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A truly formidable woman

Whether you’re a staunch republican or royalist, it would be hard not to feel some level of sadness at the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death. For many of us, she is the only monarch we’ve known and the seemingly indefatigable head of the Commonwealth. She was always there and her presence was the backdrop to our lives.

I have vague memories of being in a crowd with my parents as they lined a street hoping for a glimpse of Her Majesty as she visited Melbourne. We had a glossy photo book of the royal family that I used to pore over as a child, wondering what it would be like to be a princess. Each page was another shot of Queen Elizabeth – graceful, regal, perhaps a little too stiff as a mother, but somehow getting away with it, a nod to her important role.

As schoolchildren, we took an oath to her every Monday morning, lined up outside near the flagpole, the flag hoisted, as we chanted: “I love God and my country, I will honour the flag, serve the Queen and cheerfully obey my teachers and the law.” Mostly I didn’t understand the words or their import as a preppie starting school, and even later they were just a sentence chanted by rote, a ritual to start the week. Many of us mispronounced them or later made fun of them. Many of us eventually railed against the concept of serving a monarch in a faraway land whose predecessors had sent their recidivists and their poor to this land.

Read: Death – from a royal perspective

She was there in the corridors of our school, royal portraits that hung near the principal’s office. They changed gradually over time as we moved from primary to secondary school, ageing as we aged but still a constant presence. At assemblies, we sang God Save the Queen as our national anthem until a more suitable one evolved, one more fitting to our emerging national identity. But which one can I sing without a second thought? And now the words have to be changed to King.

She was there on our television screens, first in black and white and then in colour, addressing the Commonwealth on Christmas Day. Some years I ignored her, other years I listened with half an ear. Later, I was stunned to hear her talk of her Annus Horribilis, an admission that she, too, had family problems and felt some of the same heartache as her subjects did. Cracks appeared in the armour of invincibility and privilege.

Read: We all have blood on our hands

Gradually we saw old age catch up with her; the need to use a walking stick and the lessening of some of her movements. The world saw the sadness of her husband’s passing. Who can forget the lonely figure of the Queen dressed in black, sitting alone on the church pew at her husband’s funeral, COVID rules isolating her from her loved ones.

She was stoic to the end. Putting duty and devotion to her country above her personal needs; she worked until a few days before her death.

A truly formidable woman and Queen. She is imprinted on our memory. May she rest in peace.

What are your memories of Queen Elizabeth? Why not share them in the comments section below?

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