Somewhat stunted columns

First published

The penalty for writing a column is that one gets to cover Royal Tours. And if one becomes a veteran columnist one becomes something of a tour expert. Since 1954 there have been six major Royal Tours.

Writing about Royal Tours can be frustrating and worrying, because the Royal Person can never be quoted direct. He or she, except for one or two rare occasions during the Tour, is never available to be talked to, to reveal his or her personal feelings about what is happening. Furthermore these Royal people are always surrounded by a tight-lipped and often not very lovable entourage.

So the Royal Tour reporter tags along. Magically he is always there on the wharf or at the airport when the Royal Person arrives, always there when he or she departs. I grow accustomed to your face — but here’s the rub. Events on a Royal Tour vary little; similar mayors, similar loyal addresses, similar royal balls. How is it possible to keep up the brilliance of the prose?

Back in 1954 two words — ‘obviously’ and ‘radiant’ — took an awful mauling. Almost by unanimous agreement royal tour reporters decided never to use them again. Actually, obviously was jolly handy. Seeing that Her Majesty was never right at one’s elbow to give personal quotes on this and that, it was so easy to slip in a smart ‘obviously’. For example ‘Her Majesty accepted the bouquet from four-year-old Barbara Binks and was obviously pleased.' Or, 'The Queen looked at the breath-taking beauty of Sydney Harbour and obviously came to the conclusion that this was the highlight of her tour.' (Obviously a very good ‘obviously’ for any Sydney publication.)

Even on the 1963 visit the temptation to use ‘obviously’ was almost unbearable. Take the occasion of Melbourne’s Moomba float parade. Most of the floats were in good taste, nothing over fleshy like previous parades. Well, the motor industries had a float which depicted the evolution of transport. Up front there were girls in long costumes, as Edwardian as could be. Down at the stern there were girls in 1963 attire, as modern as instant mash. One girl was wearing a hipster, complete with sun-tanned tummy and sun-tanned navel. We looked at Her Majesty. She was obviously not amused.

The ban on ‘radiant’ came particularly hard. In 1954 it was so easy to talk of her radiant beauty, her radiant smile. This is not being cynical. There were times, particularly when she wore a ballgown, when she did look radiant. In 1963 no Royal Tour writer ever quite found a substitute. We tried her ‘warm, mature, smile’. No. We tried her ‘relaxed, happy smile’. No. We studied Mr Roget’s Thesaurus, checked on radiant only to find that we were writing of her ‘iridescent smile’ or her ‘luminous smile’. Definitely no. Finally I think the London Daily Express came close to it by describing her smile as ‘shimmering’, and an Adelaide newspaper called her a 'vision of regal beauty’. Yet radiant escaped into type only once or twice during 1963 and it was one of the most impressive bans ever imposed on journalism. However, the ban on ‘obviously’ was not so impressive. Perhaps this was too much to ask.

Please do not think that the covering of a royal tour is not a desirable assignment. It is. Not only does one see the entire country, but there is a great deal to write about. People who are normal and rational at all other times tend to behave in a remarkable fashion when the presence of royalty is at hand.

During one tour Douglas Wilkie of the Sun News-Pictorial recalled Potemkin, the Russian prince. He was a favourite of Catherine the Great and a clever statesman. But to keep sweet with his domineering and capricious mistress he had to maintain the pretence that Russia was one huge paradise of happy peasants. In 1787 there was the Royal Progress down the Volga. He had prefabricated villages freshly painted, erected at conspicuous points along the river banks and crowds of well-dressed, well-fed citizens to cheer and wave from the beflagged windows with a concealed Cossack or two to discipline them if they did not cheer loudly enough.

As soon as Catherine’s barge had passed the villages were were pulled down and rushed to another vantage point downstream, there to be re-erected for the next day’s stage of the royal progress. The cheering peasants were shunted along with the village, perhaps with some change of costume and juggling of false whiskers lest Catherine should recognize a familiar face among her serfs.

