While undertaking research for my blog posts thus far I have come across all manner of writing describing brass bands, their members and competitions. Much of the writing is very useful in finding the “little stories” behind people, places and events. Occasionally I have come across some oddities in the mix and this post is going to highlight an aspect of writing; poetry.
In this context of brass band history, penning up a poem about musicians, bands and competitions might seem very colloquial. And in some respects, it is. One only has to look at the style of writing and while the poems might not have won any literature awards, they were helpful in bringing to life some little stories in a unique style.
Below are just three of these brass band poems. I have not been actively searching for these. However, if while searching for material on other topics and they appeared, I have made a note of them for the novelty. These are defiantly the needles in haystacks! Two of the poems were published in local newspapers by writers using pseudonyms while the third poem was composed by brass band writer C. C. Mullen in his rare book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951).
I am quite sure there are other brass band poems in other newspaper articles so this post might be expanded in the future. Please enjoy the language and stories that are being told here and remember that they were for another time. Perhaps this blend of artforms might be used again one day.
“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):
One of the first blog posts in Band Blasts from The Past was about the famous Cornetist and Conductor William Ryder who travelled to Australia in 1910 with the renowned Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band (de Korte, 2018). Just eight years later, after stints with bands in Victoria and New South Wales, he arrived in Maryborough, Queensland to take the reins of the Maryborough Naval Band and we found that an enterprising contributor, under the pseudonym of ‘Bannerman’, had penned a poem to welcome him to town. No doubt this would have been perceived as a very friendly gesture, and it gave the town some insight into the prowess and reputation of Ryder as a musician. This poem was published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser on Wednesday, 8thMay, 1918.
Here’s a hearty welcome “Billy”,
To our pleasant country town,
And may Fortune every lead you,
And misfortune never frown.
We are pleased to have you with us,
And we hope you long may stay
To encourage local talent
In the latest style and way.
When you played the “solo cornet”
With the finest in the land,
You were classed as England’s champion
In the famous “Besses Band.”
And here in fair Australia
You can show us all the way
As the Champion of the Champions
From the South to old Wide Bay.
“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.
(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)
“Back to South Street” by Cecil Clarence Mullen (1951):
There is one brass band musician and writer among many who is significant to early Victorian brass band history, Cecil Clarence Mullen (C. C. Mullen). His writing might be rare and hard to find now, however, being a band journal representative he had a unique insight into the workings of brass bands and was associated with many famous bands, conductors and administrators (Mullen, 1951).
It is in his little book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951) that we find his poem, “Back to South Street”. In this piece of writing Mullen has cleverly highlighted the nostalgia of the South Street event while noting many of the famous names of bands and bandsmen. It is a worthwhile poem to read for the sake of history.
BACK TO SOUTH STREET
Just let me go back to South Street
For a week with the famous bands,
And take with me others who would compete
In Australia’s Golden City of renown.
Just let me alight at the station
With cornet, trombone and drum,
And meet bandsmen from all over the Nation,
To whom South Street once more come.
Just let me line up in the station yard
And play through Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,”
Or “The Heavens Are Telling” by Haydn – just as hard,
As bands played in the days before us.
Just let me march along Sturt Street
With gay crowds lining the way,
With step by step and beat by beat,
Is South Street just the same to-day?
Just let me see who is judging again,
Is it Stead or Bentley with ears for tune?
Short, Beswick, Sutton or Morgan – men of fame,
Or King of them all – J. Ord Hume.
Just let me go through Inspection
As we did when we dressed with much care;
With the gayest uniform in our section,
That made all our rivals stare.
Just let me compete in the solos again
From the grand old Coliseum stage,
With “Adelaide” or “Gipsy’s Warning” – or “Pretty Jane,”
“Zelda” and “Miranda” of a later age.
Just let me mount he platform
And play through “Beethoven’s Works.”
Or any Alexander Owen’s selections
That South Street bands would not shirk.
Just let me play through the Test piece,
Be it “Mercandante.” “Mozart” or “Liszt,”
“Wagner,” “Chopin” of “Meyerbeer,”
The tests that were tests on our lips.
Just let me march in the Quickstep
With Ord Hume’s “B.B. and C.F.”
“The Challenge,” “Cossack” or “Ravenswood”
Or was the “Twentieth Century” the best?
Just let me see the others swing past,
Code’s, Prout’s, Rozelle and Boulder. Wanganui, Newcastle and Bathurst Brass,
Great names that come dear to the older.
Just let me see those fine Geelong bands,
St. Augustine’s, Municipal and Harbour Trust.
Also Collingwood, Malvern, Richmond, Prahran, Perth City – all great power among us.
Just let me see Geelong Town again
With Sharpe Brearley at the head of affairs.
They ranked with Prout’s in quickstep fame,
First in marching honours was often theirs.
Just let me see the giants of the baton,
Riley, Code, Bulch and Prout,
McMahon, Barkel, Jones and Hoffman.
Many, alas, have gone out.
Just let me see others again,
Partington, Shugg, Johnston, Bowden.
Men who kept time in South Street’s fame;
Wade and Baile must be among them.
Just let me think if I missed any,
Yes, there was Davison, Niven, Lewins – any more!
Hopkins, Ryder, Billy May among many,
Not forgetting Frank Wright and J. Booth Gore.
Just let me see the best of officials
And critics like Davey, Gartrell and Hellings,
Humphreys and Boyce – Kings of staff and whistle,
May march us again – well, there’s no telling.
So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.
(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)
“Dungog Brass Band” by ‘Mad Mick” (1954):
Above is a picture of the Dungog Brass Band from around 1912 and unfortunately, this is one of the only pictures I could find of them. However, some thirty years later this prose was published in the Dungog Chronicle : Dungog and Gloucester Advertiserby a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”. One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950’s!
From reading the poem it appears that ‘Mick’ is a third cornet player. This poem is quite good in describing who the band is, what it does and where it goes, but the prose hints at some problems like attendance issues. We can appreciate that this was a local town band, and this was the way they did things. I think every band has a ‘Mick’ in their midst and we can thank him for highlighting the Dungog Brass Band in the way that he did.
DUNGOG BRASS BAND
I’ve heard it said that Old King Cole was happy, gay and free,
And he liked music sweet and low, played by his fiddlers three,
But in Dungog we’re luckier than King Cole in his day,
We have a band of 25 with band-master, Bob Gray;
And of this band we all feel proud, a mighty job they do,
They play in aid of charities, and spastic kiddies too.
Some Saturdays they entertain at each and every pub,
They finish off the evening playing at the Bowling Club.
Now I would like to tell you all the names of those who play,
And how old Bob the baton waves, and gets them on their way;
Soprano cornet heads the list and that’s I. Kennedy.
That solo cornet it is played by little Johnny Lee;
Keith Kennedy is downstairs for he is baritone,
And forwards, backwards, goes Stan Leayr upon the old trombone;
Now solo tenor horn Barry Schofield plays alone,
Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot! Don Redman goes upon his saxophone.
First tenor horn’s Wal Arnold, third cornet Mick Neilson,
Johnny Schofield’s second cornet, Hector Robson the side drum;
Ken Wade with his euphonium, gets down to bottom D,
While second solo tenor horn is little Barry Lee;
Then there’s E bass Freddy Schofield and Ted Mathews is the same,
And there’s one more solo cornet, Artie Redman is his name;
The secretary is Jack Kerr, he’s also big bass drum,
While tenor horn number three is played by “Butch” Neilson.
There’s only six more instruments and players for to pen,
For to conclude the roll call of Bob and his merry men;
And Bob calls them “some-timers,” they don’t attend a lot,
Sometimes they’re there for practice and sometimes they are not.
There’s the E bass and the B bass, and repiano cornet too,
And they’re played by Tommy Ferris and Keith Lean and Shelton, Blue,
Well now I’ve two trombonists whose attendances are poor
And they are “Sambo” Neilson and offsider Dennis Moore.
Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.
(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)
…and something from me:
In concluding this next blog post in Band Blasts From the Past,
Some tales of bands and bands people, but they won’t be the last.
For as we know from history, stories wait until they’re found,
Of the many tales of bands people who were there to make a sound.
In comparison to the first part of this series of posts, the Australian bands were not quite as proactive as crossing the Tasman as their New Zealand counterparts. This being said, when the Australian bands did go to New Zealand, they tended to do very well in competition and performances gained rave reviews. This part of the post will detail the trips that four Australian bands made to New Zealand between 1900-1940.
1907: Newcastle City Band – Christchurch International Exhibition Contest:
It took a little bit longer for Australian bands to start reciprocal visits to New Zealand and in 1907 the then champion Newcastle City Band traveled to Christchurch via Wellington to participate in the International Exhibition Contest (“NEWCASTLE CITY BAND.,” 1907). By all accounts, this was a huge event with no less than twenty-nine bands participating (Newcomb, 1980). Also in attendance at the Exhibition was the world-famous Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band from England who performed to great acclaim (Newcomb, 1980). Code’s Melbourne band was also intending to take part in the event however they did not end up going due to some of their bandsmen being unable to take time off work (Trombone, 1907).
The Newcastle Band achieved a very credible third placing against some top-ranking New Zealand bands and some of their soloists also achieved good placings (“BAND CONTEST,” 1907). However, soon after the contest finished, questions were being asked over the judging with Newcastle and others feeling that Newcastle should have been placed higher. In an article published in the Wanganui Herald, a Mr. Edgar Nicholas from Ballarat who was visiting was asked about the adjudicating at the contest by Lieutenant Bentley, formerly of England. Mr. Nicholas said in his interview that,
I have been at all the band contests in Ballarat, where the principal bands in Australia compete. We had had Messrs Ord-Hume, Wade, and Beard from England, but, speaking generally, Mr. Bentley has given equal satisfaction in Ballarat with these gentlemen”. (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907)
Speaking pragmatically in the interview, Mr. Nicholas noted that an adjudicator sometimes fails to please everyone given that Mr. Bentley had to judge 30 bands. Also, as Mr. Nicholas suggests, some bands may not have been at their best given the late hours that some of them competed (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907). Mr. Nicholas kept drawing comparisons with the Ballarat South St. Eisteddfod, the first being that that in the case of large sections, Ballarat employed up to three judges and that in Australia there were separate gradings which, at the time, were not used in New Zealand (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).
One Newcastle bandmember was quite firm in his comments which were published in a Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate article by saying,
When our band-master tells us we played well I am satisfied. He tells us often enough when we don’t play well; but we never played better than in the competition.” (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).
Aside from this issue over the placings, most accounts note that the Newcastle City Band had an enjoyable trip and were welcomed in various locations. On the ship home, they played for an appreciative audience and were welcomed home with a civic reception (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).
1923: Redfern Municipal Band – South Island Brass Band Association Contest, Dunedin:
Some sixteen years after the first Australian band traveled to New Zealand, it took until 1923 for the next Australian band to arrive. The Redfern Municipal Band, conducted by Mr. W. Partington, was a formidable band at the time and they undertook a short tour through the South Island of New Zealand on their way from Wellington to Dunedin. Upon arriving in Wellington, along with a contingent of N.S.W. Bowlers, they were given a large civic reception by the Mayor (“BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN,” 1923). The arrival of Redfern had generated an amount of excitement throughout New Zealand, suffice to say that their conductor Mr. W. Partington had conducted one of their own champion bands, The Wanganui Garrison Band for a while (“ENTERPRISING BAND,” 1923; Newcomb, 1980) – the band from Redfern was not unknown in New Zealand.
Redfern Municipal was ultimately triumphal in Dunedin by winning the A Grade section and Aggregate. This was no easy feat given that a number of New Zealand’s A grade bands were in the section, including Mr. Partington’s former band, Wanganui. Newcomb (1980) wrote of Redfern and the A Grade contest,
In Dunedin, it competed against seven of New Zealand’s top A grade bands. After a week of intensive rehearsal in the “Edinburgh of the South” Redfern was rewarded for its painstaking efforts when it took out the A grade title 12 points ahead of Invercargill’s Hiberian Band. The 1st Canterbury Mounted Regiment Band was third.
The talking point of the contest was the poor performance of the Wanganui Garrison Band, under Mr. J. Crichton. The veteran Wanganui conductor’s ambition was to thrash the Redferners…” (p. 44)
Of course the triumph was noted in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, and rightly so, it was a great win for the Redfern band (“BAND CONTEST,” 1923; “REDFERN BAND,” 1923). However, the backstory of the two conductors was intriguing and written up as part of an article published by the NZ Truth newspaper:
There is an interesting story (perhaps) behind the crossing of the Redferners. Bandmaster Partington was over here for a while, and had charge of the Wanganui Band. Within a very short period of training under his baton he made champions of them, winning the N.Z. honors last year. Then there arose a controversy between Partington, of Aussieland and Jim Crichton, of Wanganui, the ex-bootshopman who knocked off trade to become a musician, undergoing a special course of study in London for the purpose of pursuing his brass-bound hobby. He told P. that if he (C.) had the Woolston Band under his baton for a month he could beat anything that P. could bring against it. There was such a heated argument that it was leading to something like a £1000 wager. But P. left for Aussieland again, and took charge of the Redferners. Now the question is: Did he bring the Sydneysiders over to compete against anything that Jim Crichton had under his wing? Well, Jim took the Wanganui cracks down to Dunedin to play against their old leader – and Wanganui was nowhere in the final! (“Brass Bands and Bandsmen,” 1923).
When returning to Australia, there was a snippet of thought that the Redfern Band might head to England to compete (“REDFERN BAND,” 1923). However, this evidently did not eventuate. Their conductor, Mr. Partington, went on to other activities and formed a representative band that travelled Australia with the aim of heading to England. But as detailed in a previous post, that tour ended up running out of money upon arrival in Perth.
1925: Malvern Tramways Band – New Zealand National Band Championship, Auckland:
Just two years later, another crack Australian band made the trip to New Zealand to compete. The Malvern Tramways Band was renowned throughout Australia as one of the elite bands of the Commonwealth having won numerous competitions by this time. So much so that the Malvern Band, like many others, tried to get to England however they too were unable to raise sufficient funds. To compensate, they did arrive in New Zealand early in 1925 to commence a six-week tour culminating in the championships in Auckland (“Malvern Tramways Band,” 1925d).
The reputation of Malvern preceded them to New Zealand and all manner of hospitality was afforded for the band including, special observation cars on trains, reduced rail fares and free travel on New Zealand trams! (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925b). They sailed from Melbourne to Invercargill and from there travelled up to Auckland giving concerts in all the major towns on the way (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925a). By late February they had reached Auckland and commenced competing in the band sections and solo sections. In competition, the Malvern Tramways band was formidable and they won just about every section except for the Quickstep where they achieved third place (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925b; “MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST,” 1925). Newcomb (1980) wrote of the contest:
After many years of bickering, common sense prevailed when the North and South Island associations joined forces to stage the 1925 national contest in Auckland.
It was made doubly interesting by the presence of the Malvern Tramways Band from Australia under the conductorship of Mr. Harry Shugg.
New Zealand’s top A grade bands proved no match for the highly fancied Australian combination which won both tests, the hymn and the championship aggregate. (p. 45).
After this astounding success in New Zealand, the Malvern Tramways Band sailed for Sydney where they performed their competition repertoire in concert to rave reviews (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925c). Traveling back to Melbourne, the success of their New Zealand venture was written up a couple of months later by the local Prahran Telegraph newspaper (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925a).
1936: Cairns Citizens’ Band – New Zealand National Band Championships, New Plymouth:
In October 1935, the Cairns Post newspaper published the news that the Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band would compete at the 1936 New Zealand Band Championships in New Plymouth (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935). Conducted by James Crompton, a person that was not unfamiliar to the New Zealand brass bands, the band was nominally the first band from Queensland to compete in New Zealand and the first from Australian Military Forces (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).
The Cairns Citizens’ Band won the New Zealand Championship that year, although they did not win the Test selection. However, their aggregate points were enough that they could win the championship (“Cairns Band.,” 1936; Newcomb, 1980). The New Zealand press was also impressed by the standards set in New Plymouth and an article published in the Evening Post newspaper praised the marching – the Cairns Citizens’ Band achieved 2nd place in the marching section (“GOOD MARCHING,” 1936).
There was a similarity of experiences for bands crossing to either side of the Tasman; with civic receptions, a very interested and informed public and commentary from the newspapers. The excitement generated by viewing a visiting band was also interesting to note – and there were plenty of other articles that were written about bands (but too many to list in these posts)! It was interesting to note just how close the Australian and New Zealand brass band movements were in terms of standards and rules, so much so that any band crossing the Tasman could expect near similar conditions of competition. The best bands of each country could match the other and in the spirit of competition, this was plain to see.
It is the collegial nature of band movements that enabled these visits to happen and to this day, the friendly rivalries remain, and visits continue to take place. Kudos to the bands that made these early trips as they set a foundation for other bands to build on.
It would be fair to say that the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, as countries and peoples, has been one of mutual respect, partnership, shared development, and healthy competitiveness. This has been evident in many instances and has also been evident in the brass band movement. So much so that over the years from just before 1900 up to 1950, bands regularly crossed the Tasman Sea with the aim of touring, performance, and participating in respective championships.
