Inside the Collection

Back to school – with the Queen 60 years ago

Cover of a souvenir school exercise book from the 1954 Royal Visit
Cover of a souvenir school exercise book from the 1954 Royal Visit. Powerhouse Museum collection, P3454, gift of Alan Colman, 1984.

As children all over Australia went back to school this week after the long Christmas holidays, many will be coming home with stationery lists. In 1954 the exercise book shown above was the “must-have” in school supplies. Why was that? Because the whole nation was in a tizz about the Royal Visit. Today, 3 February 2014, it’s exactly 60 years ago since Queen Elizabeth II stepped ashore at Farm Cove in Sydney for the first day of her Royal Tour of Australia. She was the first reigning monarch to do so. The city was awash with decorations and lights and even some of Sydney’s trams and buses sported large crowns, over a metre high, on their roofs. Giant fabricated swans with 4-metre long necks were paddled along the lake in Elder Park, Adelaide, amongst enormous pink and gold water lilies. Not to be outdone, in Brisbane at the glittering Lord Mayor’s Ball in the Town Hall, the highlight was eight live koalas sitting in simulated gum trees on the dais.

The Queen and Prince Philip waving from the observation platform of the Museum's Governor-General’s carriage
Waving from the observation platform of the Governor-General’s carriage. Photo courtesy of State Rail Authority Archives.

Thousands of adults still recall waving to the Queen riding in her Land-Rover but for some of her New South Wales journeys the Queen travelled by a Royal Train in the famous Governor-General’s 1901 carriage. Like a magnificent palace on wheels, this carriage is the pride of the Museum’s transport collection. If you want to see it, it’s currently displayed at Trainworks at Thirlmere, south-west of Sydney. On their train trip from Sydney to Newcastle on 10 February, “The Sydney Morning Herald” reported that from as early as 5 am many thousands waited in the rain at stations to catch a glimpse of the Royal couple. As their gaily decorated Royal Train passed slowly through the Sydney train yards hundreds of railway workers lined the tracks. Wherever crowds had assembled the driver had been given special permission to go slowly and Her Majesty was alerted of the crowds by four blasts from the engine’s whistle. People sat on wooden fences next to the lines, crammed upstairs windows and swarmed on overhead bridges. They waved flags, bunting, handkerchiefs and their hands. Someone waved a bundle of laundry from a Redfern window.

“More than 25,000 people crowded Gosford station and sang “God Save the Queen” as the train passed through. About 5,000 children from 21 Gosford district schools cheered shrilly and waved small flags in a huge flutter as the Royal Train went slowly by. The Queen and the Duke each gave them a special smiling wave.”

After all the excitement of seeing the Queen was over, it was said that 75 percent of the Australian population actually caught a glimpse of her in the flesh. Some children were lucky enough to have their Royal souvenir exercise book as a constant memento for the year. So, it was back to the monotony of the school year with the wooden rulers and pencil cases, the botany books, pens and ink, and the sandwiches of baked beans, Pecks paste, vegemite or Kraft cheese washed down with orange cordial.

Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator, February 2014

One response to “Back to school – with the Queen 60 years ago

  • Great post! Margaret tells a shorter version of this story in her delightful railway history book, ‘Rail Tales’. Written for children, it is a book that anyone interested in Australian railway history, or life in the past, will find informative and enjoyable.

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