Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Trip Down Under - Australia

In 1997 the Federation’s Annual Conference was due to be held in Melbourne but for a variety of reasons it had to be cancelled. The conference would have provided a wonderful opportunity for the Federation to extend fraternal greetings to the far side of the world and provide direct support to the many keen Burnsians who had emigrated to Australia and New Zealand. These emigrants had taken with them a keen interest in Burns and his poetry and songs but as they grow older there is every likelihood that many aspects of Scottish culture will disappear with them unless the next generation can be motivated to pick up the baton. As President I felt it my duty to visit Australia and New Zealand and try to meet with as many federated clubs as I could to thank them for their continued interest but also to encourage them in their endeavours in promoting the life and works of Robert Burns and other aspects of Scottish culture.

5 February 2010

My first speaking engagement was to the Bendigo and District Caledonian Society and Burns Club in the conference room in the Performing Arts Centre, known as ‘The Capital’ previously the Masonic Temple, built in 1873. After my talk on the work of the Federation and a brief outline of some of my Presidential activities to date, I enjoyed and lively question and answer session with an enthusiastic audience. Pat and I were hosted magnificently by President Jim Millar and his wife Jeanette (pictured below) who made us most welcome in their beautiful city (pictured above) located a couple of hours drive north of Melbourne.

6 February 2010

The following day I proposed the Immortal Memory to Robert Burns at the Melbourne Burns Club Annual Burns Supper at the Karralyka Theatre in the Ringwood district of the city. President Christine Galloway (below) gave a very emotive introduction remembering the people who had died in last year's devastating bush fires.

This was an evening full of variety with a highland dancing demonstration and opportunity to partake in country dancing interspersed between the dinner courses. It also included the most impressive and dramatic haggis ceremony with sword-wielding escorts guarding the ‘beastie’ before the puir wee thing was ceremoniously despatched in grand style before being piped back to the kitchen. I was particularly pleased to see Ron Johnston and his wife Joan (below) who had hosted me on my two previous visits to Melbourne when he was the Hon Secretary of the Burns Club. On this trip we were looked after with most thoughtful hospitality by Bill and Ina Graham, a couple who came originally from Ayrshire and work incredibly hard on behalf of all the Scottish societies in and around Melbourne.

7 February 2010

My last engagement in the Australian part of my trip was to perform two readings at the Annual Foundation Day service in the beautiful Scots' Church in Melbourne followed by a 3-course spit-roast lunch complete with a haggis starter. The minister Rev Douglas Robertson, a proud Glaswegian although born in Dumfries, opened the service with a minute’s silence in memory of the 173 people who had lost their lives in bush fires on ‘Black Saturday’ exactly a year ago.

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