CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia’s national day of mourning for the late Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday was centered on Parliament House, where dignitaries laid sprigs of the golden wattle – the national floral emblem – in a wreath.
The focus of the ceremony in the Great Hall of Parliament was the portrait of the former monarch of Britain and Australia in the yellow dress decorated with gold braid motifs that she wore on her first night in Australia in 1954, known as the “Canvas Picture”, created by Australian artist William Dargie.
The Queen’s death on September 8 it came in spring in the Southern Hemisphere when the wattle blossoms, its golden flowers and green leaves reflecting Australia’s national colors in what has become a symbol of unity.
The government declared Thursday a public holiday across the country, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Governor-General David Hurley, King Charles III’s representative in Australia, attending the ceremony. Both returned from the Queen’s funeral in London on Wednesday.
The holiday was marked by some protests that focused on the harm British colonization inflicted on Indigenous Australians. Australia is one of the few former British colonies that never made a treaty with the indigenous population.
Hurley used his speech to highlight the reactions of some Indigenous Australians, who die younger and are more likely to be incarcerated than any other ethnic minority there.
“I recognize that her death has caused mixed reactions from some in our community,” Hurley said. “I am aware and respectful that the response of many First Nations Australians has been shaped by our colonial history and the wider journey of reconciliation, a journey that we must complete as a nation.”
The government plans to change the Australian constitution a referendum that would create a mechanism for indigenous people to consult parliament on policies that affect their lives.
Native reactions to the queen’s death were mixed. Indigenous dancers and singers began the ceremony in Parliament.
Albanese, who wants Australia to replace the British monarch with an Australian head of state, spoke of how the nation had changed since 70 per cent of the population turned out to see the Queen in 1954.
“Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to her family and her memory is not a marble statue or a metal plaque,” Albanese said. “It’s a renewed embrace of community service.”
Two polls released after the Queen’s death show a majority of Australians want to remain a constitutional monarchy. Proponents of the Australian republic claim that this is a temporary reaction to the intense media coverage of the popular monarch.
Among the 700 guests were former and current political leaders, judges, military chiefs and other dignitaries.
The Queen officially opened Parliament House in 1988. Her father opened the temporary Parliament House nearby in 1927. King George VI was then the Duke of York, making his daughter the first reigning monarch to visit Australia.