Monday, 4 October 2010

Aberdeen Conference

10 September 2010

Following dinner at the Thistle Hotel at Altens, Aberdeen, attendees at the Federation Conference were treated to a marvellous evening’s entertainment. With John Caskie acting as MC the evening sprang into life with the Garioch Fiddlers playing an eclectic mix of jigs, reels and marches including several Burns’ songs which had the audience tapping and clapping.

During the Fiddlers’ well-earned break the audience was treated to beautifully balanced vocals, a stunning array of instrumental music and comic poetry in Doric from an astounding array of young talent who had formed a band following their participation in the Federation Schools competition. Although they had not known each other before the competition they so enjoyed each other’s fondness for Scottish music they decided to get together. This is a great tribute to the worth of the Federation’s Schools Competition and also to the Helena Anderson-Wright for promoting the youngsters of the Grampian region so avidly.
Following a lively AGM and three excellent presentations during the afternoon seminar, the highlight of Saturday's programme was the President's Inaugural Dinner at which David Baird assumed the role of President, always an emotional event for both outgoing and incoming Presidents. Senior Vice President Jim Shields and newly-elected Junior Vice President Bob Stewart applaud as David relishes the honour of donning the magnificent chain of office.
As a consolation I have the pleasure of receiving my Past-President's medal from David.

Library Presentation

3 September 2010

On behalf of the Gatehouse of Fleet Burns Club I presented a copy of the Federation’s Homecoming Chronicle to the Gatehouse of Fleet Library. Receiving the copy is Librarian Joan Frame with Area Librarian Lynn Nield showing her support for this local initiative by travelling from Stranraer for the presentation.

Earlier in the day I also presented a copy of the Homecoming Chronicle from the Club to the Gatehouse of Fleet Primary School.

Civic Reception Dumfries

2 September 2010

The Southern Scottish Counties Burns Association (SSCBA) had very kindly arranged a civic reception in the Council Chambers in Dumfries to mark my year as President of the Federation.

Convenor of the Council, Patsy Gilroy, welcomed guests and delivered a very eloquent speech to convey the honour felt by the Council in having ‘one of theirs’ fulfil such a high profile appointment to promote the life and works of a former Dumfries resident, our National Bard, Robert Burns. President of the SSCBA, David Baird also spoke warmly of the pride which Association members felt in having one of their fellow members being the Federation President.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Bridgeton Burns Club Memorial Unveiling

23 August 2010

Bridgeton Burns Club has taken a prominent part in the regeneration of the Bridgeton ‘Umbrella’ and surrounding area as part of a Clyde Gateway initiative.

As their contribution to the project they commissioned a memorial to Burns, designed and build by student Alec Keeper from the Glasgow Metropolitan College, and I had the pleasure of joining members of the Bridgeton Burns club and Lord Provost Bob Winter at a ceremony to mark the unveiling of the striking sandstone and granite memorial with the very apposite word 'luve' carved vertically in relief. The photograph shows me with Jack Steele standing in as President of the Bridgeton Burns Club.

One-line extracts from songs and poems of Burns also feature on the paving as do the names of three Bridgeton men, John Simpson Knox, James Cleland Richardson and Henry May, who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The occasion was enlivened by the singing from local schoolchildren with renditions of My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose and Coming Thro’ the Rye. Following the ceremony we were whisked away in a 1957 Corporation Bus, provided courtesy of the local transport heritage group, to the Glasgow City Chambers for a civic reception where again the entertainment was provided by local primary school pupils.

I am very grateful to the Bridgeton Burns Club for their hospitality and delighted to see at first hand the work they are doing with local schools in promoting the life and works of Burns.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

National Archives of Scotland Reception

19 August 2010

I was delighted to attend a reception at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) to mark the unveiling of a previously unknown letter relating to the last period of the Poet’s life. The letter was written by Burns' superior officer John Mitchell, to the Commissioner of Excise, Robert Graham of Fintry, and details a journey by Robert Burns to the Dumfries Excise office to collect his salary on July 14, 1796. Mitchell described Burns as "reduced & shattered … in the extreme," but noted that his "wit and humour remained."

The Excise Salary Book, already kept in the NAS, bears a highly poignant signature, dated July 14, 1796, which shows clear evidence of his failing physical condition. It is shaky and marred by ink blots. The letter reveals for the first time that Burns did actually make the journey to Dumfries, despite being urged not to do so. Wracked by pain, but desperate to make proper provision for his wife and children, Burns must have ignored Mitchell’s advice not to travel and made his way to collect his salary; he died one week later on July 21, 1796.

In his speech, George Mackenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, expressed his delight at the response generated by the find from around the world .

