Battle of Bannockburn: 700th Anniversary


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:29): Seven hundred years ago, on this very day, the armies of Robert the Bruce, then King of Scotland, and Edward II, King of England, were respectively celebrating and lamenting what was to be the last major battle between the Scots and the English, where the Scots actually were militarily successful. The Battle of Bannockburn was a significant Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence and a landmark in Scottish history.

Stirling Castle was under siege by the Scots, and King Edward assembled a formidable army to relieve it and a pitched battle took place just south of Stirling Castle. The decisive Scottish victory was even more significant in that the Scots were considerably outnumbered with estimates ranging from between 5,000 to 10,000 Scots against 14,000 to 25,000 English.

The 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn comes a few months before Scottish people will vote on whether to sever their union with Great Britain which has been in place since 1707. This time, however, the decision on whether the Scots should be part of the English crown will be determined by ballot rather than battle. And, regardless of the outcome of the ballot, one could well speculate on who will actually win that war. While this significant anniversary will be celebrated by those of Scottish lineage all over the world, tonight a special celebration is being held in this very building. The parliamentary Scottish group, led by self-appointed coordinators Senator Cameron, Senator McKenzie, Mr Ferguson, Mr Scott and myself, are hosting a Scottish dinner in the parliamentary dining room where over 100 paying guests—who defy their Scottish tradition by paying a modest price—will enter into the fun and frivolities.

To celebrate this occasion, there will be the traditional Address to a Haggis before everyone partakes in this wonderful Scottish culinary tradition. The Deputy British High Commissioner will be giving the Toast to the Lassies and other speakers will give a brief explanation of the upcoming referendum in Scotland on devolution.

In honour of this significant Scottish anniversary, I am today wearing the traditional Scottish attire which, for those interested, I might add is the tartan of the MacDonnells of Glengarry. As a fifth generation Scot, whose forebears—as best I am able to calculate—left their homes in the highlands at Bohuntine, about 25 kilometres north-east of Fort William, over 160 years ago, I think I am entitled to wear the tartan of MacDonnell of Glengarry or perhaps MacDonald of Keppoch.

This is not the first time I have worn the Scottish national dress into this chamber. On St Andrews Day in 1995, on the final day of parliament for that year, I wore the Australian tartan which, as I said in a speech at the time, made use of the five colours of the land most used by Australian Aborigines—that is, ochre, red-brown, black, white and cobalt blue—giving the Australian tartan an overall warm appearance reminiscent of the great outback. Some of the Scottish tradition and the Aboriginal culture can meet, and did so in the form of the tartan.

It is interesting to note that links between Scotland and Australia stretch back to the first British expedition under the command of James Cook who was himself the son of a Scottish ploughman. It was during that voyage that Cook named two groups of Pacific Islands in honour of Scotland: New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. Interestingly the first European to die on Australian soil was a Scot, Forby Sutherland, from Orkney, an able-seaman who died on 30th April, 1770 of consumption. He was the first European to be buried on the colony by Captain Cook who named Sutherland Point at Botany Bay in his honour.

The first Scottish settlers arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and three of the first governors of New South Wales, John Hunter, Lachlan Macquarie and Thomas Brisbane, were all Scots. The majority of Scots who arrived in the early colonial period were convicts. Eight thousand-odd Scottish convicts were amongst the 150,000 transported. That is only about five per cent and the fact that there is such a relatively small number of Scots in the transportation figures stems from the fact that Scottish courts were unwilling to punish, by deportation to Australia, crimes under Scottish law that were deemed to be for lesser offences. Scottish law was considered more humane for lesser offences than English and Irish laws.

Scottish immigrants in the early nineteenth century were farmers and land owners who chose to emigrate willingly due to the Scottish economic recession of the 1820s. By 1830, over 15 per cent of the colonies' total population were Scots which increased in the middle of the century to somewhere around 25 per cent of the total population. In the 1850s, 90,000 had emigrated, which was far higher than the British or Irish populations at the time. Literacy rates of Scottish immigrants ran at 90 to 95 per cent.

At the 2006 census, 130,240 Australian residents stated that they were born in Scotland. Some 1.8 million Australians, including myself and my wife and many who will celebrate with us tonight, claimed Scottish ancestry. All over Australia, many towns and communities are named after Scottish towns and notables including Brisbane, the capital of my home state, and the town in which I live, Ayr.

A number of prominent Australians over history claim a Scottish heritage. Time permits me to name only a few: Angus Houston; James Boag—of Tasmanian Brewery fame; Thomas Brisbane; Andrew Fisher—former Prime Minister; George Reid; Thomas Livingstone Mitchell; John Dunmore Lang; Mary Gilmore; AB Patterson—the composer of the Australian song Waltzing Matilda; together with Malcom Fraser; Dame Nellie Melba; St Mary MacKillop; and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark—all had Scottish parents.

Of course, I could not let a speech on Scotland pass without acknowledging Senator Doug Cameron and the man he replaced, former senator George Campbell, two Australian citizens of Scottish birth to have graced this Senate. I should also mention that former senator Rod Kemp, who was a founding member of the Parliamentary Scots, has continued his love of his Scottish heritage as a now prominent member of the Melbourne Scots.

Clearly, over Australia's post-1770 history, Scots have made a very significant contribution in so many ways to the governance, culture, science and business of our nation.

With the generosity of Diageo, with an impressive range of fine malt and blended whiskies, with the help of our wee lassies Elaine Cameron, Joan Scott and Lesley Macdonald, and with the attendance of a wonderful in-house piper and dancer, Claire Smith and Ryan Post, the Scottish Parliamentary Group will tonight be celebrating the contribution to Australia of those of Scottish descent and, in particular, will be remembering a significant part of Scottish history that took place 700 years ago today.

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