Cragaig on the south side of Ulva

The Australian Link

The Scottish side of the story

To celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary and mark Scotland’s close ties with that country a special ceremony took place at the Commonwealth Institute in Edinburgh on 8th April 1988 at which stones collected from the parishes of Scotland were given a VIP send-off to Sydney, Australia where they will be erected into a memorial cairn.

Pride of place went to a large whinstone from the island of Ulva, the birthplace of Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) the distinguished 5th governor of New South Wales whose long and enlightened tenure in office earned him the accolade “Father of Australia”. The whinstone which will cap the cairn, was dressed by stonemason Duncan Matheson from Killilan in Wester Ross.

To climax the ceremony, the stone, accompanied by Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Douglas McLelland, High Commissioner for Australia, was piped from the building by Pipe Major John Horn of the Edinburgh Post Office Pipe Band to be loaded for its long journey Down Under.

Not many stone hunters were as adventurous as the Rev Bill Niven who climbed to the top of Cairngorm at the end of February in a 90 mph blizzard to collect his contribution.

As a gesture of goodwill the stones were assembled from all over Scotland by the Royal Mail and carried to Chariot Freight in Leith who generously stored them free of charge.

Among the many distinguished guests who saw the stones on their way were Lord Provost John McKay; Sir lain Noble, Chairman of the Scotland- Australia Cairn Committee; John Mackay, Chairman of the Scottish Post Office Board; the Very Revd Prof John McIntyre and the Marquess of Linlithgow.

Earlier in a simple ceremony the Moderator Designate of the Church of Scotland, Rev Professor Jim Whyte dedicated the Ulva stone.

About 1700 stones/ representing the parishes of Scotland were gathered by ministers of the Kirk and other volunteers. Most are rough stones of many shapes picked at random from the land. Some however have been enthusiastically dressed or inscribed such as the stone from the Blacader Aisle of Glasgow Cathedral. Others were collected from historical ground such as one from the Covenanters Prison at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.

The Australian side of the story

Here frae a’ the airts upon stane

Haud thegither thru wind and rain

Minders of Scotland that aince was hame


1988 marks the year sixteen million Australians will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the eleven ships of the First Fleet arriving at Botany Bay with 1,468 Britons who became Australia’s first European settlers.

The Scotland Australia Bicentennial Committee has agreed that one way of showing the many and diverse human, cultural and business relationships between Scotland and Australia would be the erection of a traditional caim in Sydney, New South Wales.

For centuries Scots have built caims to remember events of people, ranging from larger formal structures to small mounds of stones. As befits a caim signifying the links between two countries such as Scotland and Australia, both of which have added so much to the story of human endeavour, the caim in Sydney is intended to be large and imposing, located in a prominent site as a permanent landmark and potential gathering point for important Scottish Australian occasions.

The Caim to be known as “the Scotland Australia Cairn” will be about 10 feet high, consisting of more than 1,700 stones, one from each parish in Scotland. The monument will be particularly dedicated to Lachlan MacQuarrie “the Father of Australia”, and the top most stone will come from Mull where he was bom. There will also be an inscription about Governor MacQuarrie.

The traditional structure will be mounted on a more ornamental base contrasting with the rougher character of the Cairn itself. This base will raise the height of the monument, and also on one side provide a platform for ceremonial occasions in times to come.

The collection of the stones from every parish to a central warehouse in Leith, prior to departure in a container to Sydney, is being undertaken by Royal Mail Letters.

After a suitable ceremony in the Spring of 1988 to dedicate the stones before they depart carrying their message of greetings and kinship overseas, the Australian National Line, in association with Chariot Freight Ltd of Leith, will ship the stones to Sydney.

On delivery the stones will come into the care of the Scottish Australian Heritage Council who will arrange for them to be brought to the site for erection. The return making of the Caim will be carried out by a Scottish mason-craftsman who will fly to Australia for the task. A formal opening is being planned for August 1988 by a prominent personality.

The whole operation will require considerable funding in addition to the help of the Scottish Post Office, the Australian National Line and Chariot, and this money will be raised jointly in Scotland and Australia.

