Sixty years ago, March 5, 1954, was a red-letter day for Tatura, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the first reigning monarch to visit, came to town.BOB NICOL March 7, 2014 4:25am
The Queen and Prince Phillip, pictured with councillors, their wives and official guests. Historical photos: Lally Collection and Tatura Museum.
In his book Tatura and the Shire of Rodney, author W. H. Bossence, said ‘‘it is doubtful if any other event can be compared with it’’.
Like other towns and cities across Australia fortunate enough to host a visit from the Queen, the atmosphere was electric.
As a young seven-year-old living in Casterton, I travelled across to Mt Gambier in South Australia (60 km away) with my parents to line the streets with thousands of others for a glimpse of Her Majesty, but that’s another story.
Prior to the Queen’s visit, there was concern as to the state of the railway station, with the Guardian commenting on May 14, 1953, ‘‘Dilapidated and crumbling, Tatura railway station has been a source of ridicule for district residents for a lengthy period’’.
However, according to Mr Bossence, on the day of the Queen’s arrival, all that changed when the Queen stepped into the Royal Train from a totally renovated station gleaming with new paint, the defects, if any, being more than adequately concealed behind masses of flowers and shrubs which provided one of the most picturesque settings of the day.
‘‘The royal cypher in golden flowers mounted on scarlet velvet, made a perfect background for the artistic scheme, and Her Majesty commented on the decorations to station master F. Kelly.’’
On the day, the royal visitors travelled from Mooroopna by car along the Midland Hwy then south to Tatura before entering Hogan St.
Mr Bossence said on account of its length, the west end of the street was not crowded, although a great number of spectators had come from all over the valley to witness the historic event. They were entertained by Numurkah Brass Band and Dhurringile Boys’ Pipe Band until the moment the Queen arrived.
According to the Guardian of March 11, ‘‘Spontaneous, intimate and informal was the enthusiastic welcome given to the Queen and His Royal Highness.’’
‘‘(On entering Tatura) Her majesty had probably observed the houses in Ross St which were festooned with flags and seen the big arch with its Royal Cypher within the crown, proudly bearing the banner ‘Tatura Welcomes You’.’’
‘‘Standing on a big, raised and graded earthern mound, and with children graded for size, each pupil had a vantage point for her stay of over five minutes.’’
‘‘They heard the address of welcome and loyalty, read by shire president Cr G. H. Brewer and the reply of Her Majesty, and their shrill voices rose to a crescendo of cheering as the Queen left the dais to walk across the platform and board the royal train.’’
Arthur Knee was the shire engineer at the time and had the job of organising the event. He clearly remembers the day that brought Tatura to a standstill and what was involved prior to the arrival.
Mr Knee said preparing for the visit was a logistical nightmare.
An organising committee was formed, of which Mr Knee was appointed secretary.
‘‘First up, when council received advice that the Queen would be arriving in Tatura by car, the only suitable access route from the highway was via Ross St, which was only sealed to 12 ft wide and had to be widened,’’ he said.
‘‘When people from Canberra visited the town before the big event, we were told to expect around 10 000 people on the day so the street (Hogan St) would have to be barricaded. As we were unable to secure proper barricades, we had to make do with steel posts and ropes.
‘‘Prior to the big day, the contractor, who used to pick up the mail from the (railway) station and deliver it to the post office, somehow managed to crash into the railway station causing extensive damage, and a new station building had to be erected in time for the visit.’’
Mr Knee said there was so much to be done prior to the Queen’s arrival and on the day of the event.
‘‘With access to the station platform deemed ‘unsuitable’ for the Queen, a special ramp had to be made and a new red carpet recently delivered to Scot’s Church was ‘borrowed’ to cover the sandy walkway on the ramp,’’ he said.
‘‘We could hear by the crowd noise that the Queen was on her way down Hogan St.
ust then a strong gust of wind came, blowing the carpet away. There was much panic to get it back in place before her arrival at the station.
‘‘But we survived and the day went off well.’’
Mr Knee said after it was all over, he was offered payment for all the work he did, which he gratefully declined.
A surprise dinner was put on for Mr Knee by the community, in appreciation of his efforts and he was presented with a mantle clock, which has since been donated to the Tatura Museum.
‘‘The Queen’s visit to Tatura coincided with my father’s 30th birthday. He often recalled the day and claimed that it was best party he had,’’ Paul Kerrins.
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