Oamaru’s ‘queen’ mourns her muse

Local royalty . . . The Queen of Oamaru (Julie Walker) adds a regal air to the Victorian Heritage Celebrations. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

It has been one week since New Zealand woke to the news the Queen had died. Flags have been lowered, condolence books are in place, people are mourning and a public holiday — Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Day — has been announced for September 26. Kayla Hodge speaks with Oamaru’s very own Queen, Julie Walker, about her life-long admiration for Her Majesty.

Farewell, your Majesty.

For the past 22 years, Julie Walker has been a constant beacon of Oamaru royalty, dressing up as Her Majesty at every chance to make the community smile.

Mrs Walker, who is known as the Queen of Oamaru or Queenie, was ‘‘quite devastated’’ last Friday, waking up to the news her beloved monarch had died, age 96, after 70 years on the throne.

‘‘I felt deeply saddened by the loss of an extraordinary woman that has probably been part of my life for the past 22 years,’’ Mrs Walker said.

‘‘I just see her as this lovely role model, who has upheld traditions of the Monarchy, and the Crown, and just a lovely wife, a mother and a grandmother, and just a very warm person.’’

She was inundated with hugs from her Southern Community Laboratories patients, some bringing her books and photographs of the Queen’s visits to Oamaru, and a ‘‘beautiful portrait’’ to make a tribute in her office.

While Mrs Walker never met the Queen, she always admired her from afar.

The Queen first visited Oamaru by train on a short trip on January 25, 1954. She returned on February 3, 1974, and had a civic luncheon at the Brydone Hotel, visited the Oamaru Public Gardens, spoke with Oamaru Mayor Bill Laney, and met the mass of people who lined the streets to witness the historic occasion.

Mrs Walker first dressed as Her Majesty when the Ohau Lodge needed a queen for its Scottish Ball.

Knowing she had a royal costume, crown and a sash from winning Miss Hokitika when she was 15, Mrs Walker transformed into royalty for the night, and never looked back.

She began her reign as Queen of Windsor, as she lived in Windsor at the time, and, conveniently, the real Queen lived at Windsor Castle.

Mrs Walker dressed up every year for the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations — later taking the name Queen of Oamaru.

With her royal consort, husband Graeme Clark, in tow, Mrs Walker was guided through the celebrations, giving speeches, adopting the Queen’s voice, and researching her words for every occasion.

She opened the naked rugby in Dunedin, the MG Rally, spoke on National Radio with Wayne Mouat, competed in a horse race against then Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton, was the queen for Alf’s Imperial Army, and greeted thousands of tourists through the years.

It was the reaction from the Oamaru community to her role that struck her the most, she said.

‘‘That’s the thing I love most is the interaction with the community. They just loved my act and that was just so nice.

‘‘It’s been an awful lot of fun.’’

She collected royal memorabilia, and residents gave her photographs and books — one person even made her a papier-mache corgi.

The Queen had been stoic in times of adversity, kind, loyal, reassuring and made people feel at ease, she said. She passed on her, and Oamaru’s royal consort’s, ‘‘heartfelt condolences for a truly remarkable woman’’.

It was pleasing New Zealand would mark the day with a one-off public holiday, she said.

Condolence books can be found at the Waitaki District Council headquarters, Oamaru Public Library, Kurow Information Centre and the Palmerston Community Centre.

St Luke’s Anglican Church will also hold a service to pay tribute on Sunday at 4pm.

Mrs Walker felt it was not appropriate for her to dress as the Queen for this year’s heritage celebrations, ‘‘out of respect for Her Majesty’’.

Thank you for your service, Ma’am.