From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 21 February
King George VI died on February 6th 1952. I have no recollection, but I do remember, vividly, the coronation of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, 1953.
THE Australian Broadcasting Commission broadcast live the coronation from Westminster Abbey on 2 June, 1953. I remember it with such clarity. Beria was ironing. I was sitting on the kitchen floor listening to the brown Bakelite wireless which sat on top of the kitchenette.
There followed, 1953-54, a six-month tour of the Commonwealth. The Queen and Prince Philip toured Australia for two months. They arrived in Sydney, 3 February, and departed from Fremantle, 1 April.
Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, has reigned for 69 years, and has, by any objective reckoning, served Her people well; however, there have been several hiccoughs along the way – some more contentious than others. The impertinent involvement (which has been categorised as political collusion) of The Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, in the controversial sacking of the former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was a major error in constitutional judgement, the consequences of which are still being debated.
The 1954 Royal Tour of Australia was, even when viewed through the cynical prism of 2021, a triumph. It was estimated 90 per cent of the population (we were nine-million) turned-out to see the Royal Couple as they toured the nation.
Serendipitously, Beria and I were in Perth when The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in Perth and I was taken to see The Queen!
Buildings were decorated with coloured lights and draped with the Union flag. The royal cipher, ER II, and giant flood-lit reproductions of the Dorothy Wilding portrait of The Queen hung from city buildings. The same picture of The Queen appeared on a stamp. She was dressed in a blue satin Norman Hartnell off-the-shoulder evening gown. Eight illuminated and decorated steel arches, topped with giant crowns and fitted with hundreds of coloured lights and various symbols of colonial devotion, spanned the St George’s Terrace, lighting up the night sky and dwarfing the people below. Huge spot-lit globes of the world appeared to be suspended in mid-air. Giant boomerang-shaped banners proclaimed: ‘GOD BLESS OUR QUEEN’.
As The Queen’s motorcade drew closer I was overwhelmed by the rolling wave of noise. Everyone was cheering and brandishing flags. Moments before The Queen’s car passed at a snail’s pace I was lifted and seated on top of a taxi telephone box and I had a clear view over the heads in front. The motorcade was led by eight motorcycles and a contingent of the twenty mounted police.
Smiling and waving to the cheering crowd, The Queen and Duke were sitting in the back of a gleaming car. I was dazzled by the light bouncing off her diamond tiara and three-strand diamond necklace. The waving hand was encased in a long white kid glove, reaching way past her elbow. The blue of the Garter riband was a bold slash of colour, running from her left shoulder; on the other shoulder was a large spray of Australia’s wattle to compliment the yellow tulle gown created especially by Norman Hartnell for the Australian tour. The full skirt was heavily beaded in a wattle motif.
As suddenly as she had appeared, The Queen was gone, but the thrill did not abate. People were running along the street, chasing the car and cheering.
The next morning, Beria took me to buy a gold-sprayed, lead coronation coach, pulled by eight hand-painted Windsor Greys. When offered a choice I opted for the larger. It was £5. “I’m sorry,” Beria told me, “I would love to buy it for you, but I can’t afford it.” I happily accepted the smaller of the two. We were staying with Nana McGregor, and I sat on the floor in the bedroom, playing with the coach.
Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald each Monday at 10.45am on 3BA and you can contact him via [email protected].