Duke’s death stirs 1954 memories for local woman

Liz Bell

THE recent death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, brought back some poignant memories for Heyfield woman Betty O’Farrell.

Mrs O’Farrell had an (almost) close encounter with the late Duke and his wife Queen Elizabeth II when, as a 24-year-old teacher in the bush town of Greenwald East, she took her students to see the royal couple when they visited Hamilton.

That was on February 26, 1954, but Mrs O’Farrell – then Miss Barr – still remembers the royal visit as one of the most exciting events to happen that year for farming families in the Western District.

Mrs Farrell’s entire school cohort of 15 students was among 13,000 children from around the district who had waited eagerly on and around Hamilton’s Melville Oval for the royal arrival.

The following day, Melbourne’s Argus newspaper reported that many of the children had waited from as early as 8am to catch a glimpse of the Queen and her Prince being driven down the street late in the afternoon.

For the past 67 years, the newspaper cutting has been stashed away with Mrs O’Farrell’s belongings and largely forgotten about, until a recent hunt for some childhood photos unearthed it literally just days before the Duke died, aged 99.

Now 90, Mrs O’Farrell has long since retired from teaching, but will never forget the excitement and joy of the royal visit.

“The children were so excited and it really was a big deal for our small farming community,” she said.

“And I’ll never forget looking at the Queen and smiling, and she smiled back,” she said.