THE first time I went into an Anglican church was when I was about 14 and my cousin was getting married. As a Catholic I needed to get permission to even enter the building, let alone attend a ceremony. Needless to say I was on edge for the duration, thinking the sky would fall down on me. I couldn’t wait to skedaddle from the place.
When I first came to Australia in the 60s there was still a high degree of antiCatholicism. I shared an apartment with a co-teacher and she asked me home to her parents’ house for Sunday lunch. I eagerly accepted. On the way there in her car she was a bit quiet and I wondered what was troubling her. Finally she spoke up. ‘‘ Look,’’ she said, ‘‘ Please don’t tell my father you are a Cattletick; he once had a notice on the gate saying: No dogs or Catholics allowed.’’
When I met my husband-to-be we went for a walk up the hill, past the school my daughters had attended (obviously I am speaking of my present husband). ‘‘ Let’s go in,’’ I suggested. ‘‘ It has a lovely chapel with stained glass.’’ He went the colour of a ghost, but reluctantly entered and held on to one of the walls. There was a nun tidying up next to the altar and she dropped something that made a loud clang and he was out of there like the wind.
It seems his mother had told him not to walk home from school past the nearby convent. ‘‘ One of them girls will dash out, have her go with you and you’ll have to bring up the children,’’ she said. Such warnings do seem to stick in people’s minds. But things have changed, and I believe some credit can be given to the Queen.
As you know, Queen Elizabeth is this year celebrating the 60th anniversary of her coronation, and because she is also — and I know many of you find this controversial — Queen of Australia, there was a diamond jubilee service given at Sydney’s St James Church recently at which the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, was asked to give the homily.
‘‘ The first truth,’’ he said, ‘‘ is that Australia is a distant outpost of European civilisation on the southeastern extremity of Asia. Migrants of every background continue to be welcome here and most of them come, not merely to benefit their children, but because our society is a haven of peace and widespread, if imperfect, justice. Elizabeth was anointed and crowned in a spectacular and dignified Christian ceremony which drew on centuries of tradition. She is head of the Church of England and carries the title of Defender of The Faith, first given to her predecessor Henry VIII by Pope Leo in 1521.
‘‘ In an age of increasing but still minority secularism, the Queen prompts us to remember the Judaeo-christian roots of our way of life, which gives us Christmas and Easter, which define Australia’s common sense, the insistence of a fair go for everyone and our sympathy for the underdog,’’ he said.
These words brought back fond memories of the times I have been fortunate enough to follow the Queen on trips all over the place, although mainly in Australia. She took an instant liking to Bob Hawke when he was prime minister. She sat with him at the races and listened to every word Bobawk said. When she left to go back to England, she called Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother and told them to be ready waiting at Buckingham Palace where she would have some fun for them to listen to (the Queen is a noted mimic).
Of course her most recent visit would have set new standards. She would have the pleasure of transmitting Julia Gillard’s voice, which is a treat for everyone. Sadly Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother were no longer available as an audience, but perhaps the corgis were in attendance.
The Queen still looks as good as gold. As Cardinal Pell said, it doesn’t seem 60 years since we — well, some of us — followed the coronation in Westminster Abbey. In those days, of course, there was no television in Australia so the experience could be shared only on radio, in newspapers and magazines, and by seeing newsreels at the cinema. Even so, there was probably more interest in the coronation than in the wedding ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, even though that generated huge audiences around the world.
All of which reminds me of the time, some years ago, when I accompanied Her Maj from Melbourne to Geelong. The members of the press were shoved in at the back of the train but we still had a good look at all the people who had turned out to see their monarch. There they were, standing of the side of the tracks, cheering the Queen on and triumphantly holding up their corgis to the heavens for her to see. Bless!