Influences from Britain: James Ord Hume and “The Besses Effect”.

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1908) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Introduction:

The visit of one of the premier bands of Britain to Australia would be an event of great interest, and Mr. Hume, speaking on the matter, said that if the railways would guarantee to grant free passes to the members, he could almost promise that either the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, of Lancashire or the Black Dyke Band, of Yorkshire, would come out.  That the venture would be a success Mr Hume says he has not the slightest doubt, and he considers that the playing would come as a revelation to Australians.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

Australian bands, to put it simply, are an extension of the movement started in Britain and bands are one of Britain’s great cultural exports.  As has been noted in other posts, the influx of people from the British Isles and other places carried their music with them.  It is no surprise that in the early years, bands were established in localities across Australia. 

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for starting a band, and no shortage of budding musicians willing to learn.  However, training them, supporting them and giving them inspiration was at times problematic.  Musical training was sometimes left up to those willing to take the job of bandmaster, whether they had brass band skills or not.  This was the case in some places but not others as some bands became very proficient, very quickly. 

Not that this mattered to some untrained ears.  Many towns and localities were simply glad to have a band (a source of civic pride).  Although the bands that were founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s possibly realised that their playing was not up to English standards.  Bands were willing to learn, it was just a matter of whom to learn from.  It was not until the advent of organised competitions and visits from English bands that the standard of playing was given a critical ear and adjudicators provided bands with helpful comments on how to improve.

This post will examine what was probably the greatest shift in musical standards amongst Australian bands that took place over the period of two to three decades.  This rapid improvement was partly inspired by the visits of the eminent Scottish band adjudicator James Ord Hume and the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from England.  Thankfully, for the purposes of this post, we can see the comments of James Ord Hume over the course of his two visits as he judges the bands.  We will also see that while the tours of Besses were significant in themselves, it is the lasting effect these visits had on Australian bands that deserves attention.  This is a combined story; a story of how British band musicians did their best to inspire and help Australian bands to be the best they could be.

James Ord Hume, 1902-1903:

National Advocate, 13/11/1902, p. 5-6

Lieutenant James Ord Hume was an “eminent English and Scottish bandmaster, composer, critic and adjudicator” (Mullen, 1965, p. 40).  A lifetime of musical training in the British Army and civilian bands had provided him with a unique connectedness with all sorts of musicians, and he had utilised his opportunities to the full by learning to play all band instruments and study musical theory (Thirst, 2006).  His reputation as a musician preceded him and he was highly sought after as an adjudicator and clinician.  As Thirst (2006) writes in his bookJames Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music’,

He was a popular adjudicator throughout the British Empire, and frequently visited Australia and New Zealand to judge in the famous contest at Ballarat and elsewhere

(p. 47)

This was not an idle statement as many accounts of James Ord Hume show him to be a very forthright person with his adjudications and opinions, and he was appreciated by bandsmen all over Australia and New Zealand (“Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).  One might say that with his attitude he was a bit free with his advice.  Nevertheless, Ord Hume acted with the best intentions and sought to bring the standards of Australian bands up to where he thought they should be and provided solutions on how Australian bands might achieve this.  Certainly, his foretelling that Australian bands would view the “playing” of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band as a “revelation” came to fruition some years later (“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903).

When Ord Hume talked, Australian bandsmen listened and there are some notable examples of his advice being applied literally and quickly.  He greatly followed developments in the brass band world, and it is because of him that Australian bands stopped using valve trombones – Ord Hume could not stand them.  The article below published by the Molong Argus is testament to his comments, and it seems James Ord Hume was quite happy to repeat this mantra to whomever asked him about it (“About Trombones.,” 1902; “Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).

Molong Argus, 28/11/1902, p. 15

James Ord Hume first visited Australia in 1902-1903 where he adjudicated at various eisteddfods around the country, starting with the South Street band sections in Ballarat.  Ord Hume was greatly impressed with the concept of the South Street and before the competitions had even begun, he had given them praise – and also a taste of what to expect.

He said he had always had a desire to visit Australia, and only demurred on receiving the invitation from the South-street Society to adjudicate at this year’s contests because of want of time.  However, the musical people of England wanted to know how they stood with Australia in competitive work, and the mission he entered upon was to give a candid opinion of all that occurred in a general report.  The musical contests of South-street were certainly the greatest in the world.

(“SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S,” 1902)

It would be fair to say that, barring some exceptions, he was not overly impressed with what he heard in the band contests and was quite clear about this in his comments (“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902).  His parting comments were a measure of contrast.  Of the good bands he said…

…had given splendid performances which would compare favourably with the best heard at contests in the old country.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

And he was scathing about bands at the other end of the scale…

On the other hand some were distinctly bad.  Their principal fault was a lack of tone; the men had not blown out their instruments as they should have done.  If a player just obtained a good loud tone he could easily subdue it without losing breath and character.  In the constant effort to play softly this was all lost.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

This being said, he also offered practical advice on how bandsmen could improve.

To obtain tone he advised bandsmen to practise slow scales, and plenty of steady moving psalm tunes.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

Timothy Thirst (2006) did note in his book that Ord Hume was “known to be sometimes rather sarcastic and outspoken in his comments.” (p. 55). 

Ord Hume provide similarly forward comments when adjudicating in Bathurst, Sydney and New Zealand for various competitions, such was the hectic schedule of his visit.  However, there are some indications that Australian bands were beginning to pick up their musical standards.  After adjudicating in Sydney at the end of 1902, Ord Hume provided some observations.

He said that since he had been in Australia he had noticed an improvement in the playing of the bands.  He had observed at Ballarat and Bathurst, and now here.  He was about to proceed to Castlemaine (Vic.), and thence to New Zealand, and on his return the results of his observations would be published.

(“CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST.,” 1902)

When Ord Hume returned to Ballarat in 1903 prior to his travel back to England, he was asked what Australian bands needed to do to achieve a more excellent standard of playing.

“They require tuition” he said.  “In many cases it has come to this, that the men have to come to know as much as the conductor himself, and in such a case the progress made is not very great as you may imagine.  In New Zealand this fact is not so noticeable and it explains the reason why their bands, generally speaking, are much better than those here.  They possess over there many instructors who have come out from the old country, but here it seems to be ‘Australia for the Australians,’ and that will not do in music at any rate.”

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

As mentioned, Ord Hume was appreciated for his direct commentary and aside from his work adjudicating he was afforded all kinds of civic receptions at the conclusion of events.  Perhaps this is understandable given his status as an eminent musical authority, but it was also for his honesty – what he said, he said with conviction.  Granted, some bandsmen might have been offended.  But in his own way he was trying to educate.  Band Associations were very pleased to have someone of that calibre adjudicate which is why, after the 1902 Ballarat event he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Victorian Bands’ Association (“SOUTH STREET SOCIETY.,” 1902). 

Frank Wright, the great Australian-born bandsman, summed up the first visit of Ord Hume to Australia when he wrote an appreciative article in the June 15th, 1935 edition of British Bandsman after Ord Hume’s passing.

No other event in band history, except, perhaps the tour of the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, can be compared with his visit, as having equal influence in setting the standard for Australian bands.  He encouraged the young ambitious bandsman, and it was this personal interest that endeared him to the Australian people.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

If Ord Hume was an instigator of change in the way Australian band did things, the tours of Besses fanned further improvement as they provided a practical example of how an elite band sounded and operated.  The Besses band was no stranger to Ord Hume and it appears there was some mutual admiration and respect.  Ord Hume even arranged a Polka for Besses which can be heard below (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel, 2021).  This radio broadcast recording from 1940, played by the City of Ballarat Municipal Band was provided to the Besses band by the Ballarat Band historian Bob Pattie, and uploaded to YouTube by the historian of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, Stephen Hughes – thank you both!

“Besses o’ th’ Barn” Arranged by J. Ord Hume. Played by the City of Ballarat Band. Soloist: Jack Allan. 1940 Radio Broadcast.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 & 1910:

The welcome parade of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band to Melbourne. The parade is being led by a combined 22 brass bands under the direction of Edward Code and is turning the corner from Collins St into Swanston St in front of the Melbourne Town Hall. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive, 13953)

The tours:

Much of the particulars of the two Besses tours were detailed in a previous post (de Korte, 2018a).  In summary, the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from Lancashire undertook two massive tours in the space of three years which took them all over the globe (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018).  While in Australia, they were afforded concerts and engagements in towns and cities all over the country and never failed to please audiences – such was their reputation (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a; “BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c).  Civic welcomes were par the course and the photo above of the parade turning the corner from Collins Street to Swanston Street at the Melbourne Town Hall is a case in point.  Besses were greeted at Spencer Street Station by a combined twenty-two bands directed by Edward Code which led them in a procession up Collins Street to the Town Hall (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907e).  It is said that 70,000 people turned out to watch this procession, which would have been an amazing sight to see! (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

Besses toured Australia again in 1910 and during this tour, lead Cornetist William Ryder left the band to join a local theatre ensemble and then became the first bandmaster of the then Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018b; Quickstep, 1920b).  Cornetist Percy Code, son of Mr Edward Code, took his place on the tour (Quickstep, 1920a).  The Herald weekly columnist ‘Quickstep’ provides some insight into this development through separate articles which detail the band lives of William Ryder…

Leaving England as principal cornet soloist with the famous Royal “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band on their second world tour, Mr Ryder left the band on the completion of its Victorian trip and settled in Melbourne.  He was immediately engaged to play solo cornet in a picture theatre orchestra.

(Quickstep, 1920b)

…and Percy Code.

At the time the famous “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band was touring Australia and Percy Code was offered an engagement which he accepted.  While he was abroad, his brilliant playing was favourably commented on by British press.  One leading band journal styled him “Percy Code the golden-toned,” also crediting him as one of the finest cornetists in England.  Study in orchestration and composition was undertaken, under the guidance of Mr Alexander Owen, of Manchester, known as the greatest authority on brass band music in the world.

(Quickstep, 1920a)
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Mr Alexander Owen at the time was the conductor of Besses during the first tour and part of the second tour and he was highly regarded in Australia and around the world – newspapers of the day were effusive in their praise, the Evening Telegraph newspaper from Charters Towers being one of them (“Mr. Alexander Owen.,” 1907).  After the tour, the Assistant Conductor of Besses, Mr Christopher Smith accepted a position as conductor of the Adelaide Tramways Band (Seymour, 1994).

Herald, 25/07/1907, p. 3

By all accounts, the two tours of the Besses band were huge successes and they opened up the ears and eyes of all who heard them. 

The influence:

Postcard: The Royal Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907) (Jeremy de Korte collection)

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band made a lasting impression on the Australian band movement.  Notwithstanding their reputation prior to their visits to Australia, they certainly grew in stature on this unique part of their tours.  One hallmark of their visits was the fact they were very much a band full of critical listeners, teachers, advocates and gentlemen who were always willing to offer advice and help.

Hundreds of newspaper articles were published during the two Besses tours, so it is impossible to reference them all.  Buried in these articles are hints of information as to how the visits were perceived by Australian bandsmen, and what they learnt from the visiting band.  In July 1907 the Besses band were giving a concert in Goulburn, New South Wales and after the concert they were entertained by the local Australian Horse Band.  The Mayor of Goulburn was also present at this supper and his comments were noted in an article published by the Goulburn Herald.

He welcomed then not merely as bandsmen from the old country, but as brothers, and hoped their stay here would be a pleasurable one.  He was sure it would be great value from an educational point of view to the bands in Australia.  […] He hoped with all sincerity that the visit of the Besses would be crowned with the success it deserved, and that they would be able to say that the Australians were a loyal and patriotic people – which they were right up to the hilt – and pleased to accord their support to organisations such as the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, which came so far to educate them.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

It is interesting to note the language here from the Mayor of Goulburn, not so much for the comments on patriotism but the words on education.  Besses were not really touring to educate Australia bands per se however, that was an inadvertent effect of them being in Australia.  Further comments were made by Mr. Cody, Bandmaster of the Australian Horse Band in the same article.

The visit of Besses could have none other than a good effect on band music in Australia.  The various bands would be moved to do greater things than in the past, and they result would be beneficial all round.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

Besses visited Adelaide in August 1907 and comments made in the Register newspaper were equally full of expectation on what the Besses visit would mean for Australian bands.

…the Besses’ performances must unquestionably stimulate band music in the State, which has been the case of every town they have visited on the Australian tour.  The artistic methods employed by Mr. Owen in conducting the Besses in their playing are said to be a revelation in technique and phrasing, and have been described by a leading Sydney bandmaster as being “an entirely new musical language for colonial bands to study”.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c)

After touring Australia for a couple of months, in September 1907, Besses were in Bendigo and in an article published by the Bendigo Advertiser, perhaps, we can see some real analysis and insight into the benefits the Besses visit would bring to Australian bands.

