WHEN US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Canberra in 1943 as part of a five-week tour in the Pacific, the Australian press declared her to be “a corker, a real beaut.”That pretty well summed up the general feeling this morning when US Ambassador John Berry turned on morning tea today for a select group of guests and media to mark the 70th anniversary of her visit.
Governor General Quentin Bryce was on hand to reciprocate Mrs Roosevelt’s 1943 planting of an oak tree, the saplings of which can be seen all around Australia, by planting a red box gum in the gardens of the embassy. It was, we heard from Mr Berry, of the many embassies to be built in Canberra and evidence of the warm relations cemented between the two countries during the war in the Pacific.
Describing Mrs Roosevelt’s tour as “truly groundbreaking” in an area when first ladies didn’t play a direct role and certainly didn’t travel into war zones, he told those present that the Pacific was still a dangerous place when she visited 400,000 US servicemen over 17 islands.
Ignoring the precept that ‘women don’t do that sort of thing’ she was a huge hit among the soldiers and was personally very moved after her visit to Guadalcanal in the present-day Solomon Islands, an experience that led her to believe that the real memorial of the war must be built through a better life of peace for those left behind.
In a morning dedicated by Ambassador Berry to exceptional women, it was notable that he chose a new word when inviting Mrs Bryce to plant the tree and thus, he said, “ARBORIALLY anchoring our alliance.”
The Governor General told of visitors that to her, Mrs Roosevelt had always been “a shining beacon” and that she had carried her “wise, gutsy and reassuring quotes” with her throughout her career.A particularly useful quote for anyone in public life was, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”