There is a certain, tragic symmetry to one of the most famous images of Diana, Princess of Wales taken against the backdrop of Uluru: One is a sacred landmark that at the time, and for decades to come, would be trampled by hordes, and the other a woman in the process of public deification who, for years to come, would be trampled by the press and the British monarchy.
On March 20, 1983, Prince Charles and his wife of two years, Diana, Princess of Wales landed in Alice Springs. Their six-week tour was not just another extended foreign exercise in gladhanding, a semi-regular proprietorial reappearance of our British lords and masters. Rather, the relationship between Australia and the crown was at the lowest ebb in history thanks to the Queen's representative, the Governor-general, having sacked the Whitlam government in 1975. At the time, we were a nation thirsting for independence and to throw off the shackles of regal oversight.
Enter the future King and his literally blushing bride whose Down Under trip was a pointed effort to quell fomenting republican sentiment. This was a critical, pivotal moment for the Commonwealth. And this trip was likewise to prove a critical, pivotal moment in the Wales' marriage, exposing the fault lines that would ultimately shatter what little hope there was their union might actually work.
This particular, heavily freighted moment in royal history has now come to the screen, thanks to season four of Netflix's palace soap opera, The Crown. In the episode, Terra Nullius, while Richard Roxburgh chomps his way through scenery and slathers on the fake tan as Bob Hawke, we are given what purports to be an intimate look at the initial breakdown of Charles and Diana's marriage.
While the hit series plays fast and loose with the truth, conjuring scenes, confrontations, rivalries and heart rending moments throughout the series that never happened, in this instance, the Emmy-winning show is on the money. Because it was in the heat of early autumn that, for Charles and Diana only 20-odd months since their wedding, the fairytale well and truly began to fracture.
It all started on a less-than-auspicious note. The Age reported on their arrival: "The first audible words spoken by Prince Charles in Australia, as he and Princess Diana posed with Prince William for photographers on the Alice Springs airport tarmac, were: 'Look, he's got a fly on him already.'"
No matter the emotional and political consequences of the trip, their tour was an absolute and utter triumph of royal organisation and precision. Across four weeks, they and their entourage of 23 people took 40 flights between eight states and territories facing crowds of tens of thousands. One million Australians would line streets around the country to welcome the couple. Diana wore nearly 200 outfits, a number that she and Anne Beckwick-Smith, her lady-in-waiting, realised was not enough. And trailing in their wake was the 100-plus British press pack along with 70 more reporters and photographers from France, Germany, the US and Japan.
Three days after landing in the country, Charles and Diana took to the dancefloor at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney, the first time they had ever been filmed dancing together. Watching footage of the night at first they seem like two, unfortunate performing seals being forced to entertain the masses through gritted white teeth. And then, something happens.
They both start smiling; their moves get faster and there is a discernible passion to the whole thing and by the time the number is over, they are both grinning.
The point I'm making is that their marriage wasn't all doom and misery and secret phone calls to Camilla. At that early stage there still flickered some sort of weak flame between the duo.
However, the rest of their Australian trip would help extinguish that.
The problem was that wherever they went, they were greeted by screaming, adoring crowds all there for one reason only: Diana. Day after day, the hordes waited in the heat for hours on end for the chance to glimpse a real life princess, and day after day after day, Charles was made to confront his wife's new-found superstar status. There was no escaping the hard truth that despite having been constantly reminded of his exceptionalism from birth, the public and the press were passing him over and only wanted her.
(Reportedly, out of every 100 shots taken by Daily Mirror photographer Kent Gavin during the visit, 92 were of Diana and a scant eight were of our future King.)
Charles could not escape this new dismal status quo. According to reports, during a joint walkabout the crowd groaned when they realised they were getting Charles and not Diana.
"It's not fair is it? You'd better ask for your money back!" Charles reportedly quipped at one point and on another instance bemoaned, "I'm just a collector of flowers these days."
"I have come to the conclusion that it really would have been easier to have had two wives," he attempted to joke at one point. "Then they could cover both sides of the street and I could walk down the middle, directing operations."
While the Prince of Wales earned praise for his choice of wife, and on occasion basked in the reflected glow of her success, the issue was his growing jealousy of the adoration she provoked and as they made their way around the nation he nursed an increasingly bruised ego.
There was another problem.
The more Diana sparkled, the more she charmed and shone and hugged and beguiled, all of it threw Charles' stuffiness and aloofness into stark, unfortunate relief.
Take the famous photo of the couple at Ayers Rock. Diana is the image of Princess-y perfection, a beguiling innocent, beautiful and still. And Charles? Clad in a beige safari suit he looks like a horrible parody of colonial paternalism.
The bigger picture here was that both for Charles, and the royal family back in London, they were coming to realise they had not simply managed to snag a glittering new recruit who would help drum up public support; they had a luminary in their midst whose who inspired such unprecedented, feverish global obsession it threatened to totally eclipse the dreary lot of them.
Even before they landed in Australia, there had been ominous signs of what was to come.
Prior to the March visit, the couple had made a three-day trip to Wales. When the couple would switch sides on a rope line, according to a local mayor: "Every time this happened you had this huge "oooah" from the people that she was leaving. All the time people kept calling "Di, Di" to come to their side."
Jayne Fincher, a photographer on the tour, has said: 'It would be really embarrassing. On the other side of the road they'd all be going 'Oh no!' because they'd got him. He'd just turn around and say, 'I'm really sorry, she'll be here in a minute.'"
Reportedly when, during the Wales trip, the pregnant Diana would take time to rest and Charles would go off and deliver a speech, the press would not cover him at all.
Even the Queen had to face being overshadowed by the house of Windsor's newest rock star member.
Charles' friend Carolyn Townshend has previously said: "Diana bit her fingernails to the quick because she worried about the tabloid stories displeasing the Palace. She once appeared in a new hairstyle that, unfortunately, upstaged the Queen, who was opening parliament. Princess Margaret was furious and said something to Charles, who gave unshirted Diana hell. Poor thing, she quaked in those days. Her nails were the giveaway: if they were short and chewed, there was trouble."
The consequence of all this adulation and success wasn't a big fat gold star from Buckingham Palace but criticism. (Diana biographer Tina Brown quotes a former palace aide saying "Diana couldn't understand why nobody said 'well done'. The reason is that they all do their duty, and they wonder what is so unique.")
Charles and Diana's marriage could (could) have survived many things but for a man who had been bred to one day wholly assume the spotlight, to be so swiftly and publicly relegated to a dreary supporting role was a personal blow.
Celebrity, adoration, and success (as Meghan Duchess of Sussex would decades later also learn) can be a poisoned chalice in the confines of royal life.
No one has summed up the pathos of all this better than Charles' longtime valet Stephen Barry who once commented: "The Princess had everything going for her except the ability to not upstage the Prince."
And Australia? We can lay claim to the dubious honour of the fact that this Shakespearean tragedy started to truly play out against the backdrop of our shores.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.