The Imperial Gaze Returned: Reviewing the Visual Archive of Australia’s First Modern Royal Tour

Cultural Sensitivity Warning
This article includes images and references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased and other content that may be culturally sensitive. Some words, descriptions and images included reflect the attitudes of the individuals who created them at a particular historical moment and which are now understood to reflect a system of oppression. These images and descriptions do not reflect the views of the writer and are referenced here to contribute to a process of truth telling and acceptance of responsibility; and to frame evidence in a manner that supports an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and Indigenous rights as voiced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves

The Prince of Wales’ 1920 royal tour of Australia stopped at over 100 cities and towns and remains the most extensive tour of the continent of any member of the royal family.

The tour emerged from a series of British royal visits to Australia, each was designed to progress the imperial objectives of its day and was shaped in response to nuanced local political and public concerns. The first royal tour of Australia, that of Prince Alfred in 1867, as Cindy McCreery has observed, followed a ‘template’ used in future tours. Here the Royal Navy became a ‘training institution’ and source of ‘mentors’ for British princes and networks of ‘trusted support staff’ were developed to support future royal tours. [1] These networks became increasingly important as such tours became more frequent in the early twentieth century. [2] among the notable supports to the prince on his 1920 tour were the19-year-old sub-lieutenant Louis Mountbatten, who would become the prince’s aide-de-camp and a mentor to future royals including as a Prince of Wales, the now, King Charles III; the Australian Army’s Chief of General Staff, Cyril Brudenell White, who led Australia’s planning for the tour, and many that followed; and, the influential Australian journalist and media entrepreneur Keith Murdoch who had manoeuvred himself into the role of Australia’s press representative on the prince’s ship, the HMS Renown, as it travelled from London.

The 1920 tour was framed as a ‘thank you’ to the people of ‘Australia, New Zealand and the colonies of the Atlantic and Pacific’ for their loyal service to the British Empire during World War One. Occurring between a tour of Canada, which concluded just a few months before, and India, the year later, the Australasian tour shared a background of growing nationalist unrest in Ireland, India and Egypt. Even in Australia the Governor-General had observed a ‘weakening of the sense of dependence on the Mother Country and a fostering of Republican sentiment.’ [3]
This series of tours mobilised a 25-year-old celebrity prince, who would become the future King Edward VIII, with the ambition of reshaping perceptions and recasting the British Empire as a modern, benevolent union of like-minded states.

For Australia’s Nationalist Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, the tour was an opportunity to unite an increasingly divided Australia. Many Australians were grieving for the loss of loved ones and the legacy of debilitating injury that arose from World War One. The country was riven by industrial disagreement and rising unemployment; and Hughes’ dramatic wartime division of the Labor party over the question of conscription remained a source of tension for Federal-state relations. The charismatic ‘white prince’ provided a ready ambassador for Hughes’ energetic defence of the White Australia policy, and the immediate focus on social and economic recovery saw Australian republicans adopt a pragmatic and politic approach to the prince’s visit. [4]

The shared experience of World War One and the strengthened networks of imperial communications it created worked together to shape the tour in the public eye. This was to be another serialised experience of imperial proportions: an extended victory lap, of sorts, performed and promoted through large-scale public events, print, newsreel and feature-length travelogue. The creation and sharing of personal photographs would also play a role in the recording and remembrance of personal participation in the activities that marked the prince’s tour.

While scholars such as Jane Connors, Laura Cook, Kevin Fewster and Frank Mort, among others, have examined the tour as an exercise in imperial propaganda, the unprecedented visual coverage it received remains largely unexamined. [5]

The strategic use of mass media, with visual media playing a central role, was seen as critical to the tour’s success both in amplifying the prince’s repeated recognition of service to empire, and promoting an image of the prince himself as a modern, energetic and approachable future-king – and, by extension, of an empire that was becoming more exuberant, inclusive and ‘about the future’. The careful process of crafting and communicating the prince’s persona required an expert travelling communications team and closely guided collaboration among politicians, civil servants, the media, and the Australian public.

An initial assessment of the visual record of the tour reveals an extensive archive with the potential to provide fresh perspectives on the political and cultural dynamics that shaped Australians’ post-war experience of both the British Empire and Monarchy. The examination of this archive contributes to a wider re-examination of the use of photography and cinema in the operation of colonial power. Ariella Azoulay, Priya Jaikumar, Jane Lydon, Gabrielle Moser and Susie Protschky, among others, continue to make important contributions here through what could be characterised as a photo-cinematic turn in colonial studies. The work of these researchers has become both central to the scholarship of decolonisation and, through celebrating the work of activists who are reading the visual archives of colonialism ‘against the grain’, is actively accelerating the work of decolonisation itself. [6]

This article examines seven images from the extensive archive of the 1920 royal tour of Australia. Each image derives from a separate stop on the tour and has been selected for what it reveals of the willing collaborations that enabled its creation, and the light it casts on the visual logic of the tour and the tensions – of race, class, gender, nationalism, and royal succession – it sought to keep in balance.

