Australia mourns Queen Elizabeth from home of ‘world’s oldest continuous culture’

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia held a national day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying the greatest tribute the nation could offer was not a statue but “a renewed embrace of community service”.

When the day was declared a national holiday, a commemoration ceremony attended by 600 dignitaries for Queen Elizabeth, who died on September 8 after 70 years on the throne, was held at Parliament House in Canberra. As Australia’s head of state, she toured the country 16 times during her reign.

The ceremony was opened by a First Nations elder, Aunt Violet Sheridan, who held a traditional Welcome to Country and remembered Queen Elizabeth as a mother and grandmother.

The event took place before anti-monarchy protests organized by Indigenous groups gathered hundreds of people in Sydney and Melbourne city centers to highlight the impact of Britain’s colonization on First Nations people.

Albanian, who returned to Australia the day before after attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London, noted that her memory was honored “on a continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture”.

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Albanian supports Australia to become a republic but has previously said his centre-left Labor government would prioritize recognition of First Nations people in the constitution, which, like any move to a republic, requires a national referendum. A referendum for a republic failed in 1999, and recent polls show that opinions are divided.

In a speech at the memorial ceremony, he said Australia had undergone a transformation during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. When she first toured, Britain was Australia’s largest trading partner and main source of migration, he said.

“That Australia of 1954, where seven million people – 70% of the population – turned out to welcome the first sovereign to visit these shores, was in almost every way a different country in a different world,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth was proud of Australia’s progress and “stood with us,” he said, and “Australia’s affections remained strong.”

“Perhaps the greatest tribute we can offer her family and her memory is not a marble statue or a metal plaque. It is a renewed embrace of community service,” he said.

In Melbourne, about 600 protesters led by a group called The Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance marched from Flinders Street Station to the British Consulate, where they rubbed red-painted hands on the wall.

“Abolish the monarchy – down with the king!” they chanted outside the consulate building.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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