When I was a kid, my primary school would charter a bus and we’d go on an excursion to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. In 1983 we were on the bus and almost at the showgrounds when all traffic on South Dowling Street came to a halt. On the opposite side of the road were motorcycle police and police cars, sirens blaring, clearing the way and leading a motorcade with none other than the newlyweds the Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince Charles, his then wife, Princess Diana with baby Prince William. We all moved to the side of the bus as they passed and with windows open, waved and cheered as their black limousine passed by. It was the highlight of the day for us kids, the teachers and the few parents that were accompanying us to the show. A few years later, in 1988, The Prince and Princess of Wales were visiting Australia for the Bicentenary and opened the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong. My family lived not far from where their motorcade would be making their way down the freeway from Sydney into Wollongong, so my mum and I, and a few other locals, made our way to the freeway near a freeway exit and as the motorcade drove past, the car slowed to a crawl so we could cheer and wave as the Prince and Princess drove past. Both waved back to us loyal subjects who were standing on the side of a freeway no more than 15 metres away. A few years after that, my mum was an instructor and examiner with St Johns First Aid and we met Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the Queens cousin when he toured the St Johns centre in Wollongong as patron. I think these three encounters from a young age, started my fascination with royalty and I was stunned to discover how royal Sydney really is. There have been nearly fifty visits by royalty to this great city, with the first being in 1867 by The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred
It was in 1867 that the first member of the British Royal Family set foot on Australian soil. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred, second in line to the throne was the fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He toured Australia for five months and in March 1868, while picnicking at Clontarf beach to raise funds for the Sailors Home, an assassination attempt was made on his life. He was shot in the back near his spine by would be assassin Henry James O’Farrell, who was later tried, convicted and hanged for his crime. The Prince recovered with the help of six nurses trained by Florence Nightingale and less than three weeks after the incident laid the foundation stone, on the site of Sydney’s first European cemetery, for the Sydney Town Hall. As a result of his visit and attempt on his life, the people of Sydney raised funds and opened the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital which today is still an important hospital in Sydney. It was not until the 1880′s that the Town Hall was completed and remodeled entrance to the building was opened by Prince Henry, The Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V and Queen Mary on 22 November 1934. Two days later he opened the ANZAC War Memorial in Sydney Hyde Park. The Duke of Gloucester returned to Australia 11 years later with his wife Princess Alice to become Governor-General of Australia from 1945-1947, the only member of the Royal Family to hold such office in Australia.
Across from the Town Hall is another of Sydney’s most historic buildings, The Queen Victoria Building, known locally as The QVB. Opened in 1898, it was originally named The Queen Victoria Markets Building “in order to mark, in a fitting manner, the unprecedented and glorious reign of her majesty, the Queen” stated the Sydney Council at the time. The building was renamed The Queen Victoria Building in 1918 and in the 1980’s underwent a huge restoration closing its doors for 2 years.
It has been beautifully restored and upon reopening in 1986, Queen Elizabeth II wrote a letter to the people of Sydney to be opened in 99 years later, the year 2085 by the Lord Mayor. The sealed letter is on display on level two, near the great glass dome, and only the Queen knows what is written inside. The envelope of the letter states: ‘To The Rt, Hon, the LORD MAYOR of SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. Greetings, On a suitable day to be selected by you in the year 2085 A.D would you please open this envelope and convey to the citizens of SYDNEY my message to them. Elizabeth R. Unfortunately I don’t think I will ever learn its contents myself, for I will be 110 years old that year.
Also inside the building is the Royal Clock, built by Thwaites and Reed, Turret Clockmakers by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen. Every hour, on the hour between 9am and 9pm, trumpet music plays and six diorama scenes of royal history including King Henry Vii and his six wives, Queen Elizabeth I knighting Sir Francis Drake and the execution of King Charles I in 1649 are lit up and viewed one after another through glass on the sides of the clock. In late 1987, in time for the 1988 Bicentenary, a large statue of Queen Victoria was placed the southern entrance forecourt.
The statue of Queen Victoria is quite rare as it is the only one of the Queen sitting down rather than standing. Sculptured in Dublin in 1904, it was unveiled by King Edward VII outside Leinster House in Dublin which later became the parliament for the Republic of Ireland. With the country becoming a republic, it was removed in 1947 and sat in storage until it was relocated to Sydney as a gift of ‘goodwill and friendship’ by the people of Ireland. Plaques around the base of the statue, tell its history, commemorate its official unveiling in December 1987 and a visit to the site by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in May 1988 during the Bicentenary celebrations.
