This was the first time the AGM has been held in the deep south. The local committee did a wonderful job; preparations started long ago even before we attended the Clan Gathering there last year. Quite a few people came from the North Island but naturally there were several family groups from Invercargill and surrounds.
The Ascot Park Hotel was the venue, diagonally across the road from where we were parked. But our initial intention to stroll over was thwarted by the weather. Just inside the lobby was a magnificent Arrol-Johnston motorcar circa 1927 (note numberplate), owned by an Invercargill resident. It set the tone for the whole proceedings. Dave can be seen at the back right with a red cap.
When I googled Arrol-Johnston I discovered that Shackleton was given a car specially built for his Nimrod Antarctic expedition of 1907-1908. “These were the pioneer days of the motor car, it wasn’t terribly successful” . There’s a whole website about it at https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/History/first-car-in-antarctica-shackleton.php which makes fascinating reading. Sadly what happened to the car is unknown.
We had a whole large room to ourselves. Tables along the walls were covered with local Johnston/e family histories and memorabilia. A rather magnificent family tree stretched almost across the room. Judging from the number of local family trees, almost the entire early population must have consisted of Johnston/es!
There was, of course, a special cake …
The AGM passed without incident. As is happening elsewhere in NZ and also Australia, it is becoming difficult to attract more younger members, but hopefully the Clan will survive. Afterwards, members were invited to give a short talk about their families. With a little persuasion Dave was enticed to the rostrum and talked about his GGGrand Father James Johnstone who built the immigration barracks in Christchurch. Soon after his talk he was approached by one of the other members who said his GGrand Mother was born in the barracks. In NZ there never seems to be more than a few degrees of separation between people!!
After the AGM, lunch was announced. The back wall of the room suddenly folded back to reveal a long buffet table with hot and cold food, the roasts presided over by a chef and assistants. Simple but very good food.
There were various activities planned for the afternoon. Dave and I had opted to go digging – yes, really! – at a place called “Dig This” – NZ’s first heavy equipment playground. https://www.transportworld.co.nz/dig-this/ It’s always been my ambition to operate a bulldozer/excavator but unfortunately the weather once again put a stopper to this idea. Instead Dave went off to a hitherto undiscovered motorbike museum and I retired to our cosy caravan to read and knit. Others went to the main Museum, Art Gallery etc all of which I have visited more than once before.
That evening was the Clan dinner, with entertainment. We got all dressed up in our Scottish finery. It started with the ceremonial Address to the Haggis. Dave was wearing his Bruce kilt, not Johnston, but was still invited to carry the precious whisky and crystal glasses on a silver tray. What an honour. Knowing that the contents had to be knocked off in one gulp, he was careful pouring – then told to add more, not once but twice. He said afterwards it seemed a shame to waste such glorious stuff instead of sipping it quietly! (Photos by a Clan member).
After dinner there was an interesting address given by a local man, a blueberry grower, who was once many other things and whose interests include blacksmithing. He had a special claymore (Scottish two-handed fighting sword) made specially for him according to his height, and afterwards was surrounded by curious Johnston clansmen all eager to give it a heft or two. He talked about iron and steel and tempering the latter …. it was a very interesting talk. I know it was interesting because the dear man gave me his notes afterwards.
A Mystery Tour and Lunch was planned for the next day. It still went ahead, although not much could be seen through the rain. We headed for Riverton via back roads, with some interesting comment along the way.
Lunch was at a cafe overlooking Riverton and was wonderful. I wonder what the cafe people though when they realised they had a table for 26 almost all with the surname Johnston!!