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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at BHP steelworks, Newcastle, NSW, February 9, 1954.

Queen Elizabeth visits Newcastle, 1954

On Tuesday, February 9, 1954, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II visited Newcastle with her husband, Prince Philip. It was part of a nationwide tour – the first visit to Australia by a reigning monarch.

To say Newcastle was excited would be an understatement. These following colour slide images, by the late John Stedman, show some of the efforts the city and its traders went to to mark the occasion with vivid decorations and night-time lighting.

Newcastle City Hall
Hunter Street
Hunter Street
Watt Street
Hunter Street
Winns store by day
Winns at night
The Store, in Newcastle West
The Store, at night
Mackies store
Tighes Hill Technical College

The visit was characterised by an extraordinary outpouring of loyalty and enthusiasm by the Australian public. The royal couple arrived by train at Newcastle Railway Station at about 1pm, receiving a thunderous cheer as they passed through the red-carpeted station entrance to the royal car that waited on Scott Street. They travelled by motorcade to City Hall for a formal welcome and then to No. 1 Sports Ground and Newcastle Showground, enjoying the adulation of the crowds. About 35,000 schoolchildren formed a tableau at the showground.

Cover of the official program for the Newcastle visit.
Program for the royal visit to Newcastle.
Map of the route of the Queen’s visit.
The reception at City Hall, Newcastle

According to newspaper reports at the time, more than 150,000 Novocastrians turned out to welcome the young queen, despite periods of sometimes heavy rain. One report observed that the Queen, with one eye on the rain and the other on the huge excited crowd, had her car’s top opened, prompting an appreciative roar from the spectators. In the afternoon the royal couple went to the BHP steelworks for an inspection before leaving by boat to Stockton. After that it was a trip by road to Williamtown for a 4.45pm departure to Evans Head and Lismore.

Royal Visit Australian itinerary
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Newcastle Station, NSW, February 9, 1954.

The RAAF VIP Dakota aircraft in which the royal party travelled was flown by Newcastle-born Squadron Leader John (Jack) Cornish (later Air Vice Marshal). A flight of four planes accompanied the party on a tightly timetabled and carefully rehearsed schedule. Jack Cornish was a highly experienced pilot, having flown during World War 2 and during the Berlin Airlift. Jack also had an administrative and security background, so was always guarded about comments on his time flying the Royal Family. He did, however, describe in an interview how Prince Philip – who was learning to fly – would appear in the cockpit and want to take a turn. He would then insist on occupying the co-pilot’s seat. Jack went so far as to mention that the Prince once made a mistake during a landing.

In Newcastle’s enthusiastic desire to make the most of the royal visit, the city attracted criticism from British correspondents travelling with the entourage. During the short stop in the city, Queen Elizabeth was required to “attend a civic reception where 80 citizens were presented, make two speeches, attend a gathering of ex-servicemen, see thousands of schoolchildren and visit a steelworks”. It was “undignified” and “sheer madness”, one correspondent wrote.

The Queen was very sporting about it, as this audio clip – supplied by Bruce Avard – shows:

The BHP visit was photographed by Col Walker – then working for Joe Freeman and Bernard Snaps – as official photographer for BHP. During the royal visit to the steelworks, Col said, he was allowed freedom of movement while other photographers had to remain in designated boxes and be content with the pictures they could take from those limited angles.

Colour slide image of the royal couple on the RAAF crash boat that ferried them across Newcastle Harbour.
A grievously damaged negative showing the Queen at Williamtown. Photo by Roy Cotterill.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Brian McGregor

    The Queen’s Visit was a long day for my class. We were brought to Newcastle from Aberdeen by train, and at the Showground we were issued with a “waver”. This was crepe paper red, white or blue to wave when the Queen passed by. The colour and perspiration mixed and we had either a red or a blue arm. I suppose I saw the Queen.

    1. Greg Ray

      Classic story. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.


    Thanks for mentioning our Uncle Jack Cornish only just recently passed away.
    His interviews as John Cornish online are a family treasure

    1. Greg Ray

      What a fascinating person he was. I really enjoyed reading about his time with the Berlin Airlift.

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