It was never quite like that in Australia. Our Potemkins did not have a travelling band of happy, smiling peasants, nor did they have a movable kit of prefabricated houses; but they did have some tricks all the same. It has been the custom in all capital cities for all official functions to surround the dais, podium or whatever with masses of greenery. Civic imagination rarely extends to any other kind of decoration, but after a time the pots of azaleas, the tubbed little cypresses begin to become all too familiar and it is obvious that they are going from function to function. In Cabramurra up in the Snowy Mountains there were buildings that were painted on one side only for the Queen’s gaze. In February 1958, when the Queen Mother was arriving in Sydney, the by-pass that runs from the bridge close to Government House was still unfinished. So at the last minute workmen put down some bamboo and hessian and covered it with a veneer of concrete so that it would look like new paving. Indeed from the back of the Queen Mother’s big Daimler it looked just fine.

Furthermore, most of the Royal visitors arrive in New South Wales via the Sydney airport. The route from airport to city is one of the most regrettable in the country. To make matters worse it is lined with fertilizer and boiling down works. There’s a hard core of Sydney realists who believe that the Royal Family should know everything about them, how they look, breathe and smell. There are others who do not. So always it has been the custom on royal arrival day for the fertilizer factories to be closed down. So the air for a few hours at least is refreshingly pure.

However nobody has ever been forced to cheer at Royal Tours, although occasionally there has been a little priming. When the Queen and Prince Philip visited the General Motors-Holden’s assembly plant at Elizabeth, South Australia, in 1963, the press party arrived a little early. The 2,000-odd employees with their wives and families were waiting outside. One of the factory officials was giving them a cheerleading session. He had them giving three cheers over and over again until he was satisfied they would lift the roof.

They nearly did, too. GMH is not the sort of firm that leaves anything to chance. Indeed heaven knows how much the Royal visit cost GMH that day. One had the impression that no-one ever smoked a cigarette, no filthy automobile engine ever dropped a spot of oil. The great concrete floor of the factory was as white and as spotless as Ben Casey’s surgery.

One couldn’t estimate how many roads have been constructed, how many holes filled, how many trees planted, and how many millions of gallons of paint expended, all because of Royal Tours.

Cities that have had long and frequent royal processions, covering many suburbs, have cause to be grateful. Canberra always gets the most royal processions with the result that the capital gets the most paint, the greatest number of new trees and the best roads. My favourite story goes back to the Royal Tour of 1954. Brisbane has never been an enthusiastic town for paint, and this was causing the city fathers much worry. Before the Royal Tour they urged the citizens to paint their houses and to spruce up their gardens, particularly those along the Royal route from the Eagle Farm airport to the city. There was one character who didn’t do anything. He didn’t paint his house nor did he clean up his garden. Official representations made no difference. On Royal arrival eve he had a touch of conscience. He took out his lawn mower and in the long grass of the sloping front lawn he mowed.

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Of course, Royal Tours vary. The happiest tour was that of the Queen Mother in the summer of 1958. I don’t think there was a single newspaperman who didn’t fall for this lady. Even the toughest of us found ourselves writing sentimental things about her. She always gave the impression that this wasn’t just duty. She loved doing it and she loved people. Instinctively she knew what to do.

Newspaper photographers suffer on Royal Tours. They see the perfect photograph, the natural for page one, but they cannot get in position to take it. Their positions for taking photographs inevitably are allotted months before the tour begins. So they get pushed into a set position by a city official, policeman or some equerry. Yet the Queen Mother understood newspaper photographers. I think she even understood apertures, lenses, angles, the lot. Always she would make sure that she was on the outside of the party coming towards them. She would smile their way, pause and if they asked for more time, she woud give it to them. When finally she left Australia by air, the Royal Tour press photographers put in their two bobs and bought flowers for the Queen Mother. And this was a big hit — they did understand each other. As the aircraft taxied away she held those flowers up to the window and waved to them. I don’t know whether you realize the enormity of this event. It hadn’t happened before and it hasn’t happened since. Newspaper photographers do not normally give people posies of flowers.

She was patient with everybody. She listened to all the speeches, she shook hands with those endless columns of city dignitaries, never failing to turn on that enchanting smile. In Brisbane, for example, she shook hands with 430 people in one day. She would stand there rigid, with her feet apart. She had to do this, because some of the ladies would hang on to her hand to stop from falling over. As Nancy Mitford once said, you could hear their knees going off like revolver shots.

