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Queen takes in flower show amid curtsey flap

21 october 2011, 11:36
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II kicked off her Australia tour at a flower show Thursday where thousands turned out to see her amid a flap over Prime Minister Julia Gillard failing to curtsey, AFP reports.

The queen and Prince Philip arrived in the nation's capital Canberra on Wednesday to a ceremonial welcome attended by hundreds of schoolchildren and VIPs, including Gillard and Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

The Welsh-born Gillard, who favours Australia becoming a republic, shook hands with the monarch rather than curtsey, a permissible protocol but one that sparked controversy on television, radio and social media.

Bryce, the monarchy's representative in Australia and the first woman to take the role, did curtsey as she greeted the queen.

But Gillard said she did what made her comfortable.

"The advice that was given to me was very clear -- that you can make a choice with what you are most comfortable with," she told reporters.

"That's what I felt most comfortable with. The queen extended her hand and I shook her hand and bowed my head."

Asked if she felt curtseying was demeaning, Gillard replied: "Some things are you, some things aren't."

The 85-year-old monarch is extremely popular in Australia, with an estimated 75 percent of the population turning out to catch a glimpse of her during her maiden 1954 tour.

This visit -- her 16th to the former British penal colony and first since 2006 -- is more low key, and will possibly be her last.

Having spent the night in the visitors' suite at Government House -- the residence of Bryce and her husband Michael -- the queen, wearing a lilac floral print dress, formally received the governor-general on Thursday morning.

Joined by Prince Philip, she then took a barge around Lake Burley Griffin to Commonwealth Park for the Floriade flower show in warm spring sunshine.

Thousands of cheering people lined the foreshores of the lake to catch a glimpse of the monarch as the navy Admiral's Barge, which was transported from Sydney for the occasion, headed for the park's wharf.

"She said it was a lovely day on the lake and asked a lot of questions about Floriade and whether students were involved," said Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, who escorted the queen.

"She was very engaging," added the minister, who like Gillard did not curtsey.

The queen was presented with her own apron in which to do some gardening back home and accepted flowers from local children.

Keen onlooker Sue Brown said she wanted to be there to pay her respects.

"I think she's done a marvellous job for many, many years," she said.

"We have a very stable government here and I think the monarchy has contributed to that."

The royal couple are spending most of their 10-day trip in Canberra, with outings to Melbourne and Brisbane, before leaving for Perth where the monarch will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on October 28.

While in the national capital the royal couple will also visit the Australian war memorial, meet Australian Defence Force personnel and attend a Presentation of the Colours at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

On her day-trip to Brisbane, the queen will meet victims of devastating floods and Cyclone Yasi this year, while in Melbourne she is due to ride one of the city's trams.

But the royal party will bypass Sydney, Australia's most populous city.

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