Testing times: the resilience of Australian bands during the Great Depression

165x215mm
A large room of tables stocked with fruit and vegetables with a brass band in the centre of the crowd. (Source: State Library of Western Australia: 8292B/A/6851-1)

Introduction:

From conversations I have had with bandmasters in Australia it would appear that the bands generally have been very hard hit by the depression, but I have been struck by the fine spirit and courage shown generally by them in these passing troubles.  Undoubtedly brighter times are coming, and they will be rewarded for the admirable attitude they have taken right through.

(Adkins, 1934)

The years from 1900-1950 are filled with historical events that caused great upheavals in society across the globe. Australia was similarly affected, and nominally our bands as well.  It was not all doom and gloom for bands as this time is one that I personally regard as a golden period.  However, when society experienced hardship, our bands did as well.  The Great Depression from 1929-1939 is just one of those events that was global, but it was felt right down to the tiniest country town.  As for our bands, numerous articles published in newspapers tell of struggle and hope.  The words from Capt. H. E. Adkins, quoted above, then conductor of the A.B.C. Military Band attest to this.

In a previous post the impact of the “Spanish” Influenza on our bands was examined.  Australian society could not have predicted that a decade later they would again be thrust into convulsions not because of a health crisis, but an economic crisis.  Australian bands that existed at the time relied heavily on local council support and the goodwill of subscriptions from the general public.  The money was necessary to keep them going and keep them supplied.  Yet, as can be seen, there were some bands that were formed during this time.  Music, it seems, was a way in which people could forget their struggles and enjoy some community.

This post will obviously highlight some of the struggles that were experienced by bands and band associations during this time; unfortunately, this is unavoidable.  It is also necessary to provide context.  This post will also highlight the resilience of our bands during this time.  Many survived in the most trying of circumstances.  They also kept up a regular pattern of concerts, parades, contests, and other events and in one instance, they also gave their support to the desperate of society. 

The Great Depression is but one event in history, as is the Coronavirus pandemic of today that is again impacting our many bands.  Resilience is a common term that defines the bands of the time.

The Great Depression in Australia: a brief history:

The headlines on an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 26th, 1929, did not mince words: “Wild Selling. New York Panic. Profits Wiped Out. £80,000,000 Slump.”  – the stock market in New York had crashed on October 24th and this sent the economy into a tailspin (“WILD SELLING,” 1929).  The crash on October 24th, 1929, has been well-documented and for much of the world, this had profound consequences.  However, there had been economic troubles in Australia leading up to this event during the 1920s and this led to a decade of financial hardship for all:

As for many other countries, the 1920s were a decade of mixed blessings for Australia.  State governments continued to borrow to finance important public works projects, but underlying problems remained.  Post-war inflation in 1919 and 1920 was followed by a recession.  Unemployment hovered at around 10 per cent during the 1920s.  Loan funds from London dried up after 1927, limiting debt-financed public works.

(Eklund, 2008)

The early years of the Great Depression were very hard in Australia with major unemployment, collapse of the wool and wheat prices, social unrest, displacement of people and governmental problems (Eklund, 2008; National Museum Australia, 2020).  Williamson (2009) tells us “it was the working classes and those who became unemployed who bore the greatest brunt of the Depression.” and that “Losing a job broke the work and leisure routines of an individual’s life, and the victim further lost the company of workmates.” (from Electronic Article).

From 1930 a form of welfare assistance was given to needy households and was either in the form of “sustenance”, “the dole” or “rations” which was “barely enough to survive” (Hutchens, 2020).  This later evolved into other forms of basic work on designated projects for governments and local councils.  In 1932, 60,000 Australians – men, women and children, were dependent on this scheme and unemployment hit a peak of 32% (National Museum Australia, 2020).  A small song sung by the unemployed and children basically summed up the situation that thousands found themselves in:

“We’re on the Susso now,
We can’t afford a cow.
We pay no rent,
We live in a tent.
We’re on the Susso now.”

(Hutchens, 2020; McAnulty, 2017; National Museum Australia, 2020)

The immediate effect of such large job losses and unemployment led to mainly men wandering the country in searching for work (Eklund, 2008).  As well as this, those that remained in work faced cuts to wages and underemployment, which added to the social problems.  Many who had lived reasonable well in the 1920s found themselves in employment situations that they had not previously encountered (Eklund, 2008). 

By the later parts of the 1930s, economic conditions gradually improved although unemployment was still a major problem (“Australia’s Rise From Depression,” 1936).  Recovery was slow, and then tempered by the advent of the Second World War – the next global period of strife.

