In 1954, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, came to visit Australia. They travelled to cities that were distant from us, like Sydney and Melbourne. But also, they visited Brisbane and Toowoomba. Even then, Toowoomba was a city, with big shops lining its main street. It sits on the top of the Range, part of the Great Dividing Range that runs down the eastern coast of Australia. It has always been renowned for its cool climate, and its wonderful public and private gardens.
Mum’s sister lived in Toowoomba. Mum and Dad had decided to take Val and me to stay with her so we could see the Queen drive past in her open car. They drove on to Brisbane where they would have more chances to see the royal couple.
We drove to Toowoomba the day before the Queen was due to arrive there. It was a long drive, and I was tired and stiff when we arrived. My sister and I walked to a local park where I could stretch out my legs.
‘What is this?’ I asked, picking up something from the ground. It was brown, oval shaped, and about as long as my big toe. It was hard and felt smooth as I rubbed it with my finger. ‘Look, there are lots of them!’ I gathered several more, and took them back to show my Aunt.
‘That’s an acorn,’ she explained. ‘they fell from the oak trees.’
I know my mouth dropped open as I looked up at her. ‘Wow! I thought oak trees only grew in England. I didn’t know they grew in Australia as well!’
‘Not everywhere,’ aunt went on, ‘but Toowoomba is much cooler, because it’s high up on the Range. English plants can grow here.’
‘And we get more rain,’ she went on, ‘that’s why there are so many gardens here, with lots of lovely flowers. It’s harder where you live.’
The next day, Val and our cousins went into the centre of the city and joined the crows there. Aunt and I gathered with lots of other people on the side of the street where we expected the Queen’s car to pass. Like all the children, I stood in the front of the crowd. It seemed we had been waiting for hours, but eventually we saw the cars coming. How we waved and clapped as the Queen’s open car drove past! The Queen waved to us, too. Beside me, my staid, reserved aunt surprised me by cheering loudly. She must have been excited too. I thought she was just there to make sure that I could see the Queen. We knew that the Queen would be busy in the city for a few hours before returning to the airport along the same street. My aunt and I went back to her house for a quick lunch and talked about what we had seen.
‘The Queen looked pale,’ said my aunt. ‘Perhaps she was sick on the plane. Sometimes it gets bumpy when they fly over the mountains.’
‘Wasn’t Prince Philip handsome?’ was all I could say.
Soon it was time to go back to the side of the street, to watch the cars again. We waved and cheered again. ‘She looks much better now,’ said my aunt, ‘I think it must have been the plane trip, that made her so pale. I do hope she has a better flight back to Brisbane.’
And the excitement was all over.
But not quite. That night, Aunt found me sleepwalking. When she asked me what I was doing, I apparently replied, ‘I’m looking for the park where the oak trees grow.’
The next day, Dad drove the family home. But I never forgot the excitement of seeing the Queen with my own eyes. So much better that just looking at photos.
The photo shows a street built in Toowoomba