Australia mourns Queen Elizabeth from home of ‘world’s oldest continuous culture’

An image of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is illuminated on the sail of Sydney Opera House, following the Queen’s passing, in Sydney, Australia, September 9, 2022. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

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SYDNEY, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Australia held a national day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying the greatest tribute the nation could offer was not a statue but “a renewed embrace of service to the community” .

With the day declared a national holiday, a memorial ceremony attended by 600 dignitaries was held at Parliament House in Canberra for Queen Elizabeth, who as Australia’s head of state toured the country 16 times over seven decades.

The ceremony was opened by a First Nations Elder, Aunty Violent Sheridan, who made a traditional Welcome to Country, and remembered Queen Elizabeth as a mother and grandmother.

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The event took place before protests organized by indigenous groups against the monarchy and the impact of Britain’s colonization on First Nations people, scheduled to take place in three cities in the afternoon.

Albanese, who returned to Australia a day earlier after attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London, noted her memory was being honored “on a continent home to the world’s oldest continuous culture”.

Albanese supports Australia becoming a republic, but has previously said his center-left Labor government would prioritize recognizing First Nations people in the constitution, which, like any move to a republic, requires a national referendum. A referendum for a republic failed in 1999, and recent polls show opinion is divided.

In a speech at the memorial ceremony he said Australia had undergone a transformation during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. When she had first toured, Britain was Australia’s biggest trading partner and top source of migration, he said.

“That Australia, of 1954, where seven million people – 70% of the population – turned out to welcome the first sovereign to visit these shores was, in virtually every respect, a different nation in a different world,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth had taken pride in Australia’s progress and “stood with us”, he said, and Australia’s “affection held strong”.

“Perhaps the greatest tribute we can offer her family and her memory is not a marble statue or a metal plaque. It is a renewed embrace of service to the community,” he said.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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