Queen's 16th visit stirs wave of nostalgia

By Kathy Marks

A visit by the Queen to Australia - and she is making her 16th - always triggers both nostalgia and a stirring of the republican debate. With this trip expected to be her last, the former is at a peak, while support for a republic is at a 20-year low.

The 10-day royal tour will be focused on Canberra, where the 85-year-old monarch arrived last night, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. There will be side-trips to Perth, where the Queen will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next week, Brisbane, where she will meet victims of last summer's floods, and Melbourne.

Last night the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. After a welcoming ceremony, the royal couple set off for Government House.

The trip is being contrasted with her first visit to Australia in 1954, when - aged 26 and newly crowned - she visited 70 country towns as well as all state and territory capitals except Darwin. An estimated 75 per cent of the population turned out to see her.

Although far fewer people will greet her this time, the monarchy - rejuvenated by Prince William and his photogenic wife Kate Middleton - is riding a wave of popularity. A recent poll found 34 per cent support a republic, the lowest level since 1991.

Although a republican, Gillard has acknowledged that nothing will change until after the Queen dies. The Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, is an avowed monarchist.

The Queen undertake official visits in Canberra tomorrow, take a cruise on Lake Burley Griffin and visit the annual Floriade flower festival.

During previous trips, she has toured Outback sheep farms, opened the Sydney Opera House and visited the Great Barrier Reef. Gillard said it was an honour to welcome the Royal couple back.

"Visits by the Queen are etched into the collective memory of the Australian people."

Mike Keating, chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, admitted that constitutional reform was a distant prospect. However, he added: "Hopefully, while she [the Queen] is here, people will pause to consider that we have absolutely no say in who our head of state is, and ask themselves whether a constitutional monarchy is appropriate for Australia in 2011."

Philip Benwell, convener of the Australian Monarchists League, said he detected "a feeling of excitement".

He said: "People want to catch their last glimpse of the Queen. 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."

- NZ Herald

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