In August 1920 the prince took a week-long pause to rest at Miowera, a rural property on the lands of the Wiradjuri people in Western New South Wales. Here the prince enjoyed some downtime after three months of relentless ‘stunting’ and ‘princing’, as he called it, through over 100 Australian towns. Newspaper readers were informed, on more than one occasion, that the prince’s health was suffering from the ‘constant succession of public engagements’ the tour presented. [7]

While the prince and his handlers had worked hard to collaborate with an unrelentingly-enthusiastic Australian press, at this point in the tour the relationship had begun to sour. Despite a determined effort to exclude them from Miowera, at least three unauthorised press photographers breached the defences. [8] Among them was James Eastman who, at least temporarily, evaded detection by posing as a jackaroo. [9] Eastman’s photographs of the prince regularly appeared in multi-page montages of images in the weekly newspaper, The Australasian. One of the photographs taken at Miowera, on 11 August 1920, shows the prince wielding a press camera (Figure 1). [10] The prince presses forward as if he is about to step through the picture’s frame. Perhaps he aims to ‘shoot’ the photographer, Eastman, at close range? As viewers, we do not see Eastman of course as he was behind the camera, and we are, in effect, standing in his place and looking through his lens. The image is captioned: ‘the prince retaliates’.

[Fig. 1] Press photograph: The Prince Retaliates, The Australasian, 21 August 1920. National Library of Australia.

This clever, staged photograph acknowledges the tensions that existed between the prince and the press at this point in the tour. On the one hand the monarchy needed a press that was ever-ready to amplify its carefully-storied and increasingly visual performances, and on the other the press needed to sustain a continuous ‘campaign’ of images to sustain the visual interest and loyalty of its own readers.

The tour was in effect an ambitious imperial charm campaign that used the figure of the young prince to remodel perceptions of the monarchy, and through it the empire. No longer would the king be seen as an imperial overlord, but as a uniting figurehead: grateful for and sensitive to the nuance of an empire that the war had proven was, within limits, stronger for the diversity of its parts. The cooperation of a willing press, and its continued positive relationship with the prince, were critical to the tour’s success. Laura Cook has observed that British royals were becoming the ‘focal point’ in ‘a system of media orchestrated populism, [that was] grounded in an economy of personal identification between ordinary subjects and themselves.’ [11] The amplification of the prince’s celebrity on tour through the innovative use of photography and cinema, and soon radio provided one such focal point.

Eastman’s photograph represents just one of a multitude of personalising images that portray a carefully-constructed human side to the prince. But distinct among its kind, this photograph is a kind of visual joke. It is a knowing reminder that the warm, candid images of the prince that Australians consumed in increasing numbers were in fact the negotiated products of imperial propaganda. [12] For the millions that turned out to see the prince and that followed the progress of his celebrity through the Australian press, a not-insignificant pleasure was the act of witnessing this young actor of empire and monarch-in-waiting perform for the Australian public.

Azoulay sees such interactions – between the photographer and the photographed subject around the camera – as acts of negotiated collaboration. She observes that every photograph serves, always, as ‘evidence of the social relations that made it possible’. [13] It is no wonder then, the unique role photographic technologies have played, and continue to play, in the imagining, recording, publicising and remembrance of the willing collaborations that occur between members of the royal family and ordinary subjects.

A team of expert organisers and publicists accompanied the tour and controlled the images it created. The team was headed by advisor to the British Prime Minister and former colonial editor of The Times, Edward Grigg. Officially, Grigg was the prince’s military secretary, but he also served as speech writer, media liaison, and overseer of the journalists embedded in the tour itself. Trusted military and royal photographer Ernest Brooks was joined by newsreel and ‘history film’, pioneer Will Barker. [14] Barker’s pioneering history films, produced with the support of real historians as advisors, included the biopic on Queen Victoria, Sixty Years a Queen (1913). The film achieved an ‘unprecedented box-office success’ and was admired by imperial audiences for the intimate portrait it provided of a beloved Queen at the centre of an epic narrative of empire. [15] The film was a clear model for the cinematic record Barker would create of the prince’s tour.