In my response I thanked the NAS for helping the Federation maintain interest in Burns and in recognition of the importance of the find I presented Federation Homecoming Medals to Tristram Clarke and David Brown (above) who were responsible for finding the letter and pursuing its significance. Also in the photograph above, in the stripped dress, is Janet Elsie-May Coom, the great, great, great granddaughter of Burns through Anna Park. She expressed her delight at seeing the letter with its moving description of his condition during the final stages of his life.
Photograph shows, from right, Tristram Carke, David Brown and George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland. All were now better informed about the role of the RBWF in keeping alive the memory of the life and works of Burns and hopefully this will lead to further collaboration in the future. For example, we promoted the idea of having the letter on display, probably on a temporary basis because of the need to preserve its condition, at the new Birthplace Museum in Alloway as a way of generating further interest in the role of the NAS.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Edinburgh - Burns Anniversary Celebrations

24 July 2010

One of the great pleasures of my Presidential duties is to have the opportunity to recognise the efforts of groups and individuals dedicated to furthering the aims of the Federation. Having become all but dormant in recent years, the Edinburgh and District Burns Clubs Association (EDBCA) has really blossomed and further evidence of this resurgence was on show during an all-day series of events to commemorate Burns’ death in July 1796.

The event started with a commemoration at the Burns Monument on the Carlton Hill at which Federation JVP Jim Shields (seen here introducing the guests) had organised a mixture of poetry recitations, songs and speeches relating to Burns. I was particularly delighted to be involved in this because I had commented during my speech at the rededication of the monument in October 2009 that the Monument must be seen as a living space and not just as a cold, stone, artefact. This lively event was exactly the sort of thing I had in mind and gave real meaning to the memory of the poet’s time in Edinburgh.

Following the ceremony at the Monument, the party proceeded by coach to the City Chambers for a reception at which Lord Provost, the Rt Hon George Grubb, gave a most eloquent address referring to Burns’ time in the capital and to his writings. In turn I thanked the Lord Provost for the Council’s support in furthering the aims of the Federation through the work of the EDBCA and had great pleasure in presenting him with a copy of the Homecoming Chronicle.

For the final part of the day we repaired to the Lodge Liberton’s Hall for a fine afternoon and evening of entertainment. Firstly, representatives from Burns’ Associations competed for the inaugural Tom McIlwraith Trophy for poetry recitation in memory of Tom, an eminent Past President of the Robert Burns World Federation and stalwart of the EDBCA.

Judged by an eminent panel consisting of Professor David Purdie, EDBCA’s very own Margaret Anderson and Federation Past President Murdo Morrison (seated left to right on the front row with JVP Jim Shields far left), the competition produced a clear winner in Ian Buick with his outstanding rendition of To Mrs Scott, the Guid Wife of Wauchop House.
I was delighted to present Ian with the inaugural Tom McIlwraith trophy; he graciously recognised that the other competitors had also performed their chosen poems magnificently well. In summing up, the Chairman of the judging panel, Professor Purdie, highlighted the brilliance of Burns as a wordsmith and it was the expressive use of his language which the panel held as their main yardstick in judging.

A wholesome serving of haggis, neeps and tatties saw us through to a soiree where the assembled company took turns to perform their party pieces. Songs, poems and anecdotal stories of the highest calibre provided a most enjoyable and fitting finale to the day. Chief organiser Jim Shields and EDBCA President, Ian Chisholm, and his committee deserve immense praise for all their hard work in laying on such a wonderful event which hopefully will be repeated annually.

Brow Well Service

21 July 2010

It was very fitting that my first official duty after my cycle accident was the annual Brow Well Service organised by the Scottish Southern Counties Burns Association to commemorate the death of our National Bard. Whereas I was able to benefit from the best of medical treatment at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, poor Burns was given the worst possible advice on how to treat his chronic heart condition - rheumatic endocarditis. During a two-week period, faithfully following the instructions of his doctor and friend Dr Maxwell, he submerged himself up to his oxters daily in the rising tide of the Solway Firth. Perhaps not surprisingly, he died shortly thereafter on 21 July 1796. I was privileged to be invited to propose a commemoration to Burns at this prestigious service.
The photograph shows some of the dignitaries from clubs and associations standing in front of the chalybeate spring well from which Burns would have drunk, from a ladle, the saline water with its supposed restorative qualities.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bicycle Crash

26 April 2010

My Presidential duties came to an abrupt halt following my confrontation with a cattle truck as I cycled on a lovely sunny afternoon along a country road in Dumfries and Galloway. I succeeded in puncturing both lungs and suffered multiple broken ribs, shoulder, collar bone and several vertebrae which will necessitate six weeks in a neck-support collar. The A&E staff and those in the Intensive Care Unit at Dumfries Royal Infirmary did a marvellous job in patching me up and nursing me through those critical early days. The photograph shows me a week after the crash still hooked up to drains and drips to stabilise my bashed body.

