The History of the Cambridge Society in Victoria
The Cambridge Society of Australia (Victoria) Incorporated is based entirely in Victoria and has its HQ in Melbourne. We were the first antipodean branch of the Cambridge Society and other Australian states have later followed our lead when setting up their own branches.
Our inaugural meeting to set the Society up took the form of a wine tasting on 24 July 1984 and a draft constitution was put in place, although we did not finally incorporate until 5 January 1995.
However, the story starts earlier with Lorenz Pereira, Fitzwilliam 1964, cricket blue and land economist. Lorenz returned to Ceylon on graduation, where there was an active informal Cambridge group. He took part in an Oxford vs Cambridge cricket match in which the Cambridge captain was the Prime Minister of Ceylon and the Oxford captain, the British High Commissioner. Lorenz migrated to Melbourne in 1974. Finding that there was no Cambridge Society here (even though the local Who’s Who was littered with Cambridge alumni) he, with many others, set about the lengthy task of forming the Cambridge Society of Australia (Victoria). Lorenz was the initial Secretary until 1993 when Mike Gregson took over (working tirelessly until 2009). Dr Francis McCarthy (Pembroke 1963) was the first President and Archbishop Sir Frank Woods was our first Patron followed shortly afterwards by the Reverend Dr John Scott (Trinity 1946). In December 2017, Dr Scott expressed a wish to stand down as Patron and he was replaced by His Honour Mr Justice Tony Pagone (Trinity Hall 1982) who is the current Patron of the Society.
Since the inaugural wine tasting in 1984, the activities of the Society, all of which are social, have varied in emphasis. During the lifetime of our Society, Cambridge Australia Scholarships (CAS) formally known as the Cambridge Australia Trust which was established in the 1980’s, operates separately to raise funds and select scholars at postgraduate level through the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust (CCT) in Cambridge. Many of our members are involved with CAS.
We have also benefited from the formation of, and our membership of, the Friends of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
In early 1994, we were told that Sir David Williams, as Vice Chancellor, was to visit us and it was decided that a dinner in his honour would be arranged for the whole Victorian Cambridge population. At this time we had about 80 members. Cambridge University then advised us that we had some 500 Victorian alumni living in Victoria. When we got the list, we found that less than half of the alumni were members. However, with considerable help from Cambridge and Windows we managed to send out close to 600 invitations. More than 160 of us sat down to the dinner (and a very enjoyable event it was, with Sir David at his oral best) and almost overnight our membership increased to 180.
Since that dinner membership has crept up to over 265 out of about 1000+ alumni living in the state of Victoria. Initially all identified alumni were members, but as mailing costs increased, membership was restricted to those who paid a modest subscription. Although this remains our custom, the complete Cambridge population is canvassed from time to time and all receive invitations to the annual dinner. We now have an excellent and accurate rapport with the Cambridge Alumni Office (CUDAR) and use its database for contacting non-members of CSA(V).
Our membership includes people in many professions including many academics who either came to teach at Australian universities or who went to Cambridge to get postgraduate qualifications. Also, as the CAS scheme expanded with more scholarships being offered, most of these scholars became members when they returned from Cambridge to Australia.
In the past, activities of the Society have included formal and informal dinners, cricket, golf and tennis matches, dinner dances and debates, to select just a few. Nowadays the key social event of the year is the Annual Dinner in August/September. We also have a regular monthly lunch with a speaker (often of a Cambridge background) and a very diverse range of subjects has been covered. Sometimes we convert this to an informal dinner if we have a subject or speaker meriting more time than the 20 odd minutes of speaking time available at lunch. We also hold occasional evening joint drinks with the Oxford University Society of Victoria at various CBD venues during the year as well as 2 golf competitions with Oxford.
Each year we congregate to watch the Varsity Match at our Christmas Lunch (and AGM), and we dine and watch the Boat Race video. There are specific activities for retirees and the younger members. Golf is our principal outdoor activity and we occasionally play croquet but sadly tennis matches are a thing of the past. We still visit vineyards from time to time, and the Committee spends much time thinking about other activities suitable for Cantabrigians. The Society also puts out a monthly newsletter.
Throughout our existence we have tried to get individuals from Oxford to join with us in some of our activities, with variable success. These ties have become stronger in recent years.
How do we manage to maintain such an active Society? We have an active committee with a good spread of age among the committee members. In regard to financial matters, we charge a modest subscription which covers mail and administration costs, and we try to ensure that each function we run is breakeven; so far we have not gone bankrupt. Finally, our diverse range of activities keeps a wide variety of members interested and active.
Why do we keep our membership and what do members gain? One reason given for membership is that when you meet a fellow Cambridge graduate you can rely on having an interesting conversation on a wide range of topics. The other reason appears to be the monthly newsletter, which borrows extensively, unashamedly and legally from University press releases and from amusing articles in Varsity.
Finally, anybody from Cambridge visiting temporarily or permanently is most welcome to join in any of these events and should consult our current website.
This history is reproduced (with minor edits and updates) from the Cambridge Society of Victoria Newsletter of January 2006.