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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter XII


Distinguished guests - Lemonade in Rosebery Cup - Premier Allan's striking figures - Burns Club within the Society - Japanese officer sings for Caledonians - J. T. Picken's fine record - Death of Lord Rosebery - Thomas Ritchie becomes President - W. D. Leckie retires after 17 years as Secretary - L. W. Corben's gift - Pipe Band wins in W.A.

IMMEDIATELY after entering its new premises - the "hoose o' its ain" - Melbourne's Royal Caledonian Society found itself caught up in a spate of entertainments.

Guests of the period (1923 onward) were a varied assortment. They included Sir Harry Lauder, Miss Ethel Campbell ("the Angel of Durban" to Australian troops), and a British Delegation consisting of Sir W. Wyndham, General Wauchope, and Captain Somerville. Later the number of guests was increased by that distinguished Scottish singer, William Heughan, and by another vocalist of the Lauder type, namely, Will Fyfe.

Later again the Society did itself the honour to entertain William Lindsay McKenzie, a gallant Scot who had started his Australian career as a jackeroo on a cattle-station, had risen to the position of Commissioner in the Salvation Army, and had been known to Diggers as "Fighting Mac". According to custom, the Rosebery Cup went round during Mac's visit, but, by way of gentle variation, it was filled with lemonade.

Picnics down the Bay and elsewhere continued to be the order of the period; concerts and kindred functions (including ladies' afternoons) were held at frequent intervals, and in addition members found plenty of amusement in billiards and bowls tournaments and through the formation of a Social Cricket Club. Another development on the sporting side was the forming within the Society of a Soccer Football Club, with that enterprising Glaswegian, Alex Maxwell, as president.

Celebrations of St Andrew's Day in the new rooms were as cordial as ever. At one dinner the Premier of the day, the Hon. John Allan, produced a striking scrap of information-he said that of 27 Premiers of Victoria 12 had been Scots, and he added that nearly half the members of his own Cabinet were "pure Scots", meaning, no doubt, men born in Scotland.

The Premier added, with a sly grin, that he wasn't bragging in acclaiming the land of his fathers, but merely making a statement of fact; and every "pure" Scot in the audience cheered lustily.

Burns's Day, too, continued to be observed with heartiness, either by way of picnics or dinners. In fact, a Burns Club sprang up within the Society, the chief sponsors being Roy Stevens and James Picken. At one of its functions, gifts of a Burnsian nature were presented to Eddie McPhee and Len Farndon, who (after being "twins" in the A.I.F.) had given the Club much service.

Later, Roy Stevens presented the Club with a handsome Wishing Cup and John Horn (a Vice-President) followed with the donation of a commodious cabinet. The Burns Club expired with the passing of its two champions (Stevens and Picken) but the gifts it acquired in 1929 are still treasured by the Royal Caledonian Society, So, too, is a bust of Burns which Brisbane Scots presented to Roy Stevens in 1931, and which he handed over to the Society.

While on the subject of social gatherings, it may be recorded here that an extraordinary item-extraordinary for a Scottish function-developed at a musical evening held in the Russell Street rooms. Japanese naval vessels were in port at the time and one of the officers, Lieut. E. Adsumi, somehow found his way into the Caledonian gathering and there sang (in his own tongue) "The Navy Battle Song". The audience applauded politely. It seems probable, however, that they felt more at home when Neil McInnes followed immediately with "McLeod, McLean, McTavish, and McCann", the rollicking story of a quartette of cronies finding their way home from a braw Scotch nicht.

The host during the first year of activity in the new premises was James Picken, and after that the Presidency was taken by another sound Scot, David Buchanan.

Reaching Victoria as a youth, Buchanan had worked himself up to become head of a large engineering firm, and now, with time on his hands in advancing years, he was a genial and generous figure in Scottish affairs. Incidentally, he was the third man of his surname to become President of the Society, his predecessors being George (1914-15) and his brother Robert (1917-19).

Occupying the Chair for five years, Davie Buchanan equalled the record established in 1901-06 by George Gibb. Then, because of failing health and advanced years, he gave up the position. A year or so later - April 1931 - the popular old man died.

Here we should pause to note that, shortly before the death of David Buchanan, the Society had lost another old and very generous supporter in the person of Theodore Napier, foundation member and former Vice-President. Although born in Melbourne, and although a non-Catholic, Napier was probably the most dyed-in-the-wool Jacobite that Australia had ever known. He customarily wore the garb of a Scottish gentleman of the Stuart days; he insisted on observing Bannockburn and similar anniversaries, and he could never be persuaded to toast the reigning King of Britain. Once, when he got into trouble with fellow-guests at an Edinburgh banquet through failing to honour the loyal toast, he offered to fight a duel with any one of his critics, and he suggested that the weapons should be either claymore, dirk, or battle-axe! Anyway, "the Laird of Magdala" (Magdala was the family estate at Essendon ) takes rank in the records of Melbourne and Scotland as an open hearted, plucky, and picturesque personality, and one who was thoroughly loyal to his ideals.

