Thursday, 09 June 2022
Royal Commonwealth Society Seasonal Dinner to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the
Rod, and I as your patron, are pleased to join you for dinner tonight to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia, Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Queen of South Australia.
It is a great honour to address you as Her Majesty’s Representative in South Australia and to celebrate such a magnificent milestone.
The Commonwealth’s role in bringing together the 54 member nations in a spirit of co-operation and benevolence has always been dear to the heart of the Queen.
In her Christmas Day broadcast in 1953 Her Majesty described The Commonwealth’s post-war mission as, and I quote: “building on the highest qualities of the Spirit of Man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace.”
Those qualities rest on the passion and commitment of people, and I thank the Royal Commonwealth Society for not only building friendships but for your altruistic and humanitarian activities, benefiting us here as well as other nations.
As Governor, I hold dear the responsibility that comes with my constitutional, ceremonial and community roles in upholding the interests of all South Australians and supporting our democratic institutions.
I hope that during my term I can encourage and promote respect for and active participation in these fundamental institutions of our society.
I intend too to promote leadership, opportunity and diversity, to recognise excellence, to continue the important journey to meaningful Reconciliation with our first South Australians, and, by drawing on my overseas experience, contribute to our State’s profile and prosperity.
In my 36-year career as a diplomat, 20 years of which were spent serving overseas, including eight in London, I had first-hand experience of the Commonwealth. I saw it at its best when it drew on its strengths – principally a commitment to the promotion of democracy, good governance, peace, human rights and the rule of law – to respond to the needs of its members.
But given the purpose of this evening’s gathering, let me speak now not about the Commonwealth, but about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth.
As British and Australian diplomats, respectively, Rod and I had the immense privilege of meeting Her Majesty on several occasions – at Diplomatic Receptions and Royal Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace and the Centenary of Australia House - and being present at Trooping the Colour, the Whitehall Remembrance Day commemoration, Royal Ascot, a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, services at Westminster Abbey and the State Opening of Parliament.
Each time I was struck by her grace, her naturalness and her ability to connect with people from all walks of life through her warmth and interest in one as an individual. Even the world’s most senior leaders, Commonwealth or not, have appeared star-struck on first meeting Her Majesty.
There are many memories I will always cherish and am happy to share with you tonight.
On the 12th of November 2006 – Remembrance Sunday - I was privileged as Acting High Commissioner to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on behalf of the government and people of Australia, taking part in a ceremony which I had previously only seen on television.
There were about 10,000 veterans massed along Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square and thousands of spectators, as well as bandsmen and women and wreath‑layers.
But there was silence, not a sound could be heard apart from an aircraft in the distance. I could feel a tear sitting in the corner of my right eye and see the sun reflecting off it.
Many dignitaries had spent the previous day attending a three‑hour rehearsal, practicing walking backwards down the cenotaph steps while still looking forward to pay their respects.
On the day, the Queen laid the first wreath, then reverently stepped backwards – sure-footed and without hesitation.
I expect she had done this so many times she didn’t need to practice!
I was also honoured to attend the Opening of Parliament and hear Her Majesty outline the Government’s forthcoming agenda, not knowing that one day I would serve in a similar role in the South Australian Parliament.
In 2006, at an evening Reception at Buckingham Palace I dutifully stood where an “X” on the back of a purple card marked the spot where I was to stand.
By the time the Queen and other Members of the Royal Family entered our room, she had already met several hundred people but still looked fresh and enthusiastic in a long cream ball gown and tiara.
I think we have all, over the years, marvelled at her stamina!
Later we mingled in the throne room, and the Queen seemed to gravitate to people wearing medals, which perhaps is not surprising, as her deep admiration and respect for those who have served their nation is widely known.
In my role as Deputy High Commissioner, I was also privileged to represent Australia at a moving national service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family.
At the end of the service Her Majesty laid flowers, first at the statue of William Wilberforce to honour all who worked for the abolition of the slave trade, and later at the Innocent Victims Memorial outside the Abbey, to honour those who suffered and those who continue to suffer from slavery.
This Bicentenary attracted much attention and debate in England and was a poignant reminder that the world needs on-going vigilance against inhumanity in all forms.
At Windsor Castle I was delighted to be with Rod as we met Scouts from all over the Commonwealth to mark the Centenary of Scouting.