There are two things which especially distinguish the Besses.  In the first place the high degree of finish that characterises their playing, so that all bandsmen that have heard them have confessed that something new in band music had been revealed to them, possibilities in brass that were previously undreamed of, and in the second place, the courteous and obliging urbanity in which the conductor, Mr. Alexander Owen, and members of his corps, have done whatever they could to help those colonial bands which have appealed to them for advice and instruction.  The present generation of bandsmen will never forget their impression of the Besses, which will more or less in the future influence their aspirations and efforts, and when a young generation of Tubal Cains grow up, whose lips are not yet too tender for the resounding brass, they will hear abundant reminiscences of how this or that passage was taken up by the Besses, until not impossibly, they will wish that at last that the Besses had never toured through Australasia.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907b)

As mentioned, Besses undertook a second world tour and in 1910 they were back in Australia.  Alexander Owen stepped down from his conducting duties during this tour and Mr Christopher Smith took over to no less acclaim from audiences, such was the ability of this ensemble.  Australian bands were also changing, and this had been noticed by various writers, which was attributed by the visit of Besses three years before.  Said a writer in an article published by The Ballarat Star newspaper in June 1910.

It might truthfully be said that the standard of band music underwent an appreciable change for the better as the result of the visit of this celebrated combination.

(“AMUSEMENTS.,” 1910)

Mr. W. Bogle, manager of the Besses band during their second tour provided some interesting comments comparing band movements of the U.K. and Australia in a wide-ranging interview which was published by the Evening News newspaper in August (“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910).  While his interview is too much for this post, the advice he provided was obviously valuable to the Australian band movement.  And again, there were indications that Australian bands were heading the right way.

They had no doubt that the public of Australia would encourage the improvement of brass bands, and it was particularly pleasing to see they were assisted by the municipal bodies.

(“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910)

The legacy:

The influence of the Besses tours should not be viewed as just bands and band members attending their concerts or being instructed, advised and then feeling very much inspired.  It can also be seen in other ways.  William Ryder, Percy Code and Christopher Smith, bandsmen who had all been associated with Besses at high levels brought the Besses influences with them to their own bands, playing and adjudication.  Australian bands began to rapidly improve after the first Besses tour and inspiration from the band itself.  Instruction and adjudication from these men helped carry things further.  Mr Christopher Smith, once a deputy conductor of Besses, gave high praise to certain bands and was in no doubt that Australian bands could compete with the best (“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922).  He adjudicated at South Street in 1922 and gave a general comment on the standards that were set.

“The standard was appreciably higher than when I judged bands here two years ago.” He said, “and what is pleasing to me is to find the unsuccessful bands more closely approaching the standard set by the victorious bands in all the grades.”

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

He left his highest praise for the famous Malvern Tramways Band which had just won all the A Grade band sections of the 1922 South Street competition.

Malvern Tramways Band is such a cultured musical combination that it would capture English audiences by its playing.  It would do so by sheer merit.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

And in a final remark he highlighted advancements of bands in the lower grades.

Mr Smith went on to say that marked advances had been made by the “B” grade and “C” grade bands in their contest pieces.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

High praise indeed and this provided a good indication of where Australian bands were at, and where they were going just over a decade from the last Besses tour.  The bands were definitely improving!

Interestingly, the tours of Besses were still being talked about in the early 1930s as the legacy of the visits still resounded in the band movement.  The Daily News newspaper in Perth published an article in September 1930, essentially on Mr Hugh McMahon, the genius Cornetist but also mentions the state of brass bands in Western Australia as a whole.  The article also had this to say about the legacy of the Besses tours.

Most memorable had been the visit of the Besses of the Barn Band which had shown what a brass band could do in the way of interpreting certain classes of music.  The visitors had given a revelation of the playing of hymn tunes equal to that of any organ and had set a new view before Australian players.

(“EMPEROR OF CORNET,” 1930)

To finish this section on the Besses tours and the influence they left behind, we have these comments from a person speaking at the annual banquet of the Queensland based Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band in December 1933. 

After a loyal toast, the toast of the Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band was proposed by Mr. G. J. Edmunds who stressed the many advantages of having a band in the community.  Mr. Edmunds declared that the visit of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band many years ago was the running point in the standard of band throughout the Commonwealth, and today, quite a number of bands had reached that standard.

(“BAND BANQUET,” 1933)

Australian bands had begun to reach the pinnacles set by Besses.  And in the 1920s, with tours to England by the Newcastle Steelworks’ Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band, both conducted by Albert Baile, Australian bands proved they could match the much-vaunted English bands and win their competitions (Zealley & Ord Hume, 1926).

A side note, Mr John Dixon, Agent for Boosey & Co.:

James Ord Hume provided much advice to the Australian band movement on how to improve, and the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band clearly displayed an excellence in musicianship.  One aspect that could be considered is that Australian bands needed the best of instruments and British instrument manufacturers saw opportunities in Australia & New Zealand for additional sales.  Travelling with James Ord Hume in 1902 and on the first Besses tour in 1907 was an agent for the Boosey & Co. instrument manufactures, Mr John Dixon (“MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929).

Near the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s, Boosey & Co. “was flourishing, supporting a staff of 100 employees” (Howell, 2016, p. 61).  John Dixon was one of their agents and he travelled the world to create find new markets and build contacts, so when James Ord Hume and Besses went on their respective tours it presented an opportunity for John Dixon to go along as well. 

Unfortunately, not much is known about John Dixon’s life, but from brief range of articles we can see that he made extensive contacts in the band world (“An Exhibit of Musical Instruments,” 1906; “MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929; “Personals,” 1903).  Writing a long letter to Wright & Round’s Brass Band News on February 1st from New Zealand (published in their April 1st issue), he noted of his experiences,

…In Coolgardie I met John Cox, late of Lassodie, now bandmaster Coolgardie City Band.  He has a son a good cornet player.  He asked me about a great many Fifeshire bandsmen, and I was able to tell him something about all.  He asked me specially to remember him to Mr. James Carmichael of Cowdenbeath, Mr. George Peacock of Fauldhouse, Geordie Pemann and all the Penmans, muckle fat Geordie in particular said he, to Archie Carmichael of Glasgow, and many more.  I met an old Bury lad full of the Lancashire love of contesting at Kalgoorlie, where he is bandmaster of the Town Band.  Mr. Richard Weber is his name, and a fine fellow he is.  He sends his best regards to all his old friends in the Bury, Radcliffe, and Besses districts, not forgetting “Trotter,” whom he says is a “corker.” (He must have meant an uncorker.)  At Boulder City I met and heard Mr, Hugh McMahon, the Alex Owen of Australia who took his band 4000 miles to compete at Ballarat and at Bathurst.  He is a wonder on the cornet and deserves his title.  At Adelaide I found the Loco. Band very good and in charge of an enthusiastic viz., Mr. Charles Allison. […] I have had a very successful tour so far in a business sense, and have established a good many agencies.  Give my regards to all old friends and tell them I shall be with them again when the flowers bloom in the spring tra-la.  I leave Auckland on February 25th and travel via., Fiji, Honolulu, Canada, New York, and Glasgow.

(Dixon in “Personals,” 1903, p. 7)

It is clear that John Dixon was good at his job and certainly found lots of band friends throughout Australia.  His comments on the standards of Australian bands and bandsmen were certainly interesting.  It could be debatable whether the sale of Boosey instruments to bands made them any better.  However, Boosey (like numerous other instrument companies), milked the fact that certain bands and bandsmen were using their instruments to win competitions – a strong selling point in those days (Boosey and Co., 1919).  

The Australian Band News, 12(10), 26/06/1919, p. 18

James Ord Hume, 1924:

In January 1924 there was much excitement in the band community as it was revealed that James Ord Hume would be making another visit to Australia to adjudicate, twenty-two years after his last visit in 1902 (“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924).  The Ballarat Star newspaper published a long article full of praise for the work of Ord Hume in 1902 with a brief record of what he did in Australia in his first visit, read out by the President of the South Street Society, Mr Scroucher.

…There is no need for me to tell you who Mr J. Ord Hume is, for with the exception of the very young members of the club, all bandsmen will remember him.  He came to Australia some twenty-odd years ago.  He judged the South street contest, asked for more tone, told the bandsmen to throw the valve trombone on the scrap heap, gave the prizes to the right persons, and then skipped across to Bathurst.  In Bathurst he judged all the musical items from piano right through the list, including all instruments, except, possibly, the bagpipes.  He didn’t judge the pipes because there were none to judge.  From Bathurst he went to New Zealand, did a lot of work there, created a breeze and skipped back to Sydney, where he judged a big contest.  He also did other work, and good work too.  Through his criticism and acting on his advice, many bands became better musical organisations.  And now, after all these year he is about to visit us again.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924)

Part of the rest of the article comprised of a ditty, which will not be written here for the sake of brevity.  Needless to say, the ditty highlighted the delight in knowing that Ord Hume was coming back to Ballarat.

Frank Wright also eloquently wrote of the second visit in his memorial article for the British Bandsman in June 1935.

But since those early days a new generation of Australian bandsman had sprung up.  A generation to whom the name of J. Ord Hume is no less magical than it was to those enthusiasts of 1901.  It is little wonder then, that his second – and last – visit in 1924-5 was hailed as an even greater event than the first.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

Given that Ord Hume visited in 1902 and had provided advice to bands on how to improve, Besses toured in 1907 and 1910 and cast a lasting legacy over Australian bands, the fact that Ord Hume visited again in 1924 provides us with expert assessment on which standard Australian bands had reached.  We need to only look at his words which were published in an Argus article in October 1924 upon his welcome to Ballarat.  This was the only competition Ord Hume was to adjudicate in Australia this year.

Mr. Hume referred to the successes of the Newcastle Band in England, and said that it could rank with the cream of British bands.  Australian bands had improved wonderfully, but he could not say the same of the English bands. […] His object in visiting Ballarat was not only to judge, but also to advise.  If he could do anything to further raise the standard of band music in Australia it would be done.  When in Melbourne on Sunday he had heard the Malvern Tramways Band, and he had been delighted with its excellent tone.  It should always be the aim of a brass band to develop a good tone.

(“AUSTRALIAN BANDS.,” 1924)
Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 6

Ord Hume was always one to make further comments and in 1926 he teamed up with Canadian Lieut. Alfred Edward Zealley to write a book, ‘Famous Bands of the British Empire’.  This book was essentially a list of the best bands, military and brass, that they perceived to be the finest of the time.  Four Australian bands made the list: New South Wales Lancers band, Malvern Tramways Band, Newcastle Steelworks Band and The Australian Commonwealth Band.  It is in the section detailing the exploits of the Malvern Tramways Band thus far that we can find more of the story on Besses and Ord Hume in Australia.  What is written here is a perfect response to his prophecy from 1903 at the top of this post.

Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 60

Conclusion:

There is enough evidence to suggest that the visits of James Ord Hume and the Besses band to Australia were the great catalysts in boosting the standards of Australian bands.  It is a fascinating story, and there is much that could have been added as there are always side stories that link into this central theme.  It could be argued that there were other influences that were working on Australian bands.  Certainly, in the early 1900s, there was a crop of highly skilled bands people coming through the ranks that were gaining notice in the band movement.  However, help was provided from these British experts and their legacy, and memory, lives on.

References:

About Trombones. (1902, 28 November). Molong Argus (NSW : 1896 – 1921), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article144160543

AMUSEMENTS : BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : THE BALLARAT SEASON : OPENING PERFORMANCES. (1910, 04 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216365174

AUSTRALIAN BANDS : GREATLY IMPROVED : Visiting Adjudicator’s View. (1924, 15 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2050652

BALLARAT COMPETITIONS. (1902, 08 November). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 36. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

BAND BANQUET : Howard Function : ANNUAL MEETING. (1933, 21 December). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149267526

Bathurst Band Contests : A Warm Sort of Judge : His Remarks at Ballarat. (1902, 06 November). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157697522

Bathurst Musical and Literary. (1902, 13 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 5-6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157251693

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel. (2021, 05 February). “Besses o’ th’ Barn” – Cornet Polka Solo [Video (1940 Radio Broadcast)]. YouTube. Retrieved 05 February 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvWYJnCblRI

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907a, 24 July). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100454780

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907b, 06 September). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89858023

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907c, 10 August). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56528158

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Photograph]. [13953]. Manchester Digital Music Archive. https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/artefact/13953/BESSES_O’_TH’_BARN_BAND_PHOTOGRAPH_1907

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : A NOTABLE CONDUCTOR. (1907d, 25 July). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243298679

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907e, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

Boosey and Co. (1919). A Famous Soloist [Advertisement]. The Australian Band News, 12(10), 18.

CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST : INTERESTING COMPETITIONS. (1902, 29 December). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14480823

de Korte, J. D. (2018a, 14 October). International band tours of the early 1900’s: bringing music to Australia. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/10/14/_international-band-tours-of-the-early-1900s-bringing-music-to-australia/

de Korte, J. D. (2018b, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

EMPEROR OF CORNET : Some Triumphs of Genius : AUSTRALIA’S BAND MUSIC. (1930, 20 September). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79474044

An Exhibit of Musical Instruments. (1906, 13 October). Star, 7. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19061013.2.94.5

Howell, J. (2016). Boosey & Hawkes: The rise and fall of a wind instrument manufacturing empire (Publication Number 16081) [PhD, City University of London, School of Arts, Department of Creative Practice & Enterprise – Centre for Music Studies]. City Research Online. London, UK. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/16081

Mr. Alexander Owen : THE GREATEST BRASS BAND CONDUCTOR IN THE WORLD. (1907, 01 July). Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1901 – 1921), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214932270

MR. J. ORD HUME : AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW : WHAT AUSTRALIAN BANDS LACK. (1903, 25 February). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208462723

MR. J. ORD HUME : POPULAR WITH BANDSMEN. (1924, 26 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213955763

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.