Travel was not always an easy task and was certainly expensive. Yet in these early days of ships and trains, bands managed this and for the most part, were met with civic welcomes and hospitality wherever they went. There were also times when eminent bandsmen also traveled to ply their services as adjudicators, conductors or band coaches. This allowed a flow of new ideas, expertise and criticism that certainly helped the band movements of both countries.
As far as the information allows it, we will see who went where and when. It has been interesting to read the perspectives of media from both Australia and New Zealand through using the resources of the Trove archive and DigitalNZ / PapersPast – media of the day reported on everything! Also, the results database of the Royal South Street Society, the Brass Band Association of New Zealand and history books regarding the band history of New Zealand have been very helpful.
For the sake of brevity, this post has been divided into two parts and the details of visits are in basic chronological order. Part one is about the bands from New Zealand that traveled to Australia and part two highlights four of the Australian bands that went to New Zealand. There are some fascinating stories to come out of these trips and one can appreciate the initiative. I hope people enjoy reading both posts.
1897-1899: Invercargill Garrison Band, Oamaru Garrison Band & Wellington Garrison Band – Melbourne & Bathurst:
In the few years preceding 1900, Australia received visits from three New Zealand bands in relatively quick succession; the Invercargill Garrison Band in 1897, the Oamaru Garrison band in 1898 and the Wellington Garrison Band in 1899 (Newcomb, 1980). In 1897 the Invercargill Garrison Band visited Melbourne to compete in the Druid’s Gala Contest in Melbourne and gained a credible forth placing out of the eleven bands that competed (“VICTORIA.,” 1897). The next year, and in the same contest, the Oamaru Garrison Band visited and was higher placed although there’s some historical conjecture over the scores with an article in the Bendigo Independent newspaper reporting a tied third place other reports saying they achieved second placings in some sections (“THE BAND CONTEST.,” 1898; Newcomb, 1980).
Coming into 1899, the Wellington Garrison Band sailed to Australia and after a brief stop in Sydney, they traveled to Bathurst to compete in the Intercolonial Band Contest. They immediately set the tone of their visit and marched from the railway station to the hotel followed by enthusiastic crowds (“The Wellington Garrison Band.,” 1899). However, despite being a champion New Zealand band, they were brought undone in Bathurst by the deportment of their bandsmen. It was widely reported in New Zealand and Australian press that the reason they lost points in the marching was because of “nine of the bandsmen being unshaved” (“UNSHAVEN BANDSMEN,” 1899). Apparently Wellington band “forgot” the regulations on shaving and were subsequently placed fifth in the marching even though their playing matched the Code’s Melbourne Band (“Bathurst Band Contest.,” 1899). This being said, they redeemed themselves by winning the bulk of the solo contests in Bathurst (“BAND CONTEST.,” 1899).
1908 & 1921: Kaikorai Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:
Early in 1908, a tiny snippet of news was printed by newspapers across New Zealand; the Kaikorai Band from Dunedin was intending to compete at the Ballarat South Street Eisteddfod in October – as seen here in this advertisement published by the Colonist newspaper (“Kaikorai Band,” 1908). The Kaikorai band was another one of New Zealand’s top bands at the time and obviously felt that they could take on the best of Australian brass bands (Newcomb, 1980). However, things did not go quite to plan on the day and Newcomb (1980) outlined one the main reasons:
Everything went wrong after one of the band’s top soloists, Billy Flea, cracked his lip. The Flugel Horn solo had to be taken by Jim Pearson. Though Billy was a strong player, Jim was the reverse. As a result, another soloist, who was in the habit of relying on the finish of the Flugel solo to dovetail his entry, simply didn’t hear Jim, so never got started!
Conductor Laidlaw was so taken aback that his baton simply froze. Some of the bandsmen maintained that the Scots conductor turned a shade of green! It was to his credit, however, that after the initial shock he pulled the band together. (p. 40)
This, of course, was reflected in the comments on their playing, an account that was published in the Otago Witness newspaper (“Kaikorai Band at Ballarat,” 1908). However, the Kaikorai Band did achieve one triumph when they won the discipline prize for their marching.
In 1921 the Kaikorai Band returned to South Street to compete, however on this occasion they did not go as well as Australian bands had developed quite a bit in preceding years and Kaikorai was no match for them (Newcomb, 1980). The only success on this occasion occurred in the Septette section where their group achieved first place.
1910: Wanganui Garrison Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:
Two years after the Kaikorai band visited South Street, another one of New Zealand’s top bands, the famous Wanganui Garrison Band made the trip. Conducted by Mr. James Chrichton for 21 years and succeeded by Mr. Alfred Wade in 1908, the band had built up an enviable contesting record and in 1910 they made the trip to Australia to compete (Newcomb, 1980; Zealley & Ord Hume, 1926).
Needless to say, the Wanganui Garrison Band was very successful at South Street and won both the Quickstep and Test sections over the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and both Ballarat bands – Prout’s and City (“THE GRAND BAND CONTESTS,” 1910). As well as this superb win in the band contest, Wanganui also had many soloists and ensemble enter various sections, and they were similarly successful with many of them gaining places.
When Wanganui returned to Melbourne, they were given a rapturous welcome by the Lord Mayor and the Agent for New Zealand (pictured at the start of this post) (“THE WANGANUI BAND.,” 1910). After leaving Melbourne they traveled to Albury where they were given another civic reception (“WANGANUI BAND,” 1910). From Albury, they traveled to Sydney to take a ship back to Auckland where they were greeted with a huge celebration by proud New Zealanders (“VICTORY OF THE WANGANUI BAND,” 1910).
1920: 2ndSouth Canterbury (Timaru) Regimental Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:
After the First World War ended and bands were gradually getting back to normal activities, the South Street Eisteddfod resumed and the 2nd South Canterbury Regimental Band, also known as the Timaru Regimental Band, ventured to Australia to compete in the 1920 contests. Despite them being a national champion band in New Zealand, at least before the war, their results in Ballarat were not that spectacular (Newcomb, 1980). That being said, the A Grade section did include Malvern Tramways Band, Ipswich Vice-Regal Band, South Sydney and the City of Ballarat – Timaru came up against some of the best in Australia at the time. Timaru Regimental did have some success in the Trombone Trio and placings in other solo sections so their experience of South Street was somewhat worthwhile (“SOUTH STREET BAND CONTESTS.,” 1920).
1934: Woolston Band – South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest, Ballarat:
In 1934 in the midst of a depression, the Woolston Band from Christchurch managed to find enough funds to make the trip to Ballarat with the aim of competing in the 1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contests – the name given as it was Victoria’s Centenary year since it became a separate colony. This was an auspicious event as it was attended by the Duke of Gloucester and the Band of His Majesty’s Grenadier Guards.
By all accounts they acquitted themselves very well and up against some of Australia’s best bands, they achieved second place. They did have some setbacks though. Newcomb (1980) writes of Woolston’s effort:
The Woolston Band may well have won the contest had it not drawn the dreaded No. 1 position in the second test piece. Bad weather resulted in a last-minute decision to stage the event indoors, and when the band started its performance it became evident that the standard seating formation did not conform with the acoustics of the hall.
After the contest, the adjudicator, Mr. Stephen York, told Mr. Estell the Woolston Band had not scored well because it was not properly balanced. Moreover, to add to the band’s misfortune, five members were suffering from influenza. (p. 47).
The standard of competition was very high and this was noted by the press that attended the event (“BRILLIANT PLAYING,” 1934). The winning band was the famed Melbourne Fire Brigade Band.
1947: Wellington Waterside Workers Silver Band / Auckland Junior Waterside Workers Band – Australian Band Championships, Newcastle:
After the cessation of the Second World War, band competitions resumed in New Zealand and Australia and in 1947 the Australian Band Championships were held in Newcastle, N.S.W. Two New Zealand Bands made the trip to Newcastle that year with the Wellington band competing in A grade and the Auckland band competing in B grade. On this occasion, both bands did not receive a civic welcome to Newcastle but instead were awarded a function put on by the Newcastle Waterside Workers’ Social Committee (“Waterside Bands To Be Welcomed,” 1947).
Out of these two bands, the Wellington Waterside Band was the only one to gain a placing by achieving 3rd place however their soloists won most sections (Newcomb, 1980). The Auckland Junior band did not gain any placing and the A Grade championship was won by the Melbourne Fire Brigade Band (“FIREMEN SCORE IN BAND CONTEST,” 1947). Both Waterside bands performed at other events during their stay which helped contribute money to various waterside workers’ benefit funds (“New Zealand Bands Guest Artists,” 1947).