The Queen reviewed the Scouts and spoke to many; her genuine interest in the development and achievements of young people evident.
The whole occasion was quite relaxed and Her Majesty, as always, was charming.
The British are known throughout the globe for their magnificent pomp and ceremony. And so it was at the naming ceremony for Cunard’s Queen Victoria liner at Southampton.
Rod and I walked with hundreds of other guests along acres of red carpet to what resembled an enormous West End theatre in front of the ship, which was shielded from view.
The Royal Marines played the Cunard Fanfare before the arrival of the Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales and the playing of the national anthem.
We then enjoyed splendid theatrical performances including one from Derek Jacobi telling the story of Cunard. The backdrop grandly parted revealing the port side of the Queen Victoria, the cue for the choristers of Winchester Cathedral to process down the aisles towards the stage before the ship’s blessing.
It was such a magnificent spectacle.
The Duchess of Cornwall came onto the stage, made a short speech and pressed a button on the lectern. After what seemed like an eternity, a bottle of champagne swung into view and hit the side of the ship but DIDN’T break.
The assembled guests, including Rod and I, were aghast. I must have shut my eyes and therefore missed one of the ship’s company swinging another bottle over the side and breaking it. British ingenuity at the fore!
That sense of occasion, joyous celebration and people coming together was again on display at the weekend as Britain partied to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee.
Our hearts go out to Her Majesty knowing that she was without His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip – her strength and stay – by her side, although I am sure he was in many people’s thoughts and was there in spirit amongst the Royal Family.
As I look around the room, I note that many of us here, and indeed many South Australians, have lived our whole lives with Queen Elizabeth as our sovereign.
When we look back over Her Majesty’s life, we can reflect that her reign has unfolded against a backdrop of immense global change: societal and political upheaval, technological advances, conflict between nations, economic fluctuations alongside prosperity, a decolonisation of the British Empire evolving to become the Commonwealth nations, and most recently a world-wide pandemic.
Throughout that time, Her Majesty has been an enduring symbol of stability, strength and hope.
Born of the generation whose lives, stoicism, and sense of duty were shaped by War, at 96 years of age, we can only marvel at Her Majesty’s continued dedication to duty despite recent, inevitable health challenges and wisely devolving some responsibilities to the next generation of Royals.
On an occasion such as this celebratory dinner, it is important to put the longevity of the Queen’s reign in perspective:
Her Majesty has been monarch for more than one third of South Australia’s almost 186-year European history.
During that time there have been 17 Australian and 15 British Prime Ministers, 13 Governors of South Australia and 16 South Australian Premiers.
Let us not forget that as well as her leadership role, the Queen has also been a devoted wife, and is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
In these roles, like many, she has experienced both joy and sadness, but her enduring grace and dignity remind us of the importance of family and community.
Her Majesty has always displayed great warmth and affection for the Australian people through her messages of hope and sympathy inspiring us in times of need such as floods, bushfires, alongside her messages of respect for our service men and women on VE Day and Anzac Day.
At Government House on Sunday, we held an Open House where memorabilia of the Queen’s seven visits to South Australia were on display.
Some 1400 people came.
In the lead up to this, the façade of the House was illuminated with photographs in tribute to Her Majesty.
Highlights including her walk through of a newly opened Rundle Mall, thronged with well‑wishers, and laying a wreath at the National War Memorial on North Terrace.
Many would remember fondly the packed streets and outpouring of pride during her seven visits to South Australia, including the thousands of school children at Wayville Showgrounds welcoming her in 1954 during her first visit.
Some of you may even have been among them.
Last night at a reception Rod and I hosted for representatives of “Royal”, or “Commonwealth” organisations, and those with royal antecedents or connections, I announced that in permanent acknowledgement of our gratitude for Her Majesty’s seven visits to South Australia, we would rename the Morning Room at Government House the Queen Elizabeth II Room.
On her 21st birthday, contemplating the magnitude of the task ahead, the young Princess Elizabeth in a radio broadcast from South Africa during a Royal Tour with her sister and parents made a solemn vow.
She declared, and I quote: …that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
On the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee, I am sure you join with me in giving our heartfelt thanks for her long life and in tendering our warmest assurances that she has more than fulfilled her promise of outstanding service and unwavering dedication.