I WENT TO SEE THE QUEEN and all I saw was a flash of her mint green suit.
It had been a spontaneous decision to seize the day and take all three of our children out of school to witness this historic royal visitation. It was quite plausible after all that this could be Her Majesty’s last visit to Brisbane. They would remember this occasion for years to come.
The enthusiasm of missing school and seeing the queen was tangible. Everyone made sure their shoes were appropriate as I’d relayed a story about Prince Phillip snubbing a royal fan after he caught sight of their old, scuffed shoes. We would be more than ready for the prince and the queen with our neat attire and well-shod feet.
We announced our decision to visit Her Majesty to friends and our neighbour and her three children together with three more eager friends took up the offer to accompany us. All were naturally delighted to take a day off school thanks to the sanctioning by our education minister. Our new royalists ranged in age from Grade 4 to Grade 11—civilised, manageable ages not prone to getting lost or behaving inappropriately in Her Majesty’s presence (we of course visualised her shaking our hands and congenially chatting).
We set off at 8am, intending to pick out our spot along her Southbank route. The train trip was uncomplicated and we were lulled into a false sense that perhaps we were among only a handful of royal watchers out on this sunny October morning. We disembarked at Southbank, and still, the crowd was not overwhelming—a promising sign. The only early birds like us were some prettily frocked little girls carrying posies of flowers while accompanied by their suitably elegant mums. The flowers, we discovered later, would be their ticket to the queen. (Note to self: Next time, bring extravagant bunch of flowers—preferably containing a few native species bound to be given the nod for their patriotism. Borrow adorable child to accompany flowers.)
We decided on a spot near the wheel where we could see the queen as she ascended the stairs to QPAC. According to security, we would have a good vantage point as she and her entourage later drove through the arbour. What we hadn’t quite counted on was the crowd that slowly filled our little viewing spot. Or that we would not be able to leave our station for five hours for fear of forever losing precious ground. Never underestimate the wily ways of unsuspecting little old grannies carrying fold up stools and sporting a benign smile. They can take your spot from right under your nose without a hint of shame.
The sun beat fiercely for an October morning and as the hours went by; the main entertainment became witnessing SES volunteers rescuing swooning elderly royalists and dehydrated children. Caged behind security fencing, without shade or nearby water stations, it was not surprising we commoners were fading fast.
As one Lifeguard volunteer was heard to say: “The old ducks are dropping like flies”.
After what seemed like an eternity and after several mutterings from our jaded clan that an air-conditioned classroom was starting to sound rather appealing, there was a roar from the crowd. This signalled Her Majesty had disembarked from her cruiser and was heading towards QPAC.
We were parched and seared from hours in the sun but we rose to the occasion and snapped away at … well, at the back of people’s heads. Where was the woman? We knew she was wearing mint green from the massive television screen we had glimpsed earlier, but there were so many hats and so many hangers on it was hard to discern where the lady of the moment was at all.
I hoisted up a squashed and sweaty toddler behind me to catch a glimpse of the queen.
“See, she’s the old lady with the pale green hat,“ I said, barely able to see her myself.
He looked at me with a bemused expression and I had a sudden realisation he hadn’t a clue what he was looking at. Nor did I. Well, I did see her mint green suit for a second from the shoulders up—and the back of her matching green hat—oh yes and I should be grateful for the glimpse of her white-gloved hand waving to the crowd.
Only later did I realise that in my frenzied bid to see the queen, I had completely missed Prince Phillip. And then it was over. The queen failed to walk up the QPAC stairs as predicted and must have snuck through another entrance to greet flood victims. We would have to wait for a proper look when she drove past us in the royal procession. May I add that people were still passing out in the heat and there was no water to be had. The drinks seller had long run out of cold drinks and the crowd was so thick, there didn’t seem any access to water bubblers at all.
Fearing one of our large party would flake out in the half hour wait for the queen to re-emerge from QPAC, I decided to be the water scout. Loaded with a back pack of empty water bottles, I headed off. A tired looking SES worker directed me to a bubbler along the edge of the river and I prepared to stand in a long line. There was, however, a mere trickle emanating from this water source and I predicted it would take me ages to fill 11 water bottles. I also feared I would be lynched by a thirsty mob for hogging the bubbler.
I decided wash basins in the ablution block were a better option. So I headed once again through throngs of onlookers now gathered at the rainforest where she was due to appear later, to the ablution blocks. There I was greeted by a long queue. Finally, I reached water and filled up 11 water bottles to revive a parched troupe. Buoyed by my successful quest, I pushed my way through crowds once again, and finally, had our vantage point in my sights. Just then there was a roar of excitement and I saw cameras held aloft photographing the queen and her entourage driving within a hair’s breadth of our spot. I had missed the entire royal drive by. My opportunity to glimpse the queen close up was forever dashed.
I did later see the video footage on my daughter’s iPod—and the photograph taken by my son as she drove past.
She looked enchanting and I’m told by a fortunate friend who actually got to see her up close, her skin is translucent and unblemished for a woman of her age. She’s also charming, attentive and somewhat smaller than she appears in photographs.
I’ll have to take her word for it.
© Lois Nicholls