I have been overwhelmed by the number of get-well and good-wishes cards I have received from all over the world, including a very thoughtful one from Joanna Lumley. These and awareness of prayers being offered on my behalf have been most uplifting and have greatly aided my recovery which is progressing well, albeit very slowly. I am sincerely grateful to all those involved. I send my apologies to those who had invited me to functions I could not attend but am indebted to Senior Vice President David Baird for stepping in as a substitute whenever possible. I am now at home and Pat has been a fantastic nurse helping me to recuperate. Hopefully I will be able to resume my Presidential duties before too long and have the chance to pass on my appreciation in person.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Russian Students Dinner and Ceilidh

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Around twenty exchange students from St Petersburg spent a couple of weeks studying at Reid Kerr College, Paisley and as a finale to the visit a dinner was held to mark the occasion. I was delighted to be invited as a guest of honour and enjoyed a magical evening as these students performed a multi-cultural ceilidh of Russian and Scottish music, poetry and dance.

The highlight was a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne led by ten of the students who knew all the verses off by heart. Yet again I saw at first hand the love of Burns' poetry and song which seems to be so inherent in Russian youngsters. All the exchange students had thoroughly enjoyed their time in Scotland and returned home with certificates and other mementoes of a highy successful cultural and educational visit.

Fortunately, my next function was to be the Secondary School's Festival at Coatbridge High School where I could witness the incredible talent of our own pupils who are proudly carrying on the tradition of their forebears with such distinction. The photograph shows the overall winner, and Young Burnsian of the Year, piper Callum Moffat from Lockerbie Academy with his haul of trophies. Alongside Callum is Mr David Scott, Group Director of Gladedale group of companies which very generously sponsors the school's competitions, including the choral competition. Others in the photograph from the left are; Jim Shields JVP, Isa Hanley School's Convenor, Sam Judge RBWF Chief Executive and David Baird, SVP.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Visit To Wanlockhead Lead Mines

18 April 2010
Burns visit to the lead mines at Wanlockhead with Maria Riddell in early 1792 has been the subject of much discussion on the Federation’s website Forum recently. In a letter to her mother, Maria provides a very detailed account of the conditions in the mine which lends authenticity to her statement that she did indeed visit the mine. However, local historian and Secretary of the Thornhill and District Burns Club, Ian Millar, has a strong suspicion that Burns did not accompany her and would have been on excise duty in Dumfries on that day and not ‘gallivanting’ round Upper Nithsdale with Walter Riddell and his wife young wife Maria. As yet, he does not have sufficient written evidence to prove his claim but is building up a body of circumstantial evidence which he hopes will tilt the balance in favour of his claim.

In order to further my knowledge about the subject I joined Ian and a few other Burns enthusiasts to visit the mines and discuss further the basis of his claim.
Following a most informative underground tour of Lochnell Mine with our guide Robert, we visited one of the most fascinating aspects of Hidden Treasures Museum of Leadmining, the Wanlockhead Miner’s Library.
The library houses a collection of books which have been recognised to have "Great National Importance" and can be seen as a symbol of the lead miners' culture and education. It is the second oldest subscription library in Scotland, and indeed Europe, and was established on the 1st November 1756. The library was funded by subscriptions from the miners, but a contribution was also made by mining companies in order to encourage 'self-improvement' in the miners. According to our informative guide, David Duncan (below), there was a hidden agenda, as the mining companies believed that the library would help to cut down on the unruly behaviour which existed at the time! In the middle are mannequins representing the librarian (left) and William Gass who, as the excellent audio presentation tells us, is trying to join the library by transferring his late father William Meikle’s membership certificate to his name. The library was considered very progressive in that it allowed women to subscribe.
Although we have no record of Burns having visited the library, he would almost certainly have known about it and went on to help establish and run one himself along roughly similar lines in the form of the Monklands Friendly Society at Dunscore Parish in 1789.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Clootie Dumpling Lecture

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Kay Park Burns Monument Centre was the setting for the annual ‘Clootie Dumpling’ Lecture organised by the Howff Burns Club, Kilmarnock. [Photograph courtesy of Ewan McDougal Photography]

The lecture, with the intriguing title of ‘In and Out of Tam O’Shanter,’ was delivered by Jim Thomson, President of the Ayrshire Association of Burns Clubs.

