23 June, 2012

A Right Royal River

In view of all the attention given to the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations marking the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, I thought it might be interesting to see what - if any - connection the British royal family might have had to the Barwon River since the advent of white settlement.
In keeping with the prevalent attitudes of the 19th century, several structures built along the river through Geelong at that time were named for members of the royal family.  My Building Bridges post looked at some of them, such as Princes Bridge (originally the Prince Albert Bridge) which was built in 1861 and named for the the consort of that other English monarch to reach her Diamond Jubilee - Queen Victoria.
The original Prince Albert Bridge built in 1861, reproduction rights held by
the State Library of Victoria

Second Prince Albert Bridge built 1889. This photo taken 1937, reproduction
rights owned by the State Library of Victoria

The current Princes Bridge built in 1965. The second bridge would have been
located in the foreground of the picture

Likewise, Queen's Park and the bridge across the river at that point were named for Queen Victoria. Perhaps not surprisingly, the naming of both bridges caused local controversy, as a new breed of colonials took on the royalists of the day. Again, this was the topic of a previous post: What's in a Name.
Okay, so Geelong's monarchists liked to honour the royals by naming public structures after them, but until 1867 none of them had actually set foot on Australian soil, let alone seen the Barwon River. This changed on 3rd December, 1867 when Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh  arrived in Winchelsea where he laid the final stone in the newly built bridge across the river.
Commemorative stone in the Barwon River Bridge at Winchelsea

Ironically, whilst other bridges along the river pay tribute to English royalty, this one bridge which had the distinction of being opened by a member of the royal family is known simply as the Barwon River Bridge.
Barwon River Bridge, Winchelsea
Barwon River Bridge, Winchelsea
As part of his visit to the district, the prince also visited Thomas Austin at Barwon Park where he participated in rabbit shoots on the banks of the Barwon. So successful were they that the hundreds of rabbits bagged were distributed amongst the local populace who referred to the bounty as "rabbit royale".
Two years later on a return trip in 1869, the prince once again visited the Austins. It was as a result of these royal visits that the present day Barwon Park mansion was built in 1871, as the Austins felt that the structure which existed previously was not suitably grand enough for such esteemed company as princes.
 A photograph of HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of
Edinburgh, c1868 held by the National Library
of Australia
Although there have been other royal visits to Geelong - the Duke and Duchess of York visited Geelong in 1927 and Queen Elizabeth II passed through during her 1954 tour of the country - I can see little indication that a member of the British royal family has graced the banks of the Barwon with their presence since that visit by the Duke of Edinburgh 145 years ago.
One possible exception however, was the visit of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (uncle of Queen Elizabeth II) who was pictured with a group standing in front of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen Mill at the bottom end of Pakington Street (current photos shown here) during a visit in 1934.
Another royal connection to the Barwon - albeit a tenuous one - occurred during the Queen's 1988 visit to Australia. On this occasion, Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia was escorted in Australian waters by the frigate HMAS Canberra. The Canberra was decommissioned in 2005 and then in October, 2009, watched by several hundred interested locals (myself included), she was towed to a point off Barwon Heads and - after several hour's delay - scuttled. She is now used as a dive wreck.
The HMAS Canberra being towed to waters off Barwon Heads prior to its
being scuttled
So much for English monarchs! On  a final note, as I researched this post, I discovered that the Barwon has its own royalty. Each year, the Ocean Grove Angling Club bestows upon its best angler the title of King or Queen of the Barwon. According to the club website, the current reigning monarch has achieved this elevated status on at least three other occasions.

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