Finances and Administration:

How did Australian bands weather this economic storm, and what do the available records tell us?  The Annual General Meetings of individual bands and associations provide snippets of information as to how they fared, and thankfully these meetings were detailed in local newspapers.  The Hills Central Brass Band from South Australia held an Annual General Meeting in March 1930, the early years of the Depression.  In their reports the band said they were faring well and had accrued a small credit.  A paragraph from the article that was published in the Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser newspaper provides an insight into their awareness of the economic situation.

The chairman, in moving the adoption of the report and balance sheet referred to the excellence of the report.  Mr. Duffield had made a very capable secretary, and took a keen interest in the band.  The report was the best they had had.  With regard to the financial position of the band the speaker though it was highly satisfactory, considering the present depression.

(“HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1930)

The Devonport Brass Band from Tasmania took an insular view of the conditions when they held their meeting in March 1931 insofar as the rest of Australia was having problems, but their band was proceeding as best they could.  Their acknowledgement of the present conditions opened the report of the AGM as detailed in an article published by The Advocate newspaper.

The report of the year’s working of the Devonport Brass Band at the annual meeting this evening will reveal that there is little sign of the depression so far as the fortunes of this organisation are concerned.

(“DEVONPORT.,” 1931)
Peterborough Federal Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW))

Back to South Australia, at an Annual General Meeting of the Peterborough Federal Band held in July 1931, the financials were outlined, and credit was given to the secretary of the band for his sound management of the finances during the previous year.

The secretary’s annual report disclosed a very active and successful year, whilst the balance sheet showed the Band to be on a sound footing; two years ago the overdraft was in close proximity to £200, last year it had been reduced to £14/6/5, and this year closed with a credit balance of £15/0/3, the receipts being £116/19/1 and the expenditure £87/12/5; this in face of the terrible depression that has existed, is a wonderful achievement, and reflects great credit upon the secretary (Mr. W. H. Kaehne), whose sole aim has been a credit balance, and he is to be highly complimented on reaching his objective.

(“Peterborough Federal Band,” 1931)

In these early years of the depression, it is obvious that bands were well aware of the prevailing economic conditions.  However, it was not just individual bands that were taking notice, the band associations were as well.  In May 1932 the Queensland Band Association held their Annual General Meeting and mention of the depression was made in the annual report.

Fees received for registration for the year totalled £119 18s 6d., as against £106 8s 6d. in the previous year. The 1933 contests would be held at Mackay.  Notwithstanding the prevailing depression the association had held its own financially and closed a successful year with a credit balance of £91 11s 4d. compared with £105 16s 1d. last year.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1932)

Unfortunately, some bands inevitably ran into trouble during this period and either went into recess or disbanded.  Finances were certainly a factor in this, but loss of members was another – which will be explored in the next section.  In 1932 the Yeppoon Brass Band, located in North Queensland, announced that it would go into recess due to lack of funds and members (“INTO RECESS,” 1932).  However, in a generous move, the band allowed remaining members to keep their instruments while in recess.  The Franklin Harbour Band from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia lamented its struggles in an article published by the Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune newspaper in November 1936. 

… at present one of the depression periods is being experienced and unless a revival of interest by the young men of the town and district is evinced, there is a possibility of the band after 25 years of continuous existence, sinking into oblivion.

(“FRANKLIN HARBOUR BAND.,” 1936)
Franklin Harbour Brass Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW)

The Gawler Brass Band was another that faced growing troubles and in 1938 announced that it was disbanding due money being owed to the local council – they owed £100 for instruments – and lack of members as they had gone from 24 players to 12 (“Gawler Brass Band May Not Continue,” 1936).

The Mail, 18/07/1936, p, 2

This call for more support was a common one from bands and associations as their finances dwindled and membership became problematic. The then Secretary of the Tasmanian Band Association, a Mr W. H. Gray was one who called for more support in a long letter published in The Mercury newspaper in January 1932 (Gray, 1932).  The letter is interesting given that Mr Gray makes no mention of the Depression while calling for more support for the bands – the subject of the letter is mainly about bands playing in certain parks from which they gain revenue.  However, one cannot help but feel that the impact of the Depression was implied when Mr Gray writes in his letter,

The bands are prepared to carry on provided the necessary public support is forthcoming, but many of them are doomed to early extinction if that support is not more liberal from now on.  The Sunday evening concerts provide a most pleasant hour, and are a wonderful tonic and inspiration for the following week’s worries and cares.

(Gray, 1932)

Of course, there were always some who resented that brass bands were getting any form of support at all, which was perhaps understandable. One person from regional South Australia wrote a pointed letter to the Advertiser and Register newspaper complaining that the Government was not doing enough to help primary producers and instead found some money to fund an Institute in Waikerie and buy instruments for the Waikerie Brass Band (to the value of £350) (