With the clootie dumpling centre stage and in front of an expectant full house in the delightful circular auditorium, Jim wove a fascinating series of strands into a comprehensive, informative and thought-provoking study of Burns’ great narrative tale. Basing his research on anecdotal evidence, previously published works and years of observing performances of the poem, Jim has amassed sufficient material for a book which he intends publishing in the very near future. Based on what I heard at the lecture, this promises to be a volume worthy of a place on the bookshelves of all serious Burnsians who want to learn more about Burns' masterpiece. Dozing off during the lecture wasn’t an option as Jim fired questions at the audience to test their knowledge of some of the less-understood words in the poem. Following my vote of thanks, Howff Club President, Lorrie Headley, invited the audience to sample the tempting array of clootie dumplings prepared by members of the club.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Anniversary Dinners

6 March 2010

Cambusnethal Miners Welfare Club was the venue for me to speak at a most enjoyable Anniversary Dinner of the Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs (LABC).

The top table guests from left to right: Councillor Pam Clearie (Wife of the Provost) Provost South Lanarkshire Russell Clearie, Cathie Cowie, Archie Cowie (Pres. LABC), me, Helen Waddell Hon President of Allanton Jolly Begars Burns Club, Eric Budgell (V.Pres LABC) and Lily Budgell (Mins Sec LABC)

As I had pointed out in my speech that one of the most commendable aspects of the LABC was its unflagging support for the Schools competitions it was a particular delight to see two stalwarts rewarded for their efforts over many years. Bob Dalziel and Liz Totten (below with President Archie Cowie) were each presented with an engraved glass memento which acknowledged their inspirational contribution to the Schools competitions.

I also commented on the fine work done by the LABC in maintaining the cairn at Covington Mains and arranging the annual celebration of the visit made by Burns when he stayed there with farmer Archibald Prentice, en route for his triumphant first stay in Edinburgh in November 1786. Burns said of Prentice, “sound sense and plain warm hospitality are truly his.” I can only comment that I found the same good sense and warm hospitality still well to the fore within the membership of LABC.

12 March 2010

I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at a very special anniversary dinner as Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No1 celebrated its 80th birthday in the Cairndale Hotel Dumfries.

Seated in front of the illustrious gathering of past and current Presidents are Mrs Mary Schlag (right), the longest-serving member and Mrs Jenny Burns (left) the oldest member who both took part in cutting the beautiful cake later in the evening.

I tried to do justice to the club in recognising its generous contributions to charity, its participation in all aspects of the Southern Scottish Counties Burns Association, its support for the Federation’s Schools’ Competition and its hosting of the annual Tam O’Shanter recitation competition. Along with Mary Schlag, some have been members for over fifty years, some for over forty years and at least 13 have over thirty years service which is a great testament to the loyalty and longevity of the club. Keep up the good work and roll on your century!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Emily Smith Concert

Friday 19 February 2010

What a thrill to be in Dunedin the very same night on which Scottish Singer of the Year Emily Smith and her Husband Jamie were performing their concert in the Otago Settlers Museum in the heart of the city. A packed-house audience were captivated by the range and quality of the musicianship of this incredibly talented duo. Emily sang many of her own delightful compositions and Jamie played exerpts from his new album and demonstarted vituoso skill on the fiddle which had the feet tapping and hands clapping.
They also sang several Burns' songs from their Year of Homecoming show 'Adown Winding Nith' and showed Burns' song-making capabilities off to great effect. All-in-all a delightful evening which is part of an exhausting trip for Emily and Jamie as they tour Australia and New Zealand.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dunedin Burns Club

Saturday 20 February 2010

As my last commitment of my trip I visited Dunedin which surpassed even my highest expectations as the Scots Capital of New Zealand. My visit coincided with a festival of pipe bands which paraded through the city and right past the Burns Statue in the 'Octagon' in the centre of
the city. This fine statue (just visible above the mace) sits prominently in front of the Anglican Church (below). Close by is the very striking Presbyterain first Church with its close connexion to the Robert Burns story in that his nephew Thomas Burns (son of Burns' brother Gilbert) was the founder minister of the church and played a fundamental role in setting up the city of Dunedin. He was also a member of the founding committee of the internationally-renowned Otago University. During a visit to the present-day University I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor Liam McIlvanney, author of the splendid book 'Burns the Radical,' who currently occupies the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies. As well as researching the influence of the Scottish Diaspora and other groups of emigrants, he is making a particular study of the contraversial New Zealand poet James Keir Baxter who was one of those selected for the Burns Writing Fellowship - a highly prized residential writer's position at the University.