A few metres from The Queen Victoria statue lies a wishing well with a bronze statue of one of Queen Victoria’s favourite dogs, Islay. Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were very much dog lovers and in the book ‘The Personal Life of Queen Victoria’, written in 1897, the author mentions that a favourite quote of the Queens was “If it were not for the honest faces of dogs, we should forget the very existence of sincerity” . Islay was only with the Queen for 5 years after an altercation with a cat, and unfortunately Islay came off worse. The statue and wishing well tell the story of Islay and encourages bypassers to throw a coin and make a wish, as spoken by John Laws. The money collected goes to the the Royal Deaf and Blind Children society and thousands are raised every year.
A few minutes walk heading east, there is another statue of Queen Victoria, a much younger Queen in full regalia, sculptured in 1888, with the wi9th the simple inscription ‘Victoria’ at the front and her insignia at the rear of the base of the statue. The statue sits in Queens Square on the corner of St James Rd and Macquarie streets and faces the Law Courts of NSW. On the other side of Macquarie street on the corner of Macquarie and Prince Albert rd sits a sculpture of Prince albert, facing the statue of Queen Victoria. The inscription on the base reads “The People of New South Wales to Albert The Good Prince Consort of Queen Victoria 1866″. What I found most interesting is in his right hand he is holding what looks like a blueprint for the Crystal Palace, which held the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London which Prince Albert was heavily involved, on top of a vase shaped object with carvings of his beloved wife, Queen Victoria. Sweet To the south of these statues lies Sydney’s Hyde Park.
The Sandringham Gardens are a hidden gem within Hyde Park to the east of the CBD. Located on the eastern side of the park, near the corners of Park and College Streets, it is a peaceful, well manicured place to spend a few moments away from the fast paced city. Sandringham Gardens were designed to be similar to the gardens at the Kings home at Sandringham, with a sunken garden, pond and pergolas. Originally designed for a planned visit by King George VI in 1952, the designs were changed upon the Kings death that year and subsequently it became a memorial garden dedicated to King George V and King George VI. The memorial gates feature stone walls either side with inscriptions of both late Kings and the iron gates feature both Kings insignia’s. The memorial gates were officially opened by ceremonial key by the Kings daughter, Queen Elizabeth II in February 1954 during her first visit to Australia, the first visit by a reigning monarch.
From Sandringham Gardens, through Hyde Park and along the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, its not far to arguably one of Sydneys most famous sights is the Sydney Opera House. Taking almost 16 years to finish from conception to opening, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973, the Queens fourth visit to Sydney. Magnificent views of the harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge can be seen as well as Kirribilli House, where the Queen and members of the royal family stay on official visits to Sydney.
If, By this time, like me, you are feeling a little overwhelmed with the British Royal family, the monuments and their history, its time for a drink, so a short 10 minute walk from Circular Quay is a quaint pub, the Slip Inn.
The Slip Inn, located at 111 Sussex Street, has an extensive menu of Australian and Thai dishes for lunch and with a reasonably priced wine and cocktail menu it is a great place for lunch, a drink or both while on a royal tour of Sydney. It is here that Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark first met Crown Princess Mary, then Australian Mary Donaldson, during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. According to an article published in UK’s HELLO! Magazine, Mary was introduced to the Crown Prince as ‘Fred’ and it wasn’t for sometime later that someone came up to her and said “do you know who these people are?”. Over the coming months the courtship blossomed and Mary Donaldson became Crown Princess Mary of Denmark on 14 May 2004 upon her wedding to Prince Frederik. Although she renounced her Australian Citizenship upon her marriage, Crown Princess Mary is the first Australian born who will one day become Queen. The Slip Inn commemorates the first meeting with a special plaque, outside the entrance, as seen above.
If you’ve not had enough yet and you still want to see Queens…. head up to Oxford Street, home to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian community where you’ll see Queens aplenty! While you may not see ‘diamonds and jewels’ fit for a queen, you will see lots of ‘diamante and disco sequin’! I’ve often shopped, dined and partied here myself and always enjoy the frivolity and openness ‘O’ Street has to offer without too much ‘pomp and ceremony’.
*I personally acknowledge the thousands of years of history and stewardship the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
For more detailed information or tours of the individual sights in this post please contact the relevant property by clicking on the links below.
Sydney Town Hall
483 George St
Queen Victoria Building
455 George St
Eastern side of Hyde Park
Cnr Park & College Sts
Sydney Opera House
111 Sussex St
Ph: 8295 9999