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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter IX


Sir T. Gibson Carmichael farewelled - Reception to young Marquess of Linlithgow - Prime Minister Fisher again with fellow Scots -W. D. Leckie becomes Secretary-New rooms at Queen's Walk - Dr Taylor Downie's "house-warming" - Progress by "leaps and bounds" - "Clearing sale" for hackneyed songs - More new societies - Fatal accident to Alex. Dick.

Distinguished guests entertained by the Society during 1910-13 included Sir Thomas Gibson Carmichael (retiring Governor), Sir John Fuller (new Governor), the Marquess of Linlithgow, the Hon. Andrew Fisher (Prime Minister), the Hon. W. A. Watt (Premier), and Cr. D. V. Hennessy (Lord Mayor of Melbourne).

Sir Thomas Carmichael had been a good friend to the Society and members were sorry when, in 1911, he had to depart. They were somewhat consoled, however, by the knowledge that the retiring Governor had agreed to continue to serve as Patron of the Society, and by the fact that he had generously offered to present the Society with a special Cup.

This gift was duly made. Engraved upon it is the following inscription, with the donor's signature reproduced:

This Cup is given to his fellow-members of the Melbourne Caledonian Society, in grateful remembrance of many kind nesses, by Thomas W. Gibson Carmichael, Governor of Victoria 1908-11.

Today, the Cup presented by Sir Thomas Carmichael (who later became Lord Carmichael ) ranks with the Cup presented by Lord Rosebery as one of the treasures of Melbourne's Caledonian Society.

The youthful Marquess of Linlithgow was received by the Society with mixed feelings: members were glad to see him, of course, but his presence (in June of 1911) was a poignant reminder of the loss sustained in 1908 by the death of his father, who as Lord Hopetoun had been such a warm supporter of the Society's activities. However, it was pleasant to have the young Marquess join in the passing round of the Rosebery Cup, and it was stimulating to hear him declare, in the course of an admirable speech, that the best years of his parents' lives were those which they spent in Australia. (A few days previously the Marquess had attended, with Sir John Fuller, Governor, and Mr W. M. Hughes, Acting Prime Minister, the unveiling of a statue to his father in St. Kilda Road.)

Prime Minister Fisher's speech, made when he was about to leave for the Coronation of King George V, was also notable. Acknowledging an illuminated address from Victorian Scottish societies as a whole, he linked Scotland and Australia in a warm apreciation. If, he said, he was rather more radical than most Scots, that was because he had spent his boyhood in the place where Burns wrote, "Man to man, the world o'er, shall brothers be for a' that".

Yet another farewell function of the period was one given Professor Gilruth, a frequent speaker at gatherings of the Society, when he was appointed Administrator of the Northern Territory.

Curiously, Gilruth's apointment caused the Society to lose its Secretary, Captain R. J. Lewis: he went off to join the administration in Darwin in 1912, after serving the Society well for two years. James Clark, who filled the vacancy, lasted only about nine months as Secretary: he was replaced in March of 1913 by W. D. Leckie.

A native of Stirling, William Leckie had worked for ten years or so with a firm of printers and publishers in Glasgow, and he followed the same ocupation after reaching Melbourne in 1900. Here, by virtue of his talent for organizing, plus the fact that he was a dyed-in-the-wool Scot, he became an efficient Secretary of the Essendon Caledonian Society, and now he was to begin years of service with both the senior Caledonian Society and the Scottish Union.

While changing its Secretary the Society also changed its address: it left Queen Street in June of 1912 and set itself up on a better basis in Queen's Walk, Swanston Street.

Now, at last, members were witnessing the fulfilment of an ambition that some of them had cherished for years ever since the days of Sir James MacBain about a quarter-century earlier. True, the premises were not the Society's own property, but, being "spacious, well-lit, and furnished with good taste", they were the best of the many meeting places which had been rented from time to time. Also, as Wullie Leckie announced to the world (through the columns of The Scot) the premises were equipped with a good library, billiard-room, facilities for cards and draughts, and, perhaps not least important, "an elegantly-appointed bar with supplies to suit all tastes".

In short, the Society had achieved at last the atmosphere of a Club, and so The Scot seemed justified in expressing, as it did, the belief that the new premises would become a focussing-point for Scots from all parts of Victoria, and perhaps from Australia in general.

Members rallied round cordially when Dr. Downie gave a "house-warming" party. During the evening it was announced that Mr A. Dick (one of the Vice-Presidents) had donated a first-class piano to the Society and had also given about 200 books to form the basis of a Scottish library. Following that example, and the example of President Downie, members "shelled out" to some purpose when it was mentioned that a billiard-table was needed-they contributed k130 in half an hour.

Professor R. S. (later Sir Robert) Wallace, of the University of Melbourne (and afterwards Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney) was caught out nicely when, on being invited to address the company, he produced an old Scottish poem and offered 5 to the Society's funds if anyone present could prove that he understood the verses thoroughly. Within a few minutes it was revealed (a) that Alex. Dick, donor of the piano, had recited the poem as a youth, and (b) that pretty well every one in the room had a good idea of what it was all about. Upon this the professorial son of Aberdeen, as gratified as he was astonished, paid over k10-double the amount he had promised.