1949: St. Kilda Municipal Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:
In 1949 the St. Kilda Municipal Band from Dunedin, elated by their success at the Auckland NZ Band Championships this same year, decided to come to Ballarat and compete for the Australian championship as well (Newcomb, 1980). Make the trip they did, and doing things differently to other New Zealand bands that had previously traveled to Australia, instead of taking a ship, they flew! (“NZ BAND WILL FLY HERE,” 1949).
To have a New Zealand band of this caliber at South Street was a major drawcard and they convincingly won or came 2nd in every section that they participated in (“NZ band has a big day at Ballarat,” 1949). The section included bands from Ballarat and the famous Brisbane Excelsior Band.
In concluding part one of this series of posts, one must admire the drive and determination of the New Zealand bands. Success was never a guarantee; however, it was shown that the best New Zealand bands were certainly a match for the crack Australian bands (and vice versa). Having bands visit from New Zealand was also a major drawcard to competitions for the visiting public.
In part two of this series, we can see how the Australian bands fared in New Zealand.
For nearly as long as we have had formal brass bands in Australia, we have had band associations. These early groupings were either large or small where affiliated bands worked with each other. Except for perhaps in Victoria where, as we found in a previous post, they experienced some major upheaval just thirty years after the first band association came into being. However, the collegial atmosphere brass bands led to associations that tried to foster common aims and ideals.
One core function of a band association was the formulation of rules of competition and association. It would be fair to say that some of these rules were contentious back then (even as they are sometimes now). This being said, the function of competition rules was to make sure that every competing ensemble was on a level playing field with other bands. There were the odd protests, of course, this goes without saying. Generally, the judgment of State associations held when questioned. However, with all States creating rules of competition, when it came to bands wanting to compete in other States, this undoubtedly caused problems at times. The States then tried to start working with one another to bring some uniformity in rules for competitions that attracted interstate entrants.
Hence the subject of this post. This is an examination of how the State band associations tried to put aside their differences and work with each other. This post is not a synthesis of the different State competition rules. As will be seen, uniformity was not an easy process and some iterations of a National Council did not last long. Undoubtedly the War years intervened in the activities of bands, so a working National Council was further fragmented and delayed. When reading this post, people might get a sense of déjà vu, however, this will be open to individual interpretation. This is just another of those fascinating stories that add further history to the activities of Australian bands and bandsmen.
The first State band association to form in Australia was the Band Association of New South Wales (B.A.N.S.W.) in 1895 and they staged their first interstate band competition in Sydney, 1896 (Greaves, 1996). This was followed by the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) in 1901 with other State association forming soon after (Greaves, 1996). With each State association now assuming responsibility for running competitions, there were a number of rule differences for bands to negotiate, especially if they competed in interstate events.
The band associations affiliated with each other and recognized each other’s rules and processes. It was not uncommon for letters and other correspondence from State associations to be presented at various meetings. With this in mind, through an article in Adelaide’s Register newspaper in 1913, we see that the South Australian Band Association (S.A.B.A.) received a letter from B.A.N.S.W. “suggesting a conference of the Australian associations in order to discuss and possibly bring the rules of the different associations into something approaching uniformity.” (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1913). This was probably one of the first approaches from one association to another with a proposal to at least discuss differences in rules. There is no indication at this stage as to whether this conference took place, or if it did, what the outcome was.
Notwithstanding the disruption of the First World War on Australian society in general, once this had finished the associations carried on with their activities. It is in the year of 1921 where we see the next mention of a National Council being formed through an article published in the Argus newspaper reporting on a conference held in Ballarat. A summary of the article tells us that:
An Australian Band Council has been formed
“Only one association from each state is to be recognized.”
An order of States has been decided as to who will host the next championships.
Slightly more detail on this 1921 Ballarat conference was provided by the Northern Star newspaper brass band correspondent, ‘Drummer Boy’ where he has noted that, in addition to only one association being recognized in each State, “only players of bands affiliated with that association will be permitted to play in contests in other States.” (Drummer Boy, 1921). There was also another discussion on how many professional musicians could play in each band, with the recognition that brass bands were essentially amateur groups. The next conference was to be held in Brisbane (Drummer Boy, 1921).
There may or may not be a connection, but a picture of an “Australian Band Committee” was published by the Daily Mail in 1923 (pictured at the head of this post) (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE.,” 1923). Perhaps this is a result of the aforementioned Brisbane conference although, at this stage, the connection is unclear.
While there had been championships held in various States billed as interstate band contests, they were essentially conducted by the respective State association under their own rules. However, the formation of an Australian Band Council meant that championships could now be held under National rules and patronage. In 1925 we see how this is affected through a tiny article published in the Toowoomba Chronicle where the 1926 Toowoomba competitions “at Easter will carry the 1926 Australian Championship title for the A, B, and C Grades” (“THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL.,” 1925). This is an important step in banding competitions as it is now evident that the States had actually agreed on common rules and a national committee had given patronage to a competition. This recognition was not forgotten by local brass bands. In 1927, the Victorian Band Association (VBA) upheld a protest brought about by one band, which was written up in an article published by The Age newspaper:
Malvern Tramways Band complained that two other bands in Melbourne were claiming themselves to be Australian champions, and a ruling was sought. It was set out that the title of the Australian championship was legitimately held to belong to Malvern Tramways Band by reason of its success in winning the Australian championship contest at Toowoomba, Q. last Easter. The association secretary (Mr. W. Martin) stated that he had replied that the Queensland Band Association had the right to grant the championship in 1926, and by its success at the Toowoomba contest Malvern Tramways Band was thereby the possessor of the title. The matter was one in which the band itself could take what action it considered advisable.” (“Victorian Band Association.,” 1927)
On a side note and somewhat related, this was a perfect case of when a State association proved to be effective on one ruling but failed to uphold another ruling. The two other bands that Malvern Tramways was referring to in their protest were their two main crosstown rivals; Brunswick City Municipal Band and Collingwood Citizens’ Band. In the latter part of 1927, these two bands held a ‘challenge contest’ at the Exhibition Building with adjudicators “P. Jones, P. Code & R. McAnallay” presiding (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Interestingly, the presenters of this contest declared that “This contest…will decide which is the best brass band in Australia” (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Needless to say the Victorian Bands’ Association was not pleased about this contest and they tried to disqualify both Brunswick and Collingwood – which brought about a response from Brunswick accusing the VBA of over-stepping itself as the current VBA rules “do not provide for a challenge contest” (“BEST BAND DISCORD,” 1927). The challenge contest still went ahead with Collingwood winning by two points (Greaves, 1996).
If the preceding two decades could be regarded as tentative, the next two decades where the National Council was reformed could be regarded as consolidation. In 1931 a new Victorian Bands’ League was formed by a large group of Melbourne metropolitan bands and every other band in the State rapidly affiliated. This led to the demise of the VBA and we see in a Herald article from 1933, the other State associations recognized the VBL as the single association for bands in Victoria and they sent through their affiliations with the new league (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). In the same article, Mr. H. G. Sullivan, Secretary of the VBL “said he wanted to see the formation of an Australian Band Council to unify band contests throughout Australia” (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). This move was also welcomed in other States. The Secretary of the Queensland Band Association (Q.B.A.) Mr. J. R. Foster, “said they were hopeful that in the near future a Federal Council would be formed to control and lay down rules for brass band contests throughout Australia.” (“BRASS BAND CONTESTS.,” 1933).
A clue as to why the National Council was resurrected at this time lies in a long newspaper article from 1934 published in the Central Queensland Herald in which Mr. Foster, was interviewed. He provided some enlightening history:
“Years ago the whole of the State Band Associations throughout Australia were controlled by a Central Australian Band Conference, but since 1918 this body has not functioned although several attempts were made to revive the Council” said Mr. Foster yesterday.
“Last year, through the efforts of the Q.B.A., negotiations were made between New South Wales and the Victorian Bands’ League to hold a conference representing all States to endeavour to formulate a set of rules applicable to band contests throughout the Commonwealth.”
“The conference, which will be held in Sydney, will commence on April 9 and all States except Western Australia have expressed their intention of being represented.”
“Included in the agenda will be a suggestion from Queensland that every effort will be made to establish an Australian school for band music on the same lines as Knellar Hall in England.”
“If this could be achieved it would be of inestimable help to building band-masters to study the theory of music and up to date band training methods”
“At present time all State Associations are affiliated, but it is felt that the establishment of a uniform set of contesting conditions will further cement the co-operation already existing amongst the State Associations.” (“HALL OF BAND MUSIC,” 1934)
No doubt this is an interesting set of developments and hopeful proposals. Evidently, the State associations were quite collegial in the way they were now operating. It seems, however, that “The proposition by Queensland for the establishment for a college of music for the education of bandmasters and trainers could not be entertained at present owing to the expense involved.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934). This being said, an order of National championships was decided – “Queensland in 1935, in South Australia in 1936, in Victoria in 1937, and in New South Wales in 1938.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).
