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15 September 2022

Early yesterday morning Australian time, London welcomed its Queen home in its classic style: dark, raining, and sombre.

From TVs in Australia, we watched Queen Elizabeth II’s journey from St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh to a Royal Air Force (RAF) C-17 Globemaster waiting at the Scottish city’s airport.

With centimetre perfect, military precision, Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was flown to London and then lifted carefully into a hearse to travel to Buckingham Palace.

The wet English weather did not stop thousands upon thousands of people — some in crowds ten deep — lining the streets to wave their Queen goodbye for the last time on her way home to Buckingham Palace.

It was particularly moving to see cars pulled over to the sides of roads and children standing on the roofs to get a glimpse of the cavalcade of their monarch.

Perhaps the cynical would say it was all performative, while the true believers a just and fitting tribute for a monarch who has reigned supreme for 70 years, seven months and two days.

The universal response to Queen Elizabeth II’s passing has shown the love for the royals and monarchy is anything but dead.

While the death of anyone born in 1926 is unsurprising, Queen Elizabeth II’s presence has been a fixture for generations of Australians.

The Queen uniquely joined the past and present Australia, from World War II to 2022.

In 1926, the year Queen Elizabeth II was born, the memory of Gallipoli was not even 11 years old and she would be a young woman and princess when World War II descended.

In a similar vein, the English musician, republican and activist Billy Bragg this week wrote a wonderful tribute to the Queen’s legacy for veterans in particular.

“I do want to take a moment to reflect on the passing of a person who has played a role in our national life over the past seven decades that is unrivalled in its significance,” Bragg wrote.

“The importance of the Queen as a figurehead was made clear to me in 2007 when I saw a news report of the dedication of the Armed Forces Memorial, remembering those who lost their lives in conflicts since the Second World War.”

“Watching the Queen walk along a line of ex-service personnel who had fought in every war from Korea to Afghanistan, I was struck by the thought that there is no one in British public life whose presence at an event could be equally meaningful to an 80-year-old veteran as well as one in their 20s.”

I think it is testimony to the strength of her legacy that people from all sides of the political divide have come together to mourn and lay tribute.

I was fortunate to meet the Queen in 2011 on her last Australian visit and was struck by how engaged she was with every person she met, from children to veterans to politicians.

While I ultimately want to see an Australian as our head of state, it has not prevented me from recognising the greatness inherent in the person of Elizabeth Windsor — her selflessness, calm, stoicism and unflagging commitment to public duty.

Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, seven months and two days. The longest serving monarch in Great Britain’s 1000 year history.

Across her reign, 16 different prime ministers led Australia. The durability of her popularity was more consistent than that of 20th century Australian political leaders.

The longevity of her reign alone elevates her to the dais of history, but it does not sufficiently explain her contribution to Australia and her significance to Australians.

She provided continuity and certainty in a rapidly changing and divided world.

While the pomp and fanfare may grate on some people’s nerves who are keening for Australia to become a republic, it is also the end of an era. As Bragg said: “the passing of a generation”.

And in the words of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, “her life of faithful service will be remembered for centuries to come.”

We should all take a moment to reflect the profound loss of this great woman and Queen.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Thursday 15 September 2022.