When the new rooms had been in occupation a year, the Society was reported to be "progressing by leaps and bounds". Dr. Downie, therefore, had reason to be content with his two years of service in the Chair, and so did not seek re-election in 1913. His place was taken by J. A. Boyd (by this time a member of the Federal Parliament), who had been President in 1910-11.

James Boyd was to be kept very busy during his second term of office. Within a few weeks of taking over he conducted a Ladies' Invitation Night that filled the premises to overflowing, and at the St. Andrew's Dinner which followed he had many guests to entertain, including that loyal Scot Andrew Fisher (ex-Prime Minister), Lord Mayor Hennessy, and three notable Presbyterian ministers.

Concerts, smoke socials, etc., continued to be promoted for the entertainment of members. The number of Scottish vocalists still at hand was somewhat remarkable, among them being Mabel Mattingley, Lillian Adams, Lena Conly, Minnie Paton, Jessie Cromb, Dorothy Humphreys, Mary Stirling, and Gregor Wood and wife. For light relief there was a choice between Ad Cree, Arthur Douglas, George Harvey, and Albert Durand. And, of course, pipers and dancers were flourishing aggressively.

With so many women singers functioning, it was perhaps inevitable that some of the old songs should be drawn upon pretty heavily. Eventually a protest on the point was launched by a bored Melbourne secretary: he suggested that songs such as "Mary of Argyle", which had been worn threadbare, should be made the subject of "a clearing sale".

On this point, by the way, a diverting tale is told by Mr H. J. MacLennan as a reminiscence from the secretarial period of his father. Meeting one day a member whose Scottish blood was overlaid by the surname of Patrick, Hector MacLennan inquired why he didn't attend any concerts. "Because", said Patrick, "I can't stand that damned `Bonnie Mary"'. Hector had just then prepared a programme for another concert, and he offered the assurance that "Mary" would be missing, upon which Patrick agreed to attend. Alas! the first item the two men encountered, on meeting at the hall, was a band fantasia of Scottish airs that included "Bonnie Mary". A few minutes later, in the first part of the programme, Signor Manzoni played a medley on his mandolin, and again "Mary" got a hearing. Soon afterwards W. G. Barker rendered the self-same song as an encore; and before Patrick had recovered his poise he was listening to a Zelman violin fantasia in which the irrepressible "Mary" again bobbed up. Then, to round matters off, Gregor Wood took a band-having been absent at another concert when Barker sang, he was in a state of cheerful ignorance, and so, when an encore was demanded of him, he too lifted up his voice in "Bonnie Mary".

Imagine it!-five times did the undeniable "Mary" enter a programme from which she was supposed to be banned. No wonder that the unhappy Patrick, with all that repetition ringing in his outraged ears, swore forever afterwards that the programme had been "rigged" for his benefit!

The abundance of concert performers during 1910-14 was a reflex of the prosperity of Scottish societies generally. In the metropolitan area the groups of Prahran, Brunswick, Richmond, and Essendon were doing particularly well, and so were most of those in the country. A curious exception was at Hamilton: although strong and argumentative earlier the Caledonian Society of that town faded out in 1913 -and it was not to be revived until 1926. On the other hand, new societies were increasing the lengthy roll-call, especially in the Mallee region. Those born during 1911-12 included Ouyen, Donald, Rainbow, Woomelang, Telford, Trafalgar, Brunswick - Coburg, and the Clan Macleod Society of Australasia (Melbourne).

That gives a total of 39 new Scottish bodies, in Victoria alone, during ten years.

Pretty well all of the societies were enrolled under the banner of the Scottish Union, which on its part was making satisfactory progress. It had not succeeded in launching its scheme for scholarships (essay competitions were substituted), but it was doing useful work in other ways, and, between whiles, it was testing out a proposal to establish a Federation of Scottish Societies throughout the whole of Australia.

In 1911 J. B. Leitch (Geelong) replaced Andrew Thomson as President of the Union, and he in turn was followed in 1912 by W. C. Willmot (Prahran) and in 1913 by Wm. McDonald (St. Arnaud). Meanwhile, James Milligan resigned the secretaryship: he had to give up, following frequent illness, in March of 1913, and he died a few months later. Milligan had been a highly efficient Secretary of the Caledonian Society of Melbourne for three years and of the Scottish Union for seven years, and members of both bodies were very sorry to lose him.

Thus, W. D. Leckie became Secretary of the Union soon after taking office in the Caledonian Society. He was to continue in both positions for lengthy terms.

Members of the Society had further cause for mourning soon after the passing of James Milligan. Their former VicePresident, Alex. Dick, was killed near the Flinders Street railway station when struck by a runaway horse and phaeton. A former gold-seeker who had reached Australia in 1853 (he had seen the Eureka Battle in 1854), Alex. Dick afterwards became a successful business man, and in that capacity he had been most helpful and generous to the Caledonians, as witness his gifts of a piano and a library to the Society's new headquarters.

Later in 1913 two Scottish developments of some significance occurred: Geelong's Commun Na Feinne treated itself to a new hall at a cost of 1600 and the Scottish Regiment Association was formed.

It was events such as those, coupled with the upsurge of new Caledonian bodies all over the countryside, that caused the President of Melbourne's St. George Society to break into public lamentation-he desired to be told why it was that societies of Englishmen were afflicted by apathy while Scottish societies were springing up like mushrooms after rain!


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