Queen Elizabeth heads for Australia

2011-10-17 09:10

London – Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is set to embark on her 16th visit to Australia later this week on what many believe could be her farewell tour of “Down Under”.

The Queen (85) and Prince Philip (90) have made clear that they plan to scale down long-haul tours after the monarch marks her 60th anniversary on the throne in Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year.

During their hectic 11-day tour, the royal couple will attend a comprehensive list of events, including tram rides, barbecues and river cruises, before travelling to Perth in western Australia where the queen will host the Commonwealth head of government meeting from October 26.

“It is a well-paced programme ... They are very much looking forward to the visit but we wouldn’t speculate at all on whether this will be Her Majesty’s last tour of Australia,” said a palace spokesperson in response to widespread speculation.

But while royal aides refuse to rule out future visits to Australia by the Queen, many Australians will see the trip as an opportunity to say goodbye to the monarch, Britain’s Daily Telegraph said.

In Australia, the visit is likely to reignite the debate over whether the nation should become a republic and no longer have the British monarch as its head of state.

However, judging by opinion polls, and the open affection in Australia for newly married Prince William and his wife, Catherine, the former Kate Middleton, that debate is likely to be muted, republicans concede.

A recent opinion poll put Australian backing for the monarchy at 55%, while the level of support dropped to 34%, its lowest level in 23 years.

During her tour, the Queen is due to meet Julia Gillard, the country’s Welsh-born prime minister and outspoken republican, who has publicly conceded that the end of the Queen’s reign would “probably be the appropriate point for a transition”.

The queen and Prince Philip are due to travel on a charter flight to arrive on October 19 for an official welcome in Canberra, where they will be based for a week, making a day trip to Brisbane on October 24.

The royal couple will ride up the Brisbane River by boat and meet firefighters and other rescue services who helped deal with the Brisbane floods earlier this year.

In Melbourne, the Queen will open a children’s hospital before taking a short tram ride through the city, while in Perth, a tour of the Clontarf Aboriginal College is on the itinerary.

The queen last visited Australia in 2006 when she opened the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

She made her very first trip to the continent – with Prince Philip – in 1954.

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