When Prince George met Bilby George

Last updated 23:03 20/04/2014
Reuters

Eight-month-old Prince George helps unveil a plaque at a bilby enclosure at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. Paul Chapman reports

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NEW FRIEND: Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her husband Prince William, watch as their son Prince George looks at an Australian animal called a Bilby, which has been named after the young Prince, during a visit to Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

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Prince George has met Bilby George in a successful first official engagement in Australia for the youngest royal.

George was relatively well-behaved, if a bit nervous at first, but then quite friendly. And so was Prince George.

The two came face-to-face on Sunday at Taronga Zoo's enclosure, where it was officially named the Prince George Bilby Exhibit as part of Australia's gift following the prince's birth on July 22 last year.

It had been anticipated that Prince George would make his only public appearance at the zoo, but it wasn't confirmed until he was filmed being put into the car by his mum Kate.

Kate carried George - dressed in dark blue shorts, a striped lighter blue-coloured shirt, dark blue socks and shoes - as they entered the zoo.

He looked inquisitive, and was chuckling and looking at the cameras.

Kate had changed out the dove-grey Alexander McQueen outfit she wore to church, into a lemon cream broderie anglaise dress by a designer who did not want to be named.

The dress had a fitted bodice and flared out to the knee.

After a quick photo op, the family headed into the enclosure where the meeting took place.

Prince William helped break the ice, when he enticed the bilby - renamed George - over with some food.

Kate held George close to the glass wall dividing the pair, and he started to show a keen interest in the endangered marsupial.

But despite being royal, he proved himself to be a normal baby - eagerly grabbing the stuffed bilby present before throwing it on the ground - and sticking a card straight in his mouth.

This was Prince George's second official function.

During the New Zealand leg of the trip, he "hosted" a play group event with other babies his age at Government House.

After the very short engagement, George returned to Admiralty House, while the duke and duchess continued through the zoo, feeding tree kangaroos, walking past giraffes, enjoying a bird show, and taking in the rhino conservation display.

BITTERSWEET CANBERRA ARRIVAL

The disappointment was palpable as the  royal couple strapped little George into his car seat and — with  the briefest of waves — drove off into the Canberra night.

The royal fans had been waiting for hours at Fairbairn air base  to greet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they arrived in the  bush capital, and expectations were running high.

Just 200 people had been chosen out of a ballot of thousands to  welcome the royals, and many were optimistic their presence in such an exclusive setting would translate into a close encounter.

But no such luck: the crowd forced to settle for a wave.

For Katie Agar, it was bittersweet because she was convinced  Kate would come over for a chat.

‘‘But it was still special. The atmosphere was nice,’’ she told said.

Things got off to a good start, with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove leading an official delegation to warm up the crowd.

The Governor-General admitted he was ‘‘no substitute’’ for the  royals, but those waiting seemed chuffed to be greeted by the  Queen’s representative in Australia, given the occasion at hand.

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By the time the plane touched down and Kate emerged, Prince George wide awake on her arm, the crowd was cheering ecstatically, crying out her name.

Descending the stairs with Will, they met the official delegation, including federal MP Andrew Leigh and his young excited son Theodore, whose greeting with George made the crowd coo.

Excitement mounted as the royal couple approached the crowd, with Will bobbing young George and Kate holding a bouquet of flowers presented by a young Canberra schoolgirl.

But hopes were dashed when mum and dad got into a car to strap George into a child seat, and then — with a smile and few quick waves — they were gone.

The collective sigh of disappointment was audible, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was left to break the news to the crestfallen  fans.

‘‘George was starting to cry,’’ she said.

The crowd seemed forgiving nonetheless, blaming everything from the bitter Canberra weather to the fading light to excuse the quick departure.‘

‘It’s a shame no one told her it was cold,’’ someone quipped, referring to Kate’s summery choice of outfit for the occasion.

Others mused that it wasn’t surprising the royal family was keen to unwind after such a busy day in Sydney.

Meryl Crane said she was disappointed but not surprised the royals didn’t stick around.

‘‘I think it was cold and it was getting dark,’’ she said.

‘‘I  don’t think I’ll ever get closer than that in my entire life.

‘‘It was good fun.’’

Others were already discussing their next move, planning how they’d try and sneak a glimpse of the royals at other events around Canberra this week.

The royal family will spend Monday at Government House in Yarralumla, on Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin.

- AAP

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