We also see evidence from this conference on just how difficult it was to achieve unity in rules. Mr. Dall, then Secretary of S.A.B.A. and the South Australian representative at the conference, was quoted in an article published in the Advertiser newspaper on the 30thof April:
“If such conferences are continued they will be of tremendous benefit to contesting bands in Australia. We found it difficult to frame rules owing to the different conditions operating in the various States. In framing a set of rules to apply to all States without seriously affecting any State’s present rules, we found it necessary to compromise on several items so that they would be applicable to all States.”
“If the conferences can be continued there is no doubt that in the near future a set of rules will be framed that will be entirely satisfactory to all bands throughout the Commonwealth. With this object in view we framed a set of rules for two years trial.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS HERE IN 1936,” 1934)
The next biennial conference of the Australian Band Council was held in Brisbane during May 1936. The Courier-Mail reported on some resolutions which included making Melbourne the national headquarters in future and that all future conferences would be held in Melbourne (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936). “Mr. H. J. Sullivan, secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League, who is the Victoria delegate to the council, was appointed permanent Federal secretary of the council.” (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936).
Evidently, a new President of the Australian Band Council was elected as seen by the picture which was published by the Australasian Bandsman newspaper in 1937 (“Lieut. K. G. Kennedy,” 1937).
Numerous rule changes were reported on before the commencement of the 1938 conference in Melbourne by the brass band correspondent to the Advertiser newspaper, colloquially known as ‘Baton’. He wrote a very detailed overview of the rule proposals which, unfortunately, cannot be listed here due to brevity. However, the rule proposals covered areas such as registration, marching and the quickstep competition (Baton, 1938). The conference, held at Hawthorn Town Hall in suburban Melbourne was a success and the Mayor of Hawthorn gave the conference, and brass bands full praise (“BANDS PRAISED,” 1938).
In 1939 the National Championships were held in Bundaberg, QLD over Easter and we see some reporting of new rules that were decided upon at the Melbourne conference. The Cairns Post, while highlighting the local brass band that was to take part, also reported that:
Rule nine of the Contest Rules governing all future championship contests now reads:- “(a) The Australian championship shall be competed for annually at a time and place to be decided by the Council, and shall be for “A” grade only”
“(b) State championships shall be held at such time and place as may be decided by the governing body.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIP.,” 1939)
Such are the vagaries of the rules. It was at this time however when the world was again plunged into War and there was a suspension of a majority of band contests. We next see articles relating to the National band council appear again in the middle to late 1940s.
The 1940s & 1950s:
It appears that the Australian Band Council was quiet during the Second World War years, which was understandable and certainly there is not much evidence to suggest that National competitions took place. This is not to say there were not local and State competitions during this time, at least in Victoria (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939). However, as shown by these same records, a competition was held in Frankston, Vic. in late 1945 and early 1946 which was called an “Australian Championship” (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939, p. 34). While it was called as such, the only bands that participated came from Victoria.
Coming into the 1950s we again see the ideals of the Australian Band Council being reiterated in local newspapers. Published in 1952, an article in the Mudgee Guardian tries to explain what the A.B.C. actually is and what it does:
“While the N.S.W. Band Association controls Band matters within that State, the Australian Band Council is the governing body for Band matters throughout the Commonwealth, and has jurisdiction within each State.
The objects of the A.B.C. are similar to the N.S.W.B.A. that is to say: To ensure that Band contests, solo and part competitions shall be conducted throughout Australia under a uniform set of rules: to deal with any appeals which may be made to the Council by any affiliated State governing body in respect of any action taken under any rule of the Council: to promote a general love and knowledge of Band music and good fellowship amongst Bandsmen: and to promote and assist in the promotion of, and to control Band contests.” (“BAND SERIES No. 6.,” 1952).
The article then proceeded to highlight other aims and ideals.
Unfortunately, the exact date of a name change to the National Band Council of Australia is unclear, however, as mentioned, their website publishes National results dating back only to 1950 (National Band Council of Australia, 2019).
The history of the National Council is unique as there were a special set of circumstances needed to make sure it formed and succeeded. The various starts had similar aims and ideals with the uniformity of rules being first and foremost. Collegiality was emphasized despite the difficulty in creating a uniform set of rules and procedures. The interactions between different State associations are clearly highlighted in this regard. It seems that the State associations tried to make this work with the best of intentions and that is something to be admired. Certainly, the legacy is still seen today with the continued existence of a National Band Council of Australia and the National band championships which are held each year in a different State.
BRASS BAND CONTESTS : Federal Council of Control? : Conference for Brisbane. (1933, 27 June). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254338919
For the most part, the naming of bands is fairly logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however, there were a number of exceptions – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, a similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways. This gave the bands identity and a purpose. Where two bands existed in the same area, there was undoubtedly some disagreements, although not generally over naming but over status and prestige…and performances! If a band was given an Australian or State name, that lifted their reputations almost immediately, yes? Possibly, but there were other factors involved.
The focus of this post is to explore a level up from the local bands where we delve into the rare State and National bands. Granted, there were not many of them. In fact, in the time period that is being focused on in this post, these types of bands were thin on the ground. In a previous post, the life of the ABC Military Band was explored, a unique ensemble in its own right and one that included bandsmen from all over Australia. This was a representative band but different from the more common brass bands in that it included woodwind and percussion. In this post, we will highlight brass bands.
Admittedly, there was some difficulty finding material on these rare bands due to their short periods of existence. That being said, there were other bands in Australia aside from the more notable ones and mention will be made of them. We will also see how a certain State band raised the ire of the governing body of its home State.
There is no doubt that being part of a National or State band was one that bandsmen aspired, and for the National bands, the best bandsmen were picked for a proposed or grand world tour. The one State band that was set up did so in unusual circumstances and the naming of them as a State band brought them much recognition and pride. With this in mind, National and State bands did exist and although they were sporadic and formed mainly for tours, they developed reputations in their own right and gave more bandsmen another musical outlet.
State and National bands were mainly set up by organizations that had the resources to undertake such ventures. Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places were sometimes very vast, and it was not easy to move people anywhere. Yet in the first instance, we can see that the Salvation Army pulled this off in 1898 with the formation of a Federal Band. An article which was published in the South Australian Register on the 14th of February 1898 is very informative and details the formation of the band and the tour it had undertaken thus far:
There is now in Adelaide an interesting band of clever musicians picked from the ranks of the Salvation Army. It is styled “the Salvation Army Federal Band” and has twenty-five playing members, exclusive of Major Taylor (Victoria), who is their director. The bandmaster is Ensign Cater (New Zealand), who takes up an instrument. Counting in Major Taylor, the seven colonies of Australia are represented in the following order: – Victoria, eight; South Australia, five; Western Australia; four; New South Wales, three; New Zealand, three; Queensland, two; Tasmania, one; total, twenty-six. (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898)
The Salvation Army had begun planning for this band twelve months in advance, with the aim of the band being “the kind of which should tour the colonies and encourage the members of the Army, and by producing music of a high order raise funds for the work in the different parts of Australasia” (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898). By the time the band had reached Adelaide it had already toured from Melbourne to Western Australia, back to South Australia and from there had been to the Yorke Peninsula and Broken Hill (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898). According to another article published in The Advertiser, the Federal Band was a very fine combination of musicians and presented a wonderful concert (“SALVATION ARMY.,” 1898). As it is ever thus with Salvation Army bands.
In 1908 a tiny article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which the title is misleading. As you can see in the article (pictured), there is no “Commonwealth Brass Band” that has been formed. Rather, it is a proposal to secure the services of the Newtown Brass Band to perform at the Anglo-French Exhibition (“COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND.,” 1908). By all accounts, the Newtown Brass Band was very famous having won numerous competitions by this time and could have probably served as the Australian band at the exhibition (Greaves & Earl, 2001). However, the Prime Minister apparently rejected this proposal for reasons unknown.
The Australian Imperial Band:
In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993). However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr. W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924). Mr. Partington is mentioned in some references – he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 (Pattie, 2010). However, he is not really noted amongst some of the more famous bandsmen of this time. That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organizational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924). Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.
1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands. Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001). Other bands wanted to emulate this success and the newly formed AIB was no exception. Hindsight can tell us that this was a noble ideal, and certainly, the AIB tried to raise money over the months of their tour to fund this aim. We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:
In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests. (“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)
However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling. One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out. Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band traveling to England.
