Geelong Highland Gathering permanently cancelled

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.

Highland dancers at the Gathering in 1880s.

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

Massed bands at Queens Park in 2009.

“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.”

4 thoughts on “Geelong Highland Gathering permanently cancelled”

  1. So sad, this was such a iconic event for Geelong and was pleased to have attended for the many years. I just hope in the near future, that community will feel the lose of this event and build together to make this happen. I only wish I could help but unfortunately just not old enough! A very big thank you to all former committee members and volunteers. The gathering has and always be apart of Geelong’s life. I don’t know what to do with myself on the last Sunday of March.

  2. I recently attended the Celtic festival Portarlington to my delight enjoyed the bands and dancing. Our family travelled from SthKingsville to Queens Park every year and loved it and as a child I enjoyed highland dancing with competitions etc with 1 Moomba performance. I’m sad to hear GHG is no longer happening at Geelong but am so glad to see the Celtic Festival providing this wonderful tradition. I took video of some of the performances fr my elderly mother living in nearby aged care, who insists having a piper at her funeral when that day comes. God bless you all and thankyou for your dedication to keeping it alive and well. Heather Ellis

  3. Sad to hear the Gathering has been cancelled in Geelong we can only hope that it will be restored in coming years as it was great event!!

  4. Time to get it up and running again!!! Geelong should embrace the highland gathering again!! With the popular Outlander series the highlands have a new age of followers!!

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