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A Monarch’s Birthday

On 4 June 1738, a baby was born in London. Named George, he was the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and he would grow up to be a king. As George III, he ascended to the British throne in 1760, the third monarch in the Hanoverian line but the first to speak English as his first language and the first to have been born in England. His reign lasted until his death in 1820, a record thus far surpassed only by his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, and by the present queen, Elizabeth II.

According to the website of the British monarchy, George III is – probably unfairly – known for ‘two things: losing the American colonies and going mad.’ We might also add, for having a birthday.

In Australia, celebrating the sovereign’s birthday in June dates back to 1788. On 4 June that year, those who had arrived in Botany Bay to establish a penal colony celebrated George III’s birthday with festivities, and Governor Arthur Philip had three royal salutes fired from the ships Sirius and Supply.

Official celebrations of a monarch’s birthday have not always been held on the actual date of the sovereign’s birth, however. Edward VII – who was born in November – celebrated his official birthday in May or June, because this was during the English summer, and thus more likely to have good weather for the ceremony of Trooping the Colour.

And so this June, in common with New Zealanders, many Australians will enjoy a day off in celebration of the Queen’s Birthday, though she herself was born on 21 April. Not all Australians, though – Western Australians have long observed a date in September or October, and next year Queenslanders will shift their holiday to October. In Canada, meanwhile, it is the Monday before 25 May which is marked, a tradition linked to the 1845 declaration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, 24 May, as a public holiday.

For Australians, Queen’s Birthday is also the second day in the year when new appointments to the Order of Australia, and a range of other awards in the Australian honours system, are announced (the other is Australia Day). Since the Order of Australia was created in 1975, a wide range of men and women have been appointed to it for their achievements and services.

Take Paddy Pallin, for example. An avid bushwalker, when he lost his job during the Depression, he started a business making bushwalking gear and outdoor equipment, and later helped to establish Bushwalkers Search and Rescue and to promote bushwalking and conservation. He was appointed AM (Member of the Order of Australia) in 1975. Or Vi Jordan, the first woman from the Australian Labor Party, and the second woman overall, to enter the Queensland Parliament. The member for Ipswich West, she was appointed AM in 1976.Then there’s Clive Churchill, a rugby league player and coach known as ‘the little master,’ who became an AM in 1985. Others have been honoured for their services to the arts, education, and learning. Examples include acclaimed painter Sir Russell Drysdale, who was appointed a Companion in the Order (AC) in 1980; Clive Amadio, a saxophonist and clarinettist who played for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Australia in 1954, and who became an AM in 1980; and William Macmahon Ball, professor of political philosophy at the University of Melbourne, who was appointed AC in 1978. Other June appointments have included Vincent Lingiari, who led the employees of the Wave Hill station in their famous ‘walk-off’ in 1966 and who was appointed AM in 1976, and Doris Condon, the mayor of South Melbourne in 1969, who was once asked to send a male colleague in her stead to the City of Melbourne’s lord mayor’s dinner; she was appointed AM in 1975.

Who might be honoured this June? Stay tuned on Queen’s Birthday!

Dr Karen Fox is a Research Fellow in the National Centre of Biography, School of History, and a Research Editor for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. She is currently researching the history of honours in Australia.

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Updated: 1 August 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher