory records for many royal visits may be found in GRG24/140 “Records relating to Royal and other dignitaries' visits”. Further information may also be found amongst the records of various local Councils or other government agencies involved in preparing for the visit.
A note on the author: One of the few State Records Reference Archivists to boast a thoroughly South Australian family history, Tamara claims descent from the Mayor of Port Lincoln who met the Queen, at last, in 1954. She also has a particular interest in helping customers draw personal stories out of the documents in the collection. When not in the Research Centre her focus is on improving access arrangements.