National Memorial Service in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Second, Parliament House, Canberra ACT
This is Ngunnawal Country.
Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country.
We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.
Today is a sad day. A day of national mourning.
The passing of The Queen, while we knew it to be inevitable, has still struck with an impact that has exceeded any expectation here in Australia, in the United Kingdom and indeed across the globe.
Amongst the sadness, it is also a day of reflection and celebration. A day to recognise what it means to have lived in the Second Elizabethan Age. To ponder what lessons we can and should draw in the months and years to come.
History will remember few like Queen Elizabeth The Second. While we mourn her passing, we are grateful that we have witnessed — and benefited from — her remarkable life.
Linda and I were very conscious in London, as I know other Australians in attendance were, that we were representing millions of Australians who were keenly feeling the loss of Her Majesty and of the privilege of being present at an historic moment.
I am still trying to understand what I — I dare say we — witnessed and experienced in London last weekend. Something bigger than us but something very personal. Two moments stand out and have informed my thinking about the days since Her Majesty passed.
The first, an early, very cold, morning walk through Green Park. It was far from the pomp and ceremony of the formal events. We were in our exercise gear. As we entered Green Park there was a strong floral scent in the air. Interlaced around the trees and through the park were thousands upon thousands of tributes — flowers, handwritten messages and other tokens, including a sleuth of Paddington Bears. Even in the early hours, it was crowded. People weren’t taking selfies or posing. They were respectful of each other but largely contained in their own intimate and individual reflection on a remarkable individual.
The second was the moment Her Majesty’s casket was lowered into the Royal Vault at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. I hadn’t thought that I would be emotional. But I was. She was my Queen. I don’t pretend that I had a special relationship with her — though our encounters are now treasured memories — but she was part of my life. She was a constant and reassuring presence in so many people’s lives. In the next moment, ‘God Save the King’ was sung with gusto. A page had turned. A remarkable chapter complete. The book, though, continuing.
From these moments and other experiences over the last two weeks I have observed three consistent, complimentary themes.
First, the respect for Her Majesty as an individual. She was kind, compassionate and warm and had a knack for putting people instantly at ease and of making them feel special.
Second, her bond with Australia and Australians. As an example, it was an honour to present recently to Her Majesty, through the then Prince of Wales, a specially commissioned work of art combining The Queen Elizabeth The Second rose and the Australian wattle in celebration of her Platinum Jubilee. It was incredibly moving to learn that she retained the painting in her private study at Balmoral during her final weeks. I like to think that in those final days she may have looked at the painting and reflected on her many visits to Australia and her love of the Australian people. It was a love that was reciprocated by many of us.
The final theme that has emerged is an appreciation for the stability and comfort her reign provided. She set an example of servant leadership in the exercise of her influence. In an era where trust in institutions is declining, Queen Elizabeth evolved, adapted and changed within her role as monarch but ultimately remained true to the commitment she made all those years ago: ‘Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.’
As we have seen during her life and since her passing, Her Majesty had the power to unite us. She provided a common touchpoint that could overcome divisions and draw people together.
This was evident in the diversity of those who have responded to her death — young and old, from every continent on earth, in positions of power and influence and, in far greater numbers, everyday people just looking for an outlet to convey their love, respect and simple thanks.
In considering the unifying role Her Majesty played, I acknowledge that her passing has prompted different reactions for some in our community.
I’m conscious and respect that the response of many First Nations Australians is shaped by our colonial history and broader reconciliation journey. That is a journey we as a nation must complete.
And, so, to her legacy for us in Australia.
I have found myself asking whether the unparalleled reaction of the last 13 days has been just a moment in time — a unique reaction driven by Her Majesty’s remarkable life, longevity and service. Or is there a greater lesson to be drawn?
I’d suggest that the lesson for us can be found by being both reflective and prospective in our considerations. To look back and admire, and to look ahead and contemplate.
As Her Majesty, herself, said in 2000: ‘We must look forward as well as back. Australia has always been a country on the move and will go on being so. It is not for nothing that the anthem is Advance Australia Fair.’
Her Majesty shared in Australia’s growth and change during her reign. She respected the will of the Australian people. She understood that we are our own people and that we control our destiny.
Her Majesty, through her influence, her decency and devotion to others has set a tone for our progress and change. That example, of bringing people together with empathy and respect, is one that can guide us into the future.
Noting all that changed during The Queen’s 70-year reign and all that will change in Australia in the next 70 years, there is a timeless quality that we can draw from Her Majesty.
For what did not change were the values and characteristics that Her Majesty lived by from the moment she acceded to the throne as a young adult, becoming monarch with scant preparation but with a deep reservoir of strength and faith.
They were a constant. Her dutiful service wasn’t an act; it was who she was.
Throughout her reign, she consistently demonstrated tireless and selfless service, devotion to duty and a compassion for others.
Her Majesty epitomised servant leadership and, particularly in this age of extreme individualism, set an example of living and serving for something greater than herself.
Those are values to which we can ascribe and aspire to.
They are as relevant today as they were 70 years ago.
They will be as relevant in 70 years’ time as they are today.
That is Her Majesty’s enduring gift to us all.
I conclude by recalling the title of the lament played by The Queen’s Piper at her funeral service: ‘Sleep, dearie, sleep.’