LEADER: Highland Gathering chief Peter Smith leads a previous Easter parade in Maclean.
LEADER: Highland Gathering chief Peter Smith leads a previous Easter parade in Maclean. Contributed

Highland Gathering in Maclean

THE northern NSW town of Maclean has had plenty of practice when it comes to staging its signature event, the annual Highland Gathering.

A visible clue to the town's Scottish heritage for any visitor is the tartan paintings on each power pole.

Highland Gathering chief Peter Smith, aged 77, has had a hand in organising the event since 1959.

His wife Norma, currently highland dance convenor, remembers dancing at the Maclean gathering when she was nine years old.

Her great-grandmother was a McSwan, from a family who were among the first settlers in the Clarence Valley town.

It's estimated that, of the pioneering families, 40 per cent were Scottish.

The 114th Highland Gathering will attract thousands of competitors, bands, performers and sportspeople on March 30 and 31.

"The gathering's been going since 1893, with a break in wartime," Peter said.

"We start on the Friday, then we have a ceilidh (concert) on Friday night. There'll probably be 1000 people or more at that.

"On the Saturday we have the street parade. That begins the whole show and attracts 3500 to 4000.

"It's surprising where they come from, every state in Australia and overseas.

"Normally we have adjudicators from Scotland but this year they're coming from New Zealand."

This year has not been without its challenges, with amenities at the gathering's main venue, the showgrounds, damaged by a storm in January.

"It's very hard to find accommodation here so visitors camp at the showground," Peter said.

Nineteen pipe bands will compete this year, mainly from Queensland and NSW and just one from Western Australia.

A total of about 800 competitors will take part in the solo pipe and band contests, dancing and sports, with 150 of these being accommodated in the campgrounds.

Norma expects entries for the dance to be fewer than previous years because the Champion of Champions competition dates in Newcastle clash with the gathering.

"Some of the local girls who are very good will dance here in Maclean on Saturday and then go down there," she said.

Like the local girls steeped in Scottish culture, the Smiths have been part of the highland gatherings since they were children.

"The girls danced, the boys piped. It was up to us to keep the culture going," Norma said.

"Piping's either in your blood, or it isn't."

Find details of the Easter gathering at www.macleanhighlandgathering.com.au.


SEN190318yvonscot1 Highland Gathering chief Peter Smith dressed and ready to lead this year's parade in Maclean.

Photo: Yvonne Gardiner

SEN190318yvonscot2 Peter and Norma Smith have been involved in the Highland Gathering at Maclean since they were children.

Photo: Yvonne Gardiner

SEN190318yvonscot3 Highland Gathering chief Peter Smith leads a previous Easter parade in Maclean.

Photo: Contributed

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