Australia remembers the friend we had in Prince Philip

At 5pm on Saturday at Parliament House, 41 guns rang out a shot each, a salute to farewell Australia’s friend, Prince Philip.

Around the country, flags flew at half-mast after the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday, aged 99.

Thousands of Australians rushed online to sign their condolences to pass onto the Queen, as the country’s political leaders spoke of a man of stability, grace, compassion and humour.

“Memories of him will of course tell stories of his candour, and a unique and forceful and authentic personality,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, giving his condolences to the Queen.

“But above all, he was a man who was steadfast, who could be relied upon, always standing by his Queen.”

His “no-fuss” funeral directions are in line with the way he conducted himself.

“Prince Philip was always destined to be two or three steps behind (the Queen), but he did that with extraordinary grace and flair and intelligence,” former PM John Howard said.

“He combined the obligations of the office, the privilege of serving as the Queen’s consort, with an individual capacity to make his mark.”

As well as the stoic man the Queen called her “strength and stay”, a larrikin nature lived inside Prince Philip – a side he loved to entertain in Australia.

21 trips Down Under

Prince Philip first came to Australia age 18, when he was known as the Prince of Greece. He was aboard the British battleship HMS Ramillies.

He was the most notable young man aboard the battleship, and he treated Sydney as his playground for two weeks. Then, in Melbourne, he took a week away from partying to board at a sheep station.

He spoke fondly of those seven days as the best holiday he’d ever had.

Philip visited Australia on and off throughout the 1940s, and became a favourite of the press, hamming it up, unafraid to embarrass himself.

The Prince takes a tumble at Luna Park, in 1945. And finds himself on the front page of The Daily Telegraph.

And he had a soft spot for Australia, too, openly speaking of his fondness for the lasses. He laughed about how he’d use his title to score a table for a date at the hottest, booked-out restaurants.

In 1954 he arrived a married man, on a royal tour as Prince Philip, husband to the Queen of England.

Enamoured with royalty and the Prince they’d seen grow up in their own backyard, 75 per cent of Australians are estimated to have waved to the couple in the course of their eight-week tour.

It was the start of a new Prince Philip for Australia.

Her Majesty and the Duke in Australia in 1970. Photo: Getty

Missteps and compassion

Prince Philip’s commonplace racism and sexism is well documented – he infamously asked an Aboriginal elder in 2002, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

John Howard defend the “gaffes” on Saturday, saying it was this casualty that made him popular among Australians.

“He gave short shrift to political correctness when he encountered it, and that endeared him to millions of people,” Mr Howard said.

Without his words, Prince Philip stood as a great friend to Australia. He had a deep-set love for the environment, and went as far as to scold us for not doing enough to conserve our native forests.

He was side-by-side in the grief of the country, on his 1967 trip to Tasmania after the state’s devastating bushfires.

“He comforted the victims and he toured the burnt-out Cascade Brewery,” Scott Morrison recounted on Saturday.

His legacy also lives on in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which some 775,000 Australians have participated in since it was introduced in 1959.

He was also not just a charity donor, but an active supporter of organisations like the Australian Conservation Foundation, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Rural Flying Doctor Service.

-with agencies

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