On 26 February 1954, Hamilton was buzzing with excitement for a much-anticipated visit by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Mt Gambier and Hamilton were the only locations in the region chosen for a visit by the new Queen, despite much lobbying by nearby towns. The inter-town rivalry preceding the visit was immense. Headlines in the Portland Guardian at the time included “Number One Priority for Royal Visit Should Have Been Portland’s” and “No Royal Visit an Insult to Portland”
Hamilton wanted to put on a show, and preparations started long before the big day. Residents decorated their homes, some with flags on the roofs for the Queen to see as she flew into the Hamilton Aerodrome. The council spent £5,000 on decorations, including four large arches around the town, with one on the outskirts made of locally grown hay, oats, and flax, with “Welcome” crafted from wool, for which the district was famous. Several kilometres of bunting, flags, and lights decorated the CBD.
More than 100,000 people were expected to converge on the town. Local hotels set up beds in the lounges and on balconies to accommodate the overflow of guests and accommodation houses up to 60 kilometres away reached capacity.
The Royal Visit coincided with “Back to Hamilton” celebrations, and the organising committee published a souvenir booklet.
On the big day, The Argus published a map of the best places to glimpse the Queen and Duke.
At Melville Oval, around 13,000 school children started assembling from 8.00am.
Along with the school children were several thousand others, many travelling long distances.
With the Queen’s plane scheduled to arrive at the Hamilton Aerodrome, to the north of the city, at 3.35pm, the Dundas Shire President, Cr. Henry Bull, his wife, and around 3000 eager locals gathered to meet Queen Elizabeth and the Duke. Young Rosemary Oates prepared to present Her Majesty with a bouquet.
The plane was five minutes late, and a gasp went up from the large crowd when part of the carpet laid on the tarmac almost blew away from the force of the plane’s propellers.
The Royal party then moved by car to Melville Oval, where the schoolchildren were still patiently waiting after eight hours.
The sight of the decorated city, and an estimated 70,000 adults and children waving, saw the Queen wipe her eyes several times before the motorcade came to a halt at Melville Oval.
After being met by Mayor Cr. Reginald White and Town Clerk Hector Donald and their wives, the royal couple drove around Melville Oval before returning to the airport for a flight to Melbourne.
But not before eight-year-old Jennifer Biggs from Hamilton State School had the honour of presenting the Queen with a bouquet. Jennifer is pictured below, practising her courtesy before the event while her classmates watch on.
On the return trip to the aerodrome, the Royal party drove past the Hamilton Hospital, where members of the nursing staff excitedly waved to the passing motorcade.
Back at the aerodrome, around 3,000 people waited to farewell the Royal visitors. The Argus of 27 February 1954, described how the large crowd “surged forward in a wild rush” jostling “elderly men and women and young children.”
It was a memorable day for Hamilton, one not since matched, and almost 70 years later, it remains in the memories of those who were there to experience it.