The Scotland Australia Cairn will be a lasting and unique monument to celebrate. the deeds of the Scots in Australia and the strong continuing friendships between the two countries.

Stones revive clan warfare Down Under

As in most good Scottish stories, the saga has a good feud in it somewhere. Here is the Australian one taken from a newspaper of the time by Christopher Morris, Sydney.

“As Scots prepare to don sporans and kilts in rival tartans for the biggest international gathering of Scottish clans in the Southern Hemisphere, police here are anxiously guarding a pile of stones at the centre of a raging controversy.

The 1,745 stones were collected from every parish in Scotland and transported 12,000 miles to the other side of the world to build a caim, Scotland’s bicentennial gift to Australia.

Down Under it has become known as The Great Cairn Caper — a saga of stones in which Celtic passions are running high in a Scottish soap opera and comedy rolled into one.

The final resting place of the caim, which commemorates great deeds and those responsible for them in the best Scottish traditions, has been the subject of a fiercely bitter wrangle. Four Australian country towns have laid claim to being the most Scottish place of all.

In the resulting war of words, no stone has been left unturned to win the dubious honour of providing a permanent home for the caim. In New South Wales, Scone invoked its name derived from Scotland’s ancient capital. Glen Innes pointed to its early Scottish settlers and highland landscape, while Maclean — the so-called Scottish town of Australia, cited its pipe band and its Gaelic street signs. From Victoria, the town of Dayles-ford with the state’s largest clan gathering, came protest at its own rebuff.

One angry clansman has threatened to steal the completed cairn. And the “people’s army” of Daylesford has warned in an open letter to the citizens of Sydney: “Your border clubs will shrivel and die for lack of Daylesford’s free-spending citizens. Your throats will parch for lack of our mineral water. Your Opera House looks ugly and we hope your bridge falls down.”

Executives of the Scottish-Australia Heritage Council have been appalled by the clans’ unseemly squabbles.

“I thought the argument was bloody stupid,” said Mr Jock Macdougall, whose idea it was to build the caim in Sydney. “It was our plan and then when we arranged it all, the other places tried to get in on the act.” Mr Malcolm Broun, the council’s deputy chairman added: “There is no doubt the caim should be placed in Sydney. After all there are more people of Scottish descent in Sydney than in Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

And since 1.3 million Sydneysiders claim Scottish ancestry, Sydney won the day. The permanent home chosen for the caim was in a harbourside park, close to a national landmark called Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. The caim was not only a gift to the Australian people but also a monument to Lachlan Macquarie, the 19th century governor of the New South Wales penal colony. Unfortunately, the owners of the park, the Royal Botanic Gardens, insisted the cairn be pulled down in a little more than a month’s time when Australia’s 200th birthday celebrations end.

The chairman of the Scottish Caim Committee, the merchant banker Mr lain Noble, flew out from the Isle of Skye to try to resolve the issue, but went home defeated saying it was up to Sydneysiders to decide the location. Another site was offered at Sydney Park just before the state election in the constituency held by the Premier Barrie Unsworth. But Mr Unsworth’s 54-vote majority was overturned at the polls and the new minister scrapped the deal. Worse still, it was discovered that Sydney Park, built on a rubbish tip, was sinking by about three feet a year.

A site was finally found in Sydney at Rawson Park overlooking the harbour.

Most of the stones have been gathered by children throughout Scotland. They were packed appropriately in Scotch whisky canons and shipped out to Australia.

The pinnacle stone, carved as a Celtic cross, and bearing the Gaelic motto of the Macquarie clan, had to be shipped from the island of Ulva off Mull, where Macquarie was born.

The further problem of who would officially unveil the caim on Wednesday — St Andrew’s Day — was resolved by the agreement of the Duke of Argyll, head of the clan Campbell, estimated at 20 million worldwide.

But the police, fearing some last-minute sabotage, are keeping a 24 hour watch this week on a pile of stones in a city park which has aroused so many passions among rival Scottish clans Down Under.”