She wooed the Pressmen very early in the piece. They had a special Meet-the-Queen-Mother party at Government House in Canberra. She talked to every one of them and there was an almost unending supply of chicken sandwiches and quality champagne. Newspaper people tend to melt under that treatment.

Perhaps she was too patient. It was discovered that there was a perfect method for meeting the Queen Mother. One found a cute little girl of, say, five years, put her in her best frock, put a pink bow in her hair, then made her stand by the side of the road with a bouquet of flowers. Time and again the Queen Mother would stop her car, and the whole procession, to speak to such pretty little girls and take their bouquets. In the end it got out of hand. The day she visited the housing settlement in Sydney there was a record of thirty seven little girls with bouquets. So it became the system for an aide to case the route just before the Royal car came along, collect all the bouquets, and the donors would get a little note later.

People everywhere were enthusiastic about her, including taxi drivers. There was the man who took the Sun team out to the airport for the great arrival. He was a perfect specimen, chatty, open necked shirt with sleeves rolled. We hadn’t gone far before he struck a road block and a policeman. Very smartly he grabbed our passes, waved them out the window and shouted: ‘Yer'll have to make way for me, officer. I'm orfta the airport to pick up the Queen Mum.’

Everywhere we went the reception was wonderful, but particularly the Queen Mother liked the visits to the country. There the welcomes were unbelievably enthusiastic. The Royal entourage called them the ‘Wild West Welcomes'. Ballarat, for example, turned on a beauty. There was a farmer who parked a great semi-trailer in Sturt Street. He had a canopy over the top in case of rain, and he had all his family sitting there in a fine position on top of the milk cans. It was important to plan most carefully if one wanted to see the Queen Mother.

Another happy tour was that of Princess Alexandra in the spring of 1959. She came primarily for the centenary of Queensland, so the majority of the tour took place in that huge State, which involved plenty of planning in logistics. She had to make official visits to places which rarely saw dignitaries of any kind, let alone a Royal princess. There was one good story about a Queensland town whose name we won’t mention — in order to protect the innocent. The instructions went out that timing for the tour would have to be exact. The distances to be covered were so great that timing through the various points and meetings would have to be judged almost to the second. Well, the allotted stop-over in this little cane country town was very brief. Everything was almost done when they had a ghastly thought. Her Royal Highness almost certainly would want to ‘wash her hands’. How much time would be allotted for this? The problem was solved in an inspired manner. For a brief time the wife of the Shire Clerk took over the job of Princess. They stood there with a watch, timed her into the bathroom and timed her out again. Planning of equal precision was required for the Royal transport.

For this tour the Commonwealth bought a glorious new Rolls Royce, two-tone, burgundy with black mudguards, number C90006. Later I was quietly corrected on that colour; ‘not burgundy, but Royal Claret’. It contained great panels of switches both front and back, switches for all the windows, switches for the great glass shield between front and rear seats, switches for the six little spotlights designed so that all could see the Royal person when she was travelling by night and the switch for the radio aerial which would rise electrically out of the mudguard, like a cobra out of its basket.

Then the two back seats were individually controlled. This was a vast improvement on the old cars. For the Queen Mother’s tour the Department of Supply used a Daimler. The Queen Mother was so tiny the Department had to build up the upholstery on the right hand side so that the crowd could see her. But for this machine, by the touch of a handle, either seat could be raised, lowered, put forward or back. So it became the custom for the Princess to ride with her seat slightly elevated, the other lower down. Indeed if they were sick of a local mayor in the left-hand seat, they could sink him out of sight like a submarine.

Jack Riley, a veteran of Royal Tours, was in charge of the transport arrangements, and for a high speed tour around a State 1,500 miles long it wasn’t easy. He had sixty drivers divided into ten units, and one unit of ten drivers would arrive in each town forty-eight hours before the Royal party. Then there were five Rolls Royces and one Daimler. These were in three units of two cars each. A RAAF Hercules transport was on duty to fly them from town to town, so that they were always there, magically waiting, at every airport for Her Royal Highness. Always they were spotless and gleaming, untarnished by the dust of country roads. Never get the idea that Royal Tours are cheap or easy to run.

