Arthur McKenzie shares Caledonian Pipe Band history

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band Arthur McKenzie
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band oldest member Arthur McKenzie, 87, during his younger years with the pipe band.

Arthur McKenzie, 87, practices his bagpipes every day and his memories of almost 70 years with the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band remain crystal clear.

The Svensson Heights resident lives with wife Betty and is the oldest member of the of Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band, and although he is no longer able to march alongside the band, he continues to enjoy belting out a tune or two on his highland bagpipes on a daily basis.

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band Arthur McKenzie
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band oldest member Arthur McKenzie, 87, enjoys practising his Highland Bagpipes every day.

Betty has never taken up playing the pipes, as she said she preferred to listen rather than play.

“I listen to Arthur… every day!” she laughed.

“Yes, I do play every day,” Arthur said.

“I don’t play in a certain room, just where ever I am at the time, from the loungeroom to outside.

“I guess I don’t upset the neighbours too much, as they never throw rocks at me!”

The Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band is the oldest pipe band in Queensland and last year they celebrated 135 years of proud heritage with a Through the Years Concert at the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, which Arthur was part of.

Arthur recalls it was 68 years ago when he first marched in the Bundaberg Anzac Day Service with the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band, when he was only 19 years of age.

“I joined in 1952, as a tenor drummer at first,” Arthur said.

“My brother was the pipe major, and so a few years later I learnt to play the pipes and haven’t looked back since.”

Arthur said Anzac Day was a tradition for pipe bands all around Australia and he was proud to march in the annual parade.

He said they used to start marching at dawn with the parade leaving from the Bundaberg RSL to the cenotaph before heading back to the RSL for tea, coffee and sandwiches provided by the ladies of the WCTU.

They would then head to Pitts Poultry Farm for a barbecue breakfast and a game of two-up with the servicemen.

Playing the pipes in Arthur's blood

With a strong Scottish heritage Arthur said the bagpipes were in his blood and he proudly owned a set of Highland bagpipes made by John Center, who made bagpipes in Edinburgh, Scotland from 1869 until 1908.

John, along with his son James, emigrated to Australia and they continued to make bagpipes until John’s death, which Arthur said was caused by the Spanish Flu, in 1913.

“My bagpipes are over 100 years old,” Arthur said.

“And I am sure they play as well today as they did 100 years ago.”

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band Arthur McKenzie
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band oldest member Arthur McKenzie shared this photo showing the history of the band.

Arthur said times had changed a lot since he first joined the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band, but he enjoyed the memories he kept of the days when they would socially travel to other regions including Rockhampton and Gympie.

“I had a good social life with other band members,” Arthur said.

“We would travel around a bit, a lot of country towns used to have large sport centres in those days, and we would go there to play with other bands.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years I guess.”

In 1984 the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band won the Queensland championships and Arthur was the pipe major at the time.    

The Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band even played at Arthur and Betty’s wedding 62 years ago.

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band Arthur McKenzie
A guard of honour by the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band for Arthur McKenzie as he married the love of his life Betty 62 years ago.

“Pipe band life was always busy socially there were always regular playouts at events around town, from Siren of The Surf, lifesavers' march past, St Andrew's Day, and of course the Queen’s visit, and regularly at weddings, fetes and funerals,” Arthur said.

“They formed a guard of honour for us, and my brother even played Betty down the aisle!”

Arthur said the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band used to raise money to purchase uniforms and band equipment. 

“Friday nights were ham wheel nights at the East End, Prince Of Wales, Tattersalls, Young Aussie to name a few,” he said.

“Very happy days when our families were young and all got together, and our Christmas parties were legendary!”

Arthur said his favourite tunes to play now are The Skye Boat Song and Highland Cathedral.

“I play for about 15 minutes now as that’s all I can manage,” he said.

“I would recommend learning to play the bagpipes to anyone.”

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band play Scotland the Brave at their 135 celebration last year.

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band secretary Julie Myers said the band was proud to have Arthur play with them still, and it was a privilege to have a member who was able to share memories and photos of earlier years.

The Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band was set to have its 100th year march this year during the Anzac Day Service, but this has now been postponed to next year.