MUSIC ADJUDICATOR : Death of Mr. J. Dixon. (1929, 22 July). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129174877

THE MUSIC OF THE BAND : AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE : CHAT WITH BRITISH EXPERTS. (1910, 12 August). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115252341

Personals. (1903). Wright & Round’s Brass Band News(259), 7. http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/45510/

Prestwich, M. (1906). Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [Postcard]. Martin Prestwich, Manchester, United Kingdom.

Quickstep. (1920a, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920b, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

The Royal Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band : The Finest in the World. (1907). [Postcard]. Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10. https://www.sydneytramwaymuseum.com.au/members.old/Trolley_Wire/259%20-%20Trolley%20Wire%20-%20Nov%201994.pdf

SOUTH STREET SOCIETY : A SOCIAL FUNCTION : TO MR J. ORD HUME. (1902, 04 November). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208361692

SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S : Inaugural Concert. (1902, 03 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9062176

Thirst, T. (2006). James Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music. Timothy Thirst.

WOULD CAPTURE LONDON : Malvern Band Praised : “CONDUCTOR A GENIUS”. (1922, 30 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243776990

Wright, F. (1935). The late J. ORD HUME : An Appreciation. British Bandsman, 4-5.

Zealley, A. E., & Ord Hume, J. (1926). Famous Bands of the British Empire : Brief Historical Records of the recognized leading Military Bands and Brass Bands in the Empire. J. P. Hull.

For bands and for community: admire the rotunda

Postcard: Artillery Band playing at the Band Rotunda, Hyde Park, Sydney. (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Introduction:

They stand in parks and gardens throughout Australia as monuments to public entertainment before the days of broadcasting music through the wireless.  A source of civic pride, they are of a distinct purpose, yet cover a very wide variety of design and architecture.  They were built as memorials to musicians, royalty and service personnel, for bands and bandmasters, and also for the towns.  If there is one structure that provides a perfect linkage between a locality, people and a band it would have to be the band rotunda.

Nowadays, as it was when they were first built, we take pride in their aesthetic appeal.  They may not be used as performance platforms anymore as the bands they once served are no longer in operation.  Nevertheless, they still stand, often painted in heritage colours and with plaques on the sides we can learn of the story a rotunda.  A source of fascination for many.

The band rotundas have been a focus for academic and local studies over time as they can help tell parts of the history of architecture and music in this country.  This post is not seeking to replicate the valuable work that has already been completed in documenting band rotundas.  However, there are numerous little stories that can be told, and this post will seek to complement previous work, as well as display numerous photographs.

At the head of this post is a postcard showing an Artillery Band playing at the Hyde Park band rotunda with people watching around the sides, obviously appreciating the playing.  This idyllic scene could have been repeated anywhere when bands played at the local rotunda.  Suffice to say, with growing preservation and appreciation of these structures, as well as the building of new rotundas, music is being heard once again; the old is back in fashion.

History not forgotten:

Queenscliffe Hotel and Rotunda, Kingscote, Kangaroo Island (Source: State Library of South Australia: B+30375)

Much has been written and studied about band rotundas in Australia, and all of it is worthwhile information.  The rotundas are the subject of many photos and postcards, and, as mentioned, they have also informed some of the history of architecture.  There are too many rotundas in Australia for this post and other writing to do them all justice, which is unfortunate.  Regarding academic study, Tracy Videon documented the history of rotundas in Victoria for her Master of Arts thesis (Videon, 1996).  This thesis has been cited in other heritage studies by local councils, for example, the Shire of Mount Alexander (Jacobs et al., 2004/2012).  

Interest in the rotundas has also been displayed periodically on social media with the advantage of having other like-minded people post and link their own stories.  In 2017, Michael Mathers posted on Facebook about the rotunda in Kew that he used to play at with the Kew Band and invited responses from other people (Mathers, 2017).  I have also posted on Facebook regarding band rotundas through displaying parts of my historical collection of postcards – one post relating to the postcard of the Artillery Band at Hyde Park, Sydney (de Korte, 2020c).  Through communication with band historians on Facebook, other resources have come to light such as the book, ‘Band Rotundas South Australia’ written by Brenton Brockhouse, historian of the Campbelltown City Band in Adelaide where he documented all the band rotundas in South Australia (Brockhouse, 2016).

Postcard: Main Street Gardens and Band Rotunda, Bairnsdale, Victoria (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Perhaps the most important resource that has been created about band rotundas in recent years is the book, ‘Pavilions in Parks : Bandstands and Rotundas Around Australia’ by Allison Rose with photographs by Belinda Brown.  This book is very useful as it details the architecture and design of each rotunda and highlights the history and civic pride (Rose, 2017).  It is understandable that Rose could not cover every rotunda in Australia.  However, she does tell us how she made choices by saying that each rotunda in her book was “chosen for architectural, historical or social significance” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  Importantly she also states that the word “Bandstand” is used to describe its “major function” but is also known as a “rotunda, pavilion or, in earlier times, kiosk or orchestra.” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  

In terms of the history of this building type, Rose informs us that its history is long and examples can be found in classical Greece, 7th Century Persia and 16th & 17th Century India (Rose, 2017).  The designs of these early structures were replicated in England in the 1800s and from this came the development of bandstands which were used for musical performances (Rose, 2017).  And as Rose (2017) tells us, the location and function of a bandstand was important.

A bandstand in the park had a useful social purpose.  It brought music to many people who would have no other opportunity to hear it, it was a way to meet old friends and for the young to find new friends

(p. 7)

In Australia, the custom of the time was to follow the traditions and architecture of the British homeland and to this end, they proliferated across the country.  As in England, the purpose of these rotundas was the same and they also gave new opportunities for people to hear music.

The concert in the town bandstand was often the only opportunity for people to hear live music as well as to socialise.

(Rose, 2017, p. 12)

Regarding building materials, many rotundas were built using cast iron columns and lacework which later evolved into timber features (Rose, 2017).  They were mainly built up until the First World War and in between wars, the building of bandstands “almost came to a halt” (Rose, 2017, p. 16).

After the Second World War, the building of outdoor performance spaces was dominated by concrete “sound shells” of which some were “well-designed, but others were extremely ugly” (Rose, 2017, p. 16).  Thankfully, Rose details in her history that the appreciation of rotundas was noted in the 1980s and many rotundas were saved from demolition, and in many localities, they have found new uses for them.

Today, there is interest in bandstands for their practical uses as well as their decorative function and towns and suburbs are building new bandstands.  Some are in Federation style, others provide a more contemporary home for today’s musical events…

(Rose, 2017, p. 16)

We are lucky that so many rotundas have been preserved for the current generations to enjoy.

Bands and Rotundas:

Postcard: Band Rotunda, Castlemaine Gardens (Source: National Museum of Australia: 140044)

There is a synonymous relationship between bands, rotundas and local communities.  A locality expresses pride through a band, but the band needs a place to perform on a regular basis.  A rotunda is then built for the benefit of the town band and the community and the rotunda becomes focal point for the community.  There is more to this of course and with each rotunda that has been built and survives, “each has a story to tell.” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  

A letter written by a person with a pseudonym “A Lover of Music” was published in the Mount Alexander Mail newspaper on the 23rd of January 1893 to berate the local council over the lack of a permanent rotunda in Castlemaine.  

Sir, – I have often wondered that Castlemaine has been so long without a suitable place for the band to perform in.  I can’t understand why the Council have not sufficient enterprise to erect a “rotunda” in the Botanical Gardens.  Every concert in the Gardens necessitates the erection of a temporary platform.  It has struck me that as our worthy Mayor is a Welshman – and, of course, fond of music – it would be a graceful act on his part to have erected a rotunda worthy of our town and of the band, and to present it to the Council. […] I trust that the Mayor and Councillors will see that very soon our splendid band will have a proper place to perform in.  My main object in mentioning this matter is to show my appreciation of the band.

(A Lover of Music, 1893)

It took another five years, but finally in 1898 a band rotunda was built in the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens where it was opened by the Mayor with a concert presented by the Thompson’s Foundry Band (“CASTLEMAINE.,” 1898).  A rotunda still exists in the gardens to this day.

In 1909, a rotunda that was described as “commodious and ornate” was opened in the town of Nhill in Western Victoria by the Mayor and some local parliamentarians (“NHILL.,” 1909).  The Nhill Town Band was said to be in “high feather” about the new rotunda and during the concert, some bandsmen also demonstrated how civic minded they were by leaving the bandstand to help with a nearby house fire (“NHILL.,” 1909).  The Nhill band rotunda is very much a civic landmark and was refurbished in 2018 by the local council (Hindmarsh Shire Council, 2018).

Some rotundas were not built by the local councils or bands and it is interesting to find an example of a rotunda that was built by a private company for the use of the local band and the town.  The Portland Brass Band from New South Wales was the beneficiary of this investment when the local cement company, which supported the band as well, built a band rotunda in Portland.

The band rotunda, recently erected by the cement company for the use of the band, was officially opened on Saturday night by Dr. A. Scheidel, the managing director.  Mr. J. Saville, the works manager, was also present.  The bandsmen were in uniform, and when all were assembled, the doctor switched on the light and addressed the bandsmen.  He said that the rotunda had been erected by the company as an appreciation of their efforts.  He hoped that they would see that no injury would be done to the building, and looked to the townspeople generally to assist with that object.

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

This article, which was published in the Lithgow Mercury newspaper, also provided an excellent description of this newly built structure.

The bandstand is a very neat structure, octagonal in shape.  It is nicely painted in two shades of green, relieved with white.  It is lit with eleven incandescent electric lights of sixteen candle power each.  Eight of these are arranged round the sides, while a group of three is suspended from the centre of the ceiling.  When lit up, it presented a very brilliant appearance.

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

A photograph of the original rotunda can be found on the Facebook page of the Lithgow & District Family History Society Inc. (2015).  In 2017 a new rotunda was opened in Portland where the local parliamentarian is quoted in an article published by the Lithgow Mercury newspaper.

The rotunda is a reflection of the past, of Portland’s history with the original structure providing a backdrop for many events and occasions when the community came together to enjoy music by the local band.

I have no doubt the new rotunda will provide a great place for the local band to again deliver some fantastic events to the residents of Portland.  It will enhance the landscape of the surrounding park, provide a comfortable place to sit, relax and enjoy music from a band or perhaps even a string quartet.

(Toole in “Portland’s bandstand rotunda is officially opened for all.“, 2017)

These sentiments sound very familiar to those of times past.

Commemorative rotundas:

Sydney Morning Herald, 17/05/1924, p. 13

Often, rotundas were built to serve a commemorative function in addition to their stated purpose.  We can see an example above in this rotunda from Wollongong which was built to commemorate the landing of “Bass and Flinders in 1796” (“MEMORIAL TO NAVIGATORS.,” 1924).  This of course is a commemoration to a very old event; however other rotundas were built to commemorate much more recent events.

In 1917, an article published in the Pinnaroo and Border Times agitated for a rotunda to be built in town which would benefit the town band (“Band Rotunda Wanted.,” 1917).  The writer of this article is very eloquent in his words, and ties in town support for the Pinaroo Brass Band as a key element in wanting a rotunda for them to perform in. 

The town owes a duty to these unselfish bands of musicians who give their services gratis and pay fees for the privilege of doing so.  No complaint emanates from the members on this score, but that they are entitled to practical help – which may be given by a strong roll of honorary membership – cannot be refuted.  An opportunity now presents itself of showing this appreciation by inaugurating a movement for a rotunda which many country towns possess.  Not only would a rotunda facilitate and render more comfortable outdoor playing, but the music could be heard to a greater advantage, and the building, if artistically designed, would be a welcome ornament to the Show ground or any other favourable site. 

(“Band Rotunda Wanted.,” 1917)

The Pinnaroo Band Rotunda was eventually built in 1922 to commemorate people of the district that saw service during World War One  (Virtual War Memorial Australia, n.d.).  In 1935 it was renovated and extensive repainting was undertaken, as well as other sundry repairs in the vicinity (“BAND ROTUNDA RENOVATED,” 1935).  The band rotunda still stands to this day.

Band rotunda, Maryborough, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, September 2020.

The band rotunda at Maryborough in Victoria is another interesting example.  This structure was built in 1904 and as the plaque below reads, this was built to commemorate Maryborough’s Golden Jubilee.  As a band rotunda, this is one of the more ornate examples that exist.

Band rotunda plaque, Maryborough, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, September 2020.

In the township of Merbien, a little way west of Mildura in the far North-West of Victoria, a band rotunda was built to commemorate King George V who died in 1936.  The postcard below shows us what it was like in its early days, and the events of when it was opened in 1937 were documented in an article published by the Argus newspaper.

…To-day the third day of the jubilee celebrations was a quiet day for Mildura, but Merbien was the centre of intense activity.  A dense crowd gathered in Kenny Park for the unveiling of the King George V. Memorial by the Postmaster-General Senator McLachlan.