Barker’s completed 103 minute film, 50,000 miles with the Prince of Wales (1920), portrayed Australia as an extension of the British Empire itself. The dominion’s cultural and natural peculiarities, plentiful resources, willing industry and devoted subjects were presented as a re-assuring testimony to the adaptable productivity of the imperial system. [16]

An Australian film of the prince’s tour was also made which, at almost precisely the same length, forms a fascinating complement to Barker’s imperial production. Through Australia with the Prince of Wales (1920), was produced by the Commonwealth Government cinematographer Bert Ive. The role of cinematographer had been initiated in 1912 after George Reid’s request, as Australian High Commissioner in London, for the provision of a steady, ‘fresh supply of short films of varied and attractive nature’ to promote Australian industry and immigration. [17] Ive’s film dutifully foregrounded the country’s ‘unalloyed loyalty’ to empire and the shared traditions, and global identity, white Australian’s enjoyed as imperial citizens. Wearing the priorities of its studio on its sleeve, the Australian-made film also celebrated a careful selection of Commonwealth-supported resource, industry and returned soldiers programs. [18]

From abord the prince’s ship as it travelled from England, Keith Murdoch had placed advance stories in Australian newspapers spruiking the ‘historic’ arrival of the ‘Digger Prince’ and declaring the young royal’s intention to become ‘friends among friends’ and be seen as ‘just as much a part of Australian life as he is a part of British life’. [19] The tour, in a very literal sense, framed, and then recorded, what was to be understood of the Australian lives the prince would encounter.

[Fig. 2] Press photograph: Garden party at King’s Park, Perth, on July 3. The Australasian, 17 July 1920. National Library of Australia.

With the aim of fostering Australians’ personal identification with the prince, the tour’s program was shaped around large levees (or civic receptions) in each major city, military inspections, hospital visits, performances by school children, and the ceremonial unveiling of foundation stones, statues and more (Figure 2). Every event was carefully planned in advance to provide useful, reproducible, images of the prince engaging personally, and at scale, with an enthusiastic Australian public. Greeting the prince at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 10,000 children were marshalled into formation in the shape of the Australian continent across which their bodies were arranged to spell out the words OUR PRINCE. [20]

[Fig. 3] Press photograph: Crowds watch the Prince of Wales laying a commemoration stone of the Capital, Canberra, 21 June 1920. Fairfax archive of glass plate negatives, (nla-obj-163075371) National Library of Australia.

Crowd scenes appear repeatedly in the visual record of the tour – often shot from a specially constructed elevated platforms: to provide both a line of sight to the prince and capture the large crowds that assembled around him. The evident scale and ceremony of these scenes recalled biblical imagery and history painting and it seems evident such visual precedents were consciously employed to portray Australians’ experience of meeting the prince’s gaze from the crowd in the visual language of a grand historical narrative. The immediacy of these images was enhanced as viewers noticed familiar faces and fashions, and untidy domestic details. All of these elements contributed to the intimate, evidentiary quality the photographic and cinematographic record lent to these representations. Mort has observed that the visual logic of these specially-staged events saw that ‘the prince was not just the focal point of official ceremonial, but that he was the object of popular democratic participation as well.’ [21]

Bearing witness to a mass of clicking and whirring camera operators became part of the experience of the tour itself. The presence of tripods and large press and cinematographic cameras, although they are only glimpsed occasionally in the visual archive, were emblematic of the tour’s overarching purpose: to connect each part and person in the same epic narrative of empire with the one all-seeing eye, alternately of the camera and his royal highness, at its centre. As the crowd reached for a glimpse of the prince as he set a foundation stone in Canberra, two of their number looked back toward the elevated camera platform (Figure 3). As these men turn their focus on the machinery of the imperial imaginary, as the prince himself did at Miowera, our attention shifts with them: away from the royal persona of the prince to the infrastructure, networks and cultures of image-making that were keeping that persona – laminated here with the ambition of creating a new imperial-national capital – in play.

The prince was often painfully aware of the precarious space between appearance and reality, he wryly commented at the ceremony that, for all of the ambition the federal capital embodied, at that point in time it appeared to consist ‘chiefly of foundation stones’. [22] As Christopher Vernon has observed, although the event was ‘only minutes in duration’ it remained in the prince’s ‘memory decades later’ when he reminisced that ‘the boundless faith of Australians in their own destiny was perhaps most vividly exemplified for me by their enterprise in creating in the remote back country a brand-new federal capital… When I was there in 1920, nothing was yet to be seen save a few tin shanties, power stations, and numerous cornerstones marking the sites of the proposed Government buildings, to which I contributed one exactly in the city’s centre.’ [23]

The Hawkesbury River
The close relationship that the royal party maintained with press representatives generally left little room for unplanned interactions to enter the visual record. Occasionally however, the rough ground their itinerary traversed caused the imperial dream machine to bump and a few unvetted images to slip its control. One of these moments occurred not long after the Canberra-visit, when the prince was a guest of New South Wales Labor Premier, John Storey, and his Cabinet on a five-hour boat trip on the Hawkesbury River.

