Sixty-one years ago the nation was gripped in a similar wave of enthusiasm as that which we seem to be experiencing at the moment with the arrival in New Zealand of a rather pleasant young couple and their child. A young Queen Elizabeth and her consort arrived in New Zealand in December 1953 for a royal tour that seemed to go on forever.
Well, it had started many months prior to the visit with the work done in the schools. Projects about just what she was Queen of, and it was then quite a lot of red on the map of the world. But there was also quite a lot about the paraphernalia of the Royal Family – castles, crowns and ceremonies.
Each school child in New Zealand received a fold out of the State Coach, the gold one and its six white horses and their jockeys in the stockings and elaborate jackets. Just quite why we received this was not really made clear as when they later arrived the Queen and her Duke travelled in black cars, on the backs of open Land Rovers and even in the Royal Train. They bought their own boat for convenience.
But the high point of the preparations for the visit was the presentation to each school child of a Royal Visit Medal – a rather important looking gong with its blue ribbon. Back in 1953 this seemed like the pinnacle of achievement.
Of course the cynics and perhaps the republicans would have a field day about all this and how bad it was and how the minds of young people should not be distorted with all this rubbish. But you have to remember that back then the shadow of World War II was still slowly lifting, countries like New Zealand were still experiencing the austerities that came from that and there was no television. So an event of a national scale and involving a huge number of places was a chance to be happy.
And so most towns in New Zealand and especially the ones visited decorated themselves up and this in itself brought pleasure and happiness.
When the Queen and her Duke were in Hamilton, Mum took us to stand for quite some time at a spot that gave us a glimpse and no more of the flash cars as they went past and spotting the white-gloved hand giving us a wave was mission accomplished.
And so it seems the pattern repeats in a modernised manner today with the young couple and the royal kid. Although a very significant difference is the extent to which they mix and mingle, bend over to chat with little people, laugh and have fun doing things that would have seemed outrageous back in the fifties. The mock sailing race, the jet boat ride, taking George to Plunket, the ants running around ostensibly playing rugby, the cycling stadium and such activities all seemed harmless enough.
Greatly different this time is the contingent of “the media” that swarm around the whole business. We are constantly told that New Zealand is receiving publicity that “money can’t buy”. I don’t believe this largely because when I travel I find plenty of people who do not know where New Zealand is, cannot distinguish between it and Australia, have no understanding of our politics and/or people and none of that bothers them.
Perhaps it is not necessary for us to seek a purpose in such events as a royal tour any more than we might in the visit of an opera singer or author or an orchestra or a sports team that arrives. In different ways we are simply better for having enjoyed the experiences. And so it is with this past week. It is not necessary to seek to understand the crowds that line up to see the royals now any more than we needed to in the fifties or in London outside Buckingham Palace.
Should we believe that such a visit could persuade us which way to vote at the general election as has been suggested? Probably not. Those seeking to be the government will need something stronger than “no royal tours in election year” as a policy. And there seems to be little in a visit such as this of the negativity that the media feeds on and indeed promotes.
However next week we will be able to get back to life as normal – murder and mayhem, cyclists and cars, surplus and deficit, missing aircraft, whales, oil and farms, water and Canterbury and……. schools will be able to get back to the projects on Eskimos.