A key component of OSCA's life
Mr Peter Findlay ('89)
One of the most satisfying features of an OSCA President’s year is the opportunity to visit its branches across Australia.
Local gatherings of ‘Old Scotchies’ in provincial centres actually predated the formation of the Association. From 1904 The Scotch Collegian often mentioned gatherings of Old Boys to celebrate Foundation Day and the Head of the River boat races.
It was, in fact, a letter from William Melville on behalf of a group known as the Hamilton Old Scotch Collegians which prompted School Principal William Littlejohn to convene a meeting on 10 October 1913 to establish the Old Scotch Collegians’ Association. Melville’s friends had urged the formation of an organisation to unite all Old Boys in the city and country. Branches were destined to play an important role in the life of OSCA and of the School itself.
OSCA’s formal branch structure first took shape in Adelaide during 1926. A group of 10 Old Boys gathered at the Piccadilly Cafe in Adelaide to formally establish a branch of Old Melbourne Scotch Collegians. It was decided that all 'Old Scotchies’ residing in South Australia must also be members of the Melbourne Association.
Sydney-based Old Boys had met to celebrate School occasions for some years, but it was not until 1931 that a branch was formally established. Its first president, Neil MacNeil (1911), had had an illustrious career at Scotch before serving in World War I, and was at the time principal of Knox Grammar School in Wahroonga, New South Wales.
In 1932 the branch held its first annual Foundation Day dinner at the Sydney University Club attended by 28 Old Boys. Across the continent and initially small in numbers, what was first known as the West Australian Branch attracted a loyal following. Their reports in The Scotch Collegian referred to their pride in being able to wear their Old Boys’ tie. Members met weekly for lunch and provided the energy for annual events such as the golf day for the Old Victorian Public Schools' Challenge Cup and Boat Race function.
Gatherings of Old Boys in London date back as far as 1911, when a dinner to celebrate the School’s 60th Jubilee was held and attended by William Littlejohn. In 1934 a group of Old Boys in London held a dinner to celebrate the Head of the River, which led to the formation of a London Branch of the Association.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, OSCA Secretary Keith Wilson ('27) led a concerted effort by OSCA to establish branches throughout country Victoria. The arrival of Richard Selby Smith in 1953 provided an opportunity for OSCA to introduce the new Principal to Australian rural life and Old Boys living in country areas. During the September school holidays in 1953 and 1954 Wilson escorted Selby Smith on five-day tours to country Victoria, with itineraries not unlike that of the 1954 Royal Tour. In 1953 visits were made to the Gippsland area and the following year to the north-east, Riverina and central Victoria. By 1963 when OSCA
celebrated its 50th anniversary, it could boast branches at Ballarat, Kerang, Kyneton, Maffra/Sale, Mornington Peninsula, North East-Goulburn Valley and the Western District. The key to the success of any branch has always been the commitment of particular individuals to maintain links to the School and the local Old Boy network.
Every branch developed its own culture and functions. Black tie dinners suited some branches; more informal gatherings suited others. Reports in the Collegian and Great Scot often referred, quaintly, to the ladies having a separate function and then joining their husbands later in the evening.
Since the late 1980s all branch functions have been mixed, and include members of the wider Scotch Family. In 2014, the Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo, East Gippsland, North-East, London, Adelaide and Perth Branches have all held very successful functions. By the end of 2014 there will also have been functions in Sydney, the Bellarine Peninsula and the North-West Branch. Next year’s programme will include functions in Hobart, Brisbane and Canberra.
The arrival of the digital information age provides OSCA with opportunities to support its branches. An accurate database and timely information on OSCAnet will enable branch leaders to become far more productive and relevant to the age. While the heyday of branches in some rural areas may have passed, an important feature of OSCA’s life must never be allowed to fade away.