[…]

Senator McLachlan said it was a tribute to the people of Merbien that they had erected such a fine memorial to a King whose influence was for righteousness and peace. 

(“MEMORIAL TO KING GEORGE,” 1937)
Postcard: Band Rotunda, Merbien, Victoria, 1937. (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)
Bathurst Times, 13/09/1915, p. 2

One of the more famous band rotundas that was built to commemorate an event is the Titanic Memorial Band rotunda in Ballarat.  Allison Rose has documented this rotunda in her book, and this rotunda is the focus of a commemorative event each year.  The opening of this rotunda was noted all over Australia, especially because the costs of erecting this structure was due to bandsmen from all over the country contributing a subscription (“Local and General.,” 1915).  The Evening Echo newspaper from Ballarat described the opening of the memorial in an article published in October 1915.

This memorial has been built to commemorate the heroic bandsmen of the White Star liner Titanic (45,000 tons), which met her doom by striking an iceberg in the Atlantic two years ago.

It is on record that the ships band mustered on deck and played “Nearer My God to Thee,” and then went down with the ship, all of them being lost.  When the news of their sublime courage reached Australia the idea immediately occurred to some one that the bandsmen of Australia should place on permanent record their appreciation and it was suggested that I should take the form of a memorial bandstand.

(“TITANIC MEMORIAL.,” 1915)
Titanic Memorial Bandstand, Ballarat, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, June 2019

It is no accident that this memorial bandstand was erected in Ballarat as it was, by this time, regarded as one of the band centres of Australia thanks to the South Street events (Rose, 2017).  Indeed, when this memorial was opened in October 1915, the South Street events were well-underway and there was no shortage of bands in town to combine in a massed band conducted by Albert Wade  (“TITANIC MEMORIAL.,” 1915).  Interestingly, as Rose (2017) tells us, 

It is unique among the bandstands of Australia in being a memorial to the Titanic bandsmen.  The citizens of Broken Hill attempted to build such a bandstand, but they could not raise sufficient funds by public subscription.  With the money raised they had to settle for a broken column memorial that now stands in Sturt Park in Broken Hill.

(p. 80)
Titanic Memorial Bandstand commemorative stone, Ballarat, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, June 2019

Proposals, building and public opinion:

Postcard: Hillside Rotunda, Broken Hill, N.S.W. (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

In the early years when building band rotundas was a fashionable thing to do, many proposals were submitted to local councils, and some were for alterations to existing precincts.   Civic pride accounted for the fact that many proposals were accepted – although there were some who objected.  Finding an objectionable letter to any rotunda was rare.  In 1907 a Mr Angove of Albany, Western Australia expressed surprise that the local council was going ahead with the building of a rotunda in Lawley Park (Angove, 1907).  His letter, published in the Albany Advertiser newspaper, mainly raised the question of expense, of why the council was diverting funds to a rotunda instead of other “urgent works” (Angove, 1907).  An understandable attitude at the time.

Proposals for band rotundas, as has been seen earlier in this post, mainly appealed to the goodwill of councils and the public, and drew in the needs of the local bands as well.  For example, we can see in articles regarding proposals in Dandenong, Victoria, and Wallaroo, South Australia that detail how this kind of appeal was expressed (“A Band Rotunda Proposed.,” 1917; “WALLAROO ROTUNDA.,” 1925).

Input from bandsmen was also noted in the early newspapers, as they had more of a vested interest. “A Bandsman” from Scottsdale, Tasmania, wrote a letter to the North-Eastern Advertiser newspaper in November 1919 to complain about the proposed site of the new rotunda – (in summary) it was going to be too close to other buildings and out of sight – why not place it in a park? (A Bandsman, 1919).  Likewise, “Carbolic” wrote to his local newspaper to congratulate the Glenelg Town Band on their recent performance, but advocated for the moving of the band rotunda to a more suitable location because of acoustics – there were nearby walls that affected the sound projection (Carbolic, 1918).

Maintenance was another issue (and an ongoing issue).  While some were proactive about maintaining rotundas, it seems that some were not so proactive.  In Broken Hill, a Mr H. R. Boyce wrote to the Barrier Miner newspaper to complain about creepers that were growing over the rotunda in the Central reserve (Boyce, 1923).  The rotunda in Healesville faced a different maintenance issue in 1941 when lightning struck the rotunda which shattered a flagpole (“BAND ROTUNDA STRUCK BY LIGHTNING,” 1941).  And in 1950 we find that the Brisbane City Council was unable to maintain rotundas to a satisfactory standard due to a lack of materials and labour (“CAN’T REPAIR BANDSTANDS,” 1950).

The Argus, 16/01/1941, p. 5

To finish this section, there were two pictures from newspaper articles that caught my attention.  The first is a picture published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in 1910 that shows a proposal to surround the band rotunda in Hyde Park with an amphitheatre.

Daily Telegraph, 26/11/1910, p. 15

This second picture shows the laying of the foundation stone for a new rotunda in Mount Gambier, no doubt a special occasion.

Border Watch, 26/10/1933, p. 1

Conclusion:

These are special buildings.  They are unique buildings.  And they provide life for so many bands, people and localities.  It is a shame that so many rotundas have been removed, but equally, it is worthwhile to see how many remain and are preserved as icons to a community.  Each rotunda has a story to tell and the stories are interlinked with towns, suburbs and bands across Australia. 

Postcard: Band Rotunda, Auburn Gardens, Victoria (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

References:

A Bandsman. (1919, 11 November). Band Rotunda : (To the Editor.). North-Eastern Advertiser (Scottsdale, Tas. : 1909 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151262612

A Lover of Music. (1893, 23 January). CORRESPONDENCE : A BAND ROTUNDA. Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 – 1917), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198699429

AMPHITHEATRE BAND-STAND. (1910, 26 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238664637

Angove, W. H. (1907, 02 November). Lawley Park Rotunda : [To the Editor.]. Albany Advertiser (WA : 1897 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69959867

BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND. (1910, 24 August). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218492203

A Band Rotunda Proposed. (1917, 18 October). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1877 – 1920; 1926 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66192904

BAND ROTUNDA RENOVATED. (1935, 17 May). Pinnaroo and Border Times (SA : 1911 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189641733

BAND ROTUNDA STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. (1941, 16 January). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8171730

Band Rotunda Wanted. (1917, 10 August). Pinnaroo and Border Times (SA : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188360174

Band Rotunda, Castlemaine Gardens. (n.d.). [Postcard]. [Josef Lebovic Gallery collection no. 1]. Ward, Lock and Co Ltd, London and Melbourne. National Museum of Australia http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/140044

BANDSTAND BUILDING UNDER WAY AT VANSITTART PARK. (1933, 26 October). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77944349

Boyce, H. R. (1923, 31 October). THE ROTUNDA FOLIAGE : To the Editor. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45624435

Brockhouse, B. (2016). Band Rotundas South Australia. Albumworks. https://my.album.works/2AhNhAf 

Brokenshire, J. (n.d.). Hillside Rotunda, Broken Hill [Postcard]. Joseph Brokenshire, Broken Hill, N.S.W. 

Bulmer, H. D. (n.d.). Main Street Gardens and Band Rotunda, Bairnsdale [Postcard]. Bulmer’s, Bairnsdale, Victoria. 

CAN’T REPAIR BANDSTANDS. (1950, 30 August). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49731125

Carbolic. (1918, 22 August). BAND AND BANDSTANDS : To the Editor. Glenelg Guardian (SA : 1914 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214715457

CASTLEMAINE. (1898, 23 November). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9861653

de Korte, J. D. (2019a). Ballarat Central, Vic. : Titanic Memorial Bandstand – Memorial Stone [Photograph]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2019b). Ballarat Central, Vic. : Titanic Memorial Bandstand [Photograph]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020a). Maryborough, Vic. : Princes Park : Band Rotunda [Photograph]. [IMG_5902]. Jeremy de Korte, Redan, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020b). Maryborough, Vic. : Princes Park : Band Rotunda – Plaque [Photograph]. [IMG_5903]. Jeremy de Korte, Redan, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020c, 12 August). These are the latest additions to the historical band postcard collection that I’ve been putting together. The first one is of a Military Band playing at the bandstand in Hyde Park, Sydney. Unfortunately, the band and year are unknown but the scene it creates could probably be replicated around any bandstand… [Post]. Facebook. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/145016798904992/permalink/4120772517996047

Hindmarsh Shire Council. (2018). Goldsworthy Park, Nhill [Newsletter]. Monthly Newsletter (October), 3. https://www.hindmarsh.vic.gov.au/content/images/what’s%20on/Monthly%20Newsletter/2018/Monthly%20Newsletter-Hindmarsh%20Shire%20Council-%20October%202018.pdf

Jacobs, W., Taylor, P., Ballinger, R., Johnson, V., & Rowe, D. (2004/2012). Shire of Mount Alexander : Heritage Study of the Shire of Newstead : STAGE 2 : Section 3 : Heritage Citations: Volume 3 : Newstead [Report](6205). (Heritage Studies, Issue. Shire of Mount Alexander. https://www.mountalexander.vic.gov.au/Page/Download.aspx?c=6205

Local and General : Titanic Memorial. (1915, 13 September). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111229166

Mathers, M. (2017, 12 August). Most of us have (or had) a local Band Rotunda. Do you have a photo of it (the older the better) ? This is the one in Kew, Melbourne (a band with which I used to be a player). Upload yours [Post]. Facebook. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/472757142742103/permalink/1844534445564359

MEMORIAL TO KING GEORGE : Merbein Ceremony. (1937, 11 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11116265

MEMORIAL TO NAVIGATORS. (1924, 17 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28072947

NHILL : NEW BAND ROTUNDA. (1909, 05 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218793589

Portland’s bandstand rotunda is officially opened for all. (2017, 11 December). Lithgow Mercury . https://www.lithgowmercury.com.au/story/5111856/portlands-bandstand-rotunda-is-officially-opened-for-all/

Queenscliffe Hotel Kingscote. (1900). [Photograph]. [B+30375]. State Library of South Australia, Kingscote Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+30375

Rose, A. (2017). Pavilions in parks : bandstands and rotundas around Australia . Halstead Press.

Tellefson. (1937). Band Rotunda Merbein [Postcard]. [Tellefson Series 4]. Tellefson.

TITANIC MEMORIAL. (1915, 22 October). Evening Echo (Ballarat, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241689331

Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. Ltd. (1924). Band Rotunda in Auburn Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria [Postcard]. [Real Photo Series M.1763]. Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. Ltd., Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane. 

Videon, T. (1996). “And the band played on …” band rotundas of Victoria (Publication Number 9924382201751) [MArts, Monash University, Faculty of Arts, Department of History]. Clayton, Victoria. https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/MON:au_everything:catau21172148940001751

Virtual War Memorial Australia. (n.d.). Pinaroo Sodiers Memorial Band Rotunda . Virtual War Memorial Australia. Retrieved 30 November 2020 from https://vwma.org.au/explore/memorials/684

WALLAROO ROTUNDA : Proposition by Town Band. (1925, 09 September). Kadina and Wallaroo Times (SA : 1888 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124763086

Ward & Farrans. (n.d.). Sydney – Hyde Park (Band-Musique de l’artillerie) (Artillerie-Kapelle) [Postcard]. [L. v. K. No. 48]. Exchange Studios, Sydney, N.S.W. 

Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards

Introduction:

Administering band associations was, and is even now, never an easy task.  Granted, the first focus of early band associations was managing the affiliations of member bands, forming rules and running competitions.  These tasks aside, there was little else they did.  In this arcane and insular world of administration, decisions that the early band associations made were at times difficult to understand and criticism was rife.  It can be seen in previous posts on the history of the National Band Council of Australia and the experiences of bands in South Street just how peculiar some administrative decisions could be.  In their defence however, we can also see that the associations were acting on the information that they had available at the time, and that some questionable decisions can simply be attributed to a lack of communication.

This post is focusing on aspects of band administration where the difficult decisions of band grading and choices of music were made by sub-committees known as Music Advisory Boards.  These noted groups of bands people, often adjudicators and conductors, made recommendations to band associations.  While some records are not as informative as they could be, the Trove archive gives us some clues as to how they operated.

It is an interesting portion of band history where some bands people desired more of a focus on the music but recognized the value of association.  Balancing these two ideals was a challenge!

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

19330706-(19330714)_VBL-AGM-P1
A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, p. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
19200814_Herald_J-Booth-Gore
Herald, 14/08/1920, p. 16

Above is part of the first page of an annual report presented by the Victorian Bands’ League at their second Annual General Meeting on 14th July 1933.  Prominently displayed on this first page are all the officers of the League; Delegates, Administrators, Conductors and Adjudicators, representing country, regional and metropolitan areas.  A good mix of people at the time to run the fledging League!  There is one group of musicians listed on this page that warrants special mention and is nominally the focus of this post – the Music Advisory Board.

It was not always possible to discern why the Music Advisory Boards existed in the first place.  Through research in the Trove archives, it was mentioned that they did exist, but their exact purpose in assisting the Associations was harder to find – however their contemporary counterparts operate in much the same way so we can apply this knowledge back over the years.

