No red carpet, no 21-gun salute, not even a pat on the back. Welcome to Oz, Your Maj

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The Independent Online

Had it not been for the flies that buzzed around the royal head as she walked down the steps of a military aircraft into a humid Canberra evening, the Queen's arrival in Australia last night would have passed off almost entirely without irritant.

Had it not been for the flies that buzzed around the royal head as she walked down the steps of a military aircraft into a humid Canberra evening, the Queen's arrival in Australia last night would have passed off almost entirely without irritant.

True, there was no red carpet or 21-gun salute for the Queen, embarking on her first state visit since a referendum four months ago in which Australians grudgingly voted to retain her as head of state. Nor were there any crowds, since the public is excluded from the Royal Australian Air Force base where she landed. But Australian officials were at pains to emphasise that the low-key greeting was not a snub. It was a "working welcome", they said; the ceremonial reception, complete with military guard of honour, takes place outside the Sydney Opera House on Monday.

The small party on the tarmac at RAAF Fairbairn was headed by the Prime Minister, John Howard, royalist to the tips of his shiny black shoes, and the man accused by republicans of influencing the referendum to ensure that Australians voted for the status quo.

Pink with pleasure, almost matching Her Majesty's lilac outfit, Mr Howard positively fizzed with monarchist pride as he bowed to the Queen and shook her hand before relinquishing her to Sir William Deane, the Governor-General, her representative in Australia. Their wives performed deep curtseys. Royal flunkeys no doubt heaved a sigh of relief; no breach in protocol this time. When she last visited Australia, the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, almost caused an international incident when he placed a guiding hand on her back.

Whisked away in a black Rolls-Royce, she immediately received her first taste of a theme that is likely to dog her throughout the 16-day visit. Outside the airfield, a group of demonstrators was waiting with a large banner that read: "Republic of the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] welcomes the Queen of England".

Most Australians have reacted to the visit with supreme indifference. During her first euphoric tour of the country in 1954, millions of people watched her pass. There was no sign of well-wishers lining her route yesterday. The city was not entirely devoid of bunting and flags. However, they were not red, white and blue, but green; Canberra was more interested in celebrating St Patrick's Day.

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