Affiliation and location: The Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League.


Although the history and reputation of Victorian banding lies partly with individual bands, the history of the associations that they formed shows Victorian banding in a different light.  This post is focused on a time period of 1901 to 1933, where, during the development of the various associations and leagues lies a somewhat rancorous battle for the heart and soul of Victorian bands of which was covered in the newspapers of the day and laid out in detail.

The focus of this post is the history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (VBA) and the eventual formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (VBL) in 1931.  Tied into this is the history of various early geographical groupings of bands and the eventual move to form much larger associations.  However, with association came division and as will be shown the seeds of division started much earlier than 1931.  This is a tale of Victorian banding that is probably not well known to most Victorian bands people.

My curiosity has been growing over time as I wondered why there were no records that existed prior to 1931.  I knew that the headquarters of the VBA had been in Ballarat, yet whatever records that may have existed were not provided to the VBL.  When researching for this post the reasons became very obvious – they were two entirely separate organisations that wanted little to do with each other.  The VBL had basically started from scratch.

The research for this article has been informed by involved searching through the Trove archive with the aim of building a chronology of articles and events.  With this searching has come some little revelations as to the state of banding that Victoria had in the early 1900’s. This history is important to the banding community as it highlights what once was, and what has survived.

1900 – 1920: The VBA

1901, The Ballarat Star, pg. 6

 The first seeds of a State association were sown in 1901 when delegates from Geelong and Ballarat brass bands decided to form a “Ballarat and Geelong District Band Association” with the rules of the new association to be presented to a conference of bands at the next South Street competition (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1901).  Here we have an association that had been set up based on a small geography, but most importantly developed ties to the South Street competitions which became increasingly important to the band community (Royal South Street Society, 2016).  It should be noted that there was already a Geelong Band Association in existence, although this small association broke up after 1908 (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In 1907 it becomes obvious that the VBA is expanding as they had a meeting in Bendigo where discussion took place about lobbying the council to let them use a reserve to hold a band competition with the aim of attracting bands from across Australia (“BANDS ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This is one of the earliest reports of the VBA promoting competitions in regional areas.

Within other geographical regions, distinct band associations started around the same time although not all of them affiliated with the newly formed VBA.  In the Melbourne area, a new association called the “Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association” (MMBA) was formed in 1906 (or 1907) by twenty-five bands (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This new association formed their own rules and constitution with the encouragement of the VBA, of which a representative attended the meeting.  It isn’t until a meeting in 1908 that the MMBA discusses aligning with the VBA and a committee of five is set up to investigate this (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In contrast, a new Gippsland Band Association (GBA) started in 1908 and emphatically ruled out associating with the association in Ballarat (“GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  It should be noted that while Gippsland bands did eventually join with State band associations, the GBA was still going in 1947 and possibly longer (“Gippsland Bands’ Association,” 1947).

Despite the seemingly good running of the association there are some indications that some bands wanted the headquarters moved from Ballarat for various reasons.  In 1917, a letter was sent to the Bendigo Citizens’ Band by the Metropolitan Bands Association proposing a shift of the next meeting of the VBA to Melbourne.  This letter was read out at a meeting of the Bendigo Citizens’ Band and the responses were detailed by the Bendigo Independent newspaper in an article:

Correspondence from the Metropolitan Band Association was read, requesting the bands’ support in having the meeting of the Victorian Band Association held in the metropolis instead of at Ballarat.  Several members spoke in favour of the Victorian Bands’ Association meeting being continued in Ballarat, as it was only another move to have everything of any importance held in the metropolis.  The secretary (Mr. E. K. Varcoe) in commenting on the matter, said it clearly showed that centralisation was at the back of the suggestion, and Melbourne desired everything in Melbourne with the exception of the mice plague… (“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

Obviously, there were a few choice words used at this meeting (by 1917 standards)!

