In 1981 the Queen opened CHOGM in Melbourne. The RAF VC10 aircraft and those other planes of visiting dignitaries were parked at RAAF East Sale where a handful of newly graduated dog handlers worked their first ever night shifts guarding them. Then in October 1982 I found myself looking after a RAAF 707 which had brought the Queen out for a series of events including the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. The 707 arrived on the 9th and departed on the 13th and for four nights no one paid that aircraft or those of us guarding it any attention. Her Majesty was off visiting regional NSW and had other events in Canberra including the opening of the National Gallery (image refers). On the 13th the circus arrived and suddenly the Australian Federal Police were in charge, mainly trying to manage the large crowd of civilians who were on the flightline to see her off. Secretly hoping we might get to see the Queen those hopes were dashed when we were relegated to remote parts of the base and away from the crowds. It actually made sense – who wants a police dog near a crowd? Our dogs were not trained for those sorts of scenarios. And nor were we in truth.
So I found myself standing at the corner of Richmond Avenue, just inside the front gate of RAAF Fairbairn, directed there by an agitated MP Sergeant with no more profound instructions than ‘Just stand there orright!’ That I could do. It was a sunny day and my mind drifted off to an essay I was trying to compose when suddenly the Governor General’s black limousine pulled up at the kerb, only a meter from me. Sitting in the rear were Her Majesty and Prince Philip. The Prince (‘Phil the Greek’ to many) leaned forward to see past his wife as she pointed at the dog. Police Dog Baron. The least military working dog in the history of working dogs, an impression aided by a broken left ear which flopped out of control over his face. Last seen chasing kangaroos across the end of the Canberra main runway and briefly shutting the airport down. But the Queen was clearly quite taken as she pointed at him, smiled and then waved at me.
Anyone who has spent any time in uniform earning the ‘Queen’s Shilling will recall lessons on how to engage a Royal. What to say, what to do. What not to do. Caught standing very casually at ‘stand easy’ I remained in that pose and when she waved I simply waved back like any polite person would do. No salute or standing at attention. Phil laughed, clearly understanding my lack of protocol and sat back in his seat. Ma’am laughed too, waved again and then they were back in gear and off down to the flightline. The sergeant’s brevity of instruction gave me license so once they were out of sight I walked back to the unit and kennelled PD Baron. Later that afternoon the team complained they had not so much as gained a glimpse of the Queen, including the MP who had sent me to my remote station – the Federal Police had directed they set up a cordon and face away from the aircraft. Our special wave moment became all the more special for all that.
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