Queen ends her 16-day Australian tour

Queen Elizabeth II opened a virtual reality medical training center Saturday at the end of a 16-day tour of Australia hailed as a success by monarchists and republicans alike.

The queen and Prince Philip boarded Qantas flight QF9, a standard flight, to London via Singapore at Perth Airport after a brief farewell from Prime Minister John Howard and other dignitaries.

Monarchists say the thousands of cheering, singing, flag-waving people who lined often rainy streets for a glimpse of their monarch was evidence that she should remain Australia's head of state.

Republicans say the thousands more who did not turn up shows that she is no longer relevant. She did draw bigger crowds in previous visits.

In a divisive referendum in November, Australians voted to retain the queen as their head of state instead of becoming a republic headed by a popularly elected Australian president.

But republicans maintain the vote swung against them because people could not agree on how to choose a president. Opinion polls still show a majority of Australians favor replacing the queen as head of state.

"This hits home to us all that the monarch is no longer relevant in a modern and forward-looking country like Australia," Australian Republican Movement director James Terrie said Friday.

"It does not wash with Australians any more that a very nice lady and her husband deign to come and visit us from a faraway land and that we should be delighted about this," he said.

Even the queen, whose visit took her from coast to coast and from cities to remote Outback communities, has acknowledged that Australia may want a different system in the future.

In her first speech of the tour, she appeared to acknowledge that her days as Australia's ruler may be numbered.

"Whatever the future may bring, my lasting respect and deep affection for Australia and Australians everywhere will remain as strong as ever," she said.

And speaking Friday night in the Western Australian state capital of Perth, she underlined her impression of a changing Australia.

"I shall leave here confident that the young Australians are growing up in a nation that honors its past, is excited by the present and has a vision for the future," she said. "This is indeed a great country on the move."

On Saturday, wearing a lime-green dress and matching hat, the queen officially opened the Collaborative Training and Education Center.

It features a simulation center using virtual reality technology to allow training in medical procedures which might not otherwise be possible without putting patients at risk.

Later she visited Perth's State War Memorial, then headed for the airport and home.