[Fig. 4] Film still: The Prince of Wales with New South Wales Colonial Secretary James Dooley and Treasurer Jack Lang, Hawkesbury River, NSW, 24 June 1920. From Through Australia with the Prince of Wales (1920) Dir. Bert Ive, (title no. 938), National Film and Sound Archive.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes anticipated that Storey’s men, still furious with him over his work in dividing the Labor Party over the issue of conscription, might try to wrong-foot the prince. With this in mind Hughes had attempted, without success, to chaperon the prince on this leg of the journey. [24] When the boat embarked the Prime Minister’s concerns appeared justified. The Minister for Public Works, John Estell, lobbied the prince to subscribe to the State’s drought loan scheme and, in the prince’s words the trip descended into a drunken ‘orgy’ of oysters and champagne. Writing to his lover, Freda Dudley-Ward, that evening he confided that the party turned ‘toxi’ as his hosts ‘struck out some nasty little bolshie ironies at the Admiral and me which hurt.’ [25] Mountbatten, who kept a detailed diary of the tour, recorded this as ‘the most difficult day of the whole trip.’ [26]

Bert Ive’s Australian film shows the jauntily-dressed yet incongruously-anxious prince smoking on the deck of the boat on the Hawkesbury (Figure 4). The prince clearly resents the presence of the cameraman and at one point speaks direct to camera in what appears to be a wilting plea to leave-off filming. While the men surrounding him, Colonial Secretary James Dooley and Treasurer Jack Lang, look to Ive with a greater sense of self-possession they are perhaps prompting the same outcome.

Seldom in the visual record does his excellency’s return-gaze appear quite so disaffected. One can imagine the perplexed response this uncomfortable address to camera might have received from the film’s audiences. Today, it seems surprising that Ive let the scene remain in his final cut. Perhaps the power of portraying a state Labor Cabinet that was initially opposed to the royal visit, ostensibly, welcoming the prince as a friend among friends was too valuable a piece of political propaganda for the trusted head of Hughes’ Cinema Branch to leave on the cutting room floor? While it is unsurprising that this less-than-jolly sequence did not appear in the British film, similarly arresting breaches of the cinematic ‘fourth wall’ do appear. A particularly striking example occurs in Barker’s portrayal of Aboriginal performers at Cook Siding in South Australia. [27]

Ooldea Soak
The prince was welcomed at the siding by Aboriginal people of many nations. They had all travelled by rail the day before from Ooldea Soak, on Kokatha Country, nearly 900km west of Port Augusta. The Ooldea Station master A. G. Bolam reported that:

about sixty blacks were present, and of these twenty were dancers.  The performers came from north, east, south and west, and owing to this fact, it was a difficult task to get the different totem groups to work in harmony. However, the ingenuity of the blacks overcame this difficulty, and a display called the ‘Yualla’ was arranged. [28]

The prince remained here for two-and-half-hours, viewing a series of performances and receiving personal instruction in flake-chipping and in spear and boomerang throwing. But these interactions are not shown in Barker’s film. What audiences did see was two uneven lines of Aboriginal people who appear to have been hastily arranged for inspection by the camera. Again, the editorial choice is significant here, in both what it sought to show, and why.

The film’s intertitles announced, ‘in the heart of the plains a corroboree was organised by members of that fast disappearing race – the Australian aborigine.’ The camera tracks past a straight column of Aboriginal men and boys. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder as if mimicking the lines of soldiers, sailors and school children that present themselves for inspection elsewhere in the film. Then the film cuts to a scene of Aboriginal women and girls (Figure 5). At first they stand side-on forming an inward-facing crescent shape, no doubt in part to protect themselves from the bitter winds experienced on the day. A prim, corseted figure to the left of the frame vigorously gestures to the group to stand in line and face the camera, but they are initially unresponsive.

[Fig. 5] Film still: Daisy Bates gestures to a group of Aboriginal women at Cook Siding, South Australia, 11 July 1920. From 50,000 Miles with the Prince of Wales (1920) Dir. Will Barker, (Cat: IWM 843) Imperial War Museum.