This post is not trying to dismiss the operations of other State band associations and their MAB’s.  However, the Victorian Bands’ Association and Victorian Bands’ League provided the most information through newspaper articles as to who was included in their MAB’s over the years.  Which means it presents a perfect case study of how the personnel changed (or did not change) over the years.  Below is a table detailing the members of the Victorian MAB over a time period of thirteen years.  Knowing Victorian band history, we can see that these musicians were all eminent conductors/adjudicators who displayed an extensive knowledge of brass band repertoire.  And they were all conductors of Victorian A Grade bands.

1920 – VBL1922 – VBA1927 – VBA1933 – VBL
P. CodeJ. Booth-GoreP. CodeJ. Bowden
P. JonesL. HoffmanF. C. JohnstonJ. Booth-Gore
H. R. ShuggF. C. JohnstonP. JonesF. C. Johnston
 P. JonesR. McCaskillA. H. Paxton
 H. NivenH. R. ShuggH. R. Shugg
 H. R. Shugg  
(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)
19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, p. 17

What is obvious here is the consistency of some of the appointments namely Percy Code, Percy Jones, Frank “Massa” Johnston, and Harry Shugg.  Some pictures of these bandsmen are on the side of this post.  We could assume that with the passage of time, if the same people were well-regarded in that role then they would continue to serve.  The interesting fact about the Victorian MAB members is that they carried through the changeover from the VBA to the VBL.  On a side note, given that many of these conductors were working with metropolitan bands at the time they would have been the instigators of the VBL in the early 1930s.

There were some occasions regarding band competitions where MAB’s were not involved in choosing music.  We can see articles published in the Advocate newspaper in 1921 and 1927 that Percy Jones was the adjudicator of the popular New Year’s Day Burnie carnival band competition (“BURNIE.,” 1927; “BURNIE CARNIVAL.,” 1921).   However, it is in the 1927 article where we can see that Percy Jones himself made recommendations to the Burnie Athletics Club on the choice of music for the next carnival band competition:

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.”

(“BURNIE.,” 1927)

One notable criticism of the music choices made by MAB’s came from Cecil Clarence Mullen in his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  We know from a previous post that Mullen was very opinionated, and it is not clear how much influence he wielded through his writings, especially his booklet.  He wrote:

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 6)
19200911_Herald_P-Code
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Now while Mullen might be right about the years when the largest crowds attended the brass band competitions at South Street, it must be recognized that he was merely expressing his opinion and it might be a short stretch to link crowd numbers with choices of music.  He went on further in this section of the booklet to explain his reasons for wanting more operatic arrangements in the band competitions with the implied belief that they were far more musical than what current brass band composers were providing, and that they were more pleasing to the ears of the audience (Mullen, 1951).  He was especially taken with the operatic arrangements of Alexander Owen and he also wanted a sight-reading section to be introduced (Mullen, 1951).  This was not the first time Mullen wrote with favour on operatic works being played by bands.  In a later article he attributed the fine playing of bands in the early years to their playing of operatic works (Mullen, 1965).

Aside from Mullen, there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism in early newspapers regarding the choices of music made by the MAB’s.  Which contrasts with the criticisms levelled at State Band Associations and MAB’s regarding grading of bands.  Grading was a vexed issue, and this will be explored in the next section.

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

To understand why grading does or does not work, it’s important to know a little history on how Associations applied grading to bands.  The first competition that included grading of some sort was in New South Wales at the 1896 Intercolonial Band Contest held in Sydney in November where bands were grouped into “first division” or “second division” (Greaves, 1996, p. 23).  In Victoria, the first five years of South Street from 1900-1905 were ungraded and, Mullen (1951) has provided some history as to how grading developed from 1905.

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909.

(p. 7)

Having only three grades was the status quo in Victoria until, according to available resources, a D grade was introduced in 1922 (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922).

19210108_Herald_L-Hoffman
Herald, 8/01/1921, p. 11

Let us take a look at how bands moved up or down grades over some years.  Below are links to files that show the grades in certain years from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.  The Victorian dataset is more condensed as they show the grades in the years 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 & 1927.  For Queensland, the dataset is more spread due to limited information and the files are based on information from the years 1913, 1919 & 1937.  Included is an example of grading presented by the Western Australian Band Association in 1932, which is very limited, however there’s an interesting discussion from the WABA meeting that took place that year.  All band lists were obtained from newspaper articles held in the Trove archive and can be accessed from the links in the citations.  The grade files will appear as PDF’s and can be downloaded.

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

(Source of Victorian grade data: “BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1923; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; “Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

(Source of Queensland grade data: “Band Association.,” 1919; “GRADING THE BANDS.,” 1913; “NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937)

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

(Source of Western Australian grade data: Delegate, 1932)

19200828_Herald_P-Jones
Herald, 28/08/1920, pg. 19

The Victorian context is possibly a better example of grade history given the range of years.  Here we see a bulge– a smaller number of bands in A Grade and D Grade while B Grade is larger and C Grade having the most numerous amount of bands  Taking a look at the C Grade in particular, while the D Grade was introduced in 1922, in 1924 there is large expansion of bands in C Grade.  Whether this is down to the number of bands that affiliated that year, or general musical standard is open to interpretation.  1924 was certainly a golden year of bands, except for perhaps the A Grade where there were only three bands.  Regarding the A Grade, once the top bands were placed in that grade, they tended not to leave.  In 1926 and 1927 we see a jump in that number due to bands moving up from B Grade.

In Queensland it is a little more difficult to interpret the grading history given the lack of information, so a reliance on the available years is necessary.  However, there are some similarities with Victoria, especially in the middle grades.  In 1919 there is a large expansion in the number of bands in C Grade.  We also see some innovation on the part of the Queensland Band Association in 1937 where there is a D Grade, but there are also grades to cater bands that are from specific locations or age groups.  Here we see a “Sub D Grade (Country)” and a “Boy’s Band (Under 15 years)” (“NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937) which no doubt helped more bands participate in events.

The example from Western Australia is obviously small, but the list originates from an article published in the Sunday Times regarding a wide-ranging meeting held by WABA.  The regrading of bands was included in the discussion as an agenda item:

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support.

(Delegate, 1932)

Victoria offers more information on the roles of the MAB in the regrading process as the Queensland Band Association seems to have undertook this role themselves (there is no mention of a Queensland MAB).  The role of the MAB’s in advising on regrading is evident although it seems, at least in the early stages, that the V.B.A. undertook the regrading process with their MAB offering limited advice.  We see in 1920 that,

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive…

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

However, in 1922, the Victorian MAB was responsible for the regrading process:

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows…

(“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

And mention of the role of the MAB in regrading bands is again mentioned in articles from 1926 and 1927 (“BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926).

This is not to say grading was always a smooth process and there were always levels of criticism from various parties, as well as disagreements between States – the rules were never fully unified.  As early as 1914 we can see letters in the papers regarding the grading of bands.  One letter from Mr S. E. Hambleton, then Secretary of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band stood out for its candidness.  Part of his letter was criticism while contributing his own ideas:

The band of which I am secretary has not won a cash prize for five years, and although I have made applications to be re-classified (claimed on two years’ rules), I am told that the Victorian Band Association would not listen to it as we are an A Grade band.  The other bands know this, and, of course, will not enter for the higher grade, with the promise, perhaps of a life sentence hanging over them.

Our band of 24 could be divided into three parts and absorbed by B Grade bands and allowed to play in B Grade.  Why not classify the individual players and thus stop good players in A Grade bands from becoming members of a lower grade through better inducements.  Collingwood and Prahran are the only two bands classed as A Grade, although there are four or five others advanced enough to compete in this grade.

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in.

(Hambleton, 1914)

Again in 1914, a letter was published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper lamenting the grading process carried out by the Queensland Band Association after the Maryborough contests.  The writer, Mr W. Jackson, a Delegate of the Childers band, was obviously annoyed at the whole process and made this quite clear in his letter.  He wrote (in part),

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music.

(Jackson, 1914)

It would be fair to say that both Mr Hambleton and Mr Jackson made some fair points re grading problems in their respective states.  They both knew their bands and how the administration worked.  We could assume that the State associations were trying their best in trying to please everyone but in some respects, it was never a perfect process.  Perhaps this was the reason MAB’s were formed to advise on grading.

As mentioned above, at times the rules and administration of different State associations came into conflict with each other regarding registration and grading.  One notable example was highlighted in Tasmania after another one of the contests in Burnie.  At a meeting of the Tasmanian Band Association in 1930, this was raised as an agenda item:

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)
19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, p. 16

…which is fine in theory but as discovered in the history of the National Band Council of Australia, unification of rules was an ideal that never really reached fruition despite the best intentions of State associations.

What we have seen in this small history are situations where the grading process was fraught with difficulty, did not please everyone and criticism was rife.  And it was a thankless task as the reputations of the early bands hinged on success in competition and the decisions of the State associations.  Most of the time it was done correctly.  On occasion there were problems.  With the influx of bands starting up and wanting to participate in events, grading them was a necessity that called upon the State associations to try to find solutions.  When this went wrong, the administration was generally found to be lacking.

Conclusion:

For the MAB’s involved in the processes of choosing music and advising on band regrading, generally they did the right thing and all they could really do was offer advice.  Thankfully, the reputations of the MAB members carried them through some of the decisions made by State associations.  Evidently the fact that many of the Victorian members held their positions for many years is a testament to their authority as prominent bandsmen.

We should thank these early members of the MAB’s for the foundations that they laid as the members of the modern MAB’s carry out their tasks in much the same way as they did back then.

19200724_Herald_H-Shugg
Herald, 24/07/1920, p. 11

References:

BAND ADJUDICATOR : For Newcastle Contest : Mr. Percy Jone’s Career. (1920, 04 December). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162621130

BAND ASSOCIATION : Deciding Championship. (1923, 21 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213824101

Band Association : Grading for the Contest. (1919, 20 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176840373

BAND ASSOCIATION : Registering and Grading. (1930, 24 January). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29151289

BRASS BANDS REGRADED. (1927, 18 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3885887

BURNIE. (1927, 17 June). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68241846

BURNIE CARNIVAL : New Years Day : Bright Prospects. (1921, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69316043

CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS. (1926, 18 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3782670

Delegate. (1932, 21 August). BRASS BANDS : W.A. Association News : And General Notes. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58669392

Drummer Boy. (1922, 21 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93411340

GRADING THE BANDS. (1913, 27 October). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118654062

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. 

Hambleton, S. E. (1914, 13 January). EFFECT OF GRADING. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241657411

Jackson, W. (1914, 08 May). BAND GRADING : (To The Editor). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178879778

Mullen, C. C. (1951). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Horticultural Press. 

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, XXXVI(1), 30-47. 

NEW GRADING LIST ISSUED BY QUEENSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1937, 12 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183521534

Quickstep. (1920a, 28 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Knight of the Baton. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242311544

Quickstep. (1920b, 14 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Meritorious Career. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242305795

Quickstep. (1920c, 07 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : An Enthusiastic Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242306287

Quickstep. (1920d, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920e, 24 July). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Leader of Two Famous Bands. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308343

Quickstep. (1921a, 19 February). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Noted Musical Qualities. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242256082

Quickstep. (1921b, 08 January). Bandsmen’s Gossip : St Vincent’s Bandmaster. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242259553

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Classification of Bands. (1924, 19 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213535974

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Special and General Meeting. (1920, 18 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211906214

Victorian Bands’ Association : Grading for the Year. (1922, 24 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205773169

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Victorian Bands’ League : Annual General Meeting : Annual Report [Annual Report]. Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a740621ea691478e4b482

Brass bands of the New South Wales Central West: Part 2: Association and competition

18991125_Sydney-Mail_Bathurst-Intercolonial_Massed-Bands
The Start of the Massed Bands. (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

Part two:

In part one of this post, we saw stories of the development, running and challenges of bands together with a look at the longevity of one conductor.  However, as we know, the stories of early brass bands are linked together and with the bands of the Central West, they were very united in association and ideals.  In part two of this post, this will be explored further through the creation of the earliest band association in New South Wales and the competitions that were held in various towns.

The Western Band Association:

Like many band associations around Australia, the Western Band Association was formed out of mutual collegiality and location.  The early brass bands of the N.S.W. Central West started what is regarded as the earliest band association in New South Wales and over time, and through various iterations, one of the strongest associations that attracted bands from near and far to various events.  The towns of the Central West also benefitted from this association as they were keen to host competitions.  There was no shortage of events for bands to attend and this post will detail some of them.

We first see a mention of an association in 1893 with the creation of the Western District Brass Band Union.  This Union was established by “Messrs, John Meagher, A. Gartrell, and John Appleby” and the first bands associated with this Union were “District (Bathurst), Independent (Bathurst)” and bands from the towns of “Orange, Wellington, Blayney, Lithgow, and Hartley Vale”  (“Local and General.,” 1893; “Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893).  The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal article explained what the Union was hoping to achieve,

The object of the Union is to promote friendly discourse between the different companies by meeting at least once a year in each town represented, and holding contests, comparing notes, and otherwise advancing the cause of music.”

(“Local and General.,” 1893)

On a side note, the Band Association of New South Wales formed in 1895 of which they are the oldest State band association in Australia (Greaves, 1996).  It is unclear whether the Western Band Association recognised or affiliated with B.A.N.S.W. at this early stage.