1917, Warrnambool Standard, pg. 3

The letter was countersigned by representatives of the Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Brunswick, Malvern and St Kilda brass bands and it was sent to all country bands affiliated with the VBA at the time.  The Bendigo Citizens’ Band did end up sending a representative to a meeting in Melbourne.  Subsequently, in a vote on the matter at a later VBA meeting, the motion to move the VBA headquarters to Melbourne was defeated 23 to 6 (“BANDS’ ASSOCIATION.,” 1917).

1920 – 1929: Division

In 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the VBA in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the VBA in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the VBA as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924).  The opening paragraphs of this article, and the subsequent reporting highlight some inherent division and perhaps an early reason of why the VBL came into existence seven years later.

A proposal from a number of Metropolitan bands that they should be allowed to form a branch of the Victorian Band Association in Melbourne, which came before the association at its meeting last night, was viewed with suspicion by many of the delegates, who saw in it an attempt to shift the centre of government to the metropolis. The subject was debated at considerable length.

The president (Mr E. Ballhausen) reported that Messrs Frank Johnson (Collingwood bandmaster), Ben J. Warr and Hanson had waited on the executive of the association, with a view to having steps taken to form a branch of the association in Melbourne.  The secretary read letters in support of this request from the Kingsville-Yarraville, Footscray, Coburg, Prahran City, Hawthorn City, Turner’s Brunswick, Collingwood, St. Vincent de Paul, Brunswick City, St Kilda City, Newport Workshops, Malvern Tramways and Richmond District Bands. It was suggested by a committee of the bands interested that the branch should be known as the Metropolitan branch of the Victorian Band Association, the branch to consist of all bands within a radius of 25 miles of the G.P.O., Melbourne affiliated with the V.B.A.; the branch to have power to conduct all association business of the branch  according to the constitution and rules of the association.                                                (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

The list of bands in the article that wanted change represented a number of the Melbourne based bands at the time and during the intense discussions detailed in this article they mention a “Metropolitan League” that they are up against – a league which could be assumed to represent all the other brass bands in Melbourne (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924).  Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicions of the metropolitan bands’ intentions.  A Mr Hewett of the Soldiers’ Band was quoted as saying,

…the move was only the thin edge of the wedge to shift the headquarters of the association to Melbourne.  Some of the bands concerned were sympathetic with the Metropolitan Band League.  (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

As can be seen in these early years, there were attempts to move the headquarters of banding from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these attempts were thwarted, mainly by the country bands who were affiliated with the VBA.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition.  However, the politics were always an undercurrent.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metro bands, of which are mostly A grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the VBA.  Perhaps the VBA was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the coming of the 1930’s.

1930 – 1935: The VBL

 The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with the formation of the VBL and the demise of the VBA.  The South Street Society had worked closely with the VBA for many years, and in the early years of the VBA other State band associations had affiliated with the VBA (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the VBA would become as the VBL came into its own.

1930, The Age, pg. 11

In 1930 the VBA was still holding a regular pattern of meetings in Ballarat attended by
delegates from across the State.  An article published in The Age makes mention of a proposal to divide the banding community into districts administered by the VBA (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next VBA State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

Just over a year later in April 1931, news broke of a new organisation to be formed called the Victorian Bands’ League.  This new league was to be formed by a number of metropolitan bands who were agitating to have a headquarters of banding in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting listing all the metropolitan bands who were initially involved:

At a meeting attended by representatives of 28 metropolitan bands last night, it is decided that a new organisation to be known as the Victorian Bands’ League should be formed.  Delegates from Collingwood Citizens, Malvern Tramways, Brunswick City, Coburg City, Prahran City, Richmond City, Footscray City, Essendon Citizens, Heidelberg Municipal, Mentone Citizens, Fitzroy Municipal, Jolimont Workshops, St Kilda City, Kew District, Northcote Citizens, Williamstown City, Sunshine District, Caulfield District, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Ringwood bands stated that those bands would join the new league.  Delegates from the Hawthorn City, Kingsville and Yarraville, St. Vincent de Paul’s, Oakleigh City, Kensington, Preston City, Returned Soldiers and Reservoir bands state that the subject would be discussed officially by the committees.  It is understood however that within the next few days these bands will signify their intention to associate themselves with the new league.   (“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

A subsequent meeting of the VBA in May 1931 acknowledged the formation of the new league, but was buoyed by the support of band associations from Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1931).  The official decision of this VBA meeting was to treat the new league with “indifference” (“INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE,” 1931).

