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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter XIII

Big Delegation visits Scotland, 1928 - Reception by present King and Queen - Scottish delegation visits Australia, 1934 - Society receives presidential chair - Second delegation to Scotland, 1936 - "The Scot" closes down - Andrew Thomson's achievement - Death of Gregor Wood - George Dickson's "Pageant of Empire".

Aside from the work of the Royal Caledonian Society in an individual capacity, there were, during the 1920's and 1930's, various notable developments of a national character in which the Society shared.

Outstanding among these were the exchanges of Delegations between Australia and Scotland, under the auspices of the Scottish Union.

The Union had been moving along reasonably well in the period under discussion. It had organized some big gatherings on St Andrew's Day (usually in the presence of either the Governor-General or the Prime Minister); it had established a strong post at the Burns Statue during the visit (in 1927) of the Duke and Duchess of York, and, in addition to other activities, it had worked on immigration in association with the New Settlers' League.

Possibly it was the immigration activities of the Union that gave the President of 1925-26, J. D. McInnes of Horsham, the idea of taking a Delegation of Australian Scots to the Homeland. It seemed to him that such a visit might well be the means of attracting many new settlers to Australia. Accordingly, with hearty support from The Scot, as well as from ex-Presidents Burt Stewart and Jim Yorston, he began to "sell" the idea to Victoria, and then, having gained the blessing of the Commonwealth Government, he extended the project to cover other States.

When the New Settlers' League joined in the enterprise, and made available its secretary, Archie Gilchrist, to serve as manager, the scheme soon became an actuality.

Eventually, no fewer than 650 delegates (each of whom was required to pay only 60 return for the passage), booked up, and in April 1929 the liner Hobson's Bay, which had been specially chartered, left Melbourne with its passengers from the eastern States. Those from Victoria numbered 283. Thousands attended at the wharf to see them off.

It is scarcely necessary to say that the tour was completely successful. Delegates received warm hospitality in all parts of Britain, and they, on their part, made presentations of Australian mementoes in many centres.

Most memorable of the greetings in England was a reception accorded delegates by the Duke and Duchess of York -now the King and Queen - at St James's Palace. It is on record that Ernie Yorston (who won the under-21-years' piping championship of Scotland during the tour), played "The Road to the Isles" at the Royal Reception, upon which the Duchess called him over and said, "How sweet of you to remember my favourite tune," adding that she recalled his playing of the same melody at a Government House reception in Melbourne.

Most of the delegates returned to Australia by the end of the year, and a notable enterprise concluded with thanks to the leader (J. D. McInnes), the deputy-leader (Burt Stewart), and the manager (Archie Gilchrist).

Three years later arrangements were made for a reciprocal visit. That project did not reach fruition. Although an itinerary covering various States was mapped out-to operate from 10th December 1931 to 18th December 1932-and although an address of welcome was issued by the Prime Minister (Hon. J. H. Scullin), Scotland found it impossible to send its Delegation at that time. But, of course, the visitors were none the less welcome when they did arrive - in 1934.

The Royal Caledonian Society joined cordially in the receptions given to delegates from Scotland when they reached Victoria. President Ritchie (who was also President of the Scottish Union at the time) greeted them at the Society's rooms and also accompanied them in their travels through various parts of the State. The visitors greatly enjoyed themselves. True, they were not a large band-their total of 18 scarcely compared with Australia's total of 650 - but they were all very pleasant people and all were warmly appreciative of the hospitality shown them.

A tangible token of that appreciation remains with the Royal Caledonian Society. It is the large and handsome Presidential chair, and it bears a plaque recording the fact that it was presented to the Society by R. L. Callan, on behalf of the Scottish Delegation, as a fraternal acknowledgment of the many courtesies received during the Victorian visit of 1934.

(Incidentally, the Presidential chair blends well with certain other furniture possessed by the Society, and which is said to have been imported in connection with the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888, after which it was acquired and presented to the Society by a leading member of the period.)

Two years later again (1936) the international exchange was resumed-the Union arranged for another Delegation to visit Scotland. This time the leader was Thomas Ritchie, the deputy-leader J. Taylor, and the secretary A. Campbell. Those three men were distinctly courageous, for of the 80 tourists under their care 65 were women! Anyway, the adventure passed off very satisfactorily, education and entertainment being agreeably mingled.

It was greatly to be regretted that a sad ending marred the tour in Mr Ritchie's case. His wife had been ill before leaving Britain and on board ship, and two days after reaching Melbourne she passed away. Much sympathy was extended to Mr Ritchie and his two sons.

