North Bute Lit: Shaping Australia from Scotland

North Bute Literary Society's first meeting of the new season was on some of the issues and problems faced throughout the 19th century by trail blazers who had a major influence in forming Australia.
North Bute Literary Society's first meeting of the new season was on some of the issues and problems faced throughout the 19th century by trail blazers who had a major influence in forming Australia.

The speaker at the first meeting of North Bute Literary Society was Norman Deeley who, after an extended visit to family in Australia, became fascinated by the number of Scots who had a major influence in forming that nation.

Norman told a story of the immensity of some of the issues and problems faced throughout the 19th century by the ‘trail blazers’. The five men and women he described covered areas such as setting up a new country, economics, transport and communication over vast distances, and the political system.

Although they had in common their Scottish nationality, childhood and education, they had very different characters, backgrounds and spheres of influence. The first of the five was Lachlan Macquarie (born 1761, Ulva) who, after a distinguished Army career serving in America and India, was commissioned as the first Governor of New South Wales. He grappled with running the Colony as both a settled community and a penal settlement. To alleviate the problem of increasing numbers of convicts he commenced an ambitious programme of public works. Macquarie also fought politically both in NSW and England to change the status of ex convicts when their sentences were complete.

In complete contrast, a much lesser known Scot was Eliza Forlonge (born 1784, Glasgow). Through an unusual route she influenced the economy of the emerging country. After losing four of her children to consumption, Eliza and her husband sought to farm in a warmer clime. She was aware of the higher value of wool from Merino sheep and spent a few years in Leipzig learning everything she could about breeding and rearing them. Over two years Eliza hand picked the individual animals to form the basis of a flock to take to Australia. With her pioneering and managerial skills these sheep were the start of the two biggest studs – the backbone of the economy for many decades.

Norman described another influential Scot, John McDouall Stuart (born 1815, Dysart), a surveyor and explorer, who embarked on a number of amazing journeys to open up the interior of Australia. Among many discoveries he founded a route north all the way to the Indian Ocean in 1862. During his journeys McDouall Stuart depended greatly on Aborigines who, in many other situations, were abused and exploited.

Another Scot discussed by Norman was Andrew Fisher (born 1862, Crosshouse). Fisher, a miner from the age of ten, was a union activist in both Scotland and Australia before embarking on a political career which saw him a founder member of the Labour Party and eventually the fifth Prime Minister of Australia. Under his watch both the Australian Navy and the Commonwealth Bank were formed. He fought for political equality for women.

This last sphere of influence overlapped with the achievements of Catherine Helen Spence (born 1825, Melrose). Although originally a fiction writer Catherine became a social commentator and her chosen causes included fostering of orphaned children, education for girls, electoral reform and female suffrage. In 1897 Catherine was the first Australian female political candidate but was sadly unelected.

Norman explained that this disparate group of people, each in their own way, faced issues in an emerging country which in many ways society today seems to be revisiting.

On Tuesday, October 18 at 7.30 pm the topic will be The Life of David Livingstone by Aileen Campbell.