Proposal of a Toast to the Memory of our Pioneering Ancestors by Lester Stephen:
Professor Shaw, Madam President and the Committee of the Port Phillip Pioneers, Ladies and Gentlemen -
It is both an honour and a privilege to have been asked by you - Madam President to propose a toast to the memory of our Pioneering Ancestors.
Before doing so, may I say a few words as to our reasons for celebrating this very special occasion today.
On the 28th of May 1970, Miss Muriel Runting, F.G.S.V. and 90 other members of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, formed a group to be known as the Port Phillip Pioneers Group. Its purpose was to encourage as many persons as possible to research their family background, as if at least one of their forebears had arrived in Port Phillip (i.e. Victoria) by the 31st of December, 1845, they were to be encouraged to join the Group, if their assembled documents were approved by an Examiner of Proofs. This date was later amended to the 30th June, 1851.
At first, those of us who had neglected our history lessons were puzzled as to why that particular date was so important to our Group! - It was because the following day we ceased to be the Port Phillip District in the Colony of New South Wales and became instead The Independent Colony of Victoria; and so today we are celebrating exactly 150 years since that event occurred.
Little did my brother Brian and myself realise when we joined the Group in February, 1976, that 25 years later, we and those assembled here today, would be honouring our forebears for their courage in coming here in the first place. It goes without saying that had our Ancestors chose to remain in their homeland, or had elected to emigrate instead to Canada, the U.S.A. or New Zealand, none of the people in this room would have ever existed. In choosing to come to Victoria we must offer them our eternal thanks and gratitude.
Our history books are full of facts and stories concerning the gold rush period which began just as we were becoming the Colony of Victoria, but until recently, the previous 17 years (ie: 1834-1851) were pretty much ignored. [so], let us examine a few facts in defence of our ancestors who were resident during that period.
In the first statewide census held in Victoria in March, 1851 (just 3 months prior to Separation) it disclosed a total population of 77,345 persons - today that number of persons would be easily topped by those attending a final of an Australian Rules football match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, yet this tiny number of pioneers established the framework of a State in which, just 150 years later, a population of 4,600,000 persons happily call "home".
Examine the record - they created most of the towns and cities of this State, eg; Melbourne, Geeong, Colac, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Portland, Hamilton, Kyneton, Kilmore, Benalla, Wangaratta, Sale, Port Albert, Tarraville, Echuca, and lots of others, were created in the period 1834-1851.
They established law and order throughout the State.
They made a network of crude roads, built bridges, grew crops and became largely self-supporting in food, and exported large amount of wool and hides.
By 1851, the whole of the State was covered with 750 pastoral leases controlled by the Crown. All of these were occupied, with large numbers of sheep, cattle and horses thereon.
It is interesting to note that as early as 1838, the "Port Phillip Racing Club", the "Melbourne Cricket Club" and "The Melbourne Club", all came into existence. Nor were the arts forgotten - as early as 1840 concerts were being staged in Melbourne, and both overseas actors and local ones were constantly finding engagements in Melbourne and Geelong.
In addition, religion flourished with all the various denominations well catered for.
From my reading of the events of that period, they covered the whole gamut of social activity, such as debating clubs, sailing on the bay, athletic meetings, picnics, etc.
For the most part, our ancestors worked hard, lived hard and played hard. They faced a number of problems which greatly shortened many lives - lack of sanitation, poor medical facilities, and extensive alcoholism, which was, one suspects, caused in many cases by acute loneliness.
Yet, despite all the problems that the Pioneer's endured, they managed to create the conditions upon which successive generations have built the State we call home.
With those few words, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would ask you all to fill your glasses and be upstanding, and join with me in a toast - in remembrance of our Pioneering Ancestors.
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