The hardworking staff of Bendigo Art Gallery are putting the final touches on the major exhibition Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits ahead of its unveiling next week. An accompanying exhibition at Post Office Gallery will showcase the eventful visits of the British Royal family to Bendigo.
The first visit was in December 1867, when Queen Victoria’s fourth child, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, toured the Golden City. The celebrations marking HRH’s visit were soon marred by tragedy however, when three young boys died in a fire that took hold of a processional float laden with fireworks. The Galatea Float Tragedy, as the incident is remembered, was not the only disaster to mark this inaugural royal visit to Bendigo: the Prince Alfred Ballroom, specially erected outside the Town Hall for a special reception, was destroyed by fire before the event took place.
The next royal visit to Bendigo wasn’t until 1881, when Queen Victoria’s grandsons Prince Albert Victor and Prince George opened the Queen Alexandra Fountain. Bendigo turned on spectacular public celebrations for the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902, however Queen Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch to have visited Australia, and she first did so on 3 February 1954. Alighting at Bendigo Railway Station before heading to the Upper Reserve (renamed Queen Elizabeth Oval following the visit), the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh waved at an assembly of thousands of school children from a Land Rover. The event is remembered by Tom Luke, who was one of the many service personnel stationed along the processional route in case of emergency.
I stood to attention and saluted whilst all others cheered and waved. March 5th 1954 was a beautiful sunny day with a mild southerly breeze, no one collapsed, our services were not required but we were there.
The last royal visit to Bendigo was that of the recently married Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983. They were welcomed in true Bendigo style, with a special performance by the Chinese dragon Sun Loong as they waved from the balcony of the Shamrock Hotel.
Rule Britannia, the Golden City: Royal visits to Bendigo will be presented at Bendigo Art Gallery’s satellite space, Post Office Gallery, from 12 April to 1 September.