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Issue 7 - Finding Scotland Down Under

Scotland Magazine Issue 7
March 2003


This article is 15 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Finding Scotland Down Under

Roddy Martine talks...

At the end of last year I was fortunate enough to travel down under for Sydney Scottish Week, where I was the guest of the Scottish-Australian Heritage Council. In 2002 it was a particularly auspicious occasion since the council was celebrating its 21st year.

Founded by a group of interested Australian Scots led by Rosemary Nicholson Samos, the primary aim of the SAHC and of Sydney Scottish Week since 1981 has been to assert the place of Scottish heritage in an emerging climate of Australian multiculturalism.

And today that message has gained an even greater momentum as the face of Australia, and indeed the world, undergoes radical change. The Irish, Jews, Chinese, Malays and Indians understand the importance of cultural identity abroad, and they work hard to encourage it.

Unfortunately, home-based Scots have, to their detriment, and to a very great extent, shown a singular disinterest in consolidating the worldwide network of goodwill and affection fostered through such initiatives as Sydney Scottish Week.

This worries me, because as Scotland itself becomes increasingly multicultural, and is inevitably sucked into the European millpond, we are in serious danger of losing sight of who the Scots really are and what they stand for.

Now this is not a cri de coeur for nationalism, nor a criticism of the multiculturalism that is today seen as essential to the wellbeing of all of us in a civilised society.

It is a cry for the preservation of a unique personal identity, and that unique personal identity can only be sustained by such celebrations as I have been privileged to witness in Nova Scotia, North Carolina, Washington, New York and most recently, Sydney.

It does not matter if the interpretation is different from that which we have become used to back in Scotland.

On my recent visit, I was taken to Joadja Creek, a restored shale-mining village, 20km from Mittagong in the Southern Uplands.

Here, until the beginning of the 20th century, up to 2,000 Scots miners lived and worked, producing kerosene oil, candles and petroleum products which they shipped off to Europe and America. As we were shown around, you could feel their presence in that tumble-down settlement in the depths of that fly-infested eucalyptus forest, far, far away from their birthplaces in Glasgow, Lanark, the Black Isle and Lewis.

Yet here, through physical sweat and mental determination. these men and women created a major industry providing significant employment and shelter to large numbers of immigrant families. The story is the same throughout that vast continent, in every place that the Scots made their home.

So there is a great deal of pride in their achievement, and rightly so. Those early Scots settlers never lost their affection for the land that they had left behind.

Many were homesick, and what sustained them was their culture: the music and songs, the bagpipes and the tartan, the clan and family associations which took on an ever greater significance the more they travelled.

That is what Sydney Scottish Week is all about, but in case anybody might suggest that they are caught in a time warp, the Scottish-Australian Heritage Council annually invites guests from Scotland such as myself.

And I was following in a distinguished line-up which recently has included Professor Ted Cowan from Glasgow University, Dr Sheila Brock from the National Museums of Scotland and Dr Louise Yeoman of the National Libraries of Scotland.

In particular, I want to thank SAHC president Frank Sutherland Davidson and his wife Suzanne, deputy president Malcolm Broun QC, and vice presidents John Macpherson, Peter Alexander, Val Smith, Beryl Hardy Nisbett and secretary David Campbell for an astonishing 10 days of Scottish activity.

I am certain that my co-guests, the Earl and Countess of Dunmore from Tasmania, will endorse me when I say that it was an inspirational experience. And they come from a different point of departure again.

Malcolm Murray, a civil aviation air engineer, inherited an old Scottish earldom from his father, who in turn had inherited it in 1981 from a cousin in Scotland.

He and his wife Joy are a down-to-earth, engaging couple who take their inheritance seriously, realising just how important it is to the many offshoots of the Murray clan to be found almost everywhere you go.

From the moment my British Airways flight touched down on the airport runway, from the magnificent Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans and march from St Stephen’s Church along Macquarrie Street to the Domain, followed by visits to The Scots College and Scottish House, the sunset barbeque on HMAS Waterhen, to the formal Ball held at the Roundhouse of the University of New South Wales and the inspection of the Scotland-Australia Cairn at Rawson Park, Mosman, my feet hardly touched the ground.

Of course, there are problems. The younger generation is often unwilling to be involved in something they see as ‘uncool’. That is, until they reach an age when they become only too aware of what they are allowing to slip away from them.

But, as has always been the case historically, they come around eventually. And in the meantime, Australia annually resounds to the pipes and drums, to the call of the clans and the families of the Scottish Lowlands, and to the spectacle of the tartan, the finest ‘branding’ that has ever been invented. There is a great deal that the Scots back home in Scotland can learn from our cousins down under.

Not least an ability to unashamedly celebrate our great heritage without feeling the need to apologise for doing so.