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29 Oct 2011

When The Queen Was Here

Queen Elizabeth II was in Brisbane on what was being touted as possibly her last tour to Australia. Nobody said why they thought it was her last tour. I cannot help but wonder if anyone realized it sounded like she was going to die. Somehow even thinking that seems blasphemous. 

From the news stand, I gleaned information that she is the only reigning monarch from The Royal Family to visit Australia and in her 16 visits to this continent, she has visited all the states. She was coming to Brisbane to pay her respects to the flood-ravaged areas and affected people. 

Thousands of Brisbanites assembled at various points on both sides of the Brisbane River, starting from Brett's Wharf to South Bank, to get a glimpse of the Queen (and more, if possible). When I arrived at SouthBank Parklands, the place was jam-packed. I do not remember seeing this many people in Brisbane even at the famous Riverfire or the glorious Ekka! Jostling crowds? What's that? Do we have that many people in Brissie? Nyah! Turns out we do. It was easy to see what the newsreaders mean when they talk about the pull the Queen has.

What I should have expected, but had not, was the number of old people present on the day. Some of them could barely walk but they were there, waiting for Her Majesty, in the blistering heat of the Sunshine State's summer sun. They were in such awe of the Royal family! A number of kids in fancy dresses, with flowers, cards and gifts for the Queen, waited patiently for her with their parents. The excitement in the air was almost tangible. I heard one parent saying they had been waiting in the same spot for 4 hours! That's one thing that never fails to fascinate me about the people here. They wait for hours, camping with their families, for a 15 - 20 minute event. Don't they have to be elsewhere, doing other things? 

Each time a boat came close to the pontoon, the crowd held their breath. A happy old man to my left was giving a running commentary to the ladies around him. Every time he said the Royal Boat had arrived and he was wrong, the grannies chided him for the slip-up. It was like watching a movie shot at a different time period. A young man with a bevy of ladies on his arm, while he regaled them with his army stories. 

When the police boats arrived, we knew she was going to be here any moment. Click, flash, hands flew up  all around me. The ones at the back of the crowd were hoping to capture something on their cameras to take back home, even if a direct visual was hard to get. The announcer from the news channel that was running a continuous update on her trip said the Queen had been up on her feet waving at people throughout the boat-ride. At her age, it was an amazing thing. The crowd went crazy. 

Finally, the ferry carrying the Royal entourage arrived at the South Bank Cultural Centre pontoon and stopped. More hands in the air, more flashes.

"There she is, in red!". "No, that's Anna Bligh". "Oh look, Anna is wearing a hat!" "The Queen is in green, next to Anna". "I can see the Prince". "Where, where? I don't see anything" "They're on the top deck. Anna is wearing a red hat, the Queen is in green". This last was from our old friend, the commentator.

I stood tip-toe on my 2 inch heels and strained my eyes. It was hard to spot them. The man in front of me, with 2 little girls, had got an eyeful and bend down to let the others behind him get a view. I saw two figures - one in red and one in pale green - standing side by side on the top deck! There seemed to be some men in suits but it was hard to tell who they were. Well, I got my glimpse! By then I had clicked a few randoms on my camera and was hoping that I'd managed to get them in at least one of my frames. Here is what I got.

Ha ha ha! No, that's a picture from one of the newspapers online. Here's what I really got from my camera. If you peer hard enough, you might see 2 little spots in green & red. That's them alright. 

I am not even sure why I went there. In India we do not go ga-ga over The Royal Family, like they do here in the Australia. It was a sort of a historic moment and I suppose I wanted to be a part of it. Even if it meant being one of a hundred thousand specks in the dust. It was not like most of us had a hope in hell of actually getting to see her. In the end, all I got was a glimpse of someone or something in a spearmint green coat and hat that was apparently the Queen. The Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was more easily spotted in her scarlet suit & matching hat. There were a couple of men dressed up in guardsmen outfit, who might have been the Queen's men or fancy dressed men in the crowd. It was hard to tell. It would be a shame not to mention the Duke of Edinburgh but he did not exactly make the headlines or do anything unusual to note. Not even one of his famous gaffes that day. There was a loud roar from the crowd as they got off the ferry and walked down the aisle at SouthBank Parklands. As she walked down the pathway, the noise moved with her and hands flew up, holding cameras, iPhones and SLRs. When she passed a certain spot, the crowd disintegrated in a trice. 

It had been an hour in the sun and I had seen all I could. As I made my way back, I saw a woman sitting on her husband's shoulders trying to get a better view. Cameramen from news channels trying to capture the excitement for their audience were thrusting mikes at her for a commentary on what she was seeing. When they left, I asked her if she saw the Queen and she said she didn't. Well, she got her 15 seconds of fame while the poor husband was straining under her weight. Someone yelled that the Royal entourage was in the QPAC building and everyone turned in that direction. Sure enough, we could see unmistakable green and red figures surrounded by black suits, through the glass windows. 

By now, I was hot and hungry. It would have been impossible to try to catch my friend who was somewhere among the thousands. I messaged her that I was heading back, quickly waved at the construction workers peeking through the different levels of their building (lucky bastards got a good view without leaving their workplace) and took off.

As I weaved through the crowd, conversations floated into my ears. A group of teenagers were excited that they had seen a red hat, green had and squealed when one girl announced that she had seen Prince Charles. Of course, she meant Phillip but who cares, she saw him! An middle-aged woman was telling her friend that some people had fainted from the heat. An old man holding his wife's hand was making his way through prams and people, yelling "woman with a baby, woman with a baby". His wife might have been a "baby" to him but he didn't look like a woman to anyone. The Victoria Bridge was filled with barely moving people. The 3-minute walk across it took me 15 but I finally made it. Not before I heard one last comment from 2 young women - "Next time, we should get here at 7 in the morning, with blankets and deck chairs, so we can get a good view". I almost felt ashamed for wondering if it was worth coming this time. 

1 comment:

  1. But will there be a next time!