That figure was Irish journalist-anthropologist Daisy Bates. Bates had moved to Ooldea Soak the year prior to organising these events for the prince. There she fashioned herself as the self-appointed ‘protector’ of Aboriginal people along the recently completed East-West rail corridor. Bates’ motivations and the relationships she formed with Aboriginal people were complex. [29] Her documentation of language, culture and societal change continues to be of value. However, Bates’ inherent racism is evident in much of her work: in fabricated stories of Aboriginal cannibalism, for example, as well as in what historian Fiona Paisley has described as the ‘fatalistic sentimentality’ she shared with many who sought to improve conditions for Aboriginal people at the time. [30] Bates’ assertion that Aboriginal people represented a ‘dying race’ amplified a view that was widely, and instrumentally, held among colonials and which – in the new nation – acquired additional layers of meaning. [31]

While many faces in this scene were turned to the camera, Bates and the cinematographer, received a singularly arresting look from a senior woman in the centre of the group (Figure 5 – see the glance immediately over Bates’ right shoulder). A subsequent scene shows this woman to be one of number of senior figures who appear to play a co-ordinating role. This filmed sequence appears to portray a group that was at first unresponsive, or even resistant, to Bates’ direction to stand in line. On close reading it might be inferred that this was because they had not received confirmation from the elders among them to do so. While the community power structures at play at Cook Siding may have been unbidden, and only appear on a second viewing of this filmed sequence, they are there. As Azoulay reminds us, the photographic, and in this case the equivalent cinematographic, image serves, always, as ‘evidence of the social relations that made it possible’(p. 13).

The astonishing, penetrating stare of this Aboriginal woman fixes in turn on Bates, on the cameraman (Barker), and then on our own, hitherto unselfconscious, gaze as viewers. Significantly, perhaps, it comes after the men and boys have left the frame. While it appears that Barker intended to present these Aboriginal subjects in a ‘realist’ manner for the entertainment of the film’s (white) viewers, this complex reverse look exceeds any realism he might have sought: it is a visceral and undeniable gesture to the complex power relationships at play – not only at Cook Siding on that day, but also as the film was screened across the empire in the months that followed.

It is an uncomfortable fact that neither Barker’s or Ive’s film coverage of this event, nor any still image I have been able to trace, show the prince and the Aboriginal people he met at Cook Siding in the same frame. This is in stark contrast to the plentiful images of the prince’s enthusiastic engagement with Indigenous peoples he met elsewhere on the tour, in for example, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa.

In a letter to Dudley-Ward, the prince described the Aboriginal people at Cook Siding with an untempered racism. [32] This is despite both Bates’ and Mounbatten’s separate accounts and contemporary press reports (some of which can be accredited to Bates), that describe the prince as showing a generous interest in the people he met. [33] While the experiences of the Aboriginal people themselves is essential to any accurate account of these events, it is clear that the performances were thoughtfully constructed, gifts had been carefully made, selected and exchanged, and community leaders were acknowledged. Although Bates credits herself with persuading a group of reluctant elders to coordinate these events, [34] well documented accounts exist of Aboriginal peoples’ interactions with royalty elsewhere which, beyond Bates’ guidance, demonstrate an enthusiasm to participate and to craft sophisticated agenda for such meetings. [35] The near complete exclusion of images of the prince engaging with Aboriginal people from both the film and photographic record of the tour downplays the nuanced and focussed diplomacy that marked Aboriginal peoples’ encounters with the prince, who was consistently acknowledged as a representative of empire. Despite this, and alongside the practices of travelogue and ethnographic film – and the theme of sentimental fatality – that structure this filmed sequence, a negotiated visual citizenship and subtle activism can still be discerned.

The tour’s forward media arrangements ensured that a range of camera-ready events awaited the prince when he subsequently arrived in Adelaide. A number of images from the visit are preserved in a collection of almost 20,000 photographs compiled by senior South Australian public servant and citizen-photographer, Arthur Searcy, and now held at the State Library of South Australia. One photograph, taken in what appeared set to be a long ceremony, shows the prince striding energetically onto a dais before a crowd which carpets the surrounding streetscape (Figure 6). Directly behind the prince is a veiled, oversized statue of his ten-years-dead grandfather, King Edward VII, and to his left, bang in the centre of the image, a specially-constructed platform rises from the crowd. Ive and Barker were perched here to film proceedings for their feature-length film records of the tour. As in Canberra, a high viewpoint would lend these sequences historical character providing viewers with the sensation of surveying the crowd from a place apart, perhaps invoking the viewpoint of the colossal, veiled statue of the past ‘playboy-king’ itself.

[Fig. 6] SA Government photograph[?]: Crowds wait by the veiled statue of King Edward VII, Adelaide, [15 July] 1920. (PRG 280/1/26/70) Searcy Collection, State Library of South Australia.

Despite the grand tableau that awaited him, and the enduring visual record that would be created as he unveiled this ‘giant’ symbol to imperial rule, the prince’s presence on the podium was breathtakingly short. He requested that no speeches were given and dismounted the dais after just a few short words, well ahead of the time allotted to the unveiling. This very brief appearance was no doubt a disappointment to the sizeable crowd that had turned out for the event, many of whom who had given to the children’s ‘penny fund’ and people’s ‘shilling fund’ that helped to pay for the statue.

