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Local memories of the Queen

By Jane Harris

The death of Queen Elizabeth II is on everyone’s minds at the moment. A selection of Barraba people, past and present, share their own memories of an encounter with the Queen. Many are from 1977 when Queen Elizabeth visited Tamworth during her Silver Jubilee tour. During this visit Her Majesty officially opened the Ray Walsh House Building in Peel Street Tamworth.

Julie Ann Williams: When I worked at the Tamworth Community Health Centre in 1977 my memory is that most people had the day or the afternoon off for the Queen’s visit.  I, and a few others, were “holding the fort” keeping the health centre open.  We didn’t intend to try to see the Royal couple, assuming things would be too crowded and we would have to wait ages etc. But when things were very quiet at the Health Centre we decided to shut up shop and head down to Kable Avenue to see what was happening. We soon found ourselves in a small crowd and realised we were on the route of a “royal walkabout”. The Queen came along almost beside us. I didn’t try to talk to her because I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say!

The atmosphere of pomp and pageantry is quite an exhilarating experience with a feeling of general goodwill amongst everyone.  Sydney also felt like that during The Olympic Games.  

Carole Lewis: I remember vividly the Queen’s first visit to Australia in 1954. I was standing on the footpath of the Princes Highway at Blakehurst waving at the Queen as she drove past and I can still see the smile on her face. I was in 2nd Class at Blakehurst Primary School and the whole school was on the footpath waving. 

Ruth Anderson: Ruth remembers her parents Max and Jill Spencer went to Tamworth in 1977 for the Queen’s visit. “The Duke came over and asked about Dad’s hat; his Akubra. After that it was known as ‘the Duke’s hat’,” explains Ruth. Ruth says her parents were ardent royalists who had also travelled to Dubbo in the 1950s to see the Queen.

John Lillis: The late John Lillis had a special role during the 1970 Royal visit. His superb horsemanship was needed to handle the four horse team pulling the open carriage that the Royal Family rode in on two occasions during their visit. John’s wife Pat mentions that although you can only see the Queen in the carriage in the photograph, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Ann were also travelling in the carriage.

From the newspaper of the day:

Former Barraba Resident Drives Queen’s Carriage

A trooper in the NSW Mounted Police, Mr John Lillis, was chosen to drive the Queen and Royal family around the Sydney Showground on Easter Monday.

John is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Lillis of Linden Street, Barraba. He was the only trooper who could handle the four horse team which pulled the calash. 

John had considerable experience with horses when he helped his father droving after leaving school. He broke the horses into harness himself, but the drive around the wet and slippery showground held a few anxious moments for John and his assistant trooper Kevin Wild from Singleton.

The horses became high spirited but were kept under control by the two troopers. The Royal family again requested the coach for the Royal Randwick races last Wednesday.

John, who spent 12 months in Vietnam and who now has been with the Mounted Police for three years, again had the honour of driving the Royal Coach.

The calash, or open carriage, was imported by Royal Sydney Show officials from Holland last year for VIP passengers.

Vikki Gilmour: My mother, from a young girl, loved the Royal family and I followed. I am also of the era that sang ‘God Save The Queen’ every morning before school. In 1977 the Queen visited Tamworth on her Silver Jubilee tour. I was 11yrs at the time and excited to travel to Tamworth in the hope of capturing a glimpse of the Queen. I stood for hours with a few school friends in a long line clutching my instamatic camera. As the crowd grew louder I lifted the camera to my eye thinking I’d be getting a distant shot but instead there she was standing before us. I was totally shocked and was lucky to get any words out. She stood talking to my group for what seemed like a couple of minutes, asking where we were from and showing her surprise when we told her we had taken the day off school to see her. I was so taken by her flawless alabaster skin and to this day I still remember her beauty. My biggest regret is that my mother had to work in her shop that day and didn’t travel with us… and I never got that photo!

Sarah Milson-Mahy: My family was so excited to see her in Tamworth in 1977. I still remember what I wore! I chose my very best outfit! We waited for hours across the road from the Council Chambers and were front of row! Only problem was we would have had a much better view had we been across the road as the Rolls pulled up right in front of us and obscured our view. It was such an exciting day!

Denise Fahey-Lund: My father Don Lund took us to Dubbo to see her. It was very exciting for us all. I have a black and white photo of her. I was 13 years old.Marian Simmons: I saw her in Centennial Park, must have been 1956. I must have been nine at the time – very excited. I then took my children to Tamworth to see her in 1977 – again very excited