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Red and blush pink gingham pattern

Fit for a queen

Phillipa McGuinness
Cooking the books

A luncheon inspired by the Queen’s 1954 visit


Ephemera on Royal Visits to Australia: Menu Card

The Queen’s visit to Australia in 1954, when she was aged 27, prompted huge crowds and widespread displays of raw emotion, often verging on hysteria. And, at times, heatstroke. In its effusive coverage of parades, speeches and official openings, the media scrutinised all she did and said, but especially what she wore. Her visit is like a Kodachrome snapshot of the country covered in bunting and in a state of excitement about the first reigning monarch to visit.

In 1954, Australia’s population was around nine million. Historian Jane Connors has written that three-quarters of the population — seven million people — are said to have seen the Queen in person. For some — school children for example — attendance at mass events may have been compulsory. All the same, it is hard to exaggerate the popularity of the monarchy and the deep reverence and personal affection people held for the Queen. Far more ambivalent towards the monarchy in 2022, most of us respect the longevity of the Queen herself, who has seen off yet another British prime minister in her 96th year, her Platinum Jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth attended a mind-boggling number of events across the country during February and March 1954. In the Library’s collection of royal ephemera, we found a menu card for a luncheon with representatives of women’s organisations held at the Trocadero in Sydney. There, the monarch was toasted by the premier’s wife Mrs JJ Cahill and welcomed by the Hon. Gertrude Melville MLC, a Labor politician who fought for women’s rights.

Given the weather, the food the guests ate for lunch was not heavy and is easily recreated. To find similar recipes to those on the menu card, we drew from a selection in the Australian Women’s Weekly from the early 1950s, many of which came from readers who entered them in competitions. Given modern preferences, we eschewed any salad that required gelatine, or any kind of cooking, which a surprising number of salad recipes from that time used.


This story appears in Openbook spring 2022.