History, Significance

Here she comes!

by Laura Breen on 3 May, 2012

It wasn’t until February 1954 that the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth eventually stepped onto Australian soil. Although by now almost six years old, the four Daimlers languishing in storage were recalled for duty. Perhaps we can assume that the huge cost of acquiring them in the first place offset the need to impress the Queen with more fashionable vehicles?

The Queen’s first visit was part of a lengthy voyage throughout the Commonwealth between November 1953 and May 1954. As she left England, Australian anticipation reached new heights and preparations for her arrival commenced once again.From the surviving records, it seems that the cars were first given a sprucing up by government-operated bodyworks company Commonwealth Engineering (ComEng) in approximately 1953. As far as we can tell, the royal blue paint on the front doors was given a further coat in a slightly different, darker blue. From here on in, every aspect of the Queen’s transport arrangements (plus those of her entourage, the media and various other hangers-on) was efficiently administered by a specially-created army unit, the Royal Visit Car Company. The four Daimlers joined an enormous fleet of 115 royal tour vehicles which operated across the country. As the main form of ceremonial transport for the Queen herself, these cars occupied a privileged position in the proceedings. Indeed, a Daimler landaulette (possibly ours!) was chosen to convey the Queen during her first-ever royal progress in Australia after the commencement of the royal tour.

The Queen addresses the crowds upon her arrival at Bondi Beach, Sydney on 3 February 1954. Image: National Archives of Australia

A reported million spectators had gathered at dawn on on 3 February 1954 to line Sydney’s northern and southern foreshores. In an atmosphere of tense excitement, they watched a small barge detach from the Queen’s liner, SS Gothic, and approach Farm Cove. Amid a tumultuous welcome from the crowds, 18 Vampire jet fighters and a 21 gun salute overhead signified the Queen’s arrival at the scarlet-carpeted gangway of the landing pontoon. Approximately 500 invited guests including Prime Minister Robert Menzies were waiting. Governor General Sir William Slim officially welcomed the Queen and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh to Australia.

Showered in confetti, balloons and rose petals, the royal couple were whisked away through Sydney’s streets towards the Cenotaph and onwards to Government House. I recently came across this  snapshot held within our collection which shows that first royal progress along George Street. Throughout the duration of the tour, the appearance of the Daimler was synonymous with the presence of the Queen. A Brisbane journalist described the furor: ‘A shout went up: “Here she comes.” Within seconds a storm of cheering swept through the crowd. Then round the bend swung the Royal Daimler … The cheering exploded into a shrieking roar, so loud it seemed there had been no sound before’. For one small boy at least, the magnificence of the car entirely eclipsed that of its occupant: when asked what he thought of the royal progress, he replied ‘Thank goodness Dad, I’ve seen a Daimler at last.’

A landaulette driving past crowds and mounted guards in front of an Art Deco-style building.
The Queen’s Daimler passing in front of the Maritime Services Board building in Sydney (now the Museum of Contemporary Art). Photo: RG Wyllie collection, National Museum of Australia

Does anyone know anything else about the ComEng refurbishment in 1953?