Virgin Queen turns heads at Albert Hall
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Virgin Queen turns heads at Albert Hall

Canberra, city of surprises!

One is always bumping into Queen Elizabeth II in Canberra (she can't leave us alone and has been here at least 12 times).

REGAL SURPRISE: Countertenor Tobias Cole delights the audience as Queen Elizabeth I at Sunday's Great Performances in the Albert Hall.

REGAL SURPRISE: Countertenor Tobias Cole delights the audience as Queen Elizabeth I at Sunday's Great Performances in the Albert Hall.Credit:Peter Hislop

But one had never expected to see Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) haunting our city.

But suddenly on Sunday there she was, coming regally down the aisle of the sunlit and audience-crammed Albert Hall during that lovely afternoon of treats and thrills, the Canberra Choral Society's Great Performances in the Albert Hall.

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Her head-turning appearance, not hinted at in the program, was a source of delight and surprise (you can see it in the picture, in the faces of the audience). Then it got even better as, with the choir, the stubble-chinned monarch burst into song with O Peaceful England from Edward German's opera Merrie England.

It is a tale of love and intrigue at the court of the first Elizabeth.

This columnist prefers to believe this was the spectre of the actual Queen Elizabeth I, hammer of the Spanish Armada, delivered to us by a kind of seance, but is open to the possibility that it was Tobias Cole.

He is the CCS's artistic director and a famous countertenor quite capable of singing the contralto's role of The Virgin Queen.

Robert Edwin Land married Brenda Keep at Hurstville. Her gown was made of parachute silk.

Robert Edwin Land married Brenda Keep at Hurstville. Her gown was made of parachute silk.

Bride Landed in parachute gown

There is something very unorthodox about this orthodox-looking wedding picture from 1943. The bride is Miss Brenda Keep who has just become Mrs Brenda Land. She is wearing for her wedding at Hurstville in Sydney a very pretty wedding dress surely made from what wedding dresses are usually made of.

But wait! Her dress is made from an unorthodox material. Can you guess what it is?

For those of you who know a little history, does the year of the wedding give you a clue? It's wartime. The uniformed groom is a soldier, Robert Edwin Land, son of Fred Land (destined to be mayor of Queanbeyan from 1963 to 1980). Australia has introduced rationing and clothing coupons are necessary to buy anything so self-indulgent as fabrics with which to make swish gowns. As Miss Keep's wedding day loomed, almost the only remotely wedding-gown fabric available was parachute silk - and that's exactly what Brenda's gown is so resourcefully made of.

Queanbeyan is 175 this year and this parachute-silk creation is one of the treasures of the exhibition The Way We Wore, one of many of Queanbeyan's celebrations of its great big birthday. This exhibition of elegant, interesting and eclectic wedding gowns of dolled-up brides of our district (the oldest dress is from a wedding of 1883) is a feat of the Queanbeyan and District Historical Museum Society, with the assistance of Queanbeyan City Council. It opens on Friday evening at the Q Performing Arts Centre.

And a correction: Last Wednesday's column, adorned with the 1936 wedding photograph of Mary Morrison and William McCormack, said Mary was from Tuggeranong. It emerges she was from nearby Mount Campbell, Royalla.

Marion's View on the way

A plague of exquisite ladybird beetles (red with black spots) whizzed to and fro on the top of Mount Ainslie on Monday, getting into the hair and onto the clothes of everyone who went up to those dizzying heights. It is impossible to think like a ladybird beetle so one can't say with scientific certainty that they were showing excitement at reports in Monday's Canberra Times that we seem to be edging closer to the day when their neighbourhood is decorated with a memorial to Marion Mahony Griffin.

There is still nothing definite that one is allowed to report but centenary of Canberra history and heritage adviser Dr David Headon, his white shirt (and his red and gold Griffin's design tie) much alighted on by Monday's swarm, is quietly confident of a decision soon.

An artist has done a design of something apt (to go on Mount Ainslie because that's where Marion Mahony put herself in her imagination to paint her husband's imagined city). The local artist's design is completed and is being assessed by ACT government powers that be. She is the same artist behind the design of the new signs for suburbs named after past prime ministers that have sprouted in recent times, each with a sepia portrait of the PM concerned.

The Chief Minister's diary is being consulted for a day, this year, when she might attend an opening ceremony when and if the memorial is in place. The ACT Place Names Committee has more or less agreed that the spot should be called ''Marion's View'' when ''Marion's Vista'' was at least one committee member's slightly preferred option. This columnist's suggestion of ''Marion's Leap'' (by which I meant her leap of the imagination) wasn't entertained in case uninformed tourists thought it meant she'd jumped over the precipice on the brink of which the memorial is to be placed.

''There's no better vantage point,'' Headon enthused on Monday.

''If what we have in 2013 is [only] the footprint of the Griffin design then there's no better view of that footprint than this one. We're right on the axis, looking straight out over the land axis towards Mt Bimberi.''

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