Centenary of the Royal Tour of Australia.

100 years ago, today, on 26 May, 1920 the British cruiser HMS Renown entered Port Melbourne. On board, was the darling of the British Empire, HRH The Prince of Wales. Edward (or ‘David’ to his friends) was about to undertake his first tour of this great continent and the local populace were in a frenzy. In Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, numerous triumphal arches had been built in his honour, the most notable of which was the ‘Wool Industry Arch’ in Sydney’s Bridge Street, which featured the figure of a ram atop. The local populace had also been tutored to sing the words of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales.’ This would invariably be accompanied at events by a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, ‘God Save the King.’ In addition, various public buildings throughout the country were being illuminated electrically in the royal visitor’s honour.

After disembarking at Port Melbourne, the Prince and his party drove in a convoy of Crossley cars the eight miles to Government House, Melbourne, at that time the largest in the Empire. The pavements on both sides of the road were thronged with flag-waving crowds, anxious to catch their first glimpse of ‘Our digger Prince.’ The events then began in earnest: A visit to the Federal Houses of Parliament, a dinner for 300 at the Queen’s Hall, followed next day by a gathering of 18000 worthies at the State Exhibition Building. Somehow, the Prince also found time to review the Australian Fleet on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland and receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Melbourne. Edward was immediately caught up in the general bonhomie and wrote to his mother, Queen Mary, of the ‘enthusiastic’ crowds which even surpassed his experience on an earlier portion of his World Tour in Canada.

The Prince departed Port Melbourne by sea on 12 June. As the focus of the tour was very much on honouring military veterans and ‘returned’ sailors and servicemen, en route to Sydney, a visit was included to The Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay. Edward arrived in Sydney, the largest city in Australia, on 17 June. After a formal reception at the Town Hall and a State Government Dinner, the Prince progressed to the Central Station to join the Royal Train for an overnight journey to Canberra, to lay the foundation stone of the new Federal capital. On his arrival, on 21 June, HRH must have been a trifle confused for apart from a power station and a water works, there was, as yet, little evidence of the fine city Canberra would one day become. Nevertheless, he diligently did his part before returning to Sydney by rail in time for dinner. The remainder of his time there quickly passed in a blur of lunches, banquets, receptions, speeches, late-night private parties, as well as a parade for 10000 returned sailor and soldiers at Centennial Park.

On 25 June, the Prince departed Sydney for a long sea voyage along the south coast of Australia to the port of Albany in the West and thence, on 30 June, by train to Perth. After many days of official engagements there (including a sail down the Swan River), Edward embarked the royal train for the journey eastwards across the vast Nullarbor Plain and onwards to Adelaide. However, at Jarnadup, three carriages of the train came off the line. Fortunately, the Prince had been spared injury by rolling up into a ball shape the moment he experienced the heavy jolting movement of the train. A highlight of this stretch of the tour was HRH’s encounter with fifty Aboriginal people, dressed only in loin cloths, at Cook. Edward was transfixed during this ‘corroboree’ by a boomerang display.

Adelaide was reached on 12 July. The itinerary here included a Boy Scout Jamboree at the Jubilee Oval, a visit to the Military Hospital at Keswick and a march past of military veterans at Government House. Then it was the turn of Tasmania. As the two main towns of Hobart and Launceston enjoyed a friendly rivalry, both had to be visited.

On returning to Sydney by sea, the official party immediately travelled by rail up to Queensland. At Brisbane, the Prince was greeted by a party of Women War Workers and feted by crowds the length of Edward Street. Events included a Peoples’ Reception at the Botanic Gardens, an official dinner atop Finney’s Department Store and a tour of an Agricultural Exhibition. As in the other cities, many of the large buildings were festooned with decorations and Prince of Wales feather motifs. Postcards were now available featuring the ‘Digger Prince’, as were little metal medallions.

By this stage of the tour, the Prince was complaining to one correspondent in England that, ‘mentally, I’m absolutely worn out.’ Late nights at the various Government Houses en route, as well as sleepless nights aboard the royal train were to blame. Therefore, Edward must have been delighted when the final period of his tour in Australia was mostly devoted to rural pursuits. On 2 August, he visited a cattle station near Boonah, Queensland to watch the cattle being dipped against ticks. 7 August found him attempting to shear sheep at Wingadee Station, New South Wales. He was amazed to learn that a man could shear 200 in a day. Finally, there was a ‘buck jumping’ display and some Kangaroo hunting at another venue near Miowera.

The successful tour ended with HMS Renown steaming through the Heads at Sydney on the early evening of 19 August, following a 21-gun salute by HMAS Australia. The Prince informed the Governor-General that he had been ‘deeply touched’ by the ‘openhearted affection’ of the Australian people.

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