Today Te Ara commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the queen of New Zealand and the nation’s head of state, with two new entries, one on the Royal family and a second on Governors and governors general. Our sister site NZHistory also joins the party with an essay specifically focused on Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
For those of us under the gold card age of 65, which of course includes a large majority of New Zealanders, Elizabeth II is the only sovereign we have known. She came to the throne in 1952 as a young married woman of 25, with two pre-schoolers. The following year she was crowned in a ceremony which many New Zealanders listened to on their crackling radios. And at the end of 1953 she stepped onto New Zealand soil, the first reigning monarch to do so. As the NZHistory feature on that tour shows, 1953 marked the highpoint of popular adoration for the royal family in New Zealand. About three quarters of the nation stood on apple boxes beside the road to see her and the duke of Edinburgh drive past. As a six year old, I confess to seeing her no fewer than 10 times, and if you look very closely at the clip of her rail journey through Hawke’s Bay you might even see a young boy on the Waipukurau station waving a Union Jack. I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
As our entry explains, sentiments about New Zealand’s relations with the royal family have undergone rockier fortunes since then. Royal tours do not quite attract the enthusiasm of 1953–54; and the royal family has had some knocks to its role as the ideal family. Two of our prime ministers have even declared themselves republicans; and as the entry on governors and governors general explains, we have repatriated that office. The governor general remains the queen’s representative, but those occupying the office are now locals, who are also representative of the New Zealand community with all its ethnic and social diversity.
Yet, just as in the last years of the 19th century Queen Victoria’s stock rose remarkably as she came to commemorate her diamond jubilee (statues of her began to appear around the empire), a similar upsurge seems to be happening to Queen Elizabeth II. Her calm dignity has won huge admiration and another spectacularly successful royal wedding has garnered another generation of adoring fans for the royals.
It is one of the strange accidents of history that Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne came on Waitangi Day, 6 February 1952. This has a remarkable pertinence because the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Lieutenant Governor Hobson on behalf of Queen Victoria, and there has always been a powerful relationship between the monarch and the Māori community. When Māori believed that the local Pākehā community was not honoring the treaty, they sent petitions or attempted to visit the sovereign. The film in the Te Ara entry of the young queen’s visit to Turangawaewae in 1953 is a testament to how important that relationship was.
So we hope that the entries launched today on both our sites help encourage reflection on a range of important issues – our relationship with the monarch, the role of the governor general, and the continuing meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. Look and enjoy.