Now according to Wikipedia the Highlands of Scotland are:
“…north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Scottish Gaelic name of A’ Ghàidhealtachd literally means “the place of the Gaels” and traditionally, from a Gaelic-speaking point of view, includes both the Western Isles and the Highlands.”
The other day I knew that I was in the Georgian Town of Richmond in Tasmania, Australia, but you could be forgiven for looking out over the Coal River Valley at the distant hills and imagining that you had suddenly been transported 17,324 km (10764 miles) to the Scottish Highlands. This was particularly reinforced when the skirl of the pipes was to be heard floating across the valley. The reality was not that I had been suddenly swept up in Gaelic daydream and astral planed to a far off land but I was at the St Andrews Richmond Highland Gathering where all things Scottish were being celebrated. According to their Facebook page:
“The St Andrew Society Hobart Incorporated was formed in 1960 by a group of people who wanted to keep alive the traditions, dancing, music, sports and literature of Scotland. The motto of the Society is “Cairdeas”, a Gaelic word meaning “Friendship”. Membership of the Society is open to persons who are interested in fostering the objectives of the Society. “
The Scots are the third largest migrant group in Tasmania and they were numerous among the early settlers lured across by the prospect of farming in the Midlands of Tasmania which reminded them of their homelands. Prior to 1830 most Scots who migrated were farmers and landowners who were trying to escape the economic recession of the 1820’s. Other Scots came because they had served in the British Colonial forces and they stayed on when their term of service ended. From the 1830’s onwards the working poor joined the diaspora and they headed for Hobart to work in the industries there. This rate of migration has remained steady throughout the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty First.
So it was no wonder that as we pulled up in Richmond that the town was positively heaving with visitors. Now Richmond is well and truly on tourist route number 1 in Tasmania and can be busy throughout most of the year, especially so in summer. But nothing prepared us for this. I struggled to find a parking space, but luckily after a slow lap of the town I found a spot down by the Coal River and just a short walk from the village green where the action was happening.
At this point I feel compelled to make a public disclosure. When I was a young lad I had been exposed to the bagpipes through attending things like the The Royal Tournament at Earls Court in London. At that point I was fairly bagpipe neutral – I neither liked or disliked them. Then in December of 1987 we were in Kathmandu, Nepal, during the wedding season. Part of the wedding ceremony is to have a procession through the streets which is led by a marching (and I use the term loosely here as most seemed rather shambolic) band. Here I was subjected to bag pipe-playing of the most hideous nature. There are not words in the English language that adequately describe how bloody awful it was. The nearest I can get is to imagine a cat with a soprano voice being fed through a mangle while gargling on razor blades whilst having its nether regions probed by red-hot pokers and that doesn’t nearly describe the aural torture that I experienced. Ever since then I would rather slide down a banister rail made out of razor blades using my testicles as brakes rather listen to bagpipes. It was, then, with some trepidation that I approached the green. The first thing I saw was the Scottish dancing with young tartan clad girls deftly defying gravity as they leapt and pranced on the stage. A walk around the perimeter of the green found a plethora of stalls selling on manner of Scottish items ranging from Celtic crosses to your clan’s genealogy. In the centre of the green there were competitions for the best pipe band, the best piper, the best pipe major, the best dressed band, demonstrations of Scottish country dancing and a choir. The strange thing was that I really enjoyed it. There was no sound of screaming mangled cats – it was all a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
So if you ever find your self in Southern Tasmania in February nip up to Richmond for the Highland Gathering its a fun day out.