In addition to the Delegations to and from Scotland, a group of Australian Scots, led by the Geelong stalwart William Plain, paid a visit to New Zealand early in 1934. That excursion, like the more ambitious ones, was quite successful.

Delegations aside, the Scottish Union and the Royal Caledonian Society continued to work closely together. One token in point was that the two bodies shared the same secretaryship and the same premises. Another was the fact that when, in 1931, the Union formed a Scottish Choir, the Society handed over all the special music which had been used by its own Choir of other years, and also "lent" the Union the services of Gregor Wood as conductor.

A further cementing factor was that the Union gave the Society the care of the Stonehaven Cup, a handsome trophy donated by the Governor-General of 1925-30 for the Pipe Band Championship of the Commonwealth. It took its place beside the handsome Angus Gillies Cup which the band of the Royal Caledonian Society won at Maryborough (Victoria) in 1932.

Among other happenings of a general nature about this time - that is, happenings affecting Scottish interests generally - two were much to be regretted. One was the passing of Geelong's Commun Na Fienne; the other was the winding-up of The Scot at Hame an' Abroad.

With the coming of 1930 the Geelong Society had been in existence for 74 years and was the oldest Scottish society in the State, leading the Maryborough Highland Society by one year. Some years previously its President for a lengthy period, Dr John Small, had died, and when the Secretary of many years' standing, James Galbraith, gave up in 1929 the Society began to lose much of its drive. Anyway, it was a great pity that such an organization was allowed to fall away and then dissolve.

The Scot also expired in the early 1930's. Founded in 1902, it had given Scottish interests in Australia admirable service for about 30 years, but at no time had it received the full measure of support that it merited. In 1920 (when the journal had run for 18 years) Jim Picken was forced to close it down; but after a lapse of a couple of months it was revived by the T. H. Ould Printing Co., Cheltenham. Four years later the Melbourne Press Agency took it over, with Adrian Ball as Editor, and afterwards it was conducted, until the end, by the Ball Publishing Company. National depression, of course, was a factor in bringing about the closure of the useful little journal. It died much mourned.

In its youth and middle-age The Scot had been the medium for much work by two men in particular: Allan Wilson, the Bard of Geelong (he died about 1920) and Allan McNeilage, that extraordinarily facile writer of both humorous and serious verse and prose, some in dialect, some "straight". McNeilage retired from The Scot in 1923, shortly after going to live in Hamilton, and he died in 1937 at the age of 87 years. His memory is preserved by his book and by a cot in St Andrew's Hospital which was endowed by the Scottish Union.

Other deaths of the period may be mentioned here. They included those of four leading members of the Royal Caledonian Society.

Andrew Thomson died in 1933, at the age of 88. A foundation member of the Society, he had been President on two separate occasions and had in general rendered stout service. Indeed, practically all his time during many years had been devoted to Caledonian and Masonic work, for after reaching Australia at the age of 27 he had made within five years enough money on which to retire. How, it may be asked, did a publisher's agent perform that remarkable feat? The answer is: simply by selling copies of Family Bibles, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Those were the days! Could even a super-salesman approach that achievement now?

Soon after the passing of Thomson the Society also lost its Treasurer, the much-esteemed Peter Clark, and later it had to mourn two other veterans, namely, Dr Alex. Steven, former Vice-President, and Gregor Wood, sitting Vice-President and for many years one of the leading Scottish vocalists of Australia. Gregor Wood in particular had left his mark in Caledonian circles: his rousing tenor had been a feature of social life for half a life-time.

When Peter Clark died E. S. McPhee took over the office of Treasurer again. Two other members who afterwards were to serve in the same position, Alex. Maxwell and Jim Sinclair, had seats on the Council at the time. So did another "modern" in J. A. Woodard, who subsequently had a lengthy term as Vice-President.

It was in that period, too, that Cup Eve socials were inaugurated, with Messrs. McPhee, Woodard and Farndon giving service which they were to continue for many years.

Another councillor, George Dickson, "hit the highlights" in 1931 with a Pageant of Empire which he conducted for a week in Melbourne's Regent Theatre. A full pipe band and 60 national dancers formed the main part of a performance which captured the imagination of the City. In particular, the clansmen's sword dance, with 16 dancers functioning to the music of the band, was a unique and spectacular feature. At the concluding performance the Society presented each of the dancers with a token of appreciation, and Mr Dickson gave a silver tea-service to each of the teachers, Misses Livingston, Sargent and Taylor, who with Mrs George Hay were responsible for the training of the dancers.

Obviously, the Society was still able to do itself justice with the public in spite of the economic depression that prevailed at the time. There were, however, sorry days ahead, for within a year or two members found themselves forced to sell the home which they had laboured so long to acquire.

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