The length of time this band was in existence was short however they managed to get themselves together and go on a grand tour of Australia, to some very favorable reviews. There is not much mention of the personnel of the band but given there were many quality bandsmen in the country at the time, finding gifted musicians was probably not a problem.
At least they tried.
The Australian Commonwealth Band:
Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001). No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925). Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).
The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name is etched in history. We see in the various photos and ephemera included in this post that they were a very smart looking ensemble and that they had a distinctly Australian look with slouch hats.
Aside from the way the name of the band continually evolving in the newspapers, this did not discount the fact that it was an extremely fine ensemble made up of the best brass soloists and led by Baile himself. Certainly, reviews from Australian newspapers as well as those from overseas, gave high praise to the sound of this band likening it to an “organ” or an “orchestra” (“Australian Silver Band,” 1925; “VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926). The newspaper article published by the Todmorden & District News (UK) in 1926 was very informative as to the concert it gave in their area, attended by 5,000 people, and the quality of the soloists, in particular, the Solo Cornet player, Mr Arthur Stender (“VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926). Below is a list of the band members as published in the book, “Legends in Brass : Australian Brass Band Achievers of the 20thCentury”:
The Australian Commonwealth Band undertook two Australian/World tours, the first from 1925-1926 and the next from 1926-1928. As in their first tour, they received rave reviews during their second tour, of which an article in New Zealand’s Evening Post from February 1927 provides a brief summary (“COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1927). This second tour was not all plain sailing. While the band was traveling around Australia, the Australian Musicians’ Union was up in arms about a boycott of the Commonwealth Band while it was touring America (“COMMONWEALTH BAND,” 1927). The Union started lobbying for retaliatory action against musicians visiting from overseas. It is unclear how this action was resolved however it is interesting that despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Band, there was this hiccup while on tour.
The Australian Commonwealth Band was disbanded in Sydney in early 1928 after they had finished their last tour of Australia (Greaves & Earl, 2001). There is no doubt that this was a truly remarkable ensemble, started from the players of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to become a unique band in its own right. And it certainly boosted the reputation of Australian bands in general. The legacy of this fine ensemble was felt for years to come.
The Queensland State Band:
In the early 1930s, we see the formation of the one and only State band, the Queensland State Band. This was formed in unusual, but possibly well-meaning circumstances as the musicians were notionally “unemployed” (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933b). The other aim of the band was to try to emulate the success of previous tours by the Newcastle Steelworks Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band by touring overseas and competing in England. Nevertheless, the band formed in September 1933 and included previous members of the Australian Commonwealth Band (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR.,” 1933).
Almost immediately this band raised the ire of the Queensland Band Association (QBA) of which sent an annoyed letter to the Courier Mail published on October 9th, 1933. In the letter, the QBA Secretary of the time, Mr J. R. Foster made some forceful points about the State band not being “tested for proficiency” under QBA rules, and the fact that the State band was professional yet had excluded some Queenslanders by bringing in bandsmen from Southern States (Foster, 1933). In addition, apparently, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane had allowed the State band to perform in a park while excluding other Brisbane metropolitan bands (Foster, 1933). It is fair to say that this letter (and the QBA) failed to have much impact on the operations of this band.
After being brought together, the Queensland State Band commenced a tour of Queensland where they visited many towns and rural centers north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favorable reviews of their playing (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933a). Indeed, they also inspired many local town bands and schools, and it is noted that they played for a combined total of 20,000 people over the course of the tour (“STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN,” 1933). After this part of the tour ended, they were supposed to tour through Northern NSW and also raise finances for a trip to England, of which either activity does not appear to have happened.
As mentioned, this is one of the only instances during this time where a State band was formed. It is unclear why other States did not form their own representative bands. However, it does indicate that where there is a drive, things will happen even if all the aims are not met.
One more band:
There was only one more band to carry an Australian name during this time period, a band that was very short lived – the ‘Australian Girls’ Brass Band’ which was formed in 1934. We know how rare female bands were through a previous post, so perhaps this was a tokenistic ensemble. However, they were formed and presented one concert in Sydney where they were not exactly complimented for playing, but apparently looked very smart in green & gold uniforms (“Australian Girls’ Brass Band,” 1934; “FIRST CONCERT,” 1934). There is no more record of this band doing anything else beyond this one concert.
If there is anything showing from the stories of these ensembles it is a distinct similarity between them. They were all formed basically for the one activity, which was touring. Except that this aim was obviously dependent on having enough money. That being said, the Australian Commonwealth Band took things a few steps further by acting on their aims to compete in England and tour around the world, and it was a band that was in existence for the longest time. Certainly, the fact that the Commonwealth Band undertook two world tours in quick succession is a testament to the organization and prowess of its manager and conductor, no doubt both well-honed from the previous Newcastle tour.
In any case, once again we see that these bands added to the reputation and life of Australian banding and through them, we have seen some interesting histories. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned and no doubt there are further stories to be unearthed. We do have a unique history of bands in this country and having bands that carried the Australian name or a State name gained for themselves a distinct historical legacy.
Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Kangaroo Flat, Vic.: Muso’s Media.
Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.
Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles. In addition, this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons from former secure health facilities in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles.
When we look at the distribution of brass bands in Australia between 1900 – 1950 we can see that they mushroomed everywhere. Some towns and localities were lucky to have two or three. Bands merged, split, started and ended, and we know that individual bandsmen were great travelers and had various loyalties. Given the size of Australia, it can be assumed that geography was an early challenge – it took a long time to get anywhere and obtain the fundamentals for running a band. Yet the early bands did it and a number of bands survived.
This post is about the brass bands that were located on some of the islands that surround Australia. In selecting the islands and bands, I took a punt with some and accidentally found some others. When looking for stories and histories I found that information on these island bands was a bit hit and miss. In some cases, there were only one or two newspaper articles (that I found) where there was only a mere mention of a band. Timelines were difficult to establish but we can get a rough guess based on early articles and later articles. However, the fact that these bands had an existence of sorts only adds to the rich history of bands in this country.
I started this post with a disclaimer. The reason for this is that two of the bands were located on islands where Aboriginal missions were established, and another band was located on a small island that once housed a facility for isolating people with leprosy. To delve deeper in the pasts of these missions and this facility uncovered some disturbing facts, as I tried to build a background as to why bands were established in these locations. All locations had unfortunate pasts which will have to be acknowledged in this post, but we recognize that at the time, bands were created with a similar purpose to those in other locations.
This post will address each location, or groups of locations in turn and we will see that the bands in these places were innovative, dedicated and proud. We will also see that they were engaged with island life and that being a band on an island had a special meaning. These bands may not have had the reputation or resources of bigger ensembles, but they did have a certain spirit given to them by their locations.
Kangaroo Island (South Australia):
Kangaroo Island, located off the coast of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia is nominally Australia’s third largest island behind Tasmania and Melville Island (Sealink Travel Group, 2019). At 155km in length and up to 55km in wide it is big in area but contains only four main settlements, of which Kingscote is the main town (Sealink Travel Group, 2019). The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association has documented history prior to 1836 however most of the recorded history occurs after this date (Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association, 2019).
We first see mention of a brass band on Kangaroo Island in an article published by The Register in 1906 which makes mention of a concert presented by the Kingscote Brass Band (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906). This concert was in aid of an instrument fund and was basically a social evening and dance. However, the article also makes mention of another performance held during a lunch hour where the band, with some innovation, broadcast their performance by telephone! As written in the article:
Last Tuesday, during the luncheon hour, through the courtesy of the P.M. here (Mr. Lamprey), the Kingscote Brass Band played selections through the telephone to Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda Lighthouses. The music was much appreciated by the watchers by the sea at either end of the island. Cape Borda is 70 miles westerly from Kingscote, and Cape Willoughby is about 30 miles easterly. (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).
To think they did this in 1906 is quite remarkable and inventive!
The activities of the Kingscote Brass Band were mentioned in the local newspaper, The Kangaroo Island Courier in late 1907 where they were noted for wanting to present a program of Christmas Carols and marches on Christmas Eve (“Kingscote Brass Band Items.,” 1907). This is in addition to their fundraising effort for new instruments. In the middle of 1908, the said newspaper received a letter from a mainlander who had read an article in Australian Bandsman about the travel of Kingscote Brass Band members (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908). In his letter he says, “I think the 12-mile man is the bandmaster and he deserves a lot of encouragement for his trouble” and then proceeds to wax lyrically, “…although I don’t suppose he considers it a trouble, as all men who are interested in their particular band never find anything troublesome where the band is concerned.” (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908).
There you go, we have been told!
There is a further mention of the Kingscote Brass Band giving a performance in 1921 where they were noted for showing improvement in their playing (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921). The article mentions that they had been tutored by their former conductor who was visiting the island after a 10-year absence (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921). Unfortunately, due to limited resources, it is unclear how much longer this band survived. However, it is clear from this brief amount of information that they were appreciated when they performed.
King Island (Tasmania):
King Island is located in the middle of Bass Strait off the northern coast of Tasmania. It is renowned for its produce although it has never had a big population, there are some well-known localities on the island. It is also known for the ruggedness of its coastline and there are many instances of shipping coming to grief on the rocks. The main center of population is the town of Currie where they still have a community band.
In terms of early brass bands, King Island is unique as there are two brass bands mentioned as having existed in the early 1900s. Information on this band also comes from an island newspaper, the King Island News and we first see a mention people wanting for form a band in Currie in 1914 (“King Island.”, 1914). Although two years later the Currie Brass Band has still not been founded and the money that was initially raised has been donated to wounded King Island soldiers returning from World War 1 (“No title,” 1916).
In 1918 the King Island News reported on the formation of another brass band, this time in the mining settlement of Grassy which is located on the eastern side of the Island (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918). Initially called the Grassy Brass Band, this band was actually set up by the mining company for the recreation of employees at the mine and was known as the King Island Tungsten Brass Band (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918). This band was called for all over the island and in 1919 was noted for its performances of Christmas music in Currie (“No title,” 1919).
Again, this is another instance where some history is incomplete as we don’t know for certain when this band stopped operations. While the articles are not listed, the King Island Tungsten Brass Band did numerous engagements on the island and were a valued part of the island community.
Phillip Island (Victoria):
Phillip Island is an island that occupies the southern portion of Westernport Bay in Victoria and is well-connected to the rest of the state by road and ferry. People might know it because of certain penguins however it has had a long history of settlement and there are several towns on the island with the main town being Cowes.
It should be no surprise that a brass band formed on Phillip Island in the township of Cowes. The Phillip Island Brass Band was much more proactive than any other brass bands on Australian islands and were much more well-traveled. They were even proactive enough to enter the South Street band contests on two occasions and took themselves on an educational trip around Tasmania (Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934; “Visiting Band,” 1947).
A proposal to form the Phillip Island Brass Band is mentioned in an informative article from the Frankston and Somerville Standard on the 30thMay, 1923 (“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923). They had all the right intentions too, as the article opens with these platitudes:
An effort is being made to form a brass band on Phillip Island. The advantages of such an institution are many. Anything that will encourage the practice of music, especially concerted music, is worthy of hearty support, and the metal and moral benefit derived by any young man who gives his mind and time to learning an instrument is great. (“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923).
The article goes on to note that the promoters of the band were under no illusions as to what they might need in terms of men willing to join the band, instruments, a hall to play in, and a whole host of other items. The Island Progress Association, as well as the local council, were behind the project and a band was formed.
As mentioned, the band was quite proactive in the way they did things, even bordering on the unusual. For example, to help raise funds for a trip to the South Street contests in 1934, a picture of a bandsman helping with the chicory harvest was published in the Herald newspaper (above) – this was apparently a common activity at the time (“COWES BANDMEN HANDLE CHICORY CROP,” 1934). They did make it to South Street, twice, once in 1932 where they competed in C and D grades and also in 1934 where they only competed in D grade. The results of their endeavors are listed in the table below:
Victorian Band Championships
No 1 Test Piece
No 2 Test Piece
No 1 Test Piece
No 2 Test Piece
Victorian Band Championships
(Source of table data: Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934)
There seems to have been some disquiet after the band returned from Tasmania in 1947. In January 1953 the State Governor visited Phillip Island and the visit was written up in an article in The Argus newspaper. As the article says:
Yesterday was an exciting day for Cowes, Phillip Island. Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor, paid his first official visit to the island and almost everybody, including the town’s brass band, turned out for the occasion.
The cause and conclusion of this four-year recess might require further research!
The Trove archive has some limitations as articles fall into copyright from 1955 so we don’t exactly know when the Phillip Island Brass band went defunct. But they are one of the well-documented bands with further information to be found on the website of the Phillip Island & District Historical Society.
Palm Island and Thursday Island (Queensland):
Palm and Thursday islands are located off the coast of Queensland with Palm Island near the coast at Townsville and Thursday Island in the Torres Strait off the far northern tip of Queensland. These islands are mentioned because of their unique status as former Indigenous Missions and the fact that both former missions once had brass bands.
This post will not go into the pros and cons of Indigenous missions aside to say that they existed and are part of Australia’s history. It was a very different time with different attitudes, and we can only assume that the people who once ran these institutions thought they were doing the right thing by Indigenous people. A brass band was obviously seen as a binding activity and one which other Australians would accept.
Unfortunately, the language in local newspapers that mentioned the bands were as one would expect from this time. There was interest in the island bands and we see in an article from 1926 published in The Northern Miner newspaper that the bandmaster of The Towers Concert Band visited the island to assist the Indigenous conductor and was duly thanked in a letter from the Palm Island Band conductor (“PALM ISLAND BAND,” 1926). By some accounts, the people of the island appreciated the fact that a brass band, as well as a football team and cricket team, had been set up by the Superintendent of the settlement, and certainly, these were seen as worthwhile activities (Watson, 2005). In 1927 the football team and brass band visited Townsville and apparently “astonished” the crowd – for both football and music (“FOOTBALL,” 1927).
Slightly differently, the Thursday Island Brass Band once included “white and black players” pre-war but was reformed after the war with just aboriginal musicians (“ISLANDERS’ BRASS BAND,” 1952). Both bands were clearly still in operation in the 1950’s, but clearly the novelty of having Indigenous bands had not changed, despite this cited article providing additional information (“‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’,” 1953). In 1954 the Palm Island Brass Band was to be included in a mass-gathering of bands in Townsville to greet Queen Elizabeth (“Townsville Band Festival,” 1954).
We can always judge the attitudes of the time as being unfortunate and the language as patronising. We also know that there are still bands dotted across the Top End and some very good music programs that are helping to reform a culture of Indigenous community bands (Cray, 2013; Sexton-McGrath, 2014). In some respects, these former Mission bands as well as other mainland mission bands created a legacy that has given new life to new bands.
Peel Island (Queensland) and Norfolk Island:
We come now to Peel Island and Norfolk Island, both very different places yet both have interesting pasts.
Peel Island is located in Moreton Bay, Brisbane and is a former Quarantine Station. Yet for many years it housed people forcibly removed from home and family for being contracted with Leprosy. By all accounts, this was harsh, isolated, unforgiving and primitive place and it accommodated people from all backgrounds and races (Brown, 2018). The churches were the only organisations to try to bring comfort to the inmates and it is noted in 1928 that one Churchman made an appeal for an Eb Bass for a member of the Peel Island Brass Band (“CHURCH NEWS.,” 1928).
This is the first evidence we have that there was a band of sorts on Peel Island and newspaper articles sporadically reported on the various iterations of the band (“SIDE DRUM WANTED FOR PEEL ISLAND’S BAND,” 1945). Likewise, there are also reports of bands visiting the Island to entertain the inmates – the picture below is of a Salvation Army band visiting Peel Island in 1920 and in 1939 the Brisbane Juvenile Band was part of a concert party (“Concert At Peel Island,” 1939).
Norfolk Island is another place with a very interesting past and the inhabitants are extremely proud of their history (Low, 2012). Located off the coast of NSW, the inhabitants display a very independent streak, despite their association with Australia. Which makes it all the more interesting that there is mention of a brass band that once existed on Norfolk Island. There is not much to indicate the brass band existed apart from rare mentions in Australian newspapers. We see mentions of a band in 1904, 1905 and 1926 where they are mentioned as being in attendance at official events and for rehearsing every week (Barnes, 1926; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1904; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1905). It is unclear when the Norfolk Island Band officially started or ended.
It is quite clear that these early brass bands of our islands had their own unique histories, although one might call them quirks. While there are many similarities to other bands located on the mainland, the isolation and geography meant they had to be innovative and were also part of their communities. It is fortunate that we can read about them now and wonder at their existence. The knowledge that some of them existed in questionable environments is also a wonder but also indicates that they were a sign of the times.
We appreciate that these bands were part of a greater movement and that we can acknowledge the history.
Barnes, J. (1926, 11 June). UNDER BLUE SKIES : Life on Norfolk Island : No. 4. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104960531
Unidentified. (1920). 436923 Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s [Online Photograph]. State Library of Queensland : OneSearch. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680
If there is one longstanding event that has been synonymous with bands, it would have to be the South Street competitions. There have been whole generations of bands people who have made the journey to Ballarat to participate in the competition, and when the bands’ sections were introduced, they were extremely popular with the crowds. Such is the reputation of South Street that the first band contest in 1900 attracted two bands from other colonies.
