There's a huge amount of info on this website about my work and professional experience, but some people kinda want to know the other stuff, like why I'm here in Scotland at all.
So here goes...
I'm in Scotland because of these two lovely people here, my great grandfather's grandparents - William McKechnie, of Shiaba, South West Mull, & Jane McKechnie, originally of Dunbar.
Shiaba was apparently a thriving township, but has the honour of being described by Professor Sir Tom Devine, no less, as "achingly beautiful", but more importantly, "a fantastic laboratory for looking at the clearances (and) ... the most significant site in the western Highlands."
Which is pretty awesome. You can read more about Shiaba's history in this Scotsman newspaper article from 2005 here. The short version is that the entire village were evicted by the Marquis of Lorne, the Duke of Argyll's son, in 1847, despite a desparate letter from one Neil McDonald, at that time nearly some 100 years of age, writing that"It would be a great hardship and quite unprecedented to remove a man of my age who, is as natural to suppose, is drawing close to the house appointed for all living." His pleas were ignored.
William McKechnie eventually made his way to Edinburgh, where he met the lovely Jane Russell. Like so many during the Highland Clearances, the young couple left Scotland and travelled to Australia on the William Miles, a 581 ton Barque on 16th November, 1854 and arrived at Moreton Bay (Brisbane) 16th February. 1855. They were lucky. In just six years between 1847 and 1853 alone, at least 49 Scottish emigrant vessels were lost at sea.
But back to Jane. In her later years, our family history records that she was adamant that she was a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce through her mother, Jane Bruce, of Dunbar. Quite frankly, given the distance of time, maybe half of Scotland could be related to Robert the Bruce at this point. Nonetheless, considering the vast majority of my work in Scotland is devoted to Gaelic as part of my inner Hebridean McKechnie heritage, this little snippet is the one thing I can do to honour Jane, her family and pride in her lineage. Given the effect of patriarchy on women throughout history via marriage and naming rights, it's a very small, but important thing to me - and I will make no apology to anyone for respecting her claim.
In fairness though, the Jane above does not look like a woman to be argued with. Jane was a professional midwife and travelled on horseback across Rocky River and Inverell, assisting almost 2000 individuals into this world; and nearly always without the assistance of a doctor. As a testement to her skills, William and Janes' family gradually grew to six - all of whom survived, marrried and went on to raise children of their own - unusual and no mean feat in those days.
So yes, respect to Jane. At any rate, I know exactly which ancestral spirits I'll attempt to channel if I ever get mugthumped - if Robert the Bruce doesn't turn up, I'll definitely try for Jane...
All of this and more has been recorded in near forensic detail by three older McKechnie, Mason & McNeil members of my family, Donald, Charles & Cliff respectively. Here's a picture Don took of St Stephen's Church in Edinburgh, where William & Jane married. Beside is a photo of the original Church door they would have walked through on their wedding day (I did say forensic..! One day I'll chase up the Bruce/Russell family Church records in Dunbar & Haddington...)
Their dedication to documenting both our McKechnie family history from the middle ages, up to and including some 540 members scattered across Australia, is simultaneously hugely awe-inspiring and touching. I was given the now much faded blue book on the left below when I was nine, with a beautiful inscription by my proud grandmother, Jessie McKechnie, on the occasion of a massive McKechnie Reunion somewhere in Northern New South Wales, Australia. My half-sister and I were William and Jane's bridesmaids at the reactment of their wedding. I don't really remember much except my mum did something lovely with my hair, we had beautiful soft blue dresses on, and later on, a man would shout things at a haggis while waving a knife and someone would play the bagpipes. Yes I did learn what that was all about eventually...
Cliff McNeil has also compiled an updated version in 2011, mostly because he is awesome. He's also in the Sydney Gaelic choir, which I find personally seriously fabulous. His updated book is on the right above:
But anyway, enough about history and borderline ancestor worship. Because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my wonderful grandmother, Nana Jessie McKechnnie (later Killick and then Houghton). Nana was the ultimate matriach, who kept our extended family together like no other, was apparently faster than the Bush Telegraph, wrote many letters to me in my years in Ireland relaying every detail of family news, and the family's never really been the same since she passed away, some five months before her 90th Birthday. About 500 people turned up for her funeral, with many more undoubtedly unable to come. Here she is on a happy day:
Apart from being great at organising family events, Jess crocheted beautiful blankets for pretty much every grand and great grandchild born in the family, with bonnets etc and more for recent births. I have mine here in Glasgow with me, as well as her kilt, which my cousin Tracey Scott kindly lent to me to bring home with me, because, well, phrases like 'all my family here are dead' don't exactly cheer me up. I have her kilt folded over a rather sturdy YES poster from 2014. I hope she won't mind.