The VBL, in a proactive move, sent its officers into country areas to meet with district bands.  In June they headed to the Goulburn Valley region and met with representatives from the Shepparton, Kyabram and other bands and in July travelled to Bendigo to attend a conference of Bendigo bands (“NEW BAND LEAGUE.,” 1931; “VICTORIAN BANDS,” 1931).  The VBL had simple, but effective messages for these country networks; that the VBA wasn’t functioning properly for Victorian banding and the VBL wanted to set up district associations and competitions.  The result of these meetings was that the Goulburn Valley bands were enthused by the new league and apparently bands attending the Bendigo conference promised that they would affiliate with the VBL.

In August, the VBL had its first substantial endorsement when the South Australian Band Association (SABA) broke away from its affiliation with the VBA and decided to endorse the VBL (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, SABA had apparently indicated that it still supported the VBA.

It was in September that the VBL showed off its strength when it organised a massed bands event to be held at the MCG.  The Sporting Globe newspaper enthusiastically reported on this event, shown by these extracts from the article:

Under the auspices of the newly-formed Victorian Bands’ League, a concert will be given at the Melbourne Cricket Ground tomorrow by 30 massed bands, which will march through the city, starting at 2.15.

An interesting feature will be the presence of bands from Mildura, Warracknabeal, Warrnambool, Yallourn, Trafalgar and Korumburra, which are paying their own travelling expenses to Melbourne.

Not for many years has such a gathering of bandsmen been held in Melbourne.  More than 700 bandsmen will take part in the recital of which a Fox Movie-Tone film will be taken.  (“Bands League,” 1931)

In October the VBL gained the affiliation of the South Street Society who were going to resume band competitions in 1932 under the auspices of the VBL (“VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE.,” 1931).

Obviously the VBL had very proactive since it was formed in April and such expansion and activity had not gone unnoticed by the VBA, which had initially shown indifference to the VBL.  At a Ballarat conference called by the VBA in November and attended by representatives of fourteen bands, consideration was given to the developments of the new league, however the VBA still didn’t consider it to be a real threat to its survival (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).  A final resolution of the meeting was “to wait upon the mayor and councillors of Ballarat and the South street society with the object of bringing about unity in the band movement, the governing centre to be in Ballarat” (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).

Coming into 1932 with the VBL firmly entrenched in the banding world and the VBA fighting for survival, there has been no slowing in the activities of the VBL.  In January the VBL staged another massed bands event at the MCG.  This event was reported on by a newspaper from Tasmania of which praised the VBL for its initiative, and lambasted the VBA for “failing to co-operate new League” (“Victorian Bands,” 1932).   The VBA in the meantime continued to hold meetings of its remaining affiliated bands and tried to emphasise that their best interests did not lie in the VBL with its perceived “centralisation movement” (“COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE.,” 1932).  By August the VBA had lost the affiliation of the two Ballarat bands which were forced to affiliate with the VBL due to the South Street Society band competition being run by the VBL (“SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

In 1933 we see the last meetings, and demise of the VBA with reports noting the affiliation of most other State band organisations with the VBL (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  At a final meeting in July 1933, the VBA reports that it “will shortly consider its future policy” and that “since April, the association has not received any registrations of bands” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1933).  After these articles, there are no other reports on the activities of the VBA with reports on banding activities focused on the VBL.

1933, The Age, pg. 14


 Such was the state of banding over a period of just over 30 years.  This wasn’t just a story on the VBA and the VBL, it was a story on the loyalties of the banding movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands in driving change had an effect on unity, but it also brought some unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the VBA did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There’s probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.