The Princess was twenty-two, so the Commonwealth Government decided that this should be a young people’s tour. I wonder if the young princess knew of the sheer science and effort that went into the planning of the State Ball. Actually there were only 630 applications from young people. There were two reasons for this. Some people thought it would be a typical Canberra stew, so what was the point of applying. The others thought ‘Dad’s so terribly important in the Government, he’ll fix it for sure’. Both were wrong and by the time they found out it wasn’t to be a stew, it was too late. The 630 applications went in as marbles into the barrel, but this was done with great subtlety. First they were divided into categories — public service, sporting bodies, trades people, Duntroon army cadets, and so on. Then they called in the Government Statistician. He revealed that there were 3,600 people in Canberra, aged between eighteen and twenty-five. He knew the exact numbers there were in each category. So they had a separate ballot for each section and they drew the perfect proportion for each section of the community.

The old Tattersall’s marble ballot system was the fairest method for sending the young people to the State Ball. Six years later during the Vietnam war it was also deemed to be the fairest system for calling up young people for National Service.

So the Princess arrived, the most clothes conscious member of the Royal Family ever to come to Australia. The Royal entourage had 320 pieces of luggage and it took two aircraft to lift it, a record for Royal tours. The Royal luggage was particularly interesting, good solid blue stuff with brass studs. It reminded one of Britain’s grander Imperial days. Then there was a carpet bag. Nobody knew what it contained, but it had a noble Regency air and it was made from honest Wilton carpet. All that luggage was necessary for a number of reasons. Wherever the Princess went she received presents. There was no end of jewellry, brooches, riding crops, toy koalas and a truly extraordinary number of boomerangs. Then, of course, there were the highly fashionable Royal clothes. The Queen Mother, and the Queen, frequently wore the same dress; not Princess Alexandra. Every day she wore something different, even different gowns to all the numerous Royal Balls. Perhaps towards the end of the Tour there was a repeat or two of a ball gown, but that was all.

We had our formal introductions in Canberra. Like her mother, she was beautiful. Everything from her hair style down to her shoes - was high fashion right up to the minute. Her voice was soft; not BBC, not Oxford or Cambridge, but that carefully controlled Royal international accent. And already for sunny Queensland she had a fine golden brown suntan from a holiday in Italy.

Canberra spent no money on fancy decorations for the Princess. Only one building was turned out with fancy bunting and flags. This was only coincidental. It so happened that a local department store was celebrating its August birthday sale. However, Brisbane went crazy. It was hard to find one undecorated square inch in the whole city. If the Princess had wanted to see Brisbane as it really was, there was no chance. It was inundated with flags, bunting, coats of arms and streamers. It looked like the Mechanics’ Institute Christmas party. Before the arrival there was the great light-turning- on ceremony. At 7.30 p.m. Mr Nicklin, the Premier, pressed a button and floodlights, red lights, white lights, came on all over the city. There were 10,000 lights on the Story Bridge alone. There was a team of electricians who did nothing else but replace spent bulbs. Night after night there was a slow procession of cars down Queen Street, packed with mother, father and the children in their pyjamas, looking at the glory of it all. Brisbane has always been good at these city illuminations. No other city does it quite as well.

There was a song written especially for the occasion The Alexandra Waltz and copies were on sale. It started thus:

  As the sea gently warms in the sunshine,
  So our hearts warm in gladness to you,
  Alexandra, Alexandra,
  A fairytale Princess come true.

So before the Royal arrival nerves were rather on the tender side. The big Brisbane function was the Royal Ball on the Friday night and it was revealed that supper was being provided at a cost of £1/17/6 a head. Naturally people were keen to know what kind of food would be provided for such money. The Mayor said it was not consistent with the dignity of the function to announce the menu; there was a touch of vulgarity about that sort of thing. One councillor threatened to punch another councillor in the eye and somehow the menu leaked out. Among other things there would be oysters, Barramundi Mayonnaise, Prawn Centenary and Snapper Alexandra. This menu met with general approval except that the Government Ichthyologist, Mr Marshall, expressed the hope that the council would provide the true barramundi, Scleropages Leichardti and not the Lates Calcarifer. It must have been Scleropages Leichardti because it tasted so well on the night.

