Canberra: Thousands of people cheered and waved from the banks of the Australian capital`s central lake as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, took a motor boat to a flower show on Thursday in their first public appearance of a 10-day tour of Australia.
The queen wore a lilac hat and coat and her husband a hat to protect against the late morning spring sunshine as they waved to well-wishers from the open boat beneath an almost cloudless sky. The couple, who arrived in Australia on Wednesday, appeared fresh despite the 11-hour time difference from their London home.
The fans who greeted the royal couple included Elizabeth Stewart, 83, who flew from her home in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, to see the monarch for the third time. Stewart first saw the queen when she visited New Zealand in 1954, less than two years after her coronation. The queen is the monarch of 16 countries, including Australia and neighbouring New Zealand.
Stewart said she disagrees with the Australian government`s position that the British monarch should be replaced as Australia`s head of state by a president who is an Australian citizen.
"The queen gives us continuity," Stewart said. "Presidents come and go."
Nils Lantzke thinks Australia should have a president, but decided to come to Canberra`s Lake Burley Griffin anyway with his alpaca, Honeycomb, which he takes to hospitals as pet therapy for patients.
"I`m not really interested in her as queen of Australia," Lantzke said. "If it was the King of Saudi Arabia who`d come to Canberra, I`d do the same — make him feel welcome."
Canberra`s annual flower show had been extended to accommodate the monarch`s visit — her 16th to Australia since 1954.
The queen will visit Brisbane and Melbourne before opening next week`s meeting of the 54-nation Commonwealth in the western coastal city of Perth. Leaders of the nations linked to Britain`s former empire, who meet every two years, will consider a range of recommended reforms, including lifting laws against homosexuality that exist in most Commonwealth countries.
The queen`s arrival in Canberra late Wednesday was front page news in Australia`s major newspapers on Thursday.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who argues the queen should be Australia`s last monarch, and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, the head of the Australian Capital Territory government, who agrees that Australia should become a republic, were questioned by reporters on Thursday on why they had not curtsied when they greeted the queen on her arrival.
Both Gillard and Gallagher replied that protocol allowed them to bow and shake the queen`s hand instead of curtsying.
"The advice to me was very clear that you can make a choice with what you feel most comfortable with; that`s what I felt most comfortable with," Welsh-born Gillard told reporters.
Governor General Quentin Bryce, the monarch`s representative in Australia and the first woman to fill the role, had greeted the queen by curtsying.
Australians rejected a proposal to make Australia a republic at a referendum in 1999. Supporters of a republic were bitterly divided over various options for selecting a president. The Australian Capital Territory, where the queen will spend most of her current visit at the governor general`s official residence, was the only state or territory to endorse a republic.
John Warhurst, deputy chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, which is leading the public campaign to change the Constitution to create an Australian head of state, said the queen`s popularity among Australians would probably doom another referendum to failure during her reign.
"We believe that she is a foreign dignitary first and foremost and Australia`s head of state down the line," Warhurst said. "But it`s hard to think of an international dignitary ... who`s been around longer and has greater respect in the international community."