Good evening ladies and gentlemen - It’s wonderful to see you all here.
I acknowledge Elaine Laidlaw, President of the New Zealand branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and a special welcome to those of you who have travelled some distance to be with us.
David and I are enthusiastic supporters of the performing arts, and during my term as Governor-General, we are keen to host cultural events at Government House whenever we can.
To date, these have included a fashion show, a play, opera, film, ballet, cabaret, chamber music and kapa haka. The House certainly comes alive when we have such events, and I am sure that tonight will be no exception.
There is a long history of balls at Government House, and I know that has included Scottish Country Dancing Balls. Most recently, my immediate predecessor Sir Jerry Mateparae hosted you at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Ball in 2012, and going back further to 1966, Sir Bernard Fergusson invited members of the Tawa club, along with Jimmy Shand and his band, as a birthday surprise ball for Lady Fergusson.
As Sir Bernard was the third member of the Fergusson clan to occupy this role, I am sure that his forebears had also extended such invitations.
Tonight is an opportunity to reflect on the immense contribution Scots culture has made to Aotearoa/New Zealand.
A flood of Scottish immigrants arrived here in the 19th century, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. There was even a brief period, between 1860 and 1863, when the Scots outnumbered the English population.
They worked hard, they flourished, and their influence has had, and continues to have, a significant influence across all sectors of our country, including our political leadership – we can count at least six Prime Ministers with Scottish ancestry, including our current Prime Minister. My own grandmother was a McNeil.
As I have asked around the Government House today, I find I am hard pressed to find anyone without some Scottish heritage – indeed I asked my Kaumatua Piri Sciascia, fully expecting that he would say no. ( In addition to his Maori heritage, he is well known to have Italian ancestry on his father's side).
But he proudly assured me that on his mothers side he is a descendent of Captain Jock McGregor who immigrated to Whanganui, and who famously saved a local chief’s daughter from Te Rauparaha’s warriors by hiding her in a mainsail. He later married her.
In this 125th year since women achieved the right to vote, we must acknowledge that the Scots enthusiasm for education, particularly for women, no doubt contributed to the growth of the Women’s Suffrage movement in this country. Our most famous suffragist – Kate Sheppard – spent her early years in Scotland where her uncle was Minister of the Free Church in Nairn.
In the 21st century, New Zealand is privileged to be one of the most diverse populations in the world. We increasingly see this as a source of strength, and our complex identities are reflected in celebrations of diverse cultural traditions.
Scots heritage is plain to see in Otago and Southland, and evident in the number of New Zealanders who play in the more than 80 pipe bands through the country, wear kilts on formal occasions – or enjoy Highland Dancing and Scottish Country Dancing.
Whether or not you have Scots ancestry, I can see you all enjoy dancing with other enthusiasts, as well as the benefits of vigorous exercise.
Speaking of vigorous exercise, I must point out that I am wearing this sash in acknowledgment of my MacNeil ancestry, not because I have any expertise in Scottish Country Dancing.
I am very happy to be on the side-lines this evening – unlike all of you, who I imagine are itching to get started.
So I won’t hold up proceedings any further.
Welcome again, and please enjoy your evening.