The ball took place at Cloudland. This is a dance hall right on the pinnacle of Brisbane’s steepest hill. The hill is so steep that the guests go up to the top in funny little cable cars. Normally it is a home for the real rock-n-rollers, but it took on some real tone this night. The organizers described Cloudland as the largest dance hall in the Southern Hemisphere. This may have been so, but one wondered whether they had checked the size of all dance halls from Caracas to Rio. It still had a sign on the door, ‘No intoxicating liquor’ and ‘The management reserves the right to remove any person whatsoever from the ballroom. Tonight, 4/6.’

Cloudland was made most handsome with 30,000 blooms and Mr C.A.M. Reid, a koala expert, brought along six koala bears from his Lone Pine Sanctuary and installed them in a special bush house by the dais. One distinguished koala, Rex, had already been formally introduced to the Queen Mother on the last tour.

The ball was an agony. Now remember, Princess Alexandra at this time was only twenty-two. They put her on a stage while the guests, 1,200 of them, were down below. They were in a fine strategic position to stare unmercifully all the evening. The entertainment consisted chiefly of a soprano who sang Paradise in Waltz Time and a baritone who sang The English Rose From Merry England.

Also there was the great presentation line up. She had to shake hands with the Privy Councillors and their wives, the judiciary and their wives, the clergy and their wives and the parliamentarians and their wives. This went on for an interminable period. Some talk of Alexandra and some of Hercules. By the time she faced the Scleropages Leichardti she had undoubtedly earned her nourishment.

Most times a real effort was made to give her a good time and treat her as a young person. But often one wondered how things would go if this and other Royal Tours were handled by professionals who understood public relations. Particularly one yearned, at least, for a script writer to handle the speeches. Some of those from Princess Alexandra were quite extraordinary. Take this extract:

'To us who have grown up in the misty islands of the North Sea, the sun-drenched immensities of a country like Queensland glow with the rainbow colours of romance.’

There was much more like that, which sounded as if it had been written by a Sunday school teacher. I don’t believe the Princess had any part of it.

Yet she was never overawed by authority. When the Royal aircraft arrived in Canberra she stepped out to a scene that could hardly have been more formidable. Most of Parliament and the entire diplomatic corps were there. I counted forty-five black silk toppers complete with tails and striped pants. There was the Russian Ambassador, Ivan Kurdyukov complete with gold braid and gold-braided peaked cap. There was Mrs Kurdyukov, a redhead, in a stunning sable fur. Then there was Lady Carrington, wife of the British High Commissioner, in a glorious mink that was only a fraction inferior to Mrs Kurdyukov’s sable. Sir William Slim, very erect, was at the bottom of the steps holding his red field marshal’s baton and wearing the biggest greatcoat since Marshal Zhukhov. Furthermore, on the tarmac there was a little covered dais. It had a purple carpet, and four gold knobs on the roof. This was the position for the Royal Salute and looked exactly like a dear little bandstand snatched from the Esplanade at Blackpool.

The young Princess carried out her duties, smiling, waving, with perfect grace and not a touch of nervousness. Actually it wasn’t very long before she was displaying a considerable amount of independence. As part of her official duties she paid a visit to the Brisbane Show on People’s Day. Now People’s Day in Queensland is the day of the year. The whole grounds are packed like a Melbourne pub still is at 6 pm. The Princess, very correctly, made her visit to the British Pavilion, then instead of making her official departure by Rolls Royce, she decided to have a look around like everybody else. The crush was so thick that Lady Moyra Hamilton, her Lady-in-waiting, and all the rest of her entourage, couldn’t keep up with her. The Queensland Premier, Mr Nicklin, was shouldered aside; the Police Commissioner, Mr Bischof was almost pushed over and the Tour Director, Mr C. McPherson, had his hat knocked in. So the Royal Princess pushed her way in and out of the Brisbane Show crowd doing as she wished, while officialdom panted after her in a state of near panic. At one stage she found herself right in the path of a tram. The trammie looked out and found himself face to face with the Princess. He couldn’t have been more astonished.

The most informal function of the tour was to be a barbecue arranged for Sydney’s Royal National Park at a glorious spot overlooking Port Hacking River. This was to be a real, old-fashioned Australian bush picnic. Ah, if only all bush picnics were like that one. The Princess came up the river aboard a forty-five-foot motor cruiser. Teams of water police carefully cleared the way of all possible obstructions like submerged logs. She was not allowed to tread on the bare, crude jetty. It was covered with red matting.

As for the picnic spot it was under coral trees and weeping willows. The public couldn’t get near. There were thirty police and motor cycle cops to defend the area as if it were a Vietnam GHQ. The whole acreage had been sprayed so that there wasn’t a fly, mosquito, or any crawling thing within miles. There was a large table covered with a stiff white tablecloth; there were chairs and the best silver. The table decorations consisted of pineapples, waratahs and cut flowers. Stewards in white jackets and black trousers were in attendance.

When the Royal launch was twenty minutes off, Gerry Kearney, the seventeen-stone cook, complete with chef’s hat, received the word to put on the steaks. These were carefully selected rump one-and-a-half to two inches thick. The bottles of vintage Australian burgundy were uncorked. We were allowed to observe all this from a discreet distance. The delectable smells were enough to make a man almost weep with agony. The best we could do was to buy a few sunken meat pies at a nearby kiosk. It was a cruel day. It was an exhausting tour but the Princess enjoyed herself thoroughly. Whenever she had the opportunity she liked to sit down and play the piano. She didn’t care for the classics, she went for the latest pop tunes. She played numbers from 'Guys and Dolls, Gigi, My Fair Lady, and Love is a Many Splendoured Thing. I don’t think she played the Princess Alexandra Waltz at any time. The joke of the tour was a passion for singing commercials. The Princess took a fancy to that dear old Australian singing commercial, I Love Aeroplane Jelly, and rather than the Alexandra Waltz - it became the unofficial tour theme song. One time the Princess even announced that she would have it recorded and take it home to England.

At the tour’s end she threw a party for the Pressmen, and those closely associated with the tour. It went long into the night and the newspapermen promised that nothing would ever be written about it and nothing ever has. We were sorry to see her go. After all, we bad become known as 'Alexandra’s Ragtime Band’.

Three years went by before there was another Royal Tour. The next came in 1962, the visit of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand. Actually newspapers never quite agreed on a spelling for the King’s name. It varied all the way from Bhumibol to Phumiphon, but most people agreed on a pronunciation . . . they called him King Poony-pon. This was the first visit to Australia by a reign reigning monarch and it was an example of the Government’s somewhat belated efforts to gain a greater understanding of our neighbours in Asia. Thailand was a partner under SEATO and the R.A.AF. had a Sabre jet squadron stationed at Ubon, not far from the border of Laos.

What does one remember of that tour? Of course, and most of all, one remembers Queen Sirikit. A man is only human. She was warm, smiling, just about as beautiful as a woman can be, and add to this the detail that always she was faultlessly and very expensively clothed by the best couturiers in Paris, I remember how she arrived in a little white hat, a full length mink coat, and four strands of very large, evenly matched pearls. The wind was blowing the hair across her face. Heavens, she was lovely.

The King on the other hand wore the uniform of a Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force. He was correct in his protocol, very military and unsmiling. Indeed during the whole tour never once did he smile. As he said on one occasion : "My wife does my smiling for me.’

Of course, you can imagine what happened. Newspaper photographers are human too. They just couldn’t get enough pictures of Queen Sirikit; her face made the front pages day after day, whereas the King was left out. This caused some grief in the Australian Department of External Affairs. After all, King Bhumibol was the important one, the Head of State, and even a God in Thailand.

One felt a little sorry for the King. The build-up that came beforehand was of a jazz-loving, sports-car loving, water-skiing King with a beautiful wife. He was known as a composer of popular music, particularly 'Falling Rain'. Bands, all around Australia, never let up on that one during the whole tour. Then six of his numbers were played at the Government House ball, including 'Lullaby', 'When I Think of You', 'Hungry Men’s Blues', 'Love at Sunset' and again 'Falling Rain'. They varied from waltzes to slow fox trots — pleasant, amiable, and about as remote from the Beatle era as Bing Crosby. Squadron Leader Hicks, the RAAF. music director, brought a saxophone and a clarinet from Melbourne, just in case the King might like to get with the boys, but there was never a chance. This was exactly the image he was trying to live down. At the Press reception he made it clear at once that he did not want to talk about trivialities, music, motor cars, etc., were out.

