It is a little recalled fact that the first Royal visitor to New Zealand was the Duke of Edinburgh. Not the recently deceased Duke Prince Phillip but Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, who happened to be the Captain of a British vessel, the HMS Galatea, that called in to Wellington.
The death of Prince Phillip recalls the extent to which we baby boomers lived in the shadow of World War II and in the sunshine of the Royal Family which, in the fifties and sixties, New Zealand basked in.
The first visit of Queen Elizabeth II and her Consort Prince occurred in the summer of 1953/1954. Each school child in New Zealand was given a splendid concertina brochure that opened to show on one side a a procession of royal horses and soldiers, sketches of important sights of London. While on the other side the text focused on the coronation which had occurred some months previously. The headings made clear what this was about – The Queen, Our Royal Family, The Queen is Crowned.
But in the rather simple life that was led back then, the gifting highlight just had to be the medal we each received. It was the size of a real medal, was the weight of a real medal, it had a purple ribbon and a ribbon bar – we knew it was dinkum.
In Hamilton (1954 remember) the royal entourage hung about for several days and my brother and I were dragged about by Mum to catch fleeting glimpses of the Queen as she was driven past in large shiny cars, walking away through entrances – “Yes, that was the Queen under the hat with the blue feather!” All in all, a a set of recollections of those Royal Hats, the blurred windows of large shiny cars and, of course, those two gloved and waving hands. Our mother accompanied all this with her mantra: “This is History”.
Things were managed much better in 1963 when once again the Queen and Consort were in New Zealand. It was summertime, stinking hot, but that didn’t stop all the students from schools in Hamilton being transported to Seddon Park (now known as a venue for cricket), arranged in rows, primary in the front, secondary capped and uniformed, all in preparation for the Queen and Consort to be driven on the back of a Land Rover, up and down, up and down the rows so that the children both primary and secondary could become a little more acquainted with our beloved monarch.
I recall that it was a really hot Hamilton afternoon. I recall too that the royal entourage was delayed, probably inspecting yet another dairy factory. My brother and I were in the Fairfield College Brass Band which had the privilege of playing for the assembled guests and our honoured visitors (both futile expectations as turned out). But with no shelter, sitting up alter for the imminent arrival which when at last the Guests arrived and the Brass Band had struck up (not quite Horse Guards Parade) the event proceeded with squealing, shouted messages from the delighted children. It was over seemingly to us at the time, largely before it had started. But there was a sequel that delighted us.
Several days later a Letter to the Editor of the Waikato Times appeared detailing the excellent contribution to the Seddon Park Royal Event by the Fairfield College Brass Band under difficult circumstances – great heat, competing with the noise from an audience of youngsters that had gone to Seddon Park to see the Queen not to listen to a Brass Band. Sitting out in the noon-day sun, the delay and so on. It was a great thing for this citizen to have done, the school was chuffed when it was read out at a subsequent assembly and the members of the band subsequently blew a little harder at the tribute from this anonymous citizen.
But this raises the question for me. What knowledge and how much attention will be paid in the history of New Zealand to be rolled out in school and the Monarch which, as our Governor General has recently pointed out, is the Treaty Partner with Māori albeit a function that is the responsibility of the NZ Government or, as it is usually put, the Crown?
Oh, and the letter to the Times? Some years later I found out that the anonymous letter (as was the order of the day back then), was written by our Mum!