Camperdown relives its Scottish past at Robert Burns Festival

For Camperdown resident Sue Cole, 82, the Robert Burns Scottish Festival is like a family celebration.

Mrs Cole’s great, great grandfather William Taylor brought the statue of poet Robert Burns to Camperdown in 1882 and donated it to the town.

For 125 years it sat in the botanic gardens until it was vandalised in 2009 – not long after it had been discovered that it was the oldest surviving statue of Burns in the world.

“We always just knew that great, great grandfather had brought it here. We didn’t really know a lot more until recently,” Mrs Cole said.

She said William had visited Australia a couple of times before he came to Camperdown, married and built a house on Renny Hill.

“When his father died, they went back to Scotland and there was a lot of stuff he brought back with him, including that statue,” Mrs Cole said. “Now there’s a festival about that statue. It’s extraordinary.

“I think the thing is, none of us realised how significant it was. We always thought it was just a statue of Robbie Burns.”

Organising committee chair Ruth Gstrein said the sixth annual festival’s Camperdown events began on Friday night with a Scottish dance organised by Mercy Regional College VCAL students. “It’s kicked off really well,” Ms Gstrein said.

“The lecture series has had really good turnouts.” On Saturday, there was also plenty of live music at various venues around town, including a bagpipe competition held at Mercy Regional College. 

None of us realised how significant it was. We always thought it was just a statue of Robbie Burns.

Sue Cole

There were also displays of the town’s Scottish history, a viking village set up on The Avenue, and market stalls.

Ms Gstrein said William Taylor’s father, also called William, had commissioned John Greenshields to sculpt the statue from a portrait of Robbie Burns.

The statue was taken to the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London for the 100th birthday before it was brought out to Australia, Ms Gstrein said.

The statue now sits in the foyer of the Corangamite Shire Council offices on a turntable and rotates after-hours so visitors can see the statue and learn about its history.