Clan Johnston/e in Australia

by Sandra Johnstone Williams

Dateline: April 2001

For the past several years I have been an active member of Clan Johnston/e in America. But in January 2001, after living in the United States for 35 years, I moved with my family to Australia and settled in the State of Victoria, which is where I was born and spent my childhood, and where I still have a large family living on my father's side.

My own great-great grandfather immigrated to Victoria from Dumfries Scotland with his brother in 1857. He settled in the southern Gippsland region near Wilsons Promontory. Consequently, that is where much of my family still resides. The other brother settled in north central Victoria and now there are many Johnstones in that area of the state. All my life I have known about my great-great grandfather and his immigration from Scotland to Australia. I just had no idea of the extent of Scottish immigration until I came back here to live.

Like the United States, Australia is a melting pot of immigrants from all over the world and the country is still relatively young. This past January Australia celebrated her Centennial Birthday as a Federation. During the 1800s, thousands of Scottish came to Australia; an estimated 600,000. Over 85% of these Scottish immigrants chose to make Victoria their home. In 1900, six out of ten Victorians were Scottish or of Scottish descent. The contribution of these Scottish immigrants to Victoria was enormous. Many of them came to hold prominent positions in education, banking, Parliament, business and agriculture. One can imagine the present number of Scottish descendants now dispersed throughout Victoria and across Australia. There are now numerous Johnstons and Johnstones in Australia, including those descended from various pioneer families. One such pioneer is Lieutenant George Johnston, who was the first person to step ashore when the First Fleet arrived at the site of Sydney on the 26th of January 1788, He was a Clan member of Annandale in Scotland.

In March of 2001 I began to notice signs around the community in which I live promoting the 34th Annual Ringwood Highland Games. Since I was living in Ringwood, I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe my good fortune to be living where the Games are held each year.

The Games took place on April 14th & 15th and are the highlight of a week of Scottish Festivities. Annually the Games attract thousands of visitors and participants from all over Australia as well as overseas. This year the weather couldn't have been more perfect. It was a gorgeous day, with barely a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the low to mid 70s F.

Over the two days, some 60 Pipe and Drum Bands and many Highland Dancers competed for national titles. Scottish Country Dancing was another highlight. Known as the Ballroom Dancing of Scotland, it is a lively social type of dancing, perforned with sets of eight people. Many of the dances are very old and have been handed down from generation to generation. And there were the Heavy Games Competition including the Scottish Hammer Throw, Tossing the Caber, Welly Boot Throwing, and Haggis Hurling to name a few. The whole 2-day event was fabulous, not to mention the great Scottish food.

The highlight for me personally was visiting the Clan Johnston/e tent and meeting Bob and Marion Johnston. Bob is the Commissioner of the Johnston/e Clan for the State of Victoria and is the retiring Chief of all the Clans of Victoria. Bob immigrated from Scotland in 1969 and still retains his wonderful Scottish accent. And I was pleasantly surprise to discover that Bob and Marion live in Croydon, just about 3 blocks away from our house and just around the corner from my 2nd cousin, Bonnie!! (UPDATE: A year later they had us all over for a small Johnston/e BBQ. What a wonderful and friendly couple they are!)

Returning to my childhood home has been a very special time for me. We have been warmly welcomed by Australians and already feel a part of Australian life. Being able to attend the Highland Games in Australia was a dream come true. I can't wait until next year and the opportunity to participate once again.

Read more about The Clan Johnston/e here.