Many words have been used to describe Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recent days—steadfast, constant, reassuring, dignified, devoted, dutiful, loyal, reliable and quietly fun. Her commitment to the service of the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth has been lauded again and again not just by people from Commonwealth countries but by people all around the globe. In this rapidly changing, often alarming world, it was reassuring to have the Queen as a reliable steward, a constant in the background of our lives. She could be counted on for 70 unwavering years.
At 96 years old, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-ruling monarch in British history—a time that stretches through the administration of 16 Australian and 15 British prime ministers. Known for her humour and wit, her first words to the Rt Hon. Sir Tony Blair were, 'My first Prime Minister was Churchill, and that was before you were born.' Churchill was born in 1874. Queen Elizabeth II was a link to our past and an anchor in our present. It is rare today to see someone stand so resolutely in their duty, and she did so through the apex of enormous change.
We first saw the leadership qualities of the Queen in World War II as a young princess, when the Messerschmitt's bombs rained down on Buckingham Palace and the surrounds. She was evacuated to Windsor Castle, like millions of other children retreating to the country, away from the Blitz.
To comfort the children of Britain and their parents, a 13-year-old princess gave her first public address:
Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers … I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.
Her example as a teenager in that war further included training up as mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was there shoring up the morale of Britain and inspiring many to serve the Commonwealth when it was so gravely in danger from the tyranny that marched across Europe.
Post war, when the Iron Curtain guillotined our world and nuclear war threatened our survival, she was there. She received Mikhail Gorbachev at Windsor just seven months before the Berlin Wall fell. Historian Robert Hardman considered that one lunch had achieved a more powerful diplomatic impact than so many of the 110 sumptuous state visits before or since.
In the late seventies and eighties, a change swept through much of the world. Asia industrialised, and the empire waned in many corners of continents as countries turned into republics. The Queen was there, recognising and accepting the people's will.
The Queen's words of comfort and guidance bookended her life. During the early COVID pandemic she again gave words of hope and comfort, as she had at so many other times in her life. She assured us we could and would prevail in those frightening times. Indeed, she reminded us that not only could we survive; we could benefit from the hiatus in normal life. Such was her stoicism. In her last days, with nuclear war threatening and recessions threatening and ongoing scandals thrusting a change of prime minister upon her country, she was there, as always, as a steady hand, although that hand was frail and bruised. Just two days before her death, obviously frail and in discomfort, she performed her duty to swear in the new Prime Minister, as always with a smile on her face and a light in her eye. To me, this moment is an undeniable emblem of her stoicism and depth of character. It is a moment of deep inspiration, because it was built on an unfailing lifetime of selflessness and duty.
I would also like to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II's role as a powerful female leader who commanded deep respect around the world. She stood as an inspiration for women for decades, an example of the strength of female leaders, with her leadership style of gentleness and strength, grace and stoicism, and unwavering commitment to her ideals. The Queen was deeply sentimental about Australia.
You can view the speech here.