BAND ASSOCIATION. (1901, 02 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1902, 02 September). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1904, 21 September). Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), p. 1. Retrieved from

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 16 July). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 2. Retrieved from

BAND CONFERENCE: The Victorian Association: Its Future Discussed. (1931, 09 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from

BAND UNITY MOVE: States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from

BANDS ASSOCIATION. (1907, 09 May). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from

Bands League: Big Concert Tomorrow. (1931, 26 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from

BANDS’ ASSOCIATION. (1917, 22 November). Warrnambool Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from

BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND: Headquarters of Band Association. (1917, 07 August). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from

CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS: The Rival Organisations. (1931, 13 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from

COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE. (1932, 15 January). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from

GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 26 March). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from

Gippsland Bands’ Association. (1947, 27 November). Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from

INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE. (1931, 19 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1907, 12 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1918), p. 6. Retrieved from

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 15 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from

METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL. (1924, 17 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from

NEW BAND LEAGUE: Support at Bendigo. (1931, 20 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from

Royal South Street Society. (2016). Our Disciplines. Royal South Street Society: 125+ years of pure performance gold. Retrieved from

SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST: Two Ballarat Bands Join Victorian League. (1932, 16 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1931, 19 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1933, 05 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE: New Organisation Proposed. (1931, 11 April). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 14. Retrieved from

Victorian Bands: A Great Demonstration. (1932, 09 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), p. 8. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BANDS: New League’s Activities. (1931, 29 June). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), p. 3. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BANDS: Proposed State Districts. (1930, 18 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from

VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE. (1931, 06 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8. Retrieved from



Former brass bands of the City of Yarra: A brief history.


Around the City of Yarra are dotted many reminders of bygone days.  Given the history of the area, this is perhaps not surprising.  However, when looking at some buildings sets the mind to wondering if they were ever used and by whom.  This is the case with the many bandstands in public gardens in the City of Yarra.  Logic would dictate that if a bandstand had been built, then there must have been a band to play on it.  Delving into various histories and newspaper articles of the area would indicate that this was the case; that there were once brass bands located in the various suburbs.  Yet they are not here now and there is little physical evidence to indicate they existed aside from written articles and other histories.

For just over fifty years the brass bands served the suburbs of the City of Yarra and this post will provide a brief history of bands located in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond.  They existed in a time when there was little recorded or broadcast music and the local population went and saw their bands play on a regular basis.  As one Collingwood resident remembers,

They used to have a bandstand there in the Darling Gardens.  They’ve since built a new one of the same design.  They used to have bands there every Sunday and we would sit in the Gardens.  Sometimes the Salvos, sometimes the municipal band. (Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council, 1994, p. 38)

The bands were engaged with their communities and were always out and about performing, marching and competing.  They were also at the behest of their Local Councils who at times supported the bands, but at other times tried to influence other outcomes.  As will be seen, other external factors also had affected the running of the bands. However, the fact the bands existed is exciting enough and their stories deserve to be heard.

Marching contest in Ballarat. Date and bands unknown.

The Collingwood Citizens’ Band:

Out of the three main bands that once existed in the City of Yarra area the Collingwood Citizens’ Band is the most renowned due to its many successes in Australian and local band championships (Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This success was mainly due to the prowess of the band under their famous conductor, Mr Francis Charles Johnston who was known as “Massa” Johnston for most of his conducting career (Rasmussen, 2005).

We first hear of a band in Collingwood with an article from 1901 which outlined the professions of bandsmen outside of the banding lives (this article also included a band that had Fitzroy in its name) (“SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND.,” 1901).  The band mentioned in the article is the Collingwood Imperial Band and it isn’t until 1904 where a series of public meetings were held with the aim of forming a new citizens band.  From the articles of the time, the Collingwood Imperial Band agreed to merge with the new Citizens’ Band and thus the Collingwood Citizens’ Band was officially born (“COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS BAND,” 1904).  The Collingwood Council, which facilitated the meetings, also wanted to form a juvenile band however it is not clear whether this band was ever started.

The Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band. Possibly in 1911

It isn’t until an article published in 1915 by the Bendigo Independent that the Collingwood Citizens’ Band competition successes up until this date are listed (“THE COLLINGWOOD BAND.,” 1915).  Here we see a band that has been crowned champion band many times over, mainly from participating in the Royal South Street events.  The cups and shield evident in the photo certainly reflect this.  This competition success continued for many years and decades, no doubt helped by the influence of conductor Massa Johnston, who also conducted many other bands at the time to competition success (Rasmussen, 2005).

Collingwood Citizens’ Band had a fine reputation.  They used to practice every Sunday morning at Collingwood Football ground.  We could hear them quite clearly.  They had tremendous volume.  They sometimes used to march. (Collingwood History Committee et al., 1994, p. 38)

There are numerous articles dating from the 1930’s and 1940’s which shows the band performing in many concerts, parades and other events.  They also competed in competitions interstate and around Victoria, and because of their reputation, they were invited guests and other band events.  The Royal South Street Society didn’t run a band contest every year so Collingwood participated in other events.  In the early 1950’s their conductor Massa Johnston passed away and the band played at his funeral (“Tribute to Bandsman,” 1954).  This perhaps sounded a death knell for the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and it is not long after this date that we see no more articles about their activities.  It is unclear as to which year the band officially ended.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band were a remarkably stable ensemble for their time, especially when compared to neighbouring bands.  They had an enviable contesting record and were the pride of the municipality. Their history is well noted, and it is hoped that we might see some of the physical artefacts come to light.

The Fitzroy Bands:

Sportsman, 8th April, 1885, pg. 4

Of the three bands that were located in the City of Yarra area, the Fitzroy bands were probably the most unstable and it is sometimes hard to tell where one ensemble ended and another one began!  We first see mention of a band in Fitzroy in 1885 where there is an article detailing the results of an intra-band sports day (“CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND.,” 1885).  As mentioned in the history of the Collingwood band, another article details the professions of bandsmen although this article makes mention of the Sim’s Fitzroy Military Band – perhaps this was a private ensemble, but this is the first and only mention of this particular band.  In 1906 a letter is written to the editor of the Fitzroy City Press advocating a new ensemble that is hoped will emulate the success of the neighbouring Collingwood brass band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND,” 1906).  Certainly in the coming years the Fitzroy Citizens’ Band did taste competition success, and in 1915 competed against the bands of Collingwood and Richmond in several sections (Royal South Street Society, 2017).

The North Fitzroy Brass Band, date unknown

Other bands were evident in Fitzroy such as the North Fitzroy Band however it is unclear as to their fate.  Of interest is that in 1911 a public meeting was held where it was decided to ‘help’ form the current Fitzroy City Band into the Fitzroy City Citizens’ Band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND,” 1911).  Hence the confusion over timelines and history when bands reportedly kept changing their names.  In 1925 the Fitzroy City Council, in all its wisdom, accepts the services of the ‘Turners’ Brunswick Band’ and this ensemble become the new ‘Fitzroy Municipal Band’ (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).  Why the council would accept the services of a neighbouring private brass band is unknown, however the consequences are that the existing Fitzroy Citizens’ Band and the new ensemble agree to absorb the members of the rival band, depending on the council decision – the council agreed to the Turner proposal (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).

In 1937 the local council provides money to the Fitzroy Municipal Band for the purchase of new uniforms with the tender for manufacture passed opened to local traders (“New Uniforms for Band.,” 1937).  Over the coming years it is unclear what happens to the Fitzroy Municipal Band although it can be assumed that the Second World War intervened and the band went into recess.  Of interest is that in 1941 there was a meeting held about establishing a boys’ band in Fitzroy, and perhaps a junior choir (“BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY,” 1941).  There is no evidence to suggest this ensemble was ever started. Progressing to 1945 we see that a new Fitzroy Brass Band has been formed and is already doing performances – this new band was formed at the insistence of the local council (“NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS,” 1945). Four years later in 1949 we see possibly the last mention of the Fitzroy Brass band with a photo of their conductor playing the trombone at an event in Elsternwick (“Two Kinds of Band Music,” 1949).  There is no indication of when the Fitzroy Brass Band ceased to be active.