Yet another loss to the Society in the Russell Street era was that of J. T. Picken, who died in 1926. As founder and conductor for many years of The Scot at Hame an' Abroad, as President of the Society, as lecturer and actor, and as a generous supporter of all sound Scottish movements, Jim Picken had rendered most excellent service. His passing left a distinct gap in the ranks.

At this stage, too it should be recorded that Lord Rosebery died in 1929, at the age of 82 years. Almost half a century having passed since the British statesman had visited Australia, he was not known personally to Society members, but because he had donated the Rosebery Cup, and because he had sent fraternal greetings to Melbourne Caledonians year after year, members felt that they had lost a very good friend.

Lord Rosebery, it is clear, had always retained the sense of Imperial relations which he developed when, in 1883-84, he and his wife made a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

David Buchanan's successor as President was Thomas Ritchie. Then a more or less sprightly "youngster" of 63, Tom Ritchie was a Stirling man who, coming to Australia as a youth, had worked in the engineering trade at Newcastle and afterwards assisted to build up a partnership in Melbourne. He first joined the Council of the Society in 1925 thus linking himself with Jim Yorston, Eddie McPhee, and Jack Woodard-and, after serving for a year as lieutenant to Davie Buchanan, he took the Chair in 1929. Vice-Presidents at the time were Gregor Wood and Roy Stevens, the latter being replaced soon afterwards by Jim Yorston.

Up to the time David Buchanan took the chair the Society had experienced 24 Presidents in 40 years, 14 of them in 25 years. Now, by way of remarkable contrast, in the next 25 years the number of Presidents was to be only two.

Soon after Buchanan's retirement, illness also overtook the Secretary, W. D. Leckie, and he retired in 1930 after serving in the office for the record period of 17 years. His place was taken by John Stewart, who had long been an active official at Prahran and who had become Secretary of the Scottish Union when, in 1928, Archie Whyte gave up that position after filling it for nearly seven years.

Treasurers during the Russell Street period included Andrew Small, J. T. Stewart, G. Gray, E. S. McPhee, and Peter Clark. Andrew Small, an enthusiastic Scot who had given the Collingwood Pipe Band much service, occupied the position for nearly three years; later he removed to Adelaide where he became an outstanding figure in what is now the Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia. As for E. S. McPhee, he acted as Treasurer for only a few months in 1930, but later he took the position again at various times, and eventually he "stayed put" in the office for seven years.

Soon after joining the Council of the Society, Jim Yorston had a somewhat startling experience-his old friends at South Melbourne gave him a banquet at which, according to one report, he was "literally drowned by applause"! Ernie Yorston, too, was keeping the family flag flying bravely at this stage, and incidentally doing credit to the tutoring of Louis McLennan and George Dickson, by winning medal after medal for piping.

In August of 1928 the Royal Caledonian Society launched out on a bold enterprise. Following the example of its predecessors in 1897 and 1903, it again staged a presentation of Rob Roy, this time for a season of seven nights in Melbourne's Playhouse.

Possibly the stimulus came from the Scottish Society of Camberwell, which had produced the play for a night or two early in 1927. Anyway, the Playhouse venture was quite successful, with Ella Riddell outstanding as Helen McGregor and some of the other parts being capably filled by Fred Gardner (Rob Roy), Tom Millar (Bailie Nicol Jarvie), and Miss J. McGregor (Diana Vernon). The Society's Pipe Band, under George Dickson, gave spirited assistance. In short, the whole performance was an admirable successor to those of other years.

Miss Riddell left on a visit to Britain soon afterwards. So highly were her services esteemed that she was given presentations, not only by the Scottish Union and the Royal Caledonian Society, but by nine or ten other societies as well. To this day Miss Riddell (now Mrs Jim Gray) continues to be a welcome figure on programmes at Scottish functions in Victoria.

Following hard upon its success with Rob Roy, the Society recorded another achievement through the public spirit of one of its members, Mr. L. W. Corben. Desiring to commemorate his brother, who had then recently died, he presented the Society with a beautiful stained glass window carrying national Scottish emblems. This handsome gift, which graces today the chief door of the Society's premises, was unveiled in October (1928 ) by President Buchanan, who returned warm thanks to Mr Corben and also to Sir Edward Mackenzie-Mackenzie, Bart., a member of the Society, who had designed the window and ensured its armorial correctness.

Pipe music had been prospering during the 1920's, partly, no doubt, owing to the stimulus provided by competitions at South Street (Ballarat) and in various other centres. In 1928 George Dickson and Hugh Fraser took the Society's band on a successful visit to Ballarat, and in the following year a much more daring enterprise was undertaken-the band went then to the Centenary Gathering organized by the Western Australian Scottish Union.

Courage and generosity were needed to make that venture possible. But how thoroughly justified it was! The bandsmen won, in all, 160 in prize money, 25 gold medals, and two handsome cups-in fact, they virtually "scooped the pool" - and George Dickson rounded off the achievement by winning the dancing championship of Australia.

By and large, therefore, it will be seen that the Royal Caledonian Society, up to the end of the 1920's, had done pretty well since the Prime Minister bestowed his benediction on the new headquarters in 1923.


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