Royal Romance examined Australia's passionate response to Queen Elizabeth II's first visit in 1954, and whether the nation has fallen out of love since. It was on show at the National Museum of Australia from February to October 2004.
On 3 February 1954 the royal barge pulled into Farm Cove, Sydney. The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II stepped ashore, becoming the first reigning monarch to visit Australia. Australians responded passionately to the young Queen, turning out in their millions to catch a brief glimpse of their sovereign. Fifty years on, it is fascinating to look back on this, the most celebrated of royal tours.
For the next two months, until her departure from Fremantle, the Queen's visit provided Australians with a chance to celebrate and demonstrate their loyalty. Almost three-quarters of the Australian population took advantage of the opportunity, seeing the Queen at least once during the visit.
Fifty years on, the passionate response of Australians to the Queen's 1954 visit requires some explanation. The most recent royal tour by the Queen in 2000 attracted considerable interest, but not the mass excitement of her first visit.
In 1954, Australians overwhelmingly supported remaining a constitutional monarchy. By the 1990s, the mood had shifted to the point where becoming a republic was the focus of major public debate. While Australians rejected the 1999 referendum proposal for Australia to become a republic, the proposal revealed a fundamental shift in Australia's attitude to the monarchy.
In developing Royal Romance, the National Museum explored our individual relationship with the monarch, why we were so infatuated with her 50 years ago and whether we have fallen out of love since.
The exhibition also examined the role of the monarchy as the living embodiment of Australia's British heritage. It explored the link between the Crown and the people and the way in which the Queen can become part of our daily lives even though she lives half a world away.
The Queen's tour of Australia was part of a wider tour of other parts of the Commonwealth, including New Zealand, undertaken by the Queen following her coronation in 1953. The tour was a mixture of politics, fashion and carnival.
From the pomp and ceremony of opening federal parliament to the massed displays of celebration, the Queen's visit left a lasting impression on those who took part.
Royal Romance evokes the atmosphere of those heady days in the summer of '54 using objects from the times, official photographs and contemporary newsreel.
The 1954 tour was eagerly anticipated. The new Queen was young and glamorous dressed in the latest fashions from London and Europe and seemed to promise new hope for Britain, the Dominions and the colonies. With television not yet available in Australia, people had to journey, sometimes over hundreds of miles, to catch a fleeting glimpse of Her Royal Highness.
The royal couple visited all state and territory capitals, excluding Darwin, allowing as many people as possible to see her as she travelled to various functions, events and regional centres.
The Queen also touched people on a personal level. One such face among the crowd was Gold Coast resident Cecil Ballard Junior. His interest in the royal family began in the late 1940s, when he embarked on a lifelong passion for collecting royal memorabilia.
In 1954 Cecil visited several locations, including Canberra, to see the Queen go by. 'I would have seen her at least a dozen times. Which I thought was rather good. In fact I took my holidays from where I worked at Mark Foys retail store to make sure that I would not miss any part of it.'
Cecil's collection, which formed an important part of Royal Romance, shows how the monarch, the representative of the Crown's authority, can enter the individual's life through day-to-day objects such as plates, cups, saucers and other memorabilia.
This intimate relationship between the individual and the Crown lies at the heart of A Royal Romance. Even if the flame does not burn as brightly as it once did for the Australian public, Royal Romance reminds us of the feelings that we held not so long ago.