Two thirds of his way through his four-month exposure to the Australian public the prince had become an increasingly un-willing collaborator at such events. At times he even found his appearances before the lens of a camera, literally, painful. Earlier the same day the prince had interrupted a ‘Digger’ photographer to pointedly tell him that the unendurable clicking of his camera was ‘worse than a machine gun.’ [36]

Alongside his well-documented fatigue with public performance the prince’s personal correspondence suggests the strain he experienced in being away from the intimacy of friends in whose company he could ‘let down his guard’. Writing to his lover Dudley-Ward he asks ‘why must it always be P. of W. [Prince of Wales] Sweetie instead of just plain David sometimes?’ [37]

[Fig. 7] Personal photograph: Dance given on board Renown at Sydney, New South Wales, [11 August] 1920. From the album of Regulating Petty Officer Gordon Harrison, (nla.obj-149646752) National Library of Australia.

Sydney Harbour
The diverse ways in which individual Australians composed themselves for the visual record of the tour is tellingly revealed in a series of photographs, contained in a naval officer’s album in the collection of the National Library of Australia. This personal collection of images gesture quite freely to the interactions that took place between the crew of the prince’s ship, the HMS Renown, and the Australians they met in dock. [38]

The various committees involved in organising the tour had sought to ensure that visiting officers’ free time in port was, as far as possible, taken up with planned activities. Local ‘entertainment committees’ were engaged to organise programs of activity for naval officers. This forward planning sought, in no small part, to avoid the complications that might arise from sailors improvising their own entertainments. These activities included sporting events, tours, dances, film screenings and ‘smoke socials’ which were, at times, just as orchestrated as the visual staging of the tour itself.

Near the end of the tour, as the prince rested at Miowera, his Admiral and crew hosted a dance on the Renown’s covered deck. A press report reveals that fashionably-dressed guests were treated to ‘splendid music for jazzing…paper streamers thrown over the deck enveloped the dancers in a colored lacework…[and when] the big 15-inch guns of the Renown were fired, instead of shells the charge was a number of multi-colored balloons.’ [39] An unofficial photograph of bleary-eyed partygoers assembled beneath the ship’s guns provides a glimpse of the serious, but seldom recorded, partying that took place throughout the tour (Figure 7). The complex relationships of gender, empire and colonial culture that twisted through these entertainments is visible on the faces in the crowd, including on the face of Mollee Little, the prince’s preferred Australian dining and dancing companion on the tour. Mollee attended here without the prince and can be seen just to the left of the photograph’s centre staring directly into the camera.

Mollee had received her introduction to the prince from her Australian friend Sheila Chisolm, a confidante of Edward’s brother Albert, later crowned King George VI following Edward’s abdication. [40] Mollee is one of the few that look out from this group portrait with a degree of self-possession. Her striking gaze appears self-consciously composed, as if to speak beyond this scene and perhaps to reveal a deeper personal narrative (Figure 8). Behind Mollee stands Sheila’s brother, Roy Chisolm, who would later become her husband.

[Fig. 8] Detail of personal photograph: Dance given on board Renown at Sydney, New South Wales, [11 August] 1920. From the album of Regulating Petty Officer Gordon Harrison, (nla.obj-149646752) National Library of Australia.

A few days after this port-side party the prince made arrangements for his final social event in Australia, a small private luncheon on the Renown as it was anchored off Sydney Heads. In a letter home to his lover Dudley-Ward he referred to the nine women who attended, Mollee among them, as ‘all bits belonging to and asked for by various members of the staff and ship’s officers.’ He continued, ‘we danced for 1 hour after lunch and then everyone took his bit into his cabin, except for me angel…’ [41] Mountbatten, whose later role as an observer and influencer of royal intimacies is well known, used similar language in his diary entry for the day. [42]

In recalling such scenes today, it is difficult not to draw a connection with the many unnegotiated portrayals of members of the British royal family that have appeared in recent years. Despite the immediate threat such scandals appear to pose in maintaining public support for the royal family in Australia, ultimately the media management of such events appears to have the effect of increasing royal celebrity while strengthening public identification with the family as being, however monstrous its imperfection may in cases be, ‘like us but special’.

