Supper starts plan to add Ogilvie to poetry’s A-list

Kelso poet, Will Ogilvie .
Kelso poet, Will Ogilvie .

WHEN it comes to the greats of Borders poetry and literature, most people will be familiar with the likes of Sir Walter Scott and the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg.

But an inaugural event was held recently to celebrate the life and work of another legend of Borders literature, even if he is a bit less well known, and, hopefully, bring him to wider public attention.

Eckford Village Hall was packed for the first Will Ogilvie Night last month. More than 70 people crowded into the hall for a special evening of poetry and song, accompanied by a meal of Borders produce.

Born at Holefield Farm near Kelso in 1869, Ogilvie carved out a literary reputation that would see him lauded in his native Borderland and Australia.

He spent 12 of his younger years in Australia, where he became an accomplished stationhand, drover and horsebreaker, as well as composing some of the most evocative romantic verse about the Outback and the people who made their homes in it.

Working on remote stations such as Maoupe in south Australia and Belalie on the Warrego, Ogilvie counted among his friends the legendary horseman, Harry “Breaker” Morant.

Ogilvie’s love of the Outback, dogs and horses is well reflected in his works and he is much revered in Australia, ranking alongside such famous national writers as Banjo Paterson, author of the poem Waltzing Matilda. A formal portrait of Ogilvie hangs in the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

He returned to Scotland in 1901, continuing to make his living from writing, penning a number of stirring poems of the Borderland.

Ogilvie died, in his 94th year, in 1963, at his beloved home at Ashkirk and his ashes were scattered on the hillside on the road to Roberton – setting for one of his most famous Border poems.

In the years since his death, Ogilvie has faded slightly into obscurity in Scotland and Australia.

But recently there has been a resurgence in interest in the man and his writings, thanks to efforts by, among others, the Will Ogilvie Memorial Society.

The society was the beneficiary of the more than £500 raised from the commemorative event, affectionately entitled A Night wi’ Will.

After the meal, the assembled company enjoyed a varied programme of entertainment.

Ian Landles proposed the toast to Ogilvie in his inimitable style, mixing humour with information and insight. Kelso High School teacher and a native of Australia, Joan Fraser, proposed a moving toast to her home country.

The toast to the Borderland was proposed by Borders author and broadcaster Alistair Moffat.

The speeches were interspersed with recitations from Sheila Campbell, Jim Chisholm and David Grant, as well as accordion music from Rachael Fraser and Stuart Grant.

Auld Kelty performed songs made from three of Ogilvie’s poems put to music specially written for the occasion. One novel feature of the event was the production of a DVD which was shown as the guests arrived.

As well as a biography of Ogilvie, it contained examples of the poems, songs and music performed on the night.

The event was organised by Norrie Fraser and Charlie Robertson, who were delighted with the evening and the audience response, and hope the Eckford event will be the first of many similar events held throughout the Borders.

“It was a fanastic night – we could have had twice as many people, such was the demand, but the hall could only hold so many,” Mr Fraser told TheSouthern.

“All the produce used for the meal was sourced from the local area and was donated free, which made it possible to raise so much for the society. Big thanks are due to all the sponsors, especially the Caddy Mann restaurant which prepared the food magnificently.”

Mr Fraser hopes the event might help kick-start other Ogilvie-themed activities. “We hope it will do that and give a boost to Ogilvie’s profile, because he definitely deserves to be ranked alongside Scott and Hogg as one of the finest writers to come out of the Borders.”