10 May 2023

The Queen comes to Cooktown: locals look back on royal visit

| Cape York Weekly
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Locals lined the foreshore to get a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Princess Anne when they visited on April 22, 1970.

JUST 450 people lived in Cooktown when Queen Elizabeth II sailed in on April 22, 1970.

It was actually quicker for Her Majesty to travel by sea than road back then, such was the state of the road.

Accompanied by His Royal Highness, the late Prince Philip, and their daughter Princess Anne, there was a buzz in the air when the Brittaniaappeared in the Endeavour River.

The Royal Family even brought their own Rolls Royce, which was hoisted off the vessel and used to transport the Queen to different parts of Cooktown.

Officially there to open the James Cook Museum and unveil a plaque and rock at the site where the Endeavour was brought in for repairs in 1770, the Queen was reportedly delighted with being able to attend a small town and immerse herself with local culture.

Jenny Creek now lives in Coen but can still remember her brush with royalty.

“I went to Cooktown school and they were going around the classroom saying the Queen’s coming to visit Cooktown,” she said.

“They were saying we need some girls to present the key (to the front door of the newly refurbished James Cook Museum) and flowers to the Queen.

“A lot of girls put their hands up and I was chosen. We always talk about this.

“My niece put a photo of myself and Margaret (Rootsey, one of the other four girls, now deceased) on Facebook, saying this looks like you, is this you? It gave me goosebumps.”

Ms Creek said a lot of preparation went into the visit.

“We had to do training, get our outfit all fitted, pink little dress and pink stockings,” she told Cape York Weekly.

“We had to train how to walk with books on our heads and curtsy.

“Every afternoon after school we went out and tried our dresses and kept practising our walk.

“I was just excited, I wasn’t nervous. I was excited really to meet the Queen. (Prince Philip) was there but we didn’t meet him, it was the Queen we focused on.”

Irene Bowyer (nee Doughboy) also had a royal interaction.

“I’d just turned 12 about five days before. I think they picked me because old Granddad Doughboy was the King from Wujal and they sat right next to the stage, all done up in their glad rags,” she said.

As reported by Australian Associated Press at the time: “Queen Elizabeth met another monarch – Mr George Doughboy, the ‘king’ of the Bloomfield District aboriginals. Mr Doughboy, a small man wearing a brass plate inscribed with his rank around his neck, is believed to be about 100 years old.”

Jenny Creek and Margaret Rootsey presented a key to Her Majesty at the opening of James Cook Museum.

Granddaughter Irene recalled: “Everyone had to dress up with the hats and gloves.

“Me and Yvonne Palmer were the girls that welcomed them (the royals) to Cooktown. I gave flowers and had to do the curtsy, while Yvonne gave flowers to Princess Anne, who was behind the Queen.

“We were the first ones to meet them at the Queen’s steps. They asked us a few questions, asked about our age, if we liked school.

“I was such a shy kid, it was so scary. We had training for weeks before.

“I didn’t even hang around town (after meeting the Queen), I lived out of town past the racecourse, I got on my pushbike and rode straight home.

“I just remember she looked very pretty; as a kid I was thinking she looked really beautiful.”

Lyn Potter, a former nurse, took photographs of the Queen during her visit to Cooktown.

“I wasn’t part of organising it but I made dresses for the four girls who presented flowers to the Queen,” she said from Cairns.

“Two of the girls had pink and two had aqua. The girls in pink presented flowers to her at the museum and the other two at the wharf when she arrived.

Irene Bowyer (nee Doughboy) and Yvonne Palmer presented flowers to HRM.

“We all pitched in. A Royal tour was something we’d never had before and we had to get it right.

“(The Queen) was only there for a few hours. She arrived and had the welcome down at the waterfront.

“She was lovely. She reminded me of my mother. She had a lovely, friendly face.

“I didn’t get a photo with her because I was never in the right place. My husband at the time did.

“He was in a line of sailors shaking hands along with his brother.

“My children love that photo.

“Over the years, I’ve collected pictures of the Queen. I’ve watched her grow up.”


WHILE Cooktown’s population had stagnated, visitors came from far and wide for the visit.

The Cairns Postsaid: “Roads from Cairns to Cooktown for the Royal visit next week are now restored and in as good a condition as they have been for the past 15 years, the administrator of the Cook Shire (Mr G. D. Gallop) said.

“There should be no difficulty driving to Cooktown within the next few days provided due caution is exercised at gully crossings,” Mr Gallop said.

Cooktown, which once boasted a population of 30,000 in the gold rush and more than 30 hotels, had to bring in reinforcements for the swell in visitors, who came from across the Peninsula to see the Queen.

Thirty tents and 100 beds were sent by the army to Cooktown to cater for any overflow from hotels and caravan parks.

Mr Gallop said the crowd should show their appreciation.

“Considering the fact that the Royal family has seen fit to honour such as sparsely populated area at a small sea-side town because of its connotations surely marks this visit to Cooktown as one of the most important events of the Royal tour,” he said.

The Torres Strait Island performers stole the show, according to media reports at the time.


THE reporting of the Queen’s visit was brutal from the wire service.

Under the headline “Wild war dance upsets aboriginals Royal plans”, AAP reported: “The display by the Torres Strait Islanders overshadowed a re-enactment of the landing of Captain Cook 200 years ago, and upset plans for a party of local aboriginals to wave spears and boomerangs at Cook’s landing party.

“Organisers blamed the presence of 40 husky islanders for the failure of 15 aboriginals to appear for the pageant.

“Only five were at the shore when the landing was staged.

“The islanders, wearing Emu and Cockatoo feather headdress and war paint, danced in a symbolic battle between New Guinea hillmen and Torres Strait Islanders.

“George Blanco, of Murray Island, played the islanders’ leader, Beizan, and Kala Waia of Saibai Island, played Kuian Wakemab, the New Guinea leader.”


CURRENT Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott wasn’t living at Cooktown in 1970 but said the Queen’s visit was still fondly remembered.

“People still come up to me and share their memories of that day,” he said on Friday.

“It brought a lot of joy to a lot of people when she visited.”

The mayor said her passing would be felt for a long time.

“She was a bit of glue, not just for the British but for the whole Commonwealth,” he said.

“A lot of people looked to her for solidarity and continuity. She was solid as a rock in her manner, her approach and leadership.”

Cr Scott said he believed the Queen’s passing would start a new referendum movement to make Australia a republic.

“I think we’ll see that bob up.”

– By Matt Nicholls, Sarah Martin and Samuel Davis

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