Pat and I enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with the committee members of the Dunedin Burns Club at Umbrello's Restaurant close to the University. After going through a difficult period recently the Club has re-grouped under the leadership of President Sue Cantwell and has a refreshingly young and ebullient Secretary in Emma Burns.
Photograph shows at front President Sue and past president Stan Kirkpatrick and from left to right Club stalwart Margaret Campbell, Pat, me, Secretary Emma and committee member Bruce Spittle. Bruce and his wife Marjorie hosted us most hopitably during the visit and gave us a delightful sightseeing tour of the city and surrounding district. It was also a real pleasure to meet with Stan Kirkpatrick, a member for over fifty years ans someone with an outstanding war record as a member of the Merchant Navy during both the Atlantic and Russian convoys. Together with other Club members he was instrumental in introducing special 'haggis' ceremonies for the benefit of visitors to Dunedin to emphasise the city's Scottish heritage. Another member for over fifty years, Stan Forbes, was not well enough to attend the lunch but I managed to visit him and his wife Roberta in hospital. A Dundonian by birth he is the Patron of the Burns Club and has done outstanding work over the years to keep the Burns Club at the forefront of cultural activity in Dunedin.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Family Reunion

13 February 2010

The personal highlight of my tour down under was meeting up for the very first time with an uncle and cousins whom I only discovered I had after family research in Scotland just before I left for the trip. A grandfather (my father's father) whom I had never met, named Charles Anderson, had left Tarland in Aberdeenshire in 1913 and emigrated to New Zealand. Following the outbreak of WWI he returned with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, a formed unit, and fought in France being wounded twice. On return to New Zealand in 1919 he eventually took up the offer being given to returning servicemen of setting up a farm in Almadale near Feilding. He had six more children in New Zealand and died in 1987. It was a real thrill to meet up with my half-uncle Gordon Anderson (below) and his wife Sheila and three of their daughters. It was also particularly poignant for me to be wearing the Anderson tartan in recognition of my 'Kiwi' grandfather Charles Anderson. Before catching the ferry for South Island we stayed overnight with my 'new' cousin Yvonne (below) and her husband Peter who gave us a wonderful tour of Wellington - a great end to the North Island part of our trip. Photo shows the ferry route through the Cook Straits.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Wanganui Burns Club

12 February 2010

It was a particular pleasure to visit one of the newest Clubs to join the Federation; the Wanganui Burns Club which was affiliated as Federation number 2377 in 2001. I am pictured below with Club President John Hanna with the Federation Membership Certificate proudly on view on the
A very special part of the evening was being given a formal Maori welcome from Paddy 'Cameron' Haira who is the 'Kaumatua' or Cultural Spokesperson for the Wanganui Burns Club. I had to respond to the welcome in bringing greetings from Scotland and the Federation and also had to lead in a song in response to their welcome song.
Following this very special introduction Pat and I were treated to a lovely meal of haggis pastries and silverside beef followed by fruit and ice cream. I had to speak for my supper and enjoyed another very lively question and answer session. I was delighted when the audience said they now better appreciated the role and work of the Federation in promoting the life and works of Robert Burns. Yet again we were hosted magnificently during our visit by Neil Boyd (front right in blue shirt) and his wife Christine (far left in blue dress) who is a direct descendent of Billy Marshall the famous Galloway tinkler gypsie featured in the Stewartry Museum. They run a shop in Wanganui specialising in Scottish collectibles and Neil has accumulated an amazing collection of Burnsiana and has been the driving force behind the formation of the Burns Club and its membership of the Federation.
Pat and I were gift with a beautiful wooden tray and spoons as a memento of our visit made by Ian Henderson a teacher of woodcraft at a College in Wanganui.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Trip Down Under - New Zealand

9 February 2010

Auckland was my first port of call on the New Zealand part of my trip and I spent a most enjoyable extended lunch addressing the Auckland Burns Club. A most knowledgeable audience responded exceptionally well during a Q&A session and we had songs and recitations of the highest calibre including a magnificent rendition of ‘Scots Wha Hae’ by Doug Robertson (bottom right)to close proceedings. President Tom Shiels (middle) presided over proceedings and Pat and I were presented with beautifully carved wooden pens as a memento of our visit. These had been carved by our host, and Club Secretary, David Small, ( second from right) and pictured below with his wife Beth and ‘Lass’ their cairn terrier.They could not have been kinder hosts and gave us a memorable start in our exploration of New Zealand's North Island. I was also given a bound copy of a poem entitled ‘An Epitaph and Eulogy for Robert Burns” written by Charles Colquhoun Rowan, a member of the Club. Later in the day I paid a visit to the very fine 1921 Burns Statue in the Auckland Domain Gardens.

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.