One rather curious item in the Norfolk Island Museum collection is a handmade tulle tutu that was last worn by a rather large man who, along with three other men, performed in it for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Norfolk Island on the 11th February 1974. The Queen visited Norfolk Island during a royal visit that had included New Zealand, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Australia.
It must have been a unique experience for Her Majesty to see classical dance performed by burly men dressed as ballerinas in tutus, singlets, wigs, socks and ballet shoes. Footage of the performance shows Prince Phillip grinning widely as he turns to see the reaction of the Queen who appears to be stifling much more than a smile. The rest of the Royal Party comprising Princess Anne, Captain Mark Phillips and Lord Louis Mountbatten initially look as if in disbelief, before also laughing at the sight in front of them. Allan Dyer, Gary Clarke, Ken Salt and Graeme Probett (described by George ‘Kik’ Quintal at the time as “a few of the local talent dancing”), were among the line-up in a concert for Her Majesty. Perhaps nowhere else but on Norfolk Island with its laid back nature and unique humour would this performance ever have been considered as a suitable inclusion in a Royal performance.
This visit was a big event not only because any Royal visit is special, but because of the strong Royalist sentiments held by the islanders. Even today ‘God Save The Queen’ is sung as the National Anthem. This loyalty grew from the gratitude of the entire Pitcairn Island population when in 1856 Queen Victoria granted them Norfolk Island as a place to resettle. Having outgrown their beloved and isolated Pitcairn, this small community of 193 persons, descendants of the Bountymutineers and their Tahitian wives, were desperately in need of a new home. Her gift has never been forgotten. In the lead-up to the day The Norfolk Islander newspaper recorded, “Next Monday…the people of Norfolk Island, and I refer to those of Pitcairn lineage, will be able to express their loyalty and devotion to our Monarch – Queen Elizabeth II, great-great-great-grand daughter of Queen Victoria, by whose grace and favour we owe our very existence on this beautiful island”. Preparing for the visit Mary-Joe Nobbs, then an island elder, expressed her sentiments as “England comes first in everything, the Queen is everything to us, everything”.
Other items in the Museum collection tell us that this was a highly planned event. Numerous printed programs and a daily brief of 42 pages describe every detail of the day including dress codes, seating plans, car routes and the movements of all involved. An historical tour of Kingston begins with: “11.40am leave for No. 5 Quality Row. Her Majesty alights (right hand side). His Royal Highness and the President of the Norfolk Island Historical Society alight from the left hand side. Her Majesty is joined at the rear of the car by His Royal Highness and the President”. Greg Hinks was the Police Officer in Charge of Operations for the day and a recent donation of his papers show that nearly every contingency was considered.
As it turned out, all that planning paid off. High seas crashing over Kingston Pier and fog on the morning of her arrival meant that the journey of the Royal party from the Royal Yacht Britannia to the pier was delayed and even looked likely to occur the next day. The responsibility of piloting the government launch from the yacht to the Pier lay with Richard ‘Uckoo’ Douran. Unflappable after years of steering boats into Kingston, the high seas did not worry him.
All on the island were expecting the Royal party to arrive at the Pier at 11.00am, however half an hour earlier out alongside the Britannia, Uckoo saw that the conditions were good to go. The Royal Party were loaded and began the short journey back to the pier. Their unexpected appearance through the fog was excitedly announced on the radio by Ivens ‘Toon’ Buffett as “the royal party is now coming!”. The local paper, The Norfolk Islander later reported, “We understand there was quite a scurry as councillors, their wives and others in the official welcoming party raced to finish their showers! We know of one councillor who finished dressing on his way to Kingston in the car!”. For safely landing the Queen on the island Uckoo’s nickname of ‘Cat’ was thereafter upgraded to Royal Cat! The conditions meant that instead of the planned 11.00pm departure, the Queen would leave at 5.30pm. Last minute changes were made to the days schedule including the location of a community picnic and the open air concert.
For Jean Mitchell, the announcement on the radio that the Queen was due to land sent everyone else in her busy kitchen into a flap. Jean was responsible for the food that the Queen and Royal Party would eat at the community picnic. Her daughter Trish Magri reflects “I’ll never forget that day”. With the likelihood of the visit being held off to the following day due to the weather, Jean had to make decisions about whether to bake several whole fish – too early and they would spoil, too late and they wouldn’t be ready. Trish recalls that her mother was completely calm in the midst of the chaos. With her team of helpers, a huge range of food was prepared in addition to the fish including a suckling pig, chickens, island dishes such as Tahitian fish, sour milk bread, corn bread, pilhi, lemon, passionfruit, plum and coconut pies and even whale bird eggs.
With the announcement of the fourth change of venue to the grounds below Government House (the fourth time the organising committee had to set up the tables!), Jean piled her Kombi van full of food and made her way through the stream of cars and people all heading to the picnic location, rushing to set up in time. She was still busy putting all the food on the tables when she looked up. “…and there was the Queen. She looked right into my eyes, oh I’ll never forget it, never”.
Footage and photos of the picnic show a remarkably relaxed event with small children wandering almost right up to the front of the picnic table in front of the Queen, and locals enjoying what looks just like a large family picnic. The Norfolk Islander newspaper reported “Comment from officials in charge being that nowhere in the world would a whole community be so close to the Royal Family with such informality, evident love and respect”.
As well as the picnic and the concert the day included meeting locals, school students and girl guides; a wreath laying at the Cenotaph; an historical tour of Kingston and scenic points around the island; a visit to St. Barnabas Chapel; the naming of Queen Elizabeth Lookout (on Rooty Hill Road) and the unveiling of a plaque at the Norfolk Island Golf Club. The Club’s Visitor Book for the 11th February 1974 shows the signatures of Queen Elizabeth and all the Royal Party.
Receiving an invitation to meet the Queen at a ‘Morning Tea with Pitcairn Island Descendants’, was a proud moment for Walter ‘Brud’ Adams. Interviewed in the film of the day’s events “Thank you for a Lovely Day”, he reads his invitation to the camera and after being asked how he feels at the thought of meeting the Queen, replies with much emotion, “I am an exalted person”. Councillor Ernie Christian, a descendant of mutineer Fletcher Christian, describes the visit as, “a wonderful thing for this island and its people, it’s like rediscovering the island again”. Jean Mitchell summed up her feelings as, “All of us had this joy inside of us, it’s sort of like a fairytale come true, we just can’t believe it”.
From a foggy start, conditions soon changed to bright sunshine and progressed without a hitch – despite the altered schedule. At the end of the day, as the Queen descended the steps at Kingston Pier, she was farewelled by the beautiful voices of the adult Norfolk choir singing, ‘Now is the Hour’. The Royal yacht Britannia finally sailed away just after 11.00pm. The Administrator, Air Commodore Pickard received a cable from the Queen as they set sail, saying, “Goodbye. Thank you for a lovely day. As we sail away Kingston looks beautiful”.
P.S. For the record, the Queen wore a white waisted dress with brown design, a brimless white hat and gloves.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Norfolk Island Museum
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 02 Issue 01, 2012. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.