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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter VIII


Distinguished guests - "It was a thing tae dream aboot" - Progress of kindred societies - 3l new Scottish bodies in eight years - King O'Malley discovers Scottish blood - A haggis "drowned" in Carapooee Creek - Jimmy Center arrives - George Dickson's Empire Dance - Scottish cricketers rival South Africans - A "road hog" strikes trouble.

WHATEVER the Presidential influence during 1906-10, extensive the fact is that the Society's affairs, if not so extensive as in Gibb's time, continued to flourish. The Caledonian Choir and the Caledonian Brass Band were still high in popular favour; concerts, smoke socials, etc., were held frequently; contests at bowls, draughts, and rifle-shooting were often arranged; and at least twice a year members heard stimulating speeches from distinguished guests.

When Sir Thomas Gibson Carmichael became Governor of Victoria in 1908 he promptly accepted the Society's invitation to serve as Patron, and he made a bright speech at the St. Andrew's Dinner soon afterwards. Other guest speakers on other occasions were Mr Andrew Fisher (then Leader of the Federal Opposition and later Prime Minister), Sir John Madden (who gave a stirring account of a tour he had made in Scotland), that eloquent Presbyterian minister the Rev. Andrew Gillison (afterwards killed at Gallipoli), Melbourne's Lord Mayor of the day (Colonel Burston ) and the State's most brilliant Director of Education, Frank Tate.

Note what "Lauchie Lang Lugs", a breezy contributor to The Scot, had to say about one such gathering:

It was a thing tae dream aboot. The attendance was guid; the speeches were guid; the singin' and recitin' were guid; the haggis was guid; the drinks were guid; the pipin' was guid; the britherly feelin' was guid; Lord Rosebery's letter was guid.. .

Maybe Lauchie would have recorded other "guid" things but for the fact that the Editor stopped him with, "Guid gracious, Lauchie, that will be enough!" Anyway, it is clear that the St. Andrew's Dinner of 1908 was a very bright party.

Other Scottish societies continued to prosper during the same period. In the metropolitan area the youthful Prahran and Richmond societies were faring exceptionally well, Richmond for example having already built up a choir, an orchestra, and a pipe band, and having received from the new Governor (Sir T. Gibson Carmichael) a handsome Scottish Flag. Country societies, too, were flourishing, notably those of the Western District, with the emphasis on Colac, perhaps, through the patriotism and generosity of the Chief, Andrew Chirnside.

At the same time, new Scottish bodies were bobbing up in all directions.

We have seen that fourteen such organizations came into being in Victoria during 1902-06; and now it is to be recorded that seventeen sprang up in the next four years. Those born in the metropolitan area were at Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon and Bulla; and the new groups in the country were at Ballarat (a reconstruction), Mildura, St. Arnaud, Charlton, Warracknabeal, Numurkah, Minyip, Bunyip, Kyneton, Yea, Rochester, Leongatha, and Korumburra.

Thirty-one new Scottish societies in Victoria in eight yearsl What an irruption!

No wonder people began to revive the old story of the two Englishmen and the two Scots marooned on a lonely isle-after several months the Englishmen hadn't spoken to each other because they hadn't been introduced, whereas the Scots had formed themselves into a Caledonian Society!

"Scotticism", in fact, was in the air of the period, so that many other nationals began to subject themselves to mental blood-tests in the hope of discovering traces of Scottish ancestry! A sign of the times was the fact that, at a Thistle gathering at South Melbourne, a Mayor named Murphy delivered a fervent oration in praise of Scotland. Another sign was given by that picturesque politician from America, King O'Malley, sometime Minister for Home Affairs and founder of the Commonwealth Bank-he bobbed up at Essendon with a claim of Scottish blood because his grandmother, Agnes Nairn, had belonged to Aberdeenshire!

Incidentally, in this period both Hamilton and Ballarat societies had considerable discussion regarding the basis of membership. Both agreed to go back two generationsto admit candidates who could establish that either a grandfather or grandmother was born in Scotland. (That is the basis in Melbourne's Caledonian Society today.)

The new societies had their teething troubles. Perhaps the most sorrowful event of the time was the accident which befel a Cameron who was escorting a haggis (prepared with great trouble on a district station) to a dinner of the St. Arnaud Caledonians. Floods were raging then and the Cameron, on his ride through the bush, got caught by a creek. "He managed to escape", says a chronicler of the day, "but, alas, the haggis was drowned in the Carapooee!"

It follows that with so many Scottish societies at large in the land, and with concerts so popular, many good performers had developed. Some of these have already been mentioned. Others who had come upon the scene were Harry Skinner (piper, dancer, singer, and President at Carlton), James Center (piper and dancer, who arrived from Edinburgh in 1907), Hugh Fraser (Pipe-major at Richmond), Watson Thorpe (Pipe-major at Prahran ), James Williamson (dancer), George Hay (dancer), George Harvey (humorous singer) and Madame Lena Conly (vocalist).

