Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Prince and the Elephant

I grew up in Mundubbera, a wonderful friendly town in country Queensland, a town which in May 1966 was honoured with a (near) Royal Visit. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne - and ours - was attending a school down south and spent one holiday on an outback adventure at nearby Eidsvold Station.

His drive to Eidsvold would bring him within a kilometre of Mundubbera and we received strict instruction to arrive at school on the day of the royal drive-by with crisply ironed uniforms, combed hair and black Bata Scout school shoes polished to a military shine.

The town was already abuzz with a separate and unrelated excitement. An elephant had escaped from a visiting circus and was on the loose somewhere in the district. A land and air search had been launched, thus far without success. There was not a single confirmed sighting of the beast, though great mobs of startled kangaroos suggested he was not completely unobserved. Everyone was on the lookout for the fugitive pachaderm. Our walk to school was transformed. In normal times we would look out for snakes and dodge swooping magpies, some of us carrying empty plastic icecream tubs to protect our skulls from angry beaks. Now our morning trudge became a jungle adventure. Having watched Tarzan on television, I knew observation was the key to survival. As I left home I checked the elephant was not in Mrs Halfpenny's front garden. A block away, I feared he may have found familiar company in the broken faded concrete flamingo that adorned the garden of the corner house. Not so. I never saw him. Nor, it seems, did anyone else, but being bitten by a Taipan or losing an eye to a Maggie, became trivial concerns as we pondered with trepidation the thought of being skewered on a tusk.

Rumour and speculation concerning the elephants whereabouts were rife at school, but being the morning of The Royal Visit we were quickly shushed. We lined up on the bitumen parade ground, hands on hearts saluting the flag, and tunelessly droned through the National Anthem of Australia. "God Save our Gracious Queen, Long live our Noble Queen, God Save the Queen..."

We marched the kilometre out to the highway determined to show our future monarch we were willing to risk being trampled underfoot to show him our loyalty, fealty, crisply ironed uniforms, combed and brillcreemed hair, and highly polished Bata Scout school shoes. (Bata Scouts came with a raised lion paw print in the sole so you could leave big cat tracks as you walked and an embedded compass should you lose your way to the tuck shop)

As we waited for the Royal drive-by a truck lumbered into view with an elephant clearly visible in the back. Cheers rang out from the assembled mob, 'They found the elephant! - they found the elephant!' The horrified teachers and CWA ladies, in their best and most ridiculous Sunday hats, tried valiantly to make us behave with more dignity as we momentarily came into the fleeting and passing Royal presence. There he was peering curiously from a car window at his assembled future subjects. I remember an innocent looking kid with very prominent ears. In a few years cartoonists would draw him with big flapping elephant ears, but there was nothing to indicate then he would one day be an unfaithful husband and divorcee, talk to plants and yearn to be a female hygiene product. No - in those innocent days all thought was of the Royal and Majestic presence that was speeding by.

'They found the elephant! They found the... God save our Gracious Queen, Long Live our Noble Queen, God save the Queen!'


Hello from a fellow Burnett-born blogger! Glad they found the elephant - what a pity the prince didn't hop on board...

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