Geographically, the reach of the Western Band Association extended well-past the Central West region.  We see in an article published in the Western Herald newspaper that the town of Bourke in far north-west of N.S.W. had its own branch of the WBA and in 1896 was given permission to hold a band contest – this was not going to be the first time a band from Bourke participated in the activities of the WBA (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1896).

During the early 1900s, there is little to indicate if there was any activity from the WBA, no doubt the later war years intervened. However, in 1925 we see another burst of activity, first through accounts of a meeting in Bathurst and then a meeting a month later in Orange.  In October 1925, a meeting was held at the headquarters of the Bathurst District Band and presided over by Mr Sam Lewins (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  The meeting involved members of the bands located in Bathurst and Orange, but their resolve and ambition were mostly united.  The article that was published in the Bathurst Times proclaimed under the main headline; “An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands” which seemed to be an initial aim of this preliminary meeting as well as the usual planning on competitions in various towns (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One cannot be sure if these bandsmen who met in Bathurst experienced some déjà vu, because what they were discussing, and indeed the whole concept of a Western Band Association had all been done before.  It was written in the article,

The chairman, in explaining the conference, said that the primary object was the formation of an association having as its purpose the fostering of band music and the promoting of yearly contests.  Before him on the table were the minutes of a meeting held in Bathurst for a similar purpose just 32 years ago.  From the gathering in 1893 came the Western Band Association, the first Band Association in New South Wales.

The old rules governing the former body were still intact in the minute book.  In the event of another association being formed these rules could well be adopted, as he did not think they could be improved upon.

(“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

Letters regarding this project were read out from bands located in “Coonamble, Blayney, Orange, Dubbo and Nyngan” and with this in mind, the meeting resolved to start the Western Band Association on the 1st of January 1926. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One delegate, a Mr Harrington from Orange was thinking of a bigger association and he “put in a strong plea that the title of the organisation should be altered to read “The Country Band Association of N.S.W.”” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  His reasoning was that bands from Cootamundra, Albury, and other towns to the north could join – however the other delegates did not support this suggestion so it was subsequently dropped (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

The relationship with the State Association was part of these discussions as they were officially the body to be dealing with, despite some misgivings from the delegates in Bathurst.  An interesting exchange ensued between the delegates themselves with some choice language,

Mr. Johnson wished to be informed whether the association should affiliate with the head Sydney body.

The chairman : Well if we do we are not going to give them £1 for every band.

Mr. Johnson : We should absolutely shun them and keep to the western district: country players get no benefits from the Sydney Association.

Mr. Lewins : The trouble is a western band might want to play in Sydney at some time, and if we were not affiliated the head body might not allow it to compete.

In the opinion of Mr. Harrington it would be unwise to fall out with the head body.  “At the same time,” he went on, “we could be equally as strong as the N.S.W. Association.  In fact, it is not so very powerful as it is; you could drive a horse and cart through some of its constitutions.  We should place ourselves in a position not to dictate to this body, but to agree with it if possible.”.

(“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

The November meeting of the W.B.A. went ahead in Orange, and we have an account published in the Nepean Times newspaper as a representative from the Penrith Band attended the meeting.  While the W.B.A. had decided to confine itself to “districts along the Western Line and branches”, it also decided not to progress “no further east than Penrith township” which is why delegates from Penrith attended this meeting (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  The meeting also had delegates attend from bands in “Bathurst, Portland, Grenfell, Orange, Millthorpe and Penrith, numbering about 23” and correspondence was read out from other Western District bands that wanted to join (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  If the WBA did extend to Penrith, then geographically it encompassed the Blue Mountains as well.  A measure of just how parochial the WBA was about the bandsmen in their region is detailed in the last paragraph of the article,

The object of the Association is to form a working bureau for the purpose of keeping country players in the country instead of allowing them to drift to the City.  The assistance of business people and employing organisations is to the sought in this matter.

(“Western Band Association,” 1925)

In February 1926 a tiny article published in the Lithgow Mercury tells us that the W.B.A. has been reformed and will hold its first contest in Bathurst with a number of bands wanting to participate (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1926).

19260222_Lithgow-Mercury_Western-Band-Ass
Lithgow Mercury, 22/02/1926, p. 1

In 1932 we see yet another iteration of the W.B.A. through accounts of a meeting in Wellington.  Through this account published in the Wellington Times, we see a whole range of thoughts from enthusiasm for a new Association to bordering on cynicism – relationships with Sydney being part of the discussions (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932).  Generally, the delegates felt that they could form an Association that would be a branch of the N.S.W. Association.  Although a Mr C. Brown from Dubbo had some misgivings by noting,

Something was certainly needed, as no country Band had yet received any benefit from the head association in Sydney.

(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Further comments on this matter were provided by other delegates regarding the role and independence of this association,

Mr. Appleby (Bathurst) thought an Association should be formed independent of Sydney, as they need no expect any support from that quarter.

[…]

The contest adjudicator (Mr. F. H. Philpott) was also much in favour of running an association independent of Sydney.  Even the suburban centres, realizing the increased benefits, were endeavouring to form associations of their own.

(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

These sentiments mirror the ones made in Bathurst in 1925.

The delegates resolved that the headquarters should be in Wellington, but the formation of the Association was also met with pragmatic caution by the delegates from Orange,

Mr. W. Eyles (Orange) reiterated the necessity for an Association of some kind.  They owed it to the younger members.  It was their bounden duty to give them contest experience.

Mr. Howie (Orange) hoped that the matter would not start on a wave of enthusiasm, and then die a natural death.  Everybody would have to get behind the movement.

(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Perhaps Mr. Howie was prophetic when he spoke about enthusiasm for an association only to have it die off. No less than three years later, the WBA did exactly that and in 1935 a decision was made to wind the association up with remaining funds being distributed to member bands (“Western Band Association,” 1935).

Post Second World War in 1946, we see the Western Band Group again being reformed.  Except on this occasion, it was being sponsored by the N.S.W. Band Association as they were also supporting similar groups in Newcastle and Wollongong.  A meeting was held in Bathurst and was attended by delegates from “Cowra, Lithgow, Portland, Katoomba, Blayney and Bathurst” with other bands indicating that they would join (“WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED,” 1946).  This group evidently decided to move some of its focus away from contest and instead started coordinating Band Sunday events in various towns which were well attended by bands and townspeople (“WESTERN BAND GROUP,” 1947).  Unlike previous iterations of the W.B.A., this new group appears to have been stronger and much better organised as they were still in existence in 1964 – the Bourke Shire Band were special guests at a contest in Wellington attended by five other bands (“Bourke Shire Band,” 1964).

19640814_Western-Herald_Bourke-Shire-Band_WBG
Western Herald, 02/08/1964, p. 8

What we have seen here is a perfect example of how enthusiasm comes in waves and there is no doubting that the various bands in these iterations of the Western Band Association meant well but were probably hamstrung at various stages.  No doubt some social conditions and events beyond their control were influences.  However, the fact that there is a long story behind these movements is remarkable.

Towns and contests:

18991125_Sydney-Mail_Bathurst-Intercolonial_Codes
Code’s Melbourne Band, First prize in “Singer March”. Second Prize in Championship. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

One activity that this region became famous for was the quality, friendliness and hospitality of their band competitions which were held in various towns.  So much so that some contests were written up in the major band newspapers as being the ones to attend.  This part of the post will highlight some of them, and as with everything band related in this region, the competitions started in very early years.

In 1894 we first find a record of a contest held at Orange under the auspicious of the Western Band Association.  Held in conjunction with the fire brigade sports, this was reputedly the first contest held by the Association.  The contest appears to have been well-attended as it involved bands from the towns of Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow, Peak Hill, Wellington, Blayney, Stuart Town and Bourke with the bands competing in either first class or second class grades (“ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS,” 1894).

Five years later, the town of Bathurst was the focus of attention as W.B.A. and the Bathurst Progress Association combined efforts and held an Intercolonial Band Contest which attracted numerous bands comprising of 360 musicians in total – the picture at the head of this post is testament to this!  This contest attracted bands from as far away as Wellington, New Zealand (of which their unfortunate loss of points is detailed in another post), and Code’s Melbourne Band from Victoria (pictured above).  The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser listed all the bands that participated:

…Wellington Garrison, New South Wales Lancers, Bathurst District, Code’s (Melbourne), Lithgow Model, Armidale City, Hillgrove, Newtown, Bathurst City, Lismore, Nymagee District, Warren Town, Hibernian (Sydney) and Cobar United.

(“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899)

By all accounts the Bathurst contest was a huge success with the townsfolk, the Singer Company and the bands all enjoying themselves.  The band from Hillgrove, which boasted the six McMahon brothers,  won the “Australian Championship” with Code’s achieving second place and Newtown third while the Quickstep section was won by Code’s with Hillgrove gaining second place (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899).

It did not seem to matter which town in the region held a contest, bands were quite happy to travel an amount of distance to participate.  The 1919 Parkes Band contest was a perfect example as it attracted bands from the nearby region and one band from Sydney.  An article published in the Orange Leader newspaper listed the six bands that participated: “Royal Naval Brigade (Sydney), Lithgow Town, Orange Model, Forbes Town, Parkes Town and Parkes Peoples’ Band” (“THE PARKES BAND CONTEST.,” 1919).  The contest was held to benefit the Parkes Hospital fund.

There was one town that held a string of successful contests of which attracted a healthy number of bands each year; the town of Millthorpe which lies to the south of Orange on the Main Western railway line.  In the middle of the 1920s, Millthorpe seemed to be the contest to attend and accounts of the contest were written up in the well-regarded Australasian Band and Orchestral News.  Thankfully, through articles published in two editions of ABON we can see which bands participated in the Millthorpe contest over the years:

  • 1924: Orange, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1925: Dubbo, Grenfell, Blayney, Cowra, Millthorpe
  • 1926: Portland, Bathurst City- Model, Cowra, Penrith, Orange, Grenfell, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1927: Penrith, Orange, Wellington, Bathurst City-Model
  • 1928: Bathurst City-Model, Orange Town, Millthorpe Town

(“Millthorpe Contest,” 1928, pp. 30-31; “Millthorpe Contests,” 1927, p. 17)

The Millthorpe contests, which were run by a committee, would probably not have happened if a Mr H. H. Power, who was the then bandmaster of the Millthorpe Band had not driven the idea. The contests were always successful as each year they turned a profit.  However, it was also a measure of the contest that bands kept visiting and in 1927 Mr Power was presented with a gold watch in recognition of his services (“Millthorpe Contests,” 1927).

These contests were not the only ones run in the region and through searching the Trove archive we find that other towns also hosted contests – Cowra, Dubbo, Forbes, Grenfell, Mudgee, Portland, and Wellington.  The bands were spoiled for choice, and they made trips to compete on a regular basis.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, some bands ventured further afield with the Bathurst Band travelling to Ballarat and other bands competing in major competitions in bigger cities.  One can see how proactive the regional bands and towns were in hosting events.

18991125_Sydney-Mail_Bathurst-Intercolonial_McMahons
McMahon’s Hillgrove Brass Band, Winner of Championship of Australia and second prize in the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899 p. 1289

Conclusion:

While researching for this series of posts I was struck by just how rich and varied the band life was in this region, and also how the towns embraced their bands.  Parochialism aside, we can also see how bands put aside differences to work together, especially when driven by dedicated individuals.  Yes, the bands had to respond to changes in society and industry. However, this did not stop them from achieving and gaining notice for their playing, especially the Bathurst Band after its visit to Ballarat.  The bands were a credit to themselves and to their towns and they made sure this region was noticed for its music making.

<- Part 1: Bands for every town

References:

Beavis Bros. (1899a, 25 November). CODES MELBOURNE BAND, FIRST PRIZE IN “SINGER MARCH,” SECOND PRIZE IN CHAMPIONSHIP. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1288. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899b, 25 November). McMAHON’S HILLGROVE BRASS BAND, WINNER OF CHAMPIONSHIP OF AUSTRALIA AND SECOND PRIZE IN THE “SINGER MARCH.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1289. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899c, 25 November). The Start of the Massed Bands (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912),1288. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Bourke Shire Band—Guest Band at Western Districts Band Championships, Wellington, on Sunday, August 2nd. (1964, 14 August). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141982006

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. 

INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST : Photos by Beavis Bros., Bathurst. (1899, 25 November). Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1288-1289. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Local and General. (1893, 02 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62183780

MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES : Progressive Movement. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246371

Millthorpe Contest : Bathurst City-Model Victors. (1928). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(5), 30-31. 

Millthorpe Contests : Four Successful Years. (1927). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(1), 17. 

ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS. (1894, 12 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236121302

THE PARKES BAND CONTEST. (1919, 27 August). Leader (Orange, NSW : 1899 – 1945), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117864597

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1896, 21 March). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104105388

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1926, 22 February). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224588875

Western Band Association : Decides to Disband. (1935, 19 July). Western Age (Dubbo, NSW : 1933 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137139773

Western Band Association : Penrith Represented. (1925, 28 November). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 – 1962), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108681480

WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE : An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands. (1925, 19 October). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118043369

WESTERN BAND GROUP. (1947, 05 December). Blue Mountains Advertiser (Katoomba, NSW : 1940 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189918471

WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED. (1946, 05 September). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219610497

Western Brass Band Union. (1893, 02 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156684544

The poetry of brass bands

Introduction:

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):

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

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.