While the prince’s 1920 tour of Australia was considered a success: in bringing a mourning and socially and politically divided Australia momentarily closer together, its legacy, like that of other royal tours to Australia, is far from settled. [43]

The recent carefully planned coverage of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II – whose1954 tour is the most written about of all royal tours of Australia [44] – has been illustrated through an extended montage of edifying scenes to show a life lived in willing collaboration with the modern media. In her examination of the central role of journalist relationships and television in the construction the late queen’s public identity, Laura Clancy invokes some of the emerging challenges that digital and social media present for these relationships and thus to maintaining public support for the royals. [45] While the media may be different, the challenges themselves are not dissimilar from those that stalked the prince’s, now one hundred-years-past, tour of Australia.

The recent decision to suspend filming of Netflix’ forthcoming season of the historical drama, The Crown, reveals a continuing, pervasive interest in upholding a culture of ‘respect’ for the monarchy. [46] In the current context this decision is also likely to have been influenced by members of the royal family and its supporters voicing discomfort with the anticipated intimate portrayal of some of the most personally-damaging events for the royal family in modern history. Whether this filming continues, in vetted or unvetted form, less-edifying narratives and images of the late queen are certain to emerge; and this process will be facilitated in part as the attention of royal image makers’ shifts to the reigning monarch. Perhaps these alternate images will lead some Australians to reconsider the royal family’s presence in their country’s past? Perhaps it will lead them to consider the possible pasts, and possible futures, that Australia’s enduring relationship with the monarchy might be ‘keeping in the shadows’? Perhaps some Australians, after they have mourned their late-queen, might then find themselves creatively picturing what a future Australia could possibly look like without a British monarch as its Head of State?

The images referenced above were selected from the collections of the National Library of Australia, National Film and Sound Archive, State Library of South Australia and the Imperial War Museum (UK). This essay simply could not have been written without the work that these institutions continue to do, often with very limited resources, to make their collections accessible online. This work is critical if we are to critique the selective storytelling of the past, acknowledge injustice and create a more equitable future. I give my personal thanks to those who assisted me at these institutions, and to colleagues and mentors who so generously commented on this paper through its long existence as a work in progress.