At a big Empire Day festival in 1907, conducted by the Scottish Union, Jimmy Center won a gold medal awarded for the champion piper of Australia, with Hugh Fraser second; Jimmy Williamson was the champion dancer, and George Dickson won the Highland Fling for boys. The festival was continued in the Town Hall at night, and it is recorded that "never was such a grand Scottish concert heard in Melbourne".

Again, at a Boxing Day gathering held by the Union in 1908, Jim Center, George Hay, and George Dickson were to the fore in dress and dancing, with J. L. Smith and Clarence Weber leading the athletes. George Dickson introduced at this period what was known as the Empire Dance-representative of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia.

Another development of the time was the forming of a Scottish Societies' Cricket Association. This went so well that it offered strong opposition to the visiting South African cricketers in 19101 Anyway, "Lauchie Lang Lugs" reports that when the Africans appeared at the M.C.C. the ground would have been packed "had it no' been for the counterattraction in the Richmond Paddock, where six Scottish teams were in frien'ly rivalry-an' werena playin' for the gate".

The Scottish Regiment, too, formed the subject of an amusing tale by Lauchie early in 1910. It appears that when the Regiment, with buglers at the head, was on parade in Elizabeth Street, a couple of "road hogs" (this was an early use of the term) in one of the new-fangled machines known as motor-cars, stopped fairly in front of the marching men and threw them out of line. Then, following in what Lauchie terms "their stink-diffuser", they began "rattlin' their loodest, jist for fun". A civilian, who obviously had Scottish blood in his veins, stepped up and spoke to the driver. The driver answered back. There was nothing else for it-Scotty's left shot out, and, as Lauchie has it, "that chaffoor saw stars".

A stout performance on the part of the Regiment was a route march to Ballarat in 1910. A force of 130 was on trek from Thursday to Monday, and, although sceptics had predicted that only about ten per cent would finish, every man saw it through.

Meanwhile, The Scot was pushing along resolutely. D. B. Walker (of the Country Press Association) who had been Editor since 1904, retired in 1907, after which the editing was done by Allan McNeilage and J. T. Picken. As the official organ of the Scottish Union, the journal championed all the causes of that body, which, it claimed, had "raised Scottish national sentiment to a pinnacle never previously attained in Victoria".

The Union was in fact doing much useful work, mainly in co-ordinating the activities of the various societies, but also in regard to immigration and other national matters. It was also continuing to lay stress on our common Imperial heritage by demanding full use of the word "British", and it scored a victory on this point by taking a deputation, in 1909, to the Minister for Education (Mr Sachse) and the Director (Mr Tate).

Curiously, in spite of much argument (or maybe because of that) the Union could not persuade the Hamilton Society to enter its ranks, but it did, in 1910, obtain the co-operation of the Maryborough Highland Society.

When Burt Stewart had been three years in the Chair of the V.S.U. he retired in favour of William Hampton (Bendigo), and he in turn was succeeded after one year by the immediate Past President of Melbourne Caledonians, Andrew Thomson. Thus early it was laid down that the chief position in the Union should go round as freely as possible.

Changes occurred also in the control of the Society in 1910. The new President, James A. Boyd, had come to Australia from near Glasgow in 1888 and had seen a good deal of public service, mostly municipal, in both W.A. and Victoria. For a few years he had served in the Victorian Parliament. "He is," said The Scot, "a strong man-too assertive, his opponents say, but it is the assertive man who is needed today."

Midway in 1909 James Milligan retired from the position of Secretary to the Society after three and a half years' service. The vacancy was filled temporarily by Hector MacLennan (former Secretary) and William Jarvie (former Acting Secretary) in a joint capacity, and in July of 1910 R. J. Lewis, a new arrival from Scotland, was appointed to the office. At the same time the artistic Hugh Paterson again took the office of Hon. Treasurer.

James Boyd had only one year as President, giving way in 1911 to Dr. T. Taylor Downie, a popular medical man who had rendered good service to the Council and as Surgeon to the Scottish Regiment. In 1912, however, Boyd attempted to "stage a comeback"-he unsuccessfully opposed Taylor Downie.

It was through defeating Boyd that Downie became the host at the opening of the most ambitious premises that the Society had yet acquired.

Let us go back to 1909 in order to glance at the circumstances that caused Milligan to resign the Secretaryship. The simple fact is that he had the luck to win first prize in "Tatts", and so decided to re-organize his activities. But that isn't the whole story. In the case of the Caledonians the resignation was voluntary, but in another case it was based upon pressure. In brief, Milligan was an elder of a Presbyterian Church, and when the news of his acquiring of "tainted" money got around, he was directed to do either one of two things, forgo the prize or resign his eldership. Odd as it may seem, he resigned!

Nor does the story end there. Milligan's sittings in the Church (which he gave up with the eldership ), were taken over by another officer of the Caledonian Society, Charles Gray, and-believe it or not!-within a year he too won a large prize in "Tatts".

At this stage the good men of the Church realized that Fate was against them. They may not have relaxed their attitude to "tainted" money but simply decided that circumstances were different as between an elder and an ordinary member of the congregation. At any rate, they took no action in Gray's case - they merely left him to the more or less tender mercies of his fellow-members of the Caledonian Society!


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