A WELCOME

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.

19510000_Mullen
Front Cover Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection)

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):

19120000_Dungog-BB_phot16862
Dungog Brass Band, 1912 (Source: IBEW)

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 Advertiser newspaper by a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”.  One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950s.

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.

References:

Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151083205

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). [Photograph]. [phot16862]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Mad Mick. (1954, 29 September). DUNGOG BRASS BAND (By ‘Mad Mick). Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140539879

Mullen, C. C. (1951). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Horticultural Press. 

Quickstep. (1920, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

Finding National consensus: how State band associations started working with each other

19230205_Daily-Mail_Aus-Band-Committee
Daily Mail, 5/02/1923, p. 3

Introduction:

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 early years, 1900 – 1930:

The current iteration of our ‘National Band Council of Australia” (N.B.C.A.) dates back to 1930s and their competition result archive and history reflects this (National Band Council of Australia, 2019a, 2019b).  However, efforts to form a National Council predate this by another ten years. 

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.

The Register, 24/04/1913, p. 4

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.

(“INTERSTATE BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1921)

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.

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette, 28/05/1925, p. 4

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 (V.B.A.) 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 V.B.A. 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).

The 1930’s:

19370626_Bk2_Photo_K.G.Kennedy_Aus-Band-Council
1937. Lieut. K. G. Kennedy. The well-known Drum-Major and Adjudicator, also President of the Australian Bands’ Council. (Source: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

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).

19330627_Toowoomba-Chronicle_Band-Council-Control
Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette, 27/06/1933, p. 4

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 newspaper 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)

The history of the current NBCA notes that its official formation was on the 13th of April 1934 which correlates with these events. (National Band Council of Australia, 2019b).  A small publication comprising of a constitution, contest rules and quickstep & marching regulations was also published for the Australian Band Council at this time (Australian Band Council, 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).

Courier-Mail, 23/0

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).

Courier-Mail, 1/05/1936, p. 18

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).

The Argus, 1/08/1938, p. 2

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).

19550113_Central-QLD-Herald_ABC-President
Central Queensland Herald, 13/01/1955, p. 17

Conclusion:

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.

References:

AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE. (1923, 05 February). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218974562

Australian Band Council. (1934). Australian Band Council : Constitution : Contest Rules : Quickstep Regulations and Instructions  [Constitution]. Oxford Press. 

AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL : Future Conferences in Melbourne. (1936, 01 May). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38467409

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1913, 24 April). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59254032

BAND CHAMPIONSHIP : For Australian Title : Cairns Participation. (1939, 25 February). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42169758

BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS. (1934, 23 April). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1192269

BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS HERE IN 1936 : Conference Frames Rules for Two Years’ Trial. (1934, 30 April). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74095881

Band President. (1955, 13 January). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75434128

BAND SERIES No. 6 : Band Council. (1952, 13 October). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156439664

BAND UNITY MOVE : States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243112744

BANDS PRAISED : Hawthorn Conference. (1938, 01 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12454503

Baton. (1938, 14 July). BANDS AND BANDSMEN : Plans for Band Council Conference. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35597004

BEST BAND DISCORD : Brunswick-Collingwood Contest to Go On. (1927, 23 June). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 23. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243967808

BRASS BAND CONTESTS : Federal Council of Control? : Conference for Brisbane. (1933, 27 June). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254338919

CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST. (1927, 02 August). Corowa Free Press (NSW : 1875 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236067765

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 15 March). The politics of affiliation: The Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/15/the-politics-of-affiliation-victorian-bands-association-to-the-victorian-bands-league/

Drummer Boy. (1921, 05 November). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93081749

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. 

HALL OF BAND MUSIC : Australian Proposal. (1934, 05 April). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70310251

INTERSTATE BAND CONFERENCE. (1921, 27 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4629185

Lieut. K. G. Kennedy. (1937, 26 June). Australasian Bandsman

National Band Council of Australia. (2019a). Contest Results. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/archives/results

National Band Council of Australia. (2019b). History of the NBCA. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/about/history

THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL. (1925, 28 May). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253924392

Victorian Band Association : Claim to Australian Championship. (1927, 22 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204193668

Victorian Bands’ League. (1939). Notebook – Victorian Bands’ League Contest Records (1939 – 1950)  [Notebook]. Victorian Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b7ce49921ea6916bcdba41c 

The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Postcard: South Street band section, City Oval, Ballarat (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

Introduction:

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.

3350805372_8964268f83
Metal button showing the Geelong Town Band c1900 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

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, 1900a, 1900b, 1900c, 1900d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 1900c).  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).

Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

The Bands:

Of course, the competition would not have been a competition without the bands themselves.  The nine bands that took part were – Ballarat Militia Band (3rd Battalion), Bathurst District Brass Band, Bulch’s Model Brass Band, Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band, Geelong Town Band, Hopetoun Brass Band, Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), The Lord Nelson Mine Band & Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band.  Three of the bands were based in Ballarat which gave them a distinct home town advantage, and home town rivalry.  Two were from interstate while one came from Geelong, one from St. Arnaud and two from the Bendigo area.  It made for a full competition for the times.  In addition, there were two solo contests which attracted entrants from the aforementioned bands including a Cornet player by the name of John. F. Code from the Albert Park Band (more commonly known as Code’s Melbourne Band) (Royal South Street Society, 1900b).

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.

Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 04/10/1900, p. 3

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 competition:

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).  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.

Conclusion:

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.

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Postcard: South Street band section, City Oval, Ballarat (Date unknown) (Source: IBEW)

References:

Ballarat, City Oval. (n.d.). [Postcard]. [Jeremy de Korte collection]. 

Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot7343]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY : Protest by a Presbytery. (1900, 03 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188644789

A BAND THAT FAILED : Groundless rumors contradicted. (1900, 19 October). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181024463

Blackman, L. A. (1966). A history of the Royal South Street Society of Ballarat. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 37, 5-21. 

THE CONTEST. (1900, 08 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206978024

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. https://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2372005

HistoryInPhotos. (2009, 13 March). Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [Photograph of Metal Button]. flickr. Retrieved 15 November 2018 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3350805372

HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT : The Band Competition : To-day’s Doings. (1900, 05 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241475579

THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST : Return of the Second Battalion Band. (1900, 11 October). Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153769022

Musicus. (1902, 08 November). BALLARAT COMPETITIONS: October 29. Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 36. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 2. 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.). City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band. 

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Royal South Street Society. 

Royal South Street Society. (1900a, 05 October). 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1900b, 05 October). 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1900c, 06 October). 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1900d, 06 October). 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

Smith, G. H. (1900, 04 October). THE BAND CONTESTS : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206977765

THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Features of the demonstration. (1900, 05 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206975326

To-Day’s Telegrams : THE BATHURST BAND IN MELBOURNE. (1900, 04 October). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63874689

The politics of affiliation: Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League

19380000-19370000_VBL-Officials_pg50
Source: The Bandsman’s Year Book and Official Programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. 1938, pg. 50

Introduction:

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

The focus of this post is the general history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) from 1901-1933 and the official formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (V.B.L.) in 1931.  Tied into this is the history of various early geographical groupings of bands and the eventual move to form much larger associations.  However, with association came division and as will be shown the seeds of division started much earlier than 1931.  This is a tale of the Victorian band movment that is probably not well known to most Victorian bands people.  

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

The research for this article has been informed by involved searching through the Trove archive with the aim of building a chronology of articles and events.  With this searching has come some revelations as to the Victorian band movement in the 1900s. This history is important to the band community as it highlights what once was, and how the administrations operated.

1900 – 1920: The V.B.A. and other associations:

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

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

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

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

(“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

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

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

Warrnambool Standard, 22/11/1917. p. 3

1920 – 1929: Division – the first V.B.L.:  

If the V.B.A. felt that issues of division from the late 1910s had been placated, the early 1920s showed them otherwise.  The Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association was still in existence and were running their own contests, within the oversight of the V.B.A.  In February 1920 they held a series of contests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in conjunction with the R.S.S.I.L.A., Vic. Branch with entries received from 30 bands – one highlight was a challenge contest between the Hawthorn City Band and the Collingwood Citizens’ Band (“METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST.,” 1920).

Over the next few years however, the V.B.A. found itself dealing with a rival Victorian band association, the Victorian Bands’ League which was formed by a grouping of disgruntled metropolitan bands and apparently some country bands.  At a meeting held on the 23rd of May 1921, the new chair of the (first) V.B.L., a Mr. H. G. Johnson stated that,

…one of the objects of the new league was the control of band contests, also the fostering of a better feeling among bands and bandsmen. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)

…and further in this article we see some further reasoning as to why representatives of these bands had met.

Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the affairs of bands and band contests were at presented being controlled by the Victorian Bands’ Association in Ballarat.  Band matters generally could be better managed by having headquarters of the controlling body in Melbourne. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)
Herald, 23/04/1921, p. 17

One of the main driving forces behind the new V.B.L. was an official of the M.M.B.A, Mr George S. Tucker.  Formerly associated with the Malvern Town Band and the St. Kilda City Brass Band under conductor Mr. F. C. Johnston, he mainly focused on administrative work (Quickstep, 1921).  A weekly column in the Herald newspaper from April 1921 penned by “Quickstep” provides an outline of his band career, but it is the opening paragraph that really introduces Mr. Tucker.

The foremost figure in the band world at present moment is George S. Tucker, the hon. secretary of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association.  A firm and fearless official, a keen debater, and an acknowledged authority on contesting and administrative matters, he has held office for a record term.  Melbourne is recognized as a centre of advanced thought in regard to band politics, and the formation of a new controlling body to be knowns as the Victorian Band League is now receiving attention of the bands.  Mr Tucker has been entrusted with the organisation of this new venture. 

(Quickstep, 1921)

Perhaps the new league was a little overzealous in the way it announced itself.  It is all very well stating that a meeting had been attended by several bands, but it might have helped if the new V.B.L. had sought assurances from the bands themselves that they would be affiliating with the new body.  This was revealed at a meeting of the V.B.A. held in June 1921.  

A letter was received from the St. Kilda Band Association stating that at a meeting of delegates from several bands in Melbourne in May it was decided to form a new league, and it was opined that this would prove to be a very successful body.  It was stated that the Geelong and Coburg bands had agreed to join.

A delegate stated that as far as Geelong and Coburg bands were concerned both had notified their intention of sticking to the V.B.A.  The Malvern Band – which band had a delegate at the meeting – said that he was surprised to find himself elected to the league without authority.  They were also sticking to the V.B.A.

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921)

As well as this, State associations were nominally affiliated with each other and almost as soon as the new league was announced in May, the Band Association of N.S.W. and the South Australian Band Association wrote to the V.B.A. expressing their continued affiliation and refusal to recognize the new V.B.L. (“NEW BAND AUTHORITY,” 1921).  Letters were also received from the Tasmanian Band Association and West Australian Band Association, although W.A.B.A. asked for further information and expressed an opinion that “there was no need for a second body” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921).

Sunraysia Daily, 17/05/1921, p. 4

Nevertheless, the fledging V.B.L. was not to be put off and in early August they announced that they would be holding a massed bands event for a hospital charity at the Exhibition Oval involving 250 bandsmen (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).  Bands were given permission to march from Prince’s Bridge and the Collingwood Band was to march from Collingwood.  The massed band was conducted by Mr. F. C. Johnston who was titled as “the Victorian Band League conductor” (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).

Argus, 10/08/1921, p. 7

Early in 1922 we can see that the new V.B.L. is holding meetings at a favourite haunt in the form of a café located at the corner of Swanston Street & Queen’s Walk.  At a meeting in January, plans were put in place for another “massed bands display on February 12, in aid of the Homeopathic Hospital”. (“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922).  Furthermore, it also appears that some bands were reluctant to join the new League, probably because South Street regarded the V.B.A. as the governing body. This statement from the meeting is telling.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band is now affiliated and it is to be hoped that other “A” grade bands will follow. 

(“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922)

A meeting of the associations took place in June 1922 when a delegation from the V.B.L., including Mr. Tucker, travelled to Ballarat to meet with the V.B.A. to see if a workable solution to governing and/or amalgamation could be found.  The opening paragraph of an article published by the Ballarat Star newspaper provided some background, of which an excerpt is below.

The V.B.L. was originally the Metropolitan Band Association, but enlarged its title and scope in the hope of getting control of brass bands in Victoria.  Evidently this ambition has not been realised, as last night the V.B.L. came with a humble request for authority under the V.B.A. constitution to perform certain local functions while subject to the authority and endorsement of the V.B.A.

(“BAND CONTROL,” 1922)

It is clear in this long article that relations between the V.B.A. and the M.M.B.A. had not been as good as they could be with Mr. H. A. Farrell, President of the V.B.L. calling the bickering between the two associations, at times, “childish” (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  This article reported in detail the proceedings of this meeting, and for the sake of brevity, will not be fully covered in this post.  The discussion was amicable, but the differences were not fully resolved. The main issue was how to manage any confusion between the two associations regarding the running of contests and player registrations (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  The V.B.A. promised to take this request to a full meeting of the Executive where the answer came in August – the V.B.A. rejected the proposal of admitting the V.B.L. into some form of relationship (“BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES,” 1922).

