London: The night before Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year, David Hurley – the first Australian governor-general to be born after the Queen’s 70-year reign began – sat nervously beside the phone in his office in Yarralumla.
The retired general and former chief of Australia’s defence forces had met the monarch four times in person during his long and decorated public life, and had spoken on the phone and via video link on countless other occasions. But this time it was different.
The Queen receives David Hurley, then governor of NSW, at Buckingham Palace in 2016.Credit:Getty
“I had obviously written to her to express our condolences as a nation, but I didn’t think that was sufficient, so I arranged for a phone call with her, thinking that it would be after the funeral,” he said. “I didn’t expect she would make time the night before.”
Then came a series of events that put him somewhat at ease. The phone rang in his private office, and it was the switchboard at Buckingham Palace confirming the scheduled appointment with the Queen.
“The lady said ‘I’ll put you through’,” Hurley recalled. “So it rang and rang and then rang off … and I was expecting an equerry to pick up and say ‘Governor-General, here is the Queen’ but there was nothing … just silence. And finally this voice saying ‘hello! Hello!’ appeared and I thought to myself ‘Good lord, it’s the Queen!’”
After he’d passed on his condolences, the first question the Queen had for her official representative in Australia was for the welfare of the people in the Western Australian town of Kalbarri, where hundreds of homes had been destroyed by Cyclone Seroja.
“Amid the huge personal loss, her first instinct was to ask about how others facing immense hardship were,” Hurley said. “The day before her husband’s funeral she is asking after us … and it really is genuine.
“It was really illuminating. There was a huge sense of sadness, but it was clear she still knew her job.”
He said the Queen then recalled with “great fondness” many moments of the 16 trips she and the Duke of Edinburgh had made to Australia, starting in 1954 and her last in 2011.
The Queen and Prince Philip at Bondi Beach during their 1954 tour of Australia. Credit:Archive
And then came the awkward moment, which he still hasn’t mastered after all these years.
“You of course go through the whole experience of who hangs up first — you or the Queen,” he laughed. “It is always a nervous moment.”
Hurley, who also served as Governor of New South Wales, was one of eight governers-general from Commonwealth nations to attend the Jubilee celebrations in London at the weekend.
Having sworn in the new Albanese government before jumping on the Royal Australia Air Force plane to London, he was thrown a curly question about the republican movement by a British reporter as he left the St Paul’s service of thanksgiving.
He replied that the Queen had lots of “emotional support” from Australians, but that could change when a new monarch ruled.
“I think at the moment people centre on the Queen, and then when she goes, when she passes, then the succession comes in, there’s a new discussion in Australia,” he told reporters.
Having spent two years during his army career seconded to the Irish Guards, he said he was thrilled to see the regiment on display during the traditional Trooping the Colour. He also addressed the Australian Federation Guard before their part in the Jubilee Pageant on Sunday.
“I told them that on the Golden Jubilee I marched through the streets of Townsville and on the Platinum Jubilee they get to march through London, and everything great thing that comes with that. It is an enormous moment in their careers,” he said.
Hurley said the Jubilee had given many a chance to reflect on the Queen’s reign and her influence on “who we are and who we aspire to be”.
“When I reflect on Her Majesty, I am struck most of all by her selflessness, her unwavering commitment to service and her infinite compassion for others.
“These are characteristics to which we all aspire.”
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