[1] Cindy McCreery, “Something borrowed, something blue: Prince Alfred’s precedent in overseas British royal tours, c.1860-1925.” in Robert Aldrich, Cindy McCreery (Eds.), Royals on Tour: Politics, Pageantry and Colonialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2018), pp. 56-79.
[2] Robert Aldrich, “Visiting the Family and Introducing the Royals:
British Royal Tours of the Dominions in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.”, Royal Studies Journal vol 5, no. 1 (2018), pp. 1-14.
[3] Murdoch Papers, NLA MS 2823/34. 5. Munro Ferguson to W. H. Long, 17 Jan. 1917, Novar Papers, NLA MS 696/1174-6. Cited in Kevin Fewster, “Politics, Pageantry and Purpose: The 1920 Tour of Australia by the Prince of Wales.” Labour History, no. 38 (1980), pp. 59-66.
[4] Wayne Hudson and Mark McKenna, Australian Republicanism: a Reader. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Publishing, (2003), pp. 141-142.
[5] Jane Connors, Royal visits to Australia (National Library of Australia Canberra, ACT. 2015); Laura Cook, The Monarchy Is More Than the Monarch: Australian Perceptions of the Public Life of Edward, Prince of Wales, 1916-1936 Thesis (Canberra: Australian National University. 2016); Kevin Fewster, “Politics, Pageantry and Purpose: The 1920 Tour of Australia by the Prince of Wales.” Labour History, no. 38 (1980), pp. 59-66; Frank Mort, “On Tour with the Prince: Monarchy, Imperial Politics and Publicity in the Prince of Wales’s Dominion Tours 1919–20.” Twentieth Century British History 29, no. 1 (2017), pp. 25-57.
[6] see, for example, Ariella Azoulay, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism, (London: Verso Books. 2019); Jane Lydon, (2021). “Indigenous Uses of Photographic Digital Heritage in Postcolonizing Australia.” Photography and Culture, no. 14 (2021),pp. 1-28; Gabrielle Moser, Projecting Citizenship: Photography and Belonging in the British Empire, (University Park: Penn State University Press. 2019); Priya Jaikumar, Cinema at the End of Empire: A Politics of Transition in Britain and India, Durham: Duke University Press. 2019); Susie Protschky, Photographic Subjects: Monarchy and Visual Culture in Colonial Indonesia (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2020).
[7] “Indian Tour Postponed” The Register (Adelaide, South Australia 29 July 1920) p. 6.
[8] Louis Mountbatten, The Diaries of Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1920-1922: Tours with the Prince of Wales. (Ed Philip Ziegler. London: Collins. 1987),pp. 132-3.
[9] James Eastman, “Memories of My Camera.” Argus, Saturday Camera Supplement (Melbourne, Vic. 31 May 1930), p. 3.
[10] James Eastman, “The Prince Retaliates” (Press Photograph) The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. 21 August 1920) p. 29.
[11] Laura Cook, The Monarchy Is More Than the Monarch: Australian Perceptions of the Public Life of Edward, Prince of Wales, 1916-1936 Thesis (Canberra: Australian National University. 2016), p. 78.
[12] Cook
[13] Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York; Cambridge, Mass;: Zone Books. 2008), p. 127.
[14] Cook, p. 124.
[15] Jude Cowan Montague, “Sixty Years a Queen (1913): a lost epic of the reign of Victoria” in The British Monarchy on Screen (ed. Mandy Merck)(Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2016).
[16] Will Barker, 50,000 miles with the Prince of Wales, Film: 103min (London: Topical Film Company. 1920).
[17] Department of External Affairs memorandum 16 September 1911 NAA: A1, 1913/14458.
[18] Bert Ive, Through Australia with the Prince of Wales, Film: 98min (Cinema and Photographic Branch, Department of Home and Territories, Commonwealth of Australia: Melbourne, Vic. 1920).
[19] “Many-Sided Prince” Advocate (Burnie, Tas. 27 May 1920), supplement, p. 1.
[20] “Physical Culture Display by 10,000 Victorian State School Children in Honour of The Prince of Wales Held on The Melbourne Cricket Ground on May 31”, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. 5 June 1920), p. 56.
[21] Mort, p. 41.
[22] Christopher Vernon (2016), “Australia’s Lost Capitol”, Journal of Architectural Education, vol 70 no.2 (2016), pp. 284-299.
[23] Edward Windsor, A King’s Story: The Memoirs of the Duke of Windsor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1947), pp. 159 – 60. See also The Prince of Wales’ Book: A Pictorial Record of the Voyages of HMS “Renown” 1919–1920 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd. 1921). Cited in Vernon.
[24] Cook, p. 143
[25] Edward Windsor, Prince of Wales, Letter to Dudley Ward, 24 June 1920. In Letters from a Prince : Edward, Prince of Wales to Mrs Freda Dudley Ward, March 1918 – January 1921 (ed, Rupert Godfrey) (London: Little, Brown and Company. 1998), p. 329.
[26] Louis Mountbatten, (ed Philip Ziegler. 1987), p. 88.
[27] Barker
[28] AG Bolam, The Trans-Australian wonderland (Melbourne: Modern Print. Co. 1927), p. 102.
[29] Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines: A Lifetime Spent among the Natives of Australia. 1st Australian ed. (London. 1944), p. 188.
[30] Fiona Paisley, “No Back Streets in the Bush: 1920s and 1930s Pro-Aboriginal White Women’s Activism and the Trans-Australia Railway.” Australian feminist studies 12, no. 25 (1997), pp. 119-37.
[31] Russell McGregor, Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880-1939. (Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press. 1997).
[32] Windsor, p. 348.
[33] “The Prince of Wales.” Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. 21 August 1920), p. 12.
[34] Bates, pp. 184-5.
[35] see for example Ravindra De Costa, A Higher Authority: Indigenous Transnationalism and Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press. 2006) and Sarah Carter and Maria Nugent. Mistress of Everything: Queen Victoria in Indigenous Worlds (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2016)
[36] Mountbatten, p. 109.
[37] Windsor, p. 366.
[38] Gordon Harrison, (album) Royal tour by Edward, Prince of Wales to Australia and New Zealand, 1920, and H.M.S. Renown National Library of Australia.
[39] “RENOWN DANCE” The Sun (Sydney, NSW. 12 August 1920), p. 9.
[40] Robert Wainwright, Sheila: The Australian Beauty who Bewitched British Society (Crow’s Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin. 2014), pp. 100-101.
[41] Windsor, p. 370.
[42] Edward Windsor, Prince of Wales & Louis Mountbatten. The unofficial diary of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales visit to Australia, New Zealand and the colonies in the Atlantic and Pacific, March to October 1920, Thursday August 19th 1920, (Manuscript), p. 129.
[43] Fewster, pp. 65-66.
[44] Jane Connors, The glittering thread : the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia, Thesis (Sydney: University of Technology. 1996)
[45] Alexi Duggins, “The Crown to pause filming due to the Queen’s death”, The Guardian, 10 September 2022 ( accessed 28 Sept 2022)
[46] Laura Clancy. “‘Queen’s Day – TV’s Day’: the British monarchy and the media industries.” Contemporary British History No 33 (2019), pp. 1-24.

About the Author

Shane Breynard

About the Author

Shane Breynard

Shane Breynard is a PhD candidate at the School of History at the Australian National University. His thesis-in-progress, Canberra and the Nation on Screen 1913-1963, examines the depiction of Australia’s federal capital in the moving image.View all posts by Shane Breynard →