Australia holds day of mourning for queen with art, flowers

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia honored the late Queen Elizabeth II with a national day of mourning Thursday, including dignitaries placing sprigs of golden wattle in a wreath at Parliament House, which she had opened on one of her visits three decades ago.

The focus at the ceremony at Parliament’s Great Hall was a portrait of the former monarch of Britain and Australia in a yellow dress adorned with golden wattle motifs that she wore on her first night in Australia in 1954, known as the “Wattle Painting,” created by Australian artist William Dargie.

The queen’s death on Sept. 8 came during the Southern Hemisphere spring when wattle blooms, its golden flowers and green leaves reflecting Australia's national colors in what has become a symbol of unity.

The government declared Thursday a public holiday and the ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Governor-General David Hurley, King Charles III’s representative in Australia. Both had returned Wednesday from the queen’s funeral in London.

The holiday was marked by some protests that focused on the harm British colonization caused Indigenous Australians. Australia is one of the few former British colonies that never struck a treaty with the Indigenous population.

“I acknowledge that her passing has prompted different reactions for some in our community,” Hurley said. “I’m conscious to respect that the response of many First Nations Australians is shaped by our colonial history and broader reconciliation journey, that is a journey we as a nation must complete."

The government plans to change the Australian constitution with a referendum that would create a mechanism for Indigenous people to consult Parliament about policies that effect their lives.

Lidia Thorpe, an Indigenous senator for the minor Greens party, led hundreds of protesters against the British monarchy in the city of Melbourne.

“The crown’s boot is on our neck and we’re sick of it,” Thorpe told the rally.

Indigenous responses to the queen’s death have been mixed. Indigenous dancers and singers started the Parliament House ceremony.

Albanese, who wants Australia to replace the British monarch with an Australian head of state, spoke about how the nation had changed since 70% of the population turned out to see the queen in 1954.

“Perhaps the greatest tribute we can offer her family and her memory is not a marble statue or a metal plaque,” Albanese said. “It is a renewed embrace of service to community."

Political leaders past and present, judges, military chiefs and other dignitaries were among 700 guests at the service.

The queen officially opened Parliament House in 1988. Her father opened a temporary Parliament House nearby in 1927. King George VI was then Duke of York, making his daughter the first reigning monarch to visit Australia.

Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press