Royal visit to the Isa

Under a mural of John Flynn, HRH Prince Andrew the Duke of York addresses guests at the opening of John Flynn Place in Cloncurry in October 1988.

Under a mural of John Flynn, HRH Prince Andrew the Duke of York addresses guests at the opening of John Flynn Place in Cloncurry in October 1988.

Following on from Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mount Isa in 1970 and one by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra in 1978, It was a further 10 more years before Mount Isa was given the opportunity to welcome a new generation of royals to its city.

The Duchess of York chatted freely with miners during her lightning tour of Mount Isa Mines - ca October 1988.

The Duchess of York chatted freely with miners during her lightning tour of Mount Isa Mines - ca October 1988.

On Tuesday, October 4, 1988 HRH the Duke and Duchess of York made a very welcome if somewhat short visit.

HRH Prince Andrew had earlier in the day, officially opened the magnificent John Flynn Place in Cloncurry in front of 600 invited guests, who each had a story to tell of their connection with John Flynn and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The Prince said he and the Duchess were keenly interested to read and learn of the inspirational work that John Flynn had placed in an aerial ambulance service that had since grown into the Royal Flying Doctor Service of today.

Following the opening of John Flynn Place, the royal couple continued their busy schedule and flew to Mount Isa for another warm welcome from miners and schoolchildren.

Sir Bruce Watson, Chairman of MIM Ltd, and Lady Watson welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York to the mine lease before they were whisked away by Copper Smelter Manager, Jim Pritchard and Control Metallurgist Andrew Blair for an impromptu walk around the surface area.

Mr Pritchard was later to recall, “They were very relaxed and charming and grasped the technical details without any difficulty”.

Administration staff, miners and apprentices were won over with the effortless ease the royals moved through the throng, as they stopped and spoke to people.

One very excited lass, Bernadette Pugh, a Research and Development secretary later commented on how thrilled she was when, “Fergie came up to a group of us girls and started to talk to us”.

“She is really lovely, her photographs don’t do her justice and she certainly won a lot of fans on the day by being so natural and friendly”, she said.

From miners to school children, the Duke and Duchess did not disappoint.

As they did a generation earlier, school children gave the royal couple an enthusiastically loud welcome but this time with the chorus of ‘Andrew, Fergie. Andrew, Fergie. Andrew, Fergie’ as they arrived at Kruttschnitt Oval.

The Duchess was overwhelmed with bouquets and possies of flowers from her young admirers which she accepted gracefully.

As she and the Duke were flying out of Mount Isa that afternoon, she requested that all the flowers and gifts be donated to the Mount Isa Base Hospital to bring cheer and brighten the wards for those who were ill. 

But it was a very excited Linzey Luchich, seven years old, from St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School who was given the special chore of presenting the official bouquet to HRH Duchess of York at Kruttschnitt Oval.

The Duchess’s popularity escalated when she gave an impromptu speech thanking everyone for waiting in the sweltering heat and acknowledging how pleased she was to see them wearing hats in the hot sun.

The smiles on the children says it all - ca October 1988.

The smiles on the children says it all - ca October 1988.

The Duke was especially grateful for the Akubra hat which was given to him by Mount Isa Mayor, Tony McGrady, which he donned as he and the Duchess meandered around the oval in the new opened topped underground vehicle that was also being viewed publicly for the first time.

While the Duke and Duchess won over the school children and their teachers, the same could not be said for the rude and disruptive antics of some sections of the media which disregarded the allocated press areas and upset the littlies by walking and setting up their cameras in front of the children.

One teacher from Townview State Primary School wrote to the Editor of the North West Star, expressing her disappointment at the general lack of consideration these cameramen and journalists had for her school’s pupils.

Sadly, it was not the only blight on the day, as the Federal Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter (Snr) also expressed his disappointment but this time for not being invited to participate in the formalities at Kruttschnitt Oval.

From the palpable excitement of 3000 excited children at Kruttschnitt Oval, the Duke and Duchess proceeded to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base and School of the Air where they chatted with 12 years old, Cila Teece of Vanrook Station in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Duke and Duchess were enthralled with Cila’s captivating talk of life on a cattle property abutting the Gulf where crocodiles regularly took cattle from the river banks.

From the School of the Air, the Royal Couple went next door to inspected the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base and yet again learned more of the work of John Flynn’s dream of an aerial ambulance that would service the medical needs of the Australian outback.

After approximately three hours in Mount Isa, the Duke and Duchess of York said farewell to their new outback friends as they flew to Townsville to continue their Royal Tour of Queensland.

The final word on the whirlwind visit was given by the executive general manager, MIM Ltd, Mr Ken Dredge when he pronounced the afternoon as an ‘outstanding success’ saying that, “… was in no small way the result of thorough planning, negotiation, checking and a lot of plain hard work by the many people involved”.

Be it the Royal Tour by the Duke and Duchess of York, or those of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, or HRH Princess Alexandra and her husband Mr Angus Ogilvy or the first visit by a reigning monarch, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, Mr Dredge’s words summed up each and every visit to Mount Isa, Cloncurry and North West Queensland:

“It was a job well done.”

Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton:

Photographs courtesy of North Queensland History Collection, Mount Isa Mines and the North West Star.

Information sourced from MIMAG, Brisbane Courier Mail, and the North West Star newspapers.