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Princess Elizabeth was en route to Australia, via Kenya, when she received news in February 1952 of the premature death of her father, 56-year-old King George VI. She hastily abandoned her trip but visited Australia two years later as the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II, the first and only reigning British monarch ever to do so. That 1954 visit was the first of 16 royal tours by the Queen to Australia but was, by every measure, the most successful – and resoundingly so. Royal fever gripped the postwar nation, which seemed to fall, en masse, under the spell of the young queen. During the two-month sojourn it’s estimated that more than 7 million Australians – 70 per cent of the population – attempted to see Elizabeth and her consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

In Sydney, 1 million residents reportedly thronged the harbour foreshore and lined the city streets, waiting for hours just to glimpse the royal couple following their arrival on 3 February 1954 at Farm Cove aboard the royal barge.

During the following 58 days, the pair visited 57 towns and cities across the country on an exhausting program of public engagements and community and sporting events. They saw natural wonders such as the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef, and watched surf carnivals and gymnastics displays. They met Indigenous leaders, war veterans, farmers and factory workers and hordes of schoolchildren. Australia presented itself as a confident and vigorous young nation with seemingly boundless resources. It was forward-looking while still valuing its strong bonds with the motherland.

It wasn’t until the Queen’s next tour, in 1963, that Prime Minister Menzies famously quoted the poetic phrase “I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die”. But he was already feeling effusive in 1954, and avowed his most profound and passionate feelings of loyalty and devotion to the throne in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Formal celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – 70 years on the throne – the first British monarch to reach such a milestone, will take place in the UK across the long weekend 2–5 June 2022. Among the events and celebrations here in Australia, the Queen’s Jubilee Program is providing up to $15.1 million in grants to eligible groups and organisations for community-based tree-planting programs.

For more information, see The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee 2022.

All photographs by Max Dupain/Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales