Queen's fans of 1954 turn into underwhelmed of March 2000

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The Independent Online

The scene outside St Paul's Anglican Church in Manuka, a Canberra suburb, was one to gladden the heart of an insecure monarch.

A crowd of 500 well-wishers filled the churchyard andspilt out on to the street. Flags were waved, cheers rang out and small children clutched posies. When the Queen arrived, women in straw hats said to each other: "Isn't she marvellous?"

But appearances can deceive. While there was no mistaking the affection felt for the Queen by those who waited to greet her at the first public engagement of her Australian tour, under the surface lay a marked ambivalence about her role in a modern Australia.

Margaret Beamish, 58, looked every inch a monarchist, with her floral parasol and fiercely lacquered hair. Waiting near the church door with two friends, she recalled seeing the Queen during her first state visit in 1954, when she was a schoolgirl in Sydney.

"I was so excited that I jumped up and down, and everything fell out of my pockets," she said.

"I have such a great love of the Royal Family. In a box at home I've got the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald from 'The King is dead, long live the Queen', and another from when Princess Anne was born." Mrs Beamish paused.

"But I also voted for a republic," she said, referring to the referendum last November in which Australians voted to retain the monarchy. "I think that Australia has got to move on. We've grown away from Britain and our outlook has changed. I'm not putting her down, but I don't regard her as Queen of Australia."

The service began with a performance on the didgeridoo by Robert Slockee, a young Aboriginal man. Afterwards Mr Slockee, wearing a red loincloth, sprigs of eucalpytus leaves and tribal body paint, was introduced to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Duke asked him, referring to the didgeridoo: "Is there anything inside that tube?"

Mr Slockee explained that music was created by use of the mouth and lungs, and added that he had learnt to play by practising on a vacuum cleaner pipe at home.

"I hope it wasn't switched on," Prince Philip remarked.