Why it may be asked, did Victoria chance to be the scene of such an upsurge of Scottish Societies so early in its history?
The explanation appears to be that, aside from the fact that Scots have always been so apt to "get together" on the slightest provocation, Victoria had the luck to receive in its youth bulk supplies of folk from the land of Burns and not only during the gold rush era, but in earlier days.
For example, the first immigrant ship to arrive in Port Phillip, on 27th October 1839 was the David Clark from Greenock. And among its passengers were recorded men named McArthur, McFarlane, Menzies, Stewart, MacDonald, Mathieson, McLachlan, McCool and Mackenzie.
In 1956 Geelong's Commun Na Fiene was formed, followed by Maryborough Highland Society in 1857. In 1858 the Ballarat Caledonian Society, and Royal Caledonian Society of Victoria (now Melbourne) were established; Bendigo followed suit in 1859 by also forming a Caledonian Society.
It should be noted that Maryborough, Royal Caledonian and Bendigo Caledonian Societies are still very active today.
There you have the names of the five chief Scottish Societies in the early days of Victoria. But, as a notable fact, they were not the first of their kind, for records indicate that two or three Scottish organisations were formed in Melbourne from as early as 1846. One, a St Andrews Society, had died in infancy, the chief complication being a dispute about whether Englishmen and Irishmen should be admitted to the dinners.
In the period 1902 – 1906 no fewer than fourteen (14) new Societies developed in Victoria. In view of all this activity, it was not surprising that a suggestion arose for the forming of a Federation of Scottish Societies.
An article in The Scot for 1904 emphasised the need for a committee from various societies to control Highland Dancing, Piping, Games competitions and other activities, and the Rushworth Caledonian Society promptly took up the matter and called a Conference to consider it.
That convention, held at the rooms of the Melbourne Caledonian Society, then at 31 Queen Street – on 2nd September 1904, marked the genesis of the Victorian Scottish Union.
Thirty-six delegates, representing twelve Scottish Societies, attended the convention where George Gibb (President Royal Caledonian Society 1901-1906) was elected Chairman, and Hector Maclennan (Secretary Royal Caledonian Society 1898-1905) Secretary.
The twelve (12) Societies were: Melbourne Caledonian, Melbourne Thistle, Geelong, Bendigo, Terang, Rushworth, Noorat, Hamilton, Mansfield, Drouin, Footscray and Williamstown.
The chief outcome of the meeting was a decision, sponsored by Rushworth, for the forming of a Union of Scottish Societies; a draft constitution for the new body included recommendations that the name should be the VICTORIAN SCOTTISH UNION and that its aims should be educational and benevolent.
The recommendations were subsequently ratified at a meeting held in Melbourne on 8th September 1905. That date, therefore, ranks as the birthday of the VSU.
In its first year of existence, the VSU set its hand to three things in particular:
· Regulating and controlling Scottish Sports (Highland Dancing, Piping, etc)
· Establishing scholarships for children of Scottish descent
· Attacking the use of the word ‘English’ for matters concerning the whole of Britain.
Author: W. Schrank
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