The Richmond Bands:

The story of the Richmond City Band is well-known due to the excellent research undertaken by the Richmond & Burnley Historical Society.  Like the Collingwood Citizens’ Band, the Richmond Band also competed on a regular basis and won many prizes.  While Richmond didn’t last as long as the Collingwood or the Fitzroy bands, the Richmond Band earned a reputation for being a fine ensemble (Langdon, 2014).

The Richmond City Band. Photo taken at the 1906 Ballarat Competition.

As with most municipalities there were often many brass bands that were formed, but not many survived.  In 1905, we see the Richmond City Band in “conflict” with the neighbouring, and newly formed South Richmond Band over some event; this required council mediation to resolve (“RIVAL BRASS BANDS.,” 1905).  Coming to 1916 we see the Richmond City Band gaining the use of a new band room which was located behind the Richmond Town Hall (“Richmond City Band,” 1916).  Unlike other neighbouring areas, Richmond was lucky enough to have a boys’ band formed and this band gained success at the South Street competitions (“Richmond Boys’ Band.,” 1918; “Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers.,” 1918; Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This Richmond Boys’ Band also travelled and are noted as having marched in an Armistice Day parade in Nar Nar Goon in 1918 (Heather, 2016).

Sadly, the Richmond City Band fell victim to events outside their control.  In 1926 a fire destroyed their band hall and they lost instruments, uniforms and sheet music (“FIRE AT RICHMOND.,” 1926; Langdon, 2014).  This, and the fact that many band members were being employed in other musical endeavours plus a council wanting four local bands to merge meant that the Richmond City Band days were numbered.  In the 1930’s the band ceased running in its current form (Langdon, 2014).


If we are to take anything from the stories of these three bands it is that history is fickle and fragmented.  There is much that we don’t know.  The bands were very much part of the society of their time and while the local populace displayed pride in their bands, this often did not extend to local government.  I’m sure that if the bands had survived to this day, as quite a number of Melbourne’s brass bands have done, then they would be thriving with new musical energy.


Allan Studio. (1911?). Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band [picture: 15975]. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from

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Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council. (1994). In those days : Collingwood remembered : memories of Collingwood residents / interviewed by the Collingwood History Committee (3rd ed.). Richmond, Vic.: Carringbush Regional Library in association with the City of Collingwood.

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Rasmussen, C. (2005). Johnston, Francis Charles (Massa) (1880-1953). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from

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Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers. (1918, July 6). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from

Richmond City Band. (1916, October 7). Richmond Australian (Vic. : 1914 – 1916), p. 2. Retrieved from

Richmond City Band. Ballarat Compts 1906 [picture: a04257]. (1906). State Library of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIVAL BRASS BANDS. (1905, October 24). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from

SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND. (1901, April 18). Tocsin (Melbourne, Vic. : 1897 – 1906), p. 5. Retrieved from

SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES. (1925, June 30). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 17. Retrieved from

Two Kinds of Band Music. (1949, November 14). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

Tribute to Bandsman. (1954, January 18). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band

19150000_William-Ryder_front Mr William Ryder is mentioned in the Stonnington City Brass centenary book, “Bold as Brass”, yet is mentioned as a mere footnote in a long line of conductors of the band.  He probably would have passed attention even further had it not been for a donation of photos to the band.  These photos were not only remarkable for their condition, but for the portion of history of Stonnington City Brass they have now filled in.  Discovering the story of Mr Ryder has been very rewarding, and has reinforced old ties with one of the most famous brass bands in the world, the Manchester based Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Some particulars of Williams Ryder’s life are unknown but we do know that he was born and raised in England.  He apparently started out learning the Violin but switched to the Cornet soon after.  By all accounts he became a very gifted musician and was tutored by the great William Rimmer, a very famous conductor of the time.  Mr Ryder even played in the company of royalty on one occasion.