Remembering that this was Australia in 1900. The separate colonies had contingents over in South Africa for the Boer War, cities and towns were much smaller, transport networks consisted of railways, ships and mostly dirt roads. Yet brass bands thrived where they were established due to otherwise limited entertainment. Ballarat at the time was lucky to have three!
While the story of this first South Street contest will focus primarily on the bands and results, there were some other stories to come out of this event and newspaper articles of the day reported on all sorts of angles – reactions from townspeople, travel, and even the voices of local Churches contributed an opinion. Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.
What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands traveling to the South Street event and carrying on the history of the bands’ people before us. Many of the most famous brass band composers, adjudicators, conductors, musicians, and bands from around Australia are associated with South Street in some way. Their legacy will not be forgotten.
The beginning of South Street:
The South Street events were famous even before the band sections were added to the program. The origins of the competitions can be traced back to 1879 when eight young men, none over the age of seventeen decided to form a debating society (Blackman, 1966). The society was very successful in gaining members and funds and was eventually able to own their own building (Blackman, 1966). However it wasn’t until 1891 when the first debating competition was held, and from this first event, subsequent competitions were held and other sections were added (Royal South Street Society, 1979).
In terms of music, the early Society started holding Monday night concerts in 1893 where many songs were sung and the audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966). In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year was held in Her Majesty’s Theatre for the first time (a venue bands people know very well) and in 1897 the first choral competitions were held (Blackman, 1966). A year later solo singing was added as a section and with these new sections, the time period for the competitions was extended and three venues across Ballarat were used (Blackman, 1966). In 1899 Alfred Hall brought into use as a dedicated venue because of large and appreciative crowds (Royal South Street Society, 1979). And in 1900, the first brass band sections were introduced into the program with immediate success (Royal South Street Society, 1979).
South Street Society adds bands to the program:
There was nothing new about having brass bands in Ballarat as they were popular for ceremonial and recreational music. Indeed, as the Royal South Street Society (1979) has noted:
By the 1870’s, bands were features of the Ballarat scene. However, it was the German combination known as Baulch’s Band which first brightened the local processions and played at important functions. Then came Apps Soldiers’ Hill Band, and a couple of other minor combinations.
Interest slackened in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the century the musical reputation depended on the famous Prout’s Band and the City of Ballarat Band. Later the Ballarat Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Home Bands had brief periods in the limelight (pp. 6-7).
With this in mind, the progression of the South Street Society was to add a brass band and brass solo sections to the program of events with sections to be held on Friday the 5th of October and Saturday the 6th of October (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900). The competition was divided into four sections; the first part of a Selection Contest and a Solo Cornet contest to be held on Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d). An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b). All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall. Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996). In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).
Ballarat welcomes the bands:
Well, not entirely.
It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place. Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900). On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War. The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event. The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900). The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.
A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith. He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).
Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic. Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:
On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels. Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two. Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).
It seems Ballarat had no shortcomings in accommodating and promoting the band competition, not only for the bands but for the people themselves. The enthusiasm was palpable, and Ballarat was festive. As mentioned, huge crowds flocked to the City Oval to watch them march and play. And just to make sure people arrived in Ballarat and enjoyed themselves, The Herald reported on October 5th, 1900 that, “A public holiday has been proclaimed and is being generally received. Excursion trains have been run for thirty or forty miles round, and these are being well patronised” (“HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT.,” 1900).
It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900). Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received. An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900). Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.
The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands was enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise that was given to the Bathurst District Brass Band. Bathurst traveled the furthest distance to arrive at the competition and as noted by Greaves (1996)
Bathurst District Band, the only entrant from New South Wales, and a runner up in the quickstep contest, found themselves to be quite popular in Ballarat and they were asked to return the following year. Their conductor Sam Lewins, had to decline because of the expense and distance involved but suggested that the society contact the Newcastle City Band a much better combination, he assured them, than the Bathurst Band (p. 29).
Bathurst Band also won praise for participating in the services at the City Oval on October 7th with other bands that had participated in the competition (the same service that was criticized by the Church). A letter was sent by J. W. Nedwell and W. D. Hill, the Honorary Secretaries of the Soldiers’ Statue Fund to the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper, published on October 22nd where they thanked Bathurst Band and the other bands for their performances (Nedwell & Hill, 1900).
Unfortunately, a boundless rumor took hold after the competition about the conduct of the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band. Said the opening of an article in The Bendigo Independent newspaper on the 19th of October:
We were informed that it has been rumoured in certain quarters, especially in Eaglehawk that the Eaglehawk Brass Band while in Ballarat last week competing for the band prizes, were guilty of conduct which incapacitated them from winning the prize. One allegation was that they found Ballarat ale so enticing as to imagine that it had been specially brewed for them. (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).
The article goes on to say that the rumors were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanor and behavior of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of the competition. A Colonel Williams of the 3rd Battalion was quoted as saying in the article:
…he observed the men of the Eaglehawk Band on several occasions, and he heard nothing but praise for them all the time, and whoever started the slander ought to be “ducked” in a horse trough. The people of Eaglehawk, he says, should feel very pleased with the behaviour of their bandsmen on their visit to Ballarat (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).
It appears that there was no instance when the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band was inebriated while competing or on any other occasion. The headline of the article is unfortunate and misleading.
In 1900, travel around the Nation cannot have been easy or cheap, so just getting to Ballarat was an achievement in itself. The early railways were a lifeline which enabled bands and spectators to descend on Ballarat. The Bathurst band were probably over traveling and trains when they finally arrived back home.
The results of the competition were widely published in the newspapers of the day. Indeed, many newspapers relied heavily on telegraphs direct from Ballarat and these were published a day or two after the competitions were held. An article published in The Ballarat Star on Monday, October 8th was particularly detailed as all adjudications were shown (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900). The three adjudicators were; “Ernest Wood, T. E. Bulch…and Captain Tom Riley” (Pattie, 2010, p. 13). Bulch was an adjudicator however his former band was one of the competitors. Thanks to the excellent resources of the Royal South Street Society results database, we can see how the bands and soloists fared on each day and the final results of the Aggregate. The full lists of results located on the can be found via the links below – the Lord Nelson Mine Band (St. Arnaud) won the contest for this year:
As can be read in the cited article from The Ballarat Star, October 8th, criticisms were mixed about the playing of the bands. Given that these were early days of Australian bands, with instruments that were not the quality they are now, the playing can only be imagined. Greaves (1996) writes that “…with the exception of the winning combination, “untunefulness”, according to the judges’ reports, was a common fault in the playing of all the competitors.” (p. 29). The selection of music was the norm of the day with many bands playing arrangements of Operas for their selections and early marches for the Quickstep.
After the competition, there was undoubtedly some comment on the music and playing of certain bands that came from the competitors themselves. The conductor of the Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), Mr. George Harrison, was effusive in his comments by giving praise to some bands but criticizing his own band. In some respects, he was also biting the hands that fed him! In an article published in the Launceston Daily Telegraph on October 11th, Mr. Harrison conceded that yes, “undoubtedly the best bands won” although he questioned the amateur status of the “St. Arnaud (Lord Nelson mine) band” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900). However, when reminiscing on the playing of his own band he went on to say,
Of the Second Battalion, I have only to say that they deceived me in saying they could play their parts in the quickstep without the music, and which is verified by the judge’s remarks, vis., that the music was wrongly interpreted. Outside the music they could have got but few points for their general appearance, the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms being severely condemned by the military judge (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).
Not much comment is made on the solo Cornet and Euphonium competitions aside to note that they took place – the newspaper articles of the day merely listed the results. Although Mr. George Harrison, commenting on the Cornet contest said that. “The contest was most farcical, not a single competitor giving an acceptable performance of the test piece.” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900). Duly noted, however, the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.
One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing an early benchmark in competition for subsequent years to follow. Perhaps the early conductors saw this as a learning experience but there is no doubt that rivalry was entrenched in the early bands, despite there being a level of comradery as well.
It would have been an amazing experience to step back in time and view this first competition. No doubt that we would have been astounded by the crowds and festive atmosphere, the bands, the playing and the whole spectacle. For a first contest, it was a huge success with everyone in Ballarat, and beyond, making it a success. Giving that it was billed as ‘The Intercolonial Band Contest’, it probably didn’t live up to its full potential given that only two interstate bands played. Yet it set the scene for future competitions and the reputation spread. It is a credit to these early organizers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.
Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396
Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.
Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.