History: More on ‘Wee’ Donald MacLean Down Under

I was delighted to read the article about ‘wee’ Donald MacLean, especially with regard to his time in Tasmania, writes reader Ian Dahl.

Towards the end of 1964, or early 1965, Donald was engaged as the tutor for the Queenstown Highland Pipe Band. This was immediately after his time with the Derwent Scottish Pipe Band in Hobart.

He remained in Queenstown for about two and a half to three years. Queenstown is a mining town located on the west coast of Tasmania. The band members collectively paid for the tuition fees.

The band also provided a small cottage and arranged employment at the Mt Lyell Mining Company. As well as attending band practice as the band tutor, Donald also gave private lessons to a couple of the pipers. I was one of the lucky pipers privileged to receive private tuition.

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I remember many nights at his residence in Queenstown together with his wife Jean and daughter Margaret.

While living in Queenstown he was engaged as a piping judge for the 1965 Australian Pipe Band Championships held in Melbourne. He was also the judge for a solo piping competition held in Hobart some time late in 1965.

Late 1964, or early 1965, I purchased a set of full ivory mounted Henderson pipes. This was Donald’s recommendation. When they arrived, directly from Henderson’s in Scotland, I took them to his house.

He proceeded to treat the bag and set up the reeds and he was the first to play my new pipes. I had also purchased a set of silk cords which he also tied in. I still have these pipes and the silk cords are still just as he installed them 60 years ago.

After band practice he would occasionally give us a treat by playing for us. He would play many great 2/4 marches and many great jigs. One jig he played regularly was the Irish Washerwoman. He told me many things about his time in Scotland. One that has stuck in my memory is that he thought John D Burgess was one of the best pipers to listen to in a casual informal piping evening.

Around 1965 to 1966 I subscribed to the magazine ‘Piping Times’. In an edition during that time a reader asked the Editor, Seumas MacNeill, who he thought was the greatest piper of all time.

The Editor said he couldn’t separate three pipers. The first was Donald MacLeod, I have forgotten who the second was, and the third was wee Donald MacLean. Of wee Donald he said he was great at playing reels and jigs and that he was the master of the Little Cascade.

I have attached a couple of photos. One was taken at the solo piping competition held in Hobart about 1965 [top]. Donald is shown with some of the competing pipers. From L to R: Roy Sherrin (former P/M of the Queenstown HPB), Donald MacLean, Martin Datlin (P/M of the Derwent Scottish PB), Barry Batchelor (former P/M of the Queenstown HPB), and Dennis Cowan (piper with the Queenstown HPB).

The second is a photo of my pipes as they are today [above], now 60 years old. I still play them (poorly) almost every day.

  • Read more on Donald MacLean here.

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