Spreading The Word: Scottish Newspapers In Australia’s Past

This month we celebrate 35 years of The Scottish Banner. This achievement is testament to the popularity and usefulness of the Banner among Scots and people of Scottish ancestry across the world. It seems appropriate, then, to take a look back into Australia’s past at some other publications that have come before the Banner, what they achieved and why they were important.

There have been newspapers and magazines available for expatriate Scots in Australia, and in the New World more generally, for a long time now. Various organisations – Caledonian societies in particular – have published special interest periodicals for Scots since at least the 1850s, throughout the twentieth century, and up until today.

For example, in the first half of the twentieth century, the Highland Society of New South Wales published The Scottish Australasian. Its Victorian counterpart, The Scot At Hame An’ Abroad, had its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s under the guidance of the Victorian Scottish Union and the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne.

Even earlier than these was the Gaelic-language publication, An Teachdaire Gaidhealach (The Gaelic Messenger). Based in Hobart and originally published in the 1850s, this monthly newspaper contained articles, letters, news and literature in Scottish Gaelic. It represented many of the early efforts to preserve the language for future generations. Similarly, in the 1850s and 1860s a local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, from south-west Victoria frequently published Gaelic letters and poetry. In 1926, The Scot At Hame An’ Abroad told readers that such efforts were commendable, but unlikely to be successful when similar attempts were failing in Scotland.

As with the Scottish Gaelic publications, newspapers and magazines for Scots over the last century-and-a-half have been highly important for preserving Scottish culture. This has especially been the case for Scots language. The unique Scots idiom was naturally diluted in the melting pot of languages and dialects that Australia was in the early days. But, the maintenance and promotion of Scots language through poetry, song and literature – in the style of Burns, for example – was largely accomplished by these publications.

Scottish periodicals have also been important for promoting cultural activities like Highland games, ceilidhs, Scottish dancing, Burns Nights and many other events run by Caledonian societies. They have communicated news between societies, from within Scottish communities abroad, and from Scotland itself.

But, being a Scottish migrant is not all about wearing kilts and having an accent, and another particularly important feature these publications provided was to advertise essential services for new migrants. Access to housing, employment, churches, social clubs, and welfare were all important to the success of a new immigrant and, in some situations, sharing a common nationality was as good as being members of the same family. Thus, like other migrants, the Scots formed support networks in their new homelands, and newspapers were central to the success of these networks. They have helped to maintain connections among migrant Scots, and between Scots and their homeland, and have helped to create what is now known as a ‘global clan’.

Since the 1970s, there has been a Scottish cultural renaissance with hundreds of clubs, events and publications springing up across the world. Genealogical and family history research has boomed as more and more people become aware of their Scottish heritage. Communication is the key to these developments, and publications like The Scottish Banner play no small part in linking Scots together and keeping the flame alive. Well done!

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