For monarchists, a royal is a royal is a royal

But will Camilla have the same pulling power as Diana? PAUL MULVEY writes

The last time Prince Charles was at the Melbourne Cup, so the story goes, he left his wife by herself so he could join the boys at the bar.

A familiar tale for many Australian men on Cup day, maybe, but one chivalrous trainer thought it was unbecoming of the Prince of Wales to leave Diana on her own.

John Meagher had just collected the loving cup from Charles and joined the dignitaries upstairs in the VRC committee room after What A Nuisance had saluted in the 1985 race, but rather than join the blokes at the bar, the Queensland trainer played the proper gentleman when he spotted the lonely Princess of Wales.

''Charles went up to the committee room with the men to the bar, he was surrounded by all the committee men,'' Meagher says.

''Diana was on her own with her lady-in-waiting, standing at a table about 20 feet away from the men. All alone.

''So, I just went over to her and knew I had to do the right thing, so approached the lady-in-waiting and asked to be introduced. I had a good long talk to Diana for about 20 minutes.


''She was very friendly and very relaxed.''

The pair shared some champagne and small talk, while the tensions between Charles and Diana soon became apparent.

The cracks in their relationship emerged the following year as Diana was forced to compete with the woman she described as the ''third person'' in their marriage, the then Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Camilla is now Charles' second wife and the Duchess of Cornwall. She will accompany the Prince at the Cup on Tuesday and present the trophy to the winning connections, 27 years after Charles' last trip to Flemington.

The public has never compared Camilla favourably to Diana and, on her first trip to Australia, even arch monarchists admit she and Charles won't have the same appeal William and Kate or the Queen had on their recent visits to Australia.

''Probably not,'' said the executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Jai Martinkovits.

But Australia still gets excited about a royal visit and there's no sign of regal fatigue, even though Charles and Camilla's trip is the fifth visit from the Windsors in less than three years. The kids at Kilkenny Primary School in Adelaide have already done their paintings and drawings and are sprucing up the school's kitchen garden, while even hardened Queensland stockmen in Longreach are tidying up their Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame for Monday's arrival of the royal couple.

''We've seen Australians are very receptive to royal visits, we've seen it with William and Kate and the Queen in recent years,' Martinkovits said.

''It can be partly attributed to celebrity, but also because of an attachment to the system. The monarchy is an essential part of our system.

''The benefit of this visit is that Australians will take this as an opportunity to connect with our future king.''

Whether Charles becomes Australia's king is another matter.

Martinkovits says polls show the only support for a republic is among middle-aged baby boomers - the elderly are rusted-on monarchists and the young are largely apathetic.

''Australians are interested in more pressing issues than looking to change something that's already working really well,'' he says.

Republicans say 48 per cent of Australians support a republic, but concede the issue is still years away from returning to the nation's agenda. Australian Republican Movement national director David Morris gets irritated every time the issue comes up on the eve of a royal visit, saying a royal guest is irrelevant.

''When Charles and Camilla visit, they're welcome. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the republic debate,'' Morris says.

''The republic debate is for us, the Australian people. As Charles has said on many occasions and the Queen has said on many occasions, it has nothing to do with them.

''According to our research, 48 per cent of Australians support a republic and that's because they passionately believe this country has matured and grown up and can manage its own affairs as an independent nation.

''It has nothing to do with celebrities, individuals, foreign dignitaries when they visit. They're always welcome when they visit Australia, but the republican issue has nothing to do with that.''

Whether it's a debate or not, Martinkovits says royal visits ''don't do any harm'' to the monarchists' cause.

Overcoming a dislike of long-haul flights, Camilla joins her seasoned traveller husband for her first visit to Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand on the two-week tour to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

After two days in Port Moresby, they touch down in Longreach on Monday to begin their tour of quintessential Australiana with stockmen, the Qantas Founders Museum and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Like any tourist with a hit list, they'll tick off the Melbourne Cup, Bondi, the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour as they take in five states in six days.

In Adelaide they'll visit the kids at Kilkenny and the grown ups at Penfolds winery and in Tasmania will see the historic town of Richmond and a private family sheep stud.

The more formal side of the tour takes them to Canberra for meetings with the prime minister, opposition leader and families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, before they leave Australia for six days in New Zealand.

Charles will celebrate his 64th birthday at a party in Wellington with 64 New Zealanders who also turn 64 on November 14.

There's a fair bet Camilla won't be left standing on her own. AAP