Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Charles re-acquaints, endears himself Down Under

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LONGREACH -- They might be an anachronism, but watch a direct descendant of William the Conqueror walking through the outback Australian dust and you can't help but be impressed by the endurance of the British Royal Family.

Australia is once again playing host to the Royals -- the old ones that is.

The newly minted celebrity couple Prince William and Kate dropped by briefly in September. But Will is leaving it to dad to do the hard yards in Australia, with Prince Charles landing in the outback town of Longreach in Queensland Monday afternoon for a six-day tour to mark his mother's Diamond Jubilee.

His wife Camilla, the Duchess of Kent, placed her Royal foot on Australia soil for the first time around 4:10 p.m. as she trotted across a blistering tarmac and remarked soon after to a little girl: "It is hotter here than where I am from.''

At just over 40 C and more than 15,000 kilometres from Gloucestershire, that was probably true. But, displaying that stiff upper lip that has presided over every challenge from Agincourt to the London blitz, the Royals trooped on for two solid hours.

With Charles fitted out in a tan suit and Camilla in a sun frock (and briefly, and rather endearingly, clutching a parasol) they visited among other things the Stockman's Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to the Australian cattle industry.

The couple also dropped by the Qantas museum, which honours our early aviation adventurers, and later hosted a barbecue for more than 300 people under a few nearby leafy trees.

It's difficult from this distance to discern the Canadian attitude towards the Royals. But given there's no widely publicized push for a Canadian republic, and given the enthusiastic reception Will and Kate received on their recent tour, it's assumed they're regarded with some affection by the average Canuck.

In Australia, where the republic debate has flared and spluttered for more than two decades, very few of even the most hardened pro-republicans actively resent the Royals at a personal level.

And, in the case of Charles, it's not hard to see why. Self effacing and funny, he's evolved in recent decades into the nation's pleasantly eccentric uncle -- the one who stayed with us for few years when they sent him out here to boarding school and who remembers us at Christmas.

Donning an Akubra hat, Charles appeared effortlessly at ease at Longreach, treating locals with that off-hand, informal affection he knows Australians respond so readily to.

"Did the boss let you off work early to come out and see us?'' he asked Stephen Rossberg, a fourth-generation Longreach resident, who later praised the heir to the throne as a "great bloke.''

Welcoming the spread of wine, beer and beef laid out for him as a "bonza'' barbecue, he also won a laugh with the admission: "I'm so jet-lagged I feel a few sausages short of a barbie.''

And, much like the aforementioned uncle, he kept everyone entertained with memories of school days, poor academic records and the trials of an Aussie summer.

"I cannot pretend to remember a great deal about my school curriculum but I can recall in every detail the long treks through the bush in searing heat,'' he said.

"I remember funnel-web spiders, bull ants, leeches that could only be removed with a cigarette end, snakes of every description and kangaroos that overtook us on cross-country runs through the bush."

It was all very jolly, and what with the empire all but gone and little chance of mustering an army to conquer new kingdoms, affability is now his key asset.

That and an emphasis on a shared past will keep his family relevant when the much loved Queen Elizabeth II departs this world, and Charles becomes the chief mourner in a cortege of genuine sorrow across the Commonwealth.

With the gravity of advancing his age, a settled domestic life and a young heir to follow in his footsteps, his elevation to the throne should be seamless.

Australia might jettison the monarchy in the decade ahead. But the British won't easily dismiss a family that, ignoring the odd nude romp in a Las Vegas hotel room, provides a ready platoon of accomplished ambassadors to spread good will around the world, and a living tourist attraction to rival a conspicuously empty Palace of Versailles.

And Charles III, if he does keep his name, has a certain ring to it.

Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 A13

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