What a beautiful day it was as I stood on the hill on the outskirts of Oakey with my classmates overlooking the Toowoomba Road as it wound down towards the Warrego Highway as far as the eye could see. There was not a single cloud in the bright blue sky and still a little freshness in the early morning air but we all knew it was going to be a hot sunny day as usual.
We had been instructed to wear a hat as we were going to have to stand in the hot sun on the side of the road for several hours. We did as we were told but the sun didn’t bother us. We were used to it. We were all bush kids.
There we stood, stretched out on the right hand side of the road looking down towards Toowoomba. She was due to come from that direction. There was no sign of life anywhere, no movement, no sound. Just the occasional cry of a distant bird. I remember how great I felt standing there near the flat, open fields of the beautiful countryside. It was all farming land in those days and not a single soul to be seen anywhere.
We waited over half an hour before the tiny speck of the first vehicle appeared down below us on the horizon near the bend, slowly climbing the hill towards us. We all waved our flags as it gradually approached and laughed at the amazement on the driver’s face when he passed. He was one of the local farmers in a dilapidated old truck headed into town to pick up supplies at the grocery store.
We were all from the Dalby Primary School and had been brought by bus to welcome the Queen on her first visit to Australia. It was 1954 and this was the first visit a British monarch had ever made to Australia since it was discovered and became part of the British Empire.
I had no idea where Queen Elizabeth II was headed when she finally drove past us as we formed a guard of honour on the outskirts of Oakey. I caught a brief glimpse of her as the royal vehicle flashed by. It continued on its journey without slowing down and I am not sure if she actually noticed us waving our flags. It didn’t worry us. We were subjugated by the charm of our day in the country and the sense of freedom it brought, just standing on the hillside enjoying the magnificent view, instead of having to go to school.
Some years later, I was invited together with Fr Keith Rayner to lunch at Jimbour House by the Russell family following celebration of the Holy Communion service in the little chapel on the property. I was an altar boy in those days and had adopted Fr Keith as my spiritual father in compensation for the lack of an earthly one. He later served as Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia before retiring a few years ago, still a young man. We continue to remain good friends to this day.
How surprised I was to notice the photograph of Queen Elizabeth II standing beside the Russells, placed discreetly on the mantelpiece in the main lounge where an inquisitive observer could not fail to see it. My mind immediately flashed back to the guard of honour my schoolmates and I had formed for Her Gracious Majesty on the outskirts of Oakey a few years earlier. At last I discovered where she had been heading on that beautiful sunny day in such apparent haste.
I have no idea what the chef had prepared for the Queen for lunch on her arrival at Jimbour House but I have never forgotten the delicious shepherd’s pie he served us on the white gravel patio in front of the homestead when I was there. I must say my visit was full of surprises. I was most impressed by the German general manager and his very smart over-the-calf leather boots. I had never seen a German before and I had never seen anyone wearing such smart leather boots. Neither had I ever heard of any property owner employing a professional manager. I always thought farmers and graziers managed their properties themselves.
I was even more surprised on hearing our hosts’ daughter casually suggesting, whilst sipping a cup of tea after lunch, that she was toying with the idea of flying to Melbourne in the family’s private aeroplane in order to attend a concert to be given that evening by the Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the then Chief Conductor, Kurt Wöss.
I have no idea either who was responsible for the planning of the Wueen’s first visit to Australia, who decided on her itinerary and travel schedule and whom she should meet. I never found any trace of her having stopped in Dalby, my hometown, which she had to pass through in order to get to Jimbour. If she had stopped in Dalby, I imagine our school would not have taken us by bus to the outskirts of Oakey and lined us up along the roadside to wave flags when she passed by. I never heard our Mayor, Charles Drew, say anything about it. I used to work in his jewellery shop on Saturdays and school holidays from when I was about ten years old, sweeping the floor and doing odd jobs. We often chatted together. Nor did I ever hear our headmaster, Les Diplock mention it. His daughter, Miss Diplock, was my primary school teacher. Never mind. It’s neither here nor there.
The Queen was 28 when she first arrived in Australia. She is 85 years old today, still on the throne and apparently enjoying reasonably good health. However, she is no longer a young lady and, like all people of her age, has probably become more fragile and more vulnerable to accidents. Considering the scares her mother had with fishbones on several occasions, she too would probably be well advised to avoid eating fish with bones. I doubt the chef at Jimbour House would have served her a plate of fish when she lunched there even though yellowbelly and catfish were far more plentiful in the nearby creeks then than they are today.
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