Nana also lived for some 40 years about a 2 minute walk up the road from the Bankstown Scottish Community Hall, which was about a five minute drive away from where my Dad eventually built his own house and raised us. It was a great place for family occasions, and is apparently still functioning to this day.
So anyway, there's a lot more, but perhaps I should mention the six members over four generations of McKechnies and descendents in the family who have taken very active roles in land development, agriculture, trade unionism, public advocacy and politics, spanning the full spectrum from the Liberal and National Parties (commonly deemed right wing parties in Australia) to Labour, Green & SNP.
You can also read more about my involvement in the award-winning advocacy work undertaken on behalf of Irish-Speaking Immigrants in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger on my website here. To say I was steeped in politics from a young age is a bit of an understatement. My Dad fought a pitched battle, up to and including direct liason with former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, as Qantas Security trade union delegate against privatisational corporate forces for nearly my entire adolescence to try and secure his mens' jobs, whilst simultaneously fighting a separate family courtcase to keep the roof over our heads.
His commitment to Labour Party principles lasts to this day, having held the Chairmanship of his local party Branch for several years. As a sidenote, Paul Keating and his family actually lived around the corner from our house and his kids and I were playmates until his election as Finance Minister saw him move down to Canberra.
Perhaps the most notable family contribution however came from Peter McKechnie, Great Grandson of William and Jane, who held some 19 different Government portfolios as a Minister in the Queensland Parliament. He passed away recently unfortunately, but not before writing a detailed account of his life.
His brother, Don, also made massive contributions to Queensland public life, and also works to proudly uphold his Scottish heritage via his local Heritage Highland Band, of which he is Drum Major.
Don's also written his own biography, which in his dry and understated style, is more than occasionally hilariously funny.
Mostly, but not solely, because of this small chapter on my father, Claude Killick below. I can categorically state that I recognise absolutely nothing of myself in the following paragraph and that my attire has never once caused even the slightest raised eyebrow, interest or distress amongst the many schools, communities and Gaelic and Irish speaking groups, usually in more rural areas, that I have worked in over the last 15 years.
Not even once.
Nor did I laugh for half an hour on reading the below, then ring my Dad and laugh some more.
One day, my cousin Claude arrived at Trevanna Downs on his motorbike. He was dressed in a loud shirt and purple trousers, plus a leather coat and leggings. Claude grew up in Bankstown, Sydney, at a time when the 'bodgie' and 'widgie' cults were all the go.
We took Claude to a dance in Goondiwindi one Saturday night. Talk about a sight! He was dressed in a tangerine shirt, purple trousers, leather bikie boots and coat, and a pair of pink socks. The local blokes wanted to pick a fight with him, but the girls loved him. Claude had a fabulous time, but it was a bit traumatic for the rest of us.
No worries - Don goes onto make the following statement about my Dad:
Claude became a first-class citizen, family man and friend of our family. He still lives in Sydney.
Well that's alright then.
Here's a picture of my Dad and I, with him looking every bit the cheeky old man of the sea that he is - he travelled the world as a Merchant Seaman for many years and regularly entertains us all with wonderful tales of sea adventures that never get tiring no matter how many times I hear them...
The picture of William McKechnie at the top looks a bit crappy on this webpage, but in the original in the book Nana gave to me, there's a definite twinkle in his eye that makes me think he might like some of what I'm getting up to recently...
So it's a bit of a sandwich thing, from the very, very old, to a beautiful and dearly beloved grandparent that outshone all around her and endeared herself and our family history to the hearts of us all.
RIP Jessie Killick Haughton nee McKechnie
1918 - 2008
This was taken of Nana Jess just over a year before she passed away, a few months shy of her 90th birthday...
There's also the other side of my story, which would be my mother's family, who emigrated out from Manchester in the early 1950's to a beatiful village on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia. Counting talented singers, pianists, vaudeville entertainers and the by no means small detail of former acrobatic dancer, Aunty Joyce, in the immediate family, there's certainly some wonderful tales to tell from that side of my family as well. If you've managed to reach all the way down the bottom of this rather long page however, you might understand if I wish to stop here for the moment.
I should probably take up Tom Devine's suggestion that I write a book about my adventures and family one day...