Push often comes to shove in the pursuit of position

Royal affair: Duchess of Cambridge greets Sydneysiders at Manly. Photo: Toby Zerna
Royal affair: Duchess of Cambridge greets Sydneysiders at Manly. Photo: Toby Zerna

Princes and princesses, kings and queens: for all the glamour and otherworldly sheen, being on the media side of the rope is often about as far from regal as you could possibly get.

The Cambridges' tour is no exception.

It goes without saying that security is tight for royal visits. But in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's visit to Sydney this week, there are bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that rival the Indian train ticketing system. There is a lot of "hurry up and wait" involved. At federal, state and local levels, applications must be made, checks done and email after email of registration details, meeting point maps, dress codes, contact numbers and debriefs sent and received.

The press pack numbers more than 200, security is paramount and because – unlike their Opera House arrival on Wednesday – many venues are far from tourist attractions so they don't have the infrastructure to handle a visit on a world media scale. Still, it's a lot of bureaucracy for what amounts to watching two individuals doing their job.

Each event – and there are more than 30 in the 10-day Australian tour – is divvied into media opportunities, each of which is contested for and carefully controlled. The application process takes many weeks and – pity the multitude of behind-the-scenes teams handling this 3D version of Sudoku – changes often.

Once assigned to a media spot within an event, the real fun begins. Photographers, TV crews and the British press seem to be more adept at this than the Australians, executing a shuffling Olympic walk (picture a running stride cunningly disguised as a walk), to nab the best spots in the cattle corrals. Their alacrity is rewarded with a plum position on a flatbed truck, or raised platform, or plant pot. But it's all a risk. You never know where the royals will stand, or for how long, or in which direction they'll face. You never know who will be accompanying them, or whether Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove will stand in front of the duchess in every shot.

Kerfuffles are not uncommon despite the sense of occasion. I've seen an Australian network TV cameraman shove a visiting photographer just metres from royalty over what must have been an extra 10cm of viewing space. Expletives in the holding pen are, of course, commonplace.

Among all this, we are tweeting and updating, sending grabs and videos, answering the phone, trying to hear what Catherine is saying while Googling her dress and taking notes. It's all a rush – addictive, I dare say – and, within moments, 100 different versions of the same photo of the future king and queen of England have hurtled through space to millions of screens around the world. Words and sound – colourful, jaded, over-egged, reverential – speed off too. They're shared, ogled over, perhaps even stored for posterity.

And the press pack starts to feel less significant. As it should.

This story Push often comes to shove in the pursuit of position first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.