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For Prince George, a close encounter of the furred kind

Finally it was George's day. The nine-month-old prince made his much anticipated Australian debut, generously sharing the occasion with a bilby named in his honour.

And if G1 and G2 proved the eternal truth of W.C. Fields' words, "Never work with children or animals", it became even harder for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when what seemed the whole menagerie turned up.

They came flying, hopping and waddling at Taronga Zoo, although the koalas settled for being cuddled or sitting around in the fork of a tree.

Prince George appeared clearly interested in the strange endangered species in the bilby enclosure - Prince William used food to entice the furry thing to meet his first-born - and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his Sunday outing.

George arrived in his mother's arms, looking adorable in a blue-striped short-sleeved shirt, blue shorts, socks and shoes.

He was squealing with delight, waving his arms and chuckling, looking like he was longing to get down and crawl around. And he seemed intrigued by the camera shutters going off and all the people around him. He is clearly a prince who is going to thrive in the spotlight.


George was in his element and clung onto the perspex sides of the bilby enclosure and at one point it looked as if he might climb in. ''He's gorgeous,'' said Kate as Will picked up his son and started jigging him in his arms and gently whispering in his ear. It was a touching moment.

But even bilbies can lose their pulling power.

Prince George was given a toy bilby, but after some consideration he dropped the stuffed toy on the ground, preferring to chew on the card that accompanied the present.

For the zoo visit, the duchess had changed out of the dove-grey Alexander McQueen outfit she wore to church, into a cream broderie anglaise dress by a designer who did not want to be named. The dress had a fitted bodice and flared to the knee, and was somewhat shorter than anything she has worn on her Australian visit.

And while George liked the bilbies, his expression was nothing compared to the sheer delight on his mother's face when an echidna approached or a flying wing of birds swooped in for a royal command performance.

A brace of galahs, Major Mitchell and red-tailed black cockatoos swept around an amphitheatre on a perfect Sydney Harbour Sunday afternoon while a barking owl and a black kite pinched food and money from an audience volunteer.

The star turn came when a brolga with red feathers on his head flew into the ring.

"His name's Harry," bird show compere Brendon Host told the royals. They got the joke.

The zoo was the royals' last stop after a five-day Sydney visit that started with a rousing welcome on Wednesday at the Opera House and included trips to the Blue Mountains, the Royal Easter Show and Manly.

They also attended two religious ceremonies, joining services at St Andrew's Cathedral on Sunday and attending the Super Rugby clash at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night between the Waratahs and the Bulls.

The itinerary provided many photo opportunities - the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Three Sisters, Manly in its finest livery of sun and surf - but maybe the zoo sojourn topped the lot.

Of course, Sydney Harbour played its part, with Cremorne Point providing a beautiful backdrop to the bird show amphitheatre, but it was George and all those creatures that made Sunday at the zoo a day to remember.

Confronted with so much cute fur and feathers, the media - particularly the British contingent - were powerless to resist. With live television crosses punctuating much of the NSW visit, it is already being regarded as the most successful royal visit since Prince Charles and Princess Diana came in 1983.