A Letter from Australia from a Man Dedicated to Preserving Piping History

Last week we told of the generosity of Robert Bruce McKenzie Baker from Maclean, New South Wales. Robert had donated two handsome snuff mulls to the Northern Meeting, one of which will be used for a prize in their junior competitions. The other has been given on loan to the Piping Centre Museum. Read about the snuff mulls here. Robert, pictured above at a games in 1997, has written an amusing and informative follow-up letter……

The problem I have is that I’m not a glory hunter per se. I am a member of my local historical society and value local items, their history and the preservation of those items, both physical and oral.

Most of my collection was bought as scrap; for example 15 Cowal medals, including one inscribed during WW2. I now have two Victorian piping medals, a Silver Star, and several other piping related items some might label ‘junk’: books, pipes, bits of pipes. It was all worthless to the the people I bought it from.

I’m a graded elementary piper here in Australia. I was a middle-of-the-road, good Grade 3 band piper, but, through a necessary change in my life, I became a carer for my mum.

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Naturally, I do everything I can for her, though it doesn’t allow the freedoms I had before as a single, unattached man. Piping takes a back seat.

I donated some 42 Black Watch medals to Scott MacAskill and a presentation copy made to Robert Hardie of Uillean Ross’s book [Uilleam Ross or William Ross, Queen Victoria’s piper], dated 1892, to the Piping Centre. It was bought locally for $2.50.

This is the reverse of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Silver Star before they gained their ‘Royal’ Assignation. It is therefore early 20th or late 19th century

I gave a Gold Medal to Tain Museum. It was a 9ct games championship medal bought for £1. I also had a pic of the guy who won it. The extended family were hugely surprised and grateful the medal went to the right place. 

A Gold Medal went back to the Glasgow Highland Club. It was dated from 1922. Again I bought it for scrap. Add to that the two mulls already reported on.

Most recipients I may never meet, but I have done my duty to preserve history. Once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced. 

One day, hopefully, I will get to Plockton where my great uncle and great, great grandfather came from. They were Mackenzies. I hope to find our Angus is related to John Ban!

I’m the last of my family to play pipes. My collection I’ll find homes for. Same with the pipes because that is the right thing to do. I’m still researching the Silver Star and other Indian Army medals.

My old tutor, P/M Doug Thoreson, suggested I write down my thoughts on piping, but to do that you need experience. It’s a bit of a joke here in Australia. If you haven’t competed for two years you get regraded back to Grade 4 or elementary.

I’m currently looking for a nice, big, silver hairy sporran to keep the judge amused while I make my mistakes – and I must remember not to play the ground of obscure pibrochs while tuning and play crap marches afterwards. All the best for now.

1 thought on “A Letter from Australia from a Man Dedicated to Preserving Piping History

  1. Your generosity is very touching. Those medals represent much hard work and dedication. Those that earned them and competed for them should be admired.
    Thank you for sharing them with the rest of the piping community. Sad to hear that you are to be your family’s last piper but glad to hear that you are still piping.

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