We know that William Ryder came to be in Australia when he was included in the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band on their worldwide tour in 1909-1911 as their lead Cornet.  However, his reputation had preceded him and in 1910 he joined the Wests Theatre Company in Melbourne and in 1911 became the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band.  This is only a small tie with the famous Besses band and they were very interested to find out about Mr Ryder’s whereabouts – Besses apparently joke at concerts about the bandsmen who went on tour but never came back!


Mr Ryder’s prowess as a musician can’t be discounted.  Like the vast majority of bandsmen, he was active in competition and in 1912 he achieved 2nd place in the Open Bb Cornet section at Royal South Street (Ballarat).  What is more remarkable is that in 1914 he not only won the Open Bb Cornet title but the Open Eb Cornet title as well at South Street in two days of competition!  He also conducted the early Malvern band to several competition wins.

According to an early history of the Stonnington City Brass (Malvern Tramways) compiled by Mr Charles Selling, Mr Ryder left the band in July, 1914.  Mr Snelling wrote that “With the change of Bandmaster, several of our men left us, and another Band was formed in Malvern under Mr Ryder.  This combination was short-lived however.”.  Which, I might add, was a situation not unheard of in these times.  Succeeding Mr Ryder as conductor was Mr McAnally however he only had a short tenure and in early 1915 the great Mr Harry Shugg was appointed.

Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 8 May, 1918, Page 6

After his stint in Malvern, Mr Ryder travelled to NSW to take up an appointment with the Rozelle District Band, then transferred to the South Sydney Band.  From this point up until the end of the First World War, Mr Ryder was part of the AIF forces as an acting bandmaster.  After the war he proceeded to Queensland and according to articles from the Queensland Times (Ipswich) 1926 and the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 1931, he had been associated with the Maryborough Naval Band, Maryborough City Band, the Rossendale Band, the Ipswich Vice Regal Band and the Rockhampton City Concert Band.  As a Cornet soloist he also kept up his competing thrice wining the New South Wales Championships and wining the Queensland Cornet Championship. The last time he won this championship was in 1936 when he was 54 years of age.  Wherever Mr Ryder went he was warmly welcomed.  A journalist from the Maryborough Chronicle in an article from 1918 even penned an enthusiastic poem to welcome Mr Ryder to the town and the band!

Mr Ryder didn’t slow down in the later years of his life having been appointed to the Gympie Band in the 1930’s and in 1938 he took the band down to Sydney and won the D Grade competition against 16 other bands.  While in Gympie he also established the Gympie Boys’ Band and eventually handed over the reins of this band to his son, William Jnr.  In 1941 he joined the Military forces and conducted a Battalion band and was subsequently posted to New South Wales.  However, in 1942 he returned from New South Wales and entered a Brisbane military hospital where he died at the age of 60.  He was survived by his widow, three sons and three daughters.

19150000_William-Ryder_backMuch of the story of Mr Ryder’s life is anecdotal having come from the resources of the Trove archive and some of the Stonnington City Brass history.  I must acknowledge the active interest that representatives of the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band have in their own history as they were very forthcoming with material regarding Mr Ryder, to which I thank them.

Mr Ryder’s story is but one of many bands people who have played or conducted the Stonnington City Brass.  As I wrote in the opening paragraph, Mr Ryder is a mere footnote in the Stonnington City Band history, however he set a course for the early band and the band continues that legacy.


A WELCOME. (1918, 08 May 1918). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from

NOTABLE BANDSMAN. (1926, 18 December 1926). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

CITY CONCERT BAND. (1931, 14 January 1931). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

LATE MR. W. RYDER. (1942, 20 May 1942). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from

Lawson-Black, P. (2010). Bold as brass : the story of Stonnington City Brass. Toorak, Vic.: Toorak, Vic. : Stonnington City Brass.

Stonnington City Brass. (2011). History of Stonnington City Brass. Stonnington City Brass.  Retrieved from