As it happened: The Queen opens Waterloo towers

As it happened: The Queen opens Waterloo towers

Housing Commission Twin Towers, Waterloo. Royal visit of Apai. Queen pictured with crows after unveiling of plaque. March 14, 1977. (Photo by Scott Whitehair/Fairfax Media). Photo: Scott WhitehairFirst published in The Sydney Morning Herald March 15, 1977

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh won a resounding victory at Waterloo yesterday in their last public engagement in Sydney.

In a gruelling tour schedule this visit to an inner-city high-rise Housing Commission development for elderly people appeared as no more than a kind of dutiful farewell, rather than a full royal occasion. But in 30 lively minutes at the towering 30-storey Matavai building in Phillip Street, Waterloo, the Queen and the Duke changed all that.

The victory at Waterloo was in sight as soon as nine-year-old Catheryn McBride, of Terrey Hills, ran forward to greet the Queen and presented her with a single, long-stemmed red carnation. The Queen carried the brilliant flower with her as she entered Matavai.

The Housing Commission development of the twin Matavai and Turanga Towers, is changing the face of this working class Sydney suburb. The Towers, reach for the sky so forcefully that low cloud sometimes clings to their upper storeys.

But fragments of the old Waterloo remain. Across the road there is an old and much-painted primary school. Beside it, like a portent of a changing society, a building bears the notice “Birth Control Advice Centre.”

The Rolls-Royce carrying the Queen and the Duke swept past both to come to rest near Matavai, which is called after the place in Tahiti, where Captain Cook in 1768 observed a happening in the heavens, called the transit of Venus.

Matavai in inner-city Sydney, is no South Sea Island paradise, but it tries hard. Outside there is a waterfall and green lawns, an ornamental pool, and a kind of Polynesian tiki on the lawn.

And as the Queen arrived there was also Miss Hortense Dunn, retired bookkeeper and secretary of the building’s social club to present a bouquet.

“This is the greatest moment of my life,” Miss Dunn said simply. It was also a big moment for about 2,000 other locals who had gathered outside the flats. Old warriors wore their World War I ribbons. Their wives wore their best dresses.

A horde of grandchildren waved flags.

Unlike the scene at Government House on Sunday when about 600 anti-Kerr demonstrators faced the royal couple, this was an occasion of simple, uncomplicated loyalty.

A solitary voice of protest was completely drowned in the cheering.

Police and plain-clothed security men abounded. But all they were called upon to do was to attempt to restrain the innocent enthusiasm of the crowd.

The rents for the flats in Malavai and adjoining Turanga Towers are $8.80 a week for a single unit and $13 for a double. A sign outside proclaims “Invited callers only.”

Well the Queen and the Duke were invited, and they were quickly whisked up to the 29th floor where they enjoyed the most magnificent view of Sydney they have had on this visit. In the one-bedroom home of 83 year-old Mr Vyvyan Smith, the Duke gazed out over Botany Bay and the west to the Blue Mountains.

“Absolutely splendid,” he said.

Later, Mr Smith, a retired sales promotion executive agreed. “I am very thankful that I can live in place like this,” he said.

On the same floor, 75 year-old Mr Cyril Byrnes and wife, Daphne, entertained the Queen in the $13 a week flat for 10 minutes.

“I was surprised at how natural she was,” said Mr Byrnes, a retired store supervisor. “She was very easy to talk to – just like someone you have known for years.”

Mrs Byrnes said: “We didn’t make any special preparations for the visit. We just had the place looking tidy.”

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald March 15, 1977