The zoo, the observatory, the old gaol, the Japanese gardens – and an almost arrogant number of coffee shops serving Devonshire tea. They bring in the tourists. Why not? But would you go back six times? The royal family has.
The house of Windsor started visiting the NSW town with the knock-about name on the western plains nearly 100 years ago, when tourist-wise it had nothing going for it – save for the legend of being haunted by Australia’s only Chinese bushranger, Sam Poo.
The first royal to visit was Edward, Prince of Wales, on August 13, 1920. Edward was touring rural Australia to thank communities for the sacrifice of their sons in the Great War. Dubbo had men take part in the legendary 1915 Coo-ee March that left nearby Gilgandra with 26 men, picked up a dozen more in Dubbo – and marched on to Sydney to enlist.
The visit by the Prince Of Wales, according to historical material provided to The New Daily from the Macquarie Regional Library, was almost cancelled several times – but was said to be a morale boost at a time of drought.
According to an ABC report, the town’s self-esteem was so poor, because much of it was a tin shanty town, “its townspeople tried to hide it from travellers”.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and the Duke of Edinburgh visited on February 10, 1954 and by then Dubbo had a sense of humour. The visit lasted 90 minutes and Her Majesty was greeted by a guard of honour made up of rams (and their handlers) in the place of swords. Dubbo had a population of 11,000 by then – but up to 50,000 people turned up.
As the Dubbo Photo News noted in a 2014 historical feature, special trains brought children, parents and teachers from every town in the region. “The Dubbo railway yard, normally filled with goods trains, was evacuated to accommodate the scores of passenger carriages. Army reservists, national servicemen and regular army personnel were called in to provide crowd control.”
Well remembered is the fact the Dubbo Royal Show was re-scheduled that year to coincide with the Queen’s visit.
As the feature observed, these were different times: “Schools had photos of Her Majesty – recently crowned – in every classroom and students sang the national anthem – God Save the Queen – at morning assemblies. Cinema goers stood and sang the anthem at the beginning of each session and it was the last thing played on radio stations at the end evening broadcasts.”
In October 1973, by which time royal fever had somewhat cooled, the family jokester Prince Philip returned to Dubbo for three hours, to “review the activities” of the local chapter of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.
The Duke and the Queen returned to Dubbo in 1992 and were met by 25,000 well-wishers. The most publicised aspect of the visit was a tour of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo – from the inside of the royal car.
Probably the second most famous person to visit the zoo was one Malcolm Naden, killer of two women and resourceful man on the run. At the beginning of his seven years of dodging police, he holed up in the zoo, eating garbage, bananas stolen from elephants and at one point the uncooked innards of a Galapagos turtle.
For the royals, in 1992, there was lunch at the Dubbo Civic Centre – courtesy of Coonamble-based Jack’s Catering Service. According to the Dubbo Photo News, some people were snooty about the choice of caterer – but apparently the entrée of smoked salmon avocado roulade with dill cream, followed by rack of lamb with red currant and rosemary glaze and a melange of summer vegetables, was a hit.
In March 2006, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, quietly visited the town to recognise the work of local indigenous students involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards program.
Now come Harry and Meghan, the most dashing royals ever. No doubt the local dress shop has a run on.