The Herald, 23/08/1922, p. 6

Whatever relationship the two associations had, soured considerably in 1923 when the V.B.L. held a contest in South Melbourne over Easter.  Eight bands took part in this contest, these being; “South Richmond, South Melbourne, Nunawading, Preston, Moorabbin, Deep Rock, Caulfield District, and Socialists.” (“EASTER BAND CONTESTS,” 1923).  Action from the V.B.A. was swift and punitive in the form of disqualifications and fines.  Two bands, Preston Citizens’ Band and the Socialist Party Band were fined £5/5/ and “their bandmasters, conductors, and players be disqualified for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).  Additionally, Mr. James Scarff (Adjudicator) who was registered with the Malvern Tramways Band and Mr. Ivan Hutchinson (Official) of the Footscray Municipal Band were also fined “and disqualified from membership of any associated band for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).

This action by the V.B.A. obviously did not sit well with the V.B.L. or any of the bands that participated in this contest and a few days later Mr. Henry Hellinger, Bandmaster and Conductor of the Preston Citizens’ Band wrote a scathing letter to the Herald newspaper regarding this punitive action by the V.B.A. – he was not impressed as shown by the middle paragraph of his letter.

In the first place, both of these bands are members of the Victorian Band League, and as such, the interference in their private business by any other association becomes a piece of intolerant impertinence.  The Victorian Band League, in organising this contest, open only to members of the Band League, have done something that the so-called Victorian Band Association has never done during its existence.  Furthermore, the V.B.A. has never organised a contest.  Its headquarters are in a country centre, and it can never be a great success, as the bands connected with it have no direct representation no matter what part of the State the band hails from. 

(Hellinger, 1923)

The V.B.L. also acted against the V.B.A. in the form of a resolution which was carried in their June meeting.

At the last meeting of the Victorian Band League a resolution was carried as under: – “That in view of the drastic, and also unconstitutional attitude adopted by the Victorian Band Association with regard to bands and officials who took part in our recent contest held at South Melbourne in future no band affiliated with the Victorian Band League will take part or assist in any way any performance, & c., or assist or organised by any band affiliated with the Victorian Band Association.

(“A BANDS DISPUTE.,” 1923)

The animosity displayed by both associations was hardly conductive to the good administration of bands in Victoria.  It might be fair to say that neither association helped themselves here and festering problems did not seem to go away. Early in 1924 it was reported that band secretaries and band members complained that the V.B.A. was not treating competitors at Ballarat and elsewhere fairly and that there was a “movement to reorganise the Victorian Band League.”  – of which a special meeting was called of metropolitan bands (“BANDSMEN’S DISCORD,” 1924).

Later in 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the V.B.A. in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the V.B.A. in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the V.B.A. as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924).  It seems that the bands listed in this move were not affiliated with the first Victorian Bands’ League, but they did express similar issues and complaints.  Now, the V.B.A. was up against the metropolitan bands on two fronts.

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

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

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicious of the metropolitan bands’ intentions.  A Mr. Hewett of the Soldiers’ Band was quoted as saying, 

…the move was only the thin edge of the wedge to shift the headquarters of the association to Melbourne.  Some of the bands concerned were sympathetic with the Metropolitan Band League.  

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Well-might the V.B.A. be annoyed at repeated requests by the metropolitan bands to run themselves and move the headquarters, but the V.B.A. still held sway over the administration of bands in Victoria.  Harking back to the events of 1923, the V.B.A. saw fit to rectify some decisions relating to the South Melbourne contest at their July meeting.

“The following disqualifications were removed and the players given permission to play with bands as follows: – Ivan Hutchinson (Footscray City); F. L. Ellis (Malvern Tramways); Theo. Parrell (Brunswick City).  These three players were formerly members of the Socialist Party Band, which was disqualified for playing at  Victorian Band League contest.”

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924)

As can be seen in these years of the 1920s, there were attempts to move the headquarters of the Victorian Band movement from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these repeated attempts were thwarted by the V.B.A.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition, however none of the associations behaved in an admirable fashion.  The political infighting can only be described as difficult, along with a whole host of other words.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metropolitan bands, of which were mostly “A” grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the V.B.A.  Perhaps the V.B.A. was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the early 1930s.

1930 – 1935: Changeover – the second V.B.L.:

The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with another formation of the V.B.L. and the demise of the V.B.A.  The Royal South Street Society had worked closely with the V.B.A. for many years, and in the early years of the V.B.A. other State band associations had affiliated with the them (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the V.B.A. would become as the latest iteration of the V.B.L. rapidly established itself.

In 1930 the V.B.A. was still holding a regular schedule of meetings in Ballarat attended by delegates representing bands from across the State.  An article published in The Age newspaper makes mention of a proposal to divide the Victorian band movement into districts administered by the V.B.A. (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next V.B.A. State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

The Age, 18/03/1930, p. 11

Just over a year later in April 1931, news broke of a new organisation to be formed called the Victorian Bands’ League.  This new league was to be formed by many metropolitan bands who were agitating to have the headquarters of the Victorian band movement in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting and listed all the metropolitan bands who that sent representatives.

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

(“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

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

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

In August, the V.B.L .had its first substantial endorsement when S.A.B.A. broke away from its affiliation with the V.B.A. and decided to endorse the V.B.L. (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, S.A.B.A. had apparently indicated that it still supported the V.B.A.

The V.B.L. showed off its strength in September 1931 when it organised a massed bands event held at the M.C.G.  The Sporting Globe newspaper published an article highlighting how this event was to be undertaken.

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

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

Not for many years has such a gathering of bandsmen been held in Melbourne.  More than 700 bandsmen will take part in the recital of which a Fox Movie-Tone film will be taken.  

(“Bands League,” 1931)

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

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

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

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

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The Age, 5/07/1933, pg. 14

We can see in this picture of another massed bands’ event published in The Age newspaper, and from a pamphlet published by the VBL just how big these events are.  The V.B.L. had come unto its own. 

The Age, 25/09/1933, p. 13
Pamphlet: Victorian Bands’ League: Massed Bands’ Recital (source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

Conclusion:

Such was the state of the Victorian band movement over a period of just over 30 years.  This was not just a story on the V.B.A. and the V.B.L., it is a story on the loyalties of the band movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands, although questionable at times, eventually brought unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the V.B.A. did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There are probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.

References:

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1901, 02 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207506823

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1902, 02 September). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28243339

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1904, 21 September). Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210537933

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 16 July). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148551800

BAND CONFERENCE : The Victorian Association : Its Future Discussed. (1931, 09 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203727703

BAND CONTROL : VICTORIAN LEAGUE MAKES REQUEST : DESIRES AFFILIATION AS LESSER BODY. (1922, 20 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1-2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213033941

BAND UNITY MOVE : States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243112744

BANDS ASSOCIATION. (1907, 09 May). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226707129

A BANDS DISPUTE. (1923, 05 June). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204069486

Bands League : Big Concert Tomorrow. (1931, 26 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182546316

BANDS’ ASSOCIATION. (1917, 22 November). Warrnambool Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73972158

The Bandsman’s year book and official programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. (1938). (Band Association of New South Wales, Ed.). Band Association of New South Wales. 

BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES. (1922, 23 August). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243651715

BANDSMEN’S DISCORD. (1924, 29 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243752239

BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP. (1922, 21 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243644473

BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND : Headquarters of Band Association. (1917, 07 August). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219852652

CONTROL OF BANDS : Disqualification and Fines. (1923, 22 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2006296

CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS : The Rival Organisations. (1931, 13 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203035478

COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE. (1932, 15 January). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72597114

EASTER BAND CONTESTS : On South Melbourne C.G. (1923, 07 April). Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162535321

GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 26 March). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85231381

Gippsland Bands’ Association. (1947, 27 November). Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63262669

Hellinger, H. (1923, 26 May). BAND DISCORD : Case for the League. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244028675

ININTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE. (1931, 19 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242780150

MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE. (1921, 10 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4677374

MASSED BANDS’ PERFORMANCE. (1933, 25 September). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205107273

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1907, 12 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1918), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92814950

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 15 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197340110

METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST. (1920, 06 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202972992

METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL : Thin Edge of Wedge Suspected : VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION DISCUSION. (1924, 17 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214259035

NEW BAND AUTHORITY : Not Recognised by the N.S.W. Association : An Important Decision. (1921, 17 May). Sunraysia Daily (Mildura, Vic. : 1920 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article258604675

NEW BAND LEAGUE : Support at Bendigo. (1931, 20 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4383879

Quickstep. (1921, 23 April). BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP : Achievements and Ideals. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242492106

Royal South Street Society. (2016). Our Disciplines. Royal South Street Society: 125+ years of pure performance gold. Retrieved 14 March 2018 from http://125.royalsouthstreet.com.au/disciplines/

SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST : Two Ballarat Bands Join Victorian League. (1932, 16 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203800235

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1931, 19 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205850303

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1933, 05 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204377301

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : ANNUAL MEETING : ELECTION OF OFFICERS. (1924, 22 July). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213532801

VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE. (1921, 01 June). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203967014

Victorian Bands : A Great Demonstration. (1932, 09 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218850147

VICTORIAN BANDS : New League’s Activities. (1931, 29 June). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186773875

VICTORIAN BANDS: Proposed State Districts. (1930, 18 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202255339

VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE : New Organisation Proposed : Metropolitan Control Wanted. (1931, 11 April). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957),14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4378405

VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE. (1931, 06 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4430001

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Massed Bands’ Recital : In Aid of the Lord Mayor’s Fund for Metropolitan Hostpitals and Children [Flyer/Pamphlet/Programme]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a683c21ea691478cf383e

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

This post was originally written as a local history project for Yarra Libraries, October 2017.

Introduction:

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

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

They used to have a bandstand there in the Darling Gardens.  They’ve since built a new one of the same design.  They used to have bands there every Sunday and we would sit in the Gardens.  Sometimes the Salvos, sometimes the municipal band.

(Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council, 1994, p. 38)

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

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Marching contest in Ballarat. Date and bands unknown. (Source: IBEW)

The Collingwood Citizens’ Band:

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

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

19110000_Collingwood_Citizens-Band
The Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band. Possibly in 1911 (source: IBEW)

From an article published in 1915 by the Bendigo Independent newspaper, we can finally see list of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band competition successes up until this date (“THE COLLINGWOOD BAND.,” 1915).  Here we see a band that has been crowned champion band many times over, mainly from participating in the Royal South Street events.  The cups and shield evident in the photo certainly reflect this.  This competition success continued for many years and decades, no doubt helped by the influence of conductor Massa Johnston, who also conducted many other bands at the time to competition success (Rasmussen, 2005).

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

(Collingwood History Committee et al, 1994, p. 38)

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

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

The Fitzroy Bands:

18850408_Sportsman_CityFitzBrassBand
Sportsman, 8/04/1885, pg. 4

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

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The North Fitzroy Brass Band, date unknown (Source: IBEW)

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

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

The Richmond Bands:

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

19060000_Richmond_City-Band
The Richmond City Band. The photo was taken at the 1906 South Street Ballarat Competition. (source: State Library Victoria: a04257)

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

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

Conclusion:

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

References:

Allan Studio. (1911?). Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band [Photograph]. [phot15975]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot7343]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY. (1941, 18 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205297038

CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND. (1885, 08 April). Sportsman (Melbourne, Vic. : 1882 – 1904), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229822096

THE COLLINGWOOD BAND. (1915, 04 January). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219867088

COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS’ BAND. (1904, 13 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197229077

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

FIRE AT RICHMOND. (1926, 27 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 29. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3736962

FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND. (1911, 17 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196208248

FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND. (1906, 17 August). Fitzroy City Press (Vic. : 1881 – 1920), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65662507

Heather. (2016, 08 November). Celebrating the Armistice at Nar Nar Goon in 1918. Casey-Cardinia: Commemorating the Great War: 1914-1918. http://caseycardinia1914-1918.blogspot.com/2016/11/celebrating-armistice-at-nar-nar-goon.html

Langdon, D. (2014). Brass bands. Richmond & Burnley Historical Society Newsletter, 31(5), 2 & 4-6.

New Uniforms for Band. (1937, 10 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205600050

NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS. (1945, 15 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206859489

North Fitzroy Band, Melbourne. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot2121]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Rasmussen, C. (2005). Johnston, Francis Charles (Massa) (1880-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 12 October 2017, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-francis-charles-massa-13009

Richmond Boys’ Band. (1918, 23 February). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93810988

Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers. (1918, 06 July). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811606

Richmond City Band. (1916, 07 October). Richmond Australian (Vic. : 1914 – 1916), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119691234

Richmond City Band. Ballarat Compts 1906. (1906). [postcard : printed, b&w]. [a04257]. State Library Victoria, J. D. Meade postcard collection. https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab44040

RIVAL BRASS BANDS. (1905, 24 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199417022

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