History of our Reading Desk Continued

The following is the presentation Address on 22nd December, 1947:
“When during my year of office as President of this Rotary Club, I first received intimidation of the intention of the Rotary Club of Ayr, Queensland, to send gifts of food parcels for distribution among deserving poor and sick persons in our town, and when, later in the year, I learned how greatly these parcels had been appreciated by the recipients, it was my earnest hope that an opportunity would be given of making some public acknowledge-ment. To-day that opportunity is being granted, and in a manner which I had never anticipated. Through the courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, this ceremony at our Christmas luncheon meeting will be heard by our Rotary friends in Ayr, Queensland, and through the length and breadth of Australia.”

These most generous and acceptable gifts, inspired by the very highest motives and in the true Rotary spirit, were so deeply appreciated by the Council of the Ayr Rotary Club, Scotland, that they felt something more tangible and lasting than mere expressions of

thanks should be sent to the Rotary Club of Ayr, Queensland, could cherish – which would be a lasting tribute to their founders who had, at the very commencement of their existence as a Rotary Club, so signally interpreted the Rotary ideal of Service. The suggestion of the presentation of a Reading Desk appeared to the Council to be a happy one – here was something which would be in use by the Rotary Club of Ayr, Queensland, at all its functions, and would serve not only to perpetuate our tribute to them, but would help to strengthen and maintain, through the link thus formed between Ayr, Queensland and Ayr, Scotland that greater tie between the Dominion and the Old Country.

Ayr, Scotland has a particular interest in Ayr, Queensland, beyond the mere similarity of names. The Queensland town was so named by the then Prime Minister of Queensland, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, in honour of the town of his birth, Ayr, Scotland. There are numerous descendants of the McIlwraith family still with us. One of our own members, Rotarian Tom O’Beirne, is a descendant.

Sir Thomas McIlwraith was an Ayr lad, the son of Bailie McIlwraith. He emigrated to Australia in 1854, almost 100 years ago and engaged on the construction of railways under the Government of Victoria. In 1868 he left Victoria, took up farming in Queensland and was elected a member of Legislative Assembly. In 1879 he was appointed Prime Minister of Queensland, which post he held until 1883. A younger brother, the Hon. John McIlwraith, also emigrated to Australia in 1852, at an early age and became a merchant in the city (or then town) of Melbourne, Victoria. He became Mayor of the capital of Victoria in 1874. Ten years later both brothers re-visited the land of their birth and received together the freedom of this ancient Royal Burgh. The minutes of the meeting of the town council held on 10th March, 1884, at which the decision was made to confer the freedom of the Burgh upon the two brothers, refers to the exceptional success which by ability and perserverance had, to the honour of Ayr, elevated the elder brother, John, to the Mayorship of the city of Melbourne and the younger, Thomas, to the Premiership of Queensland.

And now a word about Ayr, Queensland, itself – through the courtesy of Rotarian Campbell, who has been in correspondence with our sister Club, I have been able to form some idea of what kind of country Ayr, Queensland is situated in, just what sort of a place it is and something of its comparatively short history.

The township is situated in the delta of the Burdekin River, on the north-east coast of Queensland, just within the tropics and in the midst of fertile alluvial land built up through the centuries by the flood waters of the great river. It is the center of a prosperous sugar-growing industry and the surrounding country is prolific in the production of all manner of tropical fruits and vegetables. Even in times of severe drought this amazingly fertile district is almost unaffected, due to the presence of a sub-artesian water supply of which millions of gallons are pumped daily for irrigation purposes.

Sir Thomas McIlwraith gave the town its name in 1882, and in 1888, six years later, the district with its township was constituted a shire. In February 1938, the shire of Ayr, Queensland, celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Its growth in these 50 years has been amazing – although slow at first – there were only 700 inhabitants in 1909 – by 1945 however, the population had exceeded 14,000 and it is hoped that it will ultimately carry a population of 40,000. A tribute to the land and its people is contained in the Jubilee issue of “The Delta Advocate” of September 6th, 1938 and commences with this dedication:-

“This brief history of the rise and development of the town and district of Ayr is dedicated to the pioneers who, fifty years and more ago, faced evils, hardship and loneliness, to open the land and prepare the way for others to follow. To the memory of those who have fulfilled their course and passed on, the citizens of today pay grateful tribute and to those who have survived the years to join in the jubilee of the Shire of Ayr, every honor, due to their life and work, is extended – their record is written where none may erase”.

Fellow Rotarians and guests, and you Mr. Provost, as representing the citizens of this town, will join with me in solemnly subscribing to these sentiments expressed so ably in honor of these early pioneers from our native land. The District of the Burdekin Delta and the Shire of Ayr, Queensland was not always the fertile land that it is today. It was once a sandy waste, intersected by salt-water creeks. Its progress and fertility can be truly ascribed to the men and women, not only from Scotland, but from all over the world, who, with steadfastness of purpose, maintained in the land of their adoption the very highest tradition of their birth. To these pioneers and to their descendants now living in the prosperous town of Ayr we offer our tribute. The Reading Desk which I am about to hand over to the Rotary Club of Ayr, Queensland, is more than just a piece of oak, suitably inscribed. The dark oak from which part of it was made, came from one of the cradles of the piers supporting the Auld Brig O’ Ayr, immortalized by Robert Burns in these famous lines – ” And tho’ wi’ crazy eild I’m sair forfairn, I’ll be a brig when ye’re a shapeless cairn”. This oak would undoubtedly be Ayrshire grown and may well be close on 100 years old. There is some doubt as to the exact age of the bridge. Some experts contend that it was built in the 15th century, but on the other hand there is evidence to indicate that a bridge existed some two hundred years earlier. There is a reference in a charter granted to the Burgh of Ayr by Alexander III in 1236. The Auld Brig was extensively repaired and restored between 1906 and 1910, when the timber from which the Desk was made was salvaged. The Desk was designed by one of our own members, Rotarian James A. Carrick. The timber was presented by another of our members, Rotarian William T. Paton, whose firm, William Paton & Sons Ltd., employed the craftsman, Mr. David Reid, who made the Desk and whom we are very pleased to have with us here today. The decoration of the Desk and the finishing was executed by yet another of our members, Rotarian George D. Fraser, and the silver inscription plate was provided by Rotarian William Allan – a truly Rotary product.

But the Desk has also a further tale to tell – it was used by the Right Hon. Winston Churchill when he received the freedom of our Royal Burgh in the Ayr Town Hall in the month of January this year.

Past President Robertson – on behalf of the members of the Rotary Club of Ayr, Scotland, I have the greatest pleasure in asking you to accept this Oak Reading Desk, which I charge you to transmit to our sister Club in Ayr, Queensland and to convey to them our deep appreciation of their generosity and tangible expressions of good fellowship.

This Desk is still used at every Rotary Meeting in the Town of Ayr, Queensland.

Winston Churchill using our Desk when being made Freeman of the Town of Ayr, Scotland.

Winston Churchill using our Desk when being made Freeman of the
Town of Ayr, Scotland.



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Jodie Darley