Last night, I had the privilege of meeting Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. She and King Willem-Alexander were opening the new exhibition at the AAMU: Museum of contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht called Mapping Australia: From Country to Cartography.
The afternoon/evening started with a reception and I had the pleasure of meeting several Australians now based in the Netherlands.
Speeches were delivered by the Mayor of Utrecht, the director of the AAMU, Australian Ambassador H.E. Dr Brett Mason, artist Judy Watson and author Peter FitzSimons.
I was at table 3 “community”, where the common theme was that we were connected to the Netherlands via food or love. Also at my table were Erika (Office Manager in The Hague for the Australian Federal Police), Darren (president of the ANZC Australian and New Zealand club in the Netherlands) Michael (owner of Drover’s Dog restaurants) and Peter (owner of the Southern Cross restaurant). Indra, from the Australian Embassy in The Hague, moved from table to table with Her Majesty and introduced us. Beforehand, we had all submitted a bio and photo, and the Queen carried this with her. This was my bio:
Renée is a dual national Dutch Australian, originally from the Sunshine Coast but now lives in The Hague with her Dutch husband and two daughters (after meeting him backpacking in Australia 15 years ago!) She is a social media specialist, who founded and manages the online community www.dutchaustralian.
The King and Queen were of course accompanied by an entourage. We talked to Pien Karnebeek, the “hofdame” (or lady in waiting) about the upcoming Royal visit to Australia and New Zealand. I mentioned my website and she replied “oh yes, we took a look at that, it’s great!”. Not sure if she meant “we” including the Queen, but either way, the thought made me smile – that I started this blog as a way of coping with life between Australia and the Netherlands and Queen Maxima may have actually taken a look!
I did have the opportunity to talk for a while with the Queen when she was at the table with our small group. She talked with the restaurant owners about what it was like doing business in the Netherlands and asked them several questions about how they found the legislation and tax side of things here compared to Australia. The discussion also turned to the difficulties they found in finding chef and staff, and then education of staff. Michael asked her if she will be taking the children to Australia on their upcoming visit and she said that no, they must attend school, and that it is not allowed to take children out of school in the Netherlands (so it’s not just me that has issues with leerplicht!) She mentioned that she hopes to take them for a week to Argentina soon as her father is ill. I discussed dual nationality with her and the fact that I appreciate that I can hold two passports as I feel strong ties to both countries. I also mentioned that via this Dutch Australian community, I regularly had Nederlanders in Australia mentioning this issue – I can’t remember the exact response, but I got the impression she is supportive of this.
The conversation was in English, which she speaks perfectly. At one point, I did try my Dutch and said “ik heb Nederlands voor jaren gestudeerd, maar nu spreek ik Engels met de Koningin”! She laughed said (in English) that learning Dutch was very important, and that she used the example that she is disappointed to meet women who have lived here in the Netherlands for 30 years and don’t learn as it’s then hard for them to integrate into life here.
We also talked briefly about children and I also had the opportunity to tell her that one of my daughters is named after one of hers (Isabella Ariane!), which Isabella was thrilled by when I told her later.
It was a truly special evening that I am so grateful to have been a part of. I spoke with several very interesting people and was disappointed when the evening was over and there were still so many I didn’t have the chance to talk to!