One of Geelong’s oldest and most popular major events, The Geelong Highland Gathering, first held in 1857, has come to an end. The Gathering attracted thousands of people annually and became the second largest such event in Australia, before losing its home of more than 50 years, Queens Park, in 2011.
Since 2011, The Gathering has been held at Fyansford, Geelong Showgrounds, Deakin University at Waurn Ponds, Goldsworthy Reserve, Corio and, in 2019, Osborne Park, North Geelong. It was not held in 2020, 2021 or 2022 because of the Covid pandemic. The event was founded by the Comunn na Feinne Society, which itself was created only a year earlier, in 1856, by Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander settlers in Geelong. The Comunn na Feinne Hotel – now known as “The Commo” – on the corner of Bellarine and Kilgour streets – is a reminder of the past.
The ageing Gathering committee has been attempting to attract younger members for several years to ensure its future, but without success. At a special meeting following its 2022 AGM, it was decided to bring The Gathering to an end when there were no nominations for office bearers. “For several years we have been trying to attract younger people to take on committee positions to ensure the future of The Gathering, but to no avail”, Geelong Highland Gathering Association’s former Chair and Chieftain, Dr Maurice Marshall, said. He thanked the City of Greater Geelong and its officers who had been very supportive of the event.
A wonderful major event for Geelong
“I am saddened and stressed by the loss, but privileged to have been part of The Gathering and at home in Geelong”, Dr Marshall added. He said all members of the committee shared his sadness at their inability to attract younger members. The Victorian Pipe Band Championships, South Pacific Highland Games Championships, Highland dancing competitions, Scottish country dancing displays, folk music, clan and heritage groups, 42nd Highland Regiment and Varangian Guard historic re-enactment group, Scottish market and Highland cattle display, were major attractions.
The original Gathering ran from 1857 to 1929 when it became a victim of the Great Depression. But in 1957, Newtown City Council resurrected The Gathering when it sought a major event for Queens Park. The council ran it until municipal amalgamation in 1993, when the City of Greater Geelong took it over before passing it on to the newly formed Geelong Highland Gathering Association (GHGA) in 1995. The GHGA grew the event considerably. “It has been a wonderful major event for Geelong over so many years, reminding us of the major influence of Scottish migrants, including James Harrison, the inventor of refrigeration and founder of the Geelong Advertiser, the Rev Andrew Love, the region’s first Presbyterian minister and Alexander Thomson, first mayor of Geelong”, Dr Marshall said: “Sadly The Geelong Highland Gathering has ended.”