Ar Eachdraidh - History

Some historical recollections of the Scottish Gaelic Society

The following recollections have been compiled and written by Mrs Joan Fraser, of Oak Park, Melbourne, who has been the a member of the Scottish Gaelic Society since the 1950's. Mrs Fraser has kindly let us publish some of her memories, and remind us that the Society has been strong for many years in Victoria.

1954

The first time we attended the Ceilidh, was with a five year old Andrew and Johan - two and a half years in her pusher - in 1954 was in the YMCA building in Russell Street, Melbourne, on one warm summer’s night. As we went through the main entrance door, there were two men with a whisky flask having a drammie. One was a big tall man, in black pants, black boots and a black fisherman's polo jumper. I remember thinking that he would be awful warm when dancing. There was an old man named Mackenzie, who was a beautiful singer. We did not go to many ceilidhs, for a few years after 1955, as we had our third baby.

A ghost story from Downunder?

In later years the ceilidh was held in a hall in Napier Street, South Melbourne next door to a disused three story building that had been a Roman Catholic orphanage and children's home. Jane and Alastair Macleod from Inverness and their two boys always attended the ceilidh. One summer's evening, the MacLeod boys and our boys and others were paying on the pavement at the door of the hall. Andy went out to check with them, and young Blair MacLeod told them that there were kids in the upstairs room (in the disused orphanage), waving to them and our bairns waved back. Ghosts????

Halloween

The Ceilidh was also held for some time in the railway's Unity Hall, Bourke Street. It was always a big do at Halloween. The hall would be packed, ducking for apples - treacle scones on string, and games, and always the witches. There were some fancy witches’ hats in the competition. We always made a lot of money at the Halloween party, and it was donated to the spastic society of Victoria.

Street songs

Jane MacLeod was a main singer in those days, and she was great at organising games and dances for the youngsters. She had a fund of Glasgow street songs, like "You canna shove your Granny aff a bus", "Three Crows Sat upon a Wa'" etc. The former one was sung by my grandchildren, who learned it from children. Alex Pate on rare occasions would sing her favourite "Doon in the wee house underneath the stairs" and other Glasgow ditties.

One drop too many?

Another personality we remember was Alasdair Gunn, who came from the Highlands, where he used to drive the Brooke Bond tea van. One night when the Ceilidh was held in the Wesley Church Box Hill, Alasdair arrived with his bottle in a bag. Andy got the task of taking him aside and telling him that no drink was allowed in the church premises. We did not want to get kicked out, as we were kicked out of the Scots Church Hall in the city when the bottles were left in the hall under the speakers stand. One ceilidh, when the pipe band was attending, well Alasdair left his bottle in his airways bag, but poor Alasdair tripped over and the contents spilled into the church hall floor. You never saw such a rush into the kitchen to mop up the spill. Now if it was whisky or Drambuie we would all have been down on our hands and knees at it....

"Straight from the heart"

Donald Steel was a Gaelic singer, who came from the Isle of Skye. One night he was ready to sing, and pulled out his paper from his waistcoat pocket when he stopped and said, "That's not my song - it's my sermon for tomorrow". Another Gaelic singer was Neil MacDonald from Tiree, who was a grand singer. He used to scoff at Donald Steel, "He needs to look at his paper", but putting his right hand over his heart and looking straight upwards, "Mine comes straight from the heart.”

A one band man gets a hand - or a foot?

The Ceilidh nights would not have been right without Bill Marsh form Aberdeen with his accordion - a one man band. A few times Bill had a helper, a young slim fair-haired man in a kilt, who played a fiddle. The thing we remember about this man was that he was barefoot. Effie MacDonald was a lonely old lady, who used to knit beautiful socks fro some of her raffles.

Piper's galore

Bill MacRaild and his sister Jessie, from Arisaig, were the oldest members of the Ceilidh. Bill was President for 25 years. Jessie used to sing Gaelic songs. My cousin Dolly married Don Nicholson from one of the small Islands who knew Jessie when she was young. What a fine figure of a girl she was, he always used to tell us. Peter Matheson, another old worthy, used to tell us that when young, he landed in Melbourne on the day of the police strike in Victoria in 1923. Pete, Bill and Malcolm, used to play the bagpipes together at the ceilidhs.

Not just fiddlin' music?

The two MacIntyre sisters from Oban, Mary and Betty, were great workers. Mary took over the treasures job after someone had fiddled the till, and there was not much money left. Every ceilidh for a long time after, they organised the trading to make funds and they would come to the ceilidhs laden with vegetables from their garden.

1995

In 1995, we had our 90th birthday of the Scottish Gaelic Society. We had a big dinner and met up with friends that we had not seen for many years. These last few years, we have had the ceilidhs in members’ homes and one big one in a hall in November.

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