POST WAR AUSTRALIA - CORONATION, 1953
|The coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, came sixteen months after her father’s
death had postponed yet another royal tour. The significance of the
coronation has been erased by the 1954 tour, eight months later. At the
time, however, the coronation was much more than a warm-up.
In a late gasp of seeing Britain as
“Home”, Australians imagined ourselves over there or conceived of
the coronation as happening here. Illustrated books of the ceremonies
guided families through the day’s progress as they tuned their radio
sets – in effect a DIY television. Letters from listeners to Prime
Minister Menzies suggest that they had “channeled” themselves into
the Abbey by following his presence over the broadcasts. As one woman
wrote, we “felt that we were beside you”. The ABC secured a seat in
the Abbey for Gwen Meredith so that devotees of her radio serial “Blue
Hills” could accompany her.
Australians created personal
relationships with the Royal Family. A lady monarchist told Menzies that
“our Little Queen needs a spanking” for her treatment of the Duke of
Windsor. From Perth came word that another supporter had just proved his
“descent from King Edward the first”. Well-wishers who received form
replies from the Queen’s Secretary responded as if they had been
offered a peerage.
Thousands did make the journey
“home”. The Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department, Allen Brown,
warned Menzies that because most visitors were bound to be disappointed
at not getting into coronation functions, the government needed to spend
more on advice for the tourists. Sending them to the Royal Mews was no
solution, Brown concluded, “as most Australian think they have seen
The visitors’ expectations were
satirised by an office girl at Australia House:
The majority were told to enter an
Australia House ballot for 6000 seats along the route, priced at £5.10.00
under cover and £3.10.00 out in the open.
All manner of government and public
bodies were funded to send representatives to march in the procession.
An aircraftsman had to be dropped as “not a clean skin” because he
had deserted his wife and children for a lady in Kings Cross. When
dobbing him in, his wife expected “a good hiding”. The RAAF
investigated the adultery, but not the domestic violence.
The omission of an Aborigine from the
official parties led to suggestions that Captain Reg Saunders, fresh
from the Korean battlefront, be dispatched. No one asked Saunders
whether he wanted to be a trophy of how colonization had helped his
people triumph over what one of his advocates called “nomadic
savagery”. The Board of Missions recommended a Cairns nurse who
“would conduct herself as well as any white woman”. In the end,
Menzies regretted that Aboriginal representation “was not
British possessions would be represented
at the expense of the Colonial Office. Minister for Territories, Paul
Hasluck, realized that the one exception would be Papua-New Guinea, an
Australian Trust. The dispatch of twenty-five members of the Papua
Constabulary was a black comedy. The RAN and RAAF declined transport.
Commercial carriers were reluctant. Eventually, the party went on an
immigrant ship and returned QANTAS to Sydney before joining a copra boat
to Moresby. By such means did Hasluck present “the Throne as a symbol
of a direct and personal concern with their welfare and of a benevolent
rule over them”.
Backbenchers returned owing the
government money. Alex Downer’s father, for instance, dismissed the
demand that he return £42 as “most ungenerous”. A Victorian Labor
member hired a car to drive him alongside his liner from Suez to Port
Said, at £30 pounds. He was “shocked and surprised” on being asked
to refund over £300 pounds. Three years later, Menzies agreed to
nominal settlements, minuting the by-now mountainous file, “Quieta
non movere” – let us pay and look pleasant.
Independence movements and republicanism
on the Indian sub-continent, and de-dominisation in Canada and South
Africa, meant that the Coronation Oath had to be amended. Australia
therefore needed a new Royal Style and Titles Act. Menzies had “no
sympathy” with a wording which put “Queen of Australia” ahead of
Queen of the United Kingdom. The first title, he argued, could only be a
consequence of the latter.
Whitehall, meanwhile, knew that oil was
thicker than blood. Her Majesty’s government granted the Sheikhs of
Kuwait and Bahrain the status of other monarchs within the Empire, “in
view of the desirability of encouraging their connection with the United
Kingdom”. The Foreign Office also used the coronation to promote the
Empire in the USA. The British Ambassador to Washington thought its
importance second only to atomic tests in Australia.
The prohibition against using the royal
name or image to promote products was suspended for confectioners.
Manufacturers re-branded refrigerators and plastic table-ware with
monarchical tags. Diamante tiaras, fashioned by Gaycharm in Sydney,
Male attire proved a source of anxiety.
Would the Papuans be warm enough in lap-laps? Chief Justice Owen Dixon
fretted that his robes would use up his baggage allowance. Menzies wore
morning dress and not full evening dress to the rehearsal in he Abbey
and sulked back to his hotel. On the next day, correctly attired, he had
to endure the coo-ees of his countrymen.
The distribution of Coronation Medals to public servants began according to the numbers in each division. Menzies ordered a re-allocation of half to the most senior officers, a move which contradicted the Communist Party’s condemnation of the monarchy as a “weapon to stifle class consciousness”. ASIO used those comments as a pretext to raid Party headquarters for more information towards its case about wartime espionage. Two years of boosting of a New Elizabethan Age did more to get Menzies over the line at the 1954 elections than did any Petrov conspiracy.