And it was very interesting. He talked and even argued, the threat in Laos, American aid, the tense relations with Cambodia, the Philippines, Communists in Singapore and there were even some good cracks about SEATO., the ‘paper tiger’.

No doubt he was very right, because almost certainly this advance image had caused the embarrassing scandal of the Australian National University. The ANU had been asked to grant the King an honorary degree and it had refused. If the refusal had been kept secret all would have been well, but it became openly and hideously public. For example the Melbourne University student paper Farrago congratulated the Government for not forcing the ANU to reverse its decision and wrote: ‘King Phumiphon [sic] is an autocratic ruler, though he is a distinct improvement on other autocratic rulers who were our allies in the past, such as Stalin or Tito and he is much less odious than Dr Soekarno. Our universities are and ought to be liberal institutions.’

The King made a formal visit to the ANU and perhaps there was just a small feeling of guilt on the University’s part. While he was there the formal announcement was made that the University would establish an Asian fellowship to commemorate his visit. This made amends for the insult and it was infinitely more practical than an honorary doctorate.

Over 20,000 turned out at the airport for the Royal Thai arrival, which was a record, better than for any visit by the British Royal Family. However Canberra did not dress up. There was some red, white and blue bunting across Parliament House, which looked like the Monday washing, but little else. The best show was put on by the Royal Thai Embassy in Mugga Way. Here there was plenty of bunting, and the Ambassador had gone one further. He filled his garden with concrete kangaroos, concrete koala bears, brolga birds, magpies and seagulls. There was even a little cluster of concrete dogs and little men. Our taxi driver called them ‘Gunomeys’. Then Mugga Way was spotless for the Royal Progress, except for one flaw. An embassy over the way had left out all its bottles on the nature strip, although all of us were thankful that they were good quality bottles. There were gold label Haig Scotch bottles and one excellent bottle labelled Chateau Petit Faurie de Soutard 1955. Life was still bearable in diplomacy row.

The King and Queen did all the regular things, the visit to the National War Memorial and the visit to Duntroon. The cadets turned on a superb parade which could hardly have been equalled by the Trooping of the Colour in London. Only one dreadful thing happened. In the high wind a cadet lost his hat. A little boy, aged about six, ran out of the crowd on to the ground among the troops, picked up the hat and handed it to the cadet. It was an awful moment. The cadet remained rigidly at attention and didn’t flicker an eyelash. There was ony one thing to do: appeal to higher authority. The boy moved on and held up the hat to the sergeant. The sergeant, too, remained frozen, but the boy, who deserved a Military Medal, would not give in. He stood in front of the sergeant holding out that hat for a good four minutes. Then when the order came for the Royal Salute, suddenly the sergeant took the hat and in one magnificent movement jabbed it down on the cadet’s head. Honour was restored and we all breathed again with relief.

We saw the King in all his uniforms. As a Thai Field Marshal, as a Thai Admiral of the Fleet and as a Marshal of the Thai Royal Air Force. No doubt the tour was very good for Australian-Thai relations. Certainly it was well covered in the Thai newspapers. There were Thai correspondents and little Thai protographers who were not only sending back press pictures but also making a full length documentary. They had the ability in the packs of first-class Australian Rules Football rovers. They were always ten yards in front of our photographers.

The Government administration also looked upon the tour as ideal training for the pending visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was certainly good training for us with national anthems. Never will we forget that Thai National Anthem. The two were played everywhere at every appearance. God Save the Queen was always skipped through in eighteen seconds, but the Thai anthem was different. As any sub-editor will tell you, the one newspaper story that is impossible to cut is a cooking recipe. Apparently the Thai anthem also was impossible to cut. The minimum version was seventy-five seconds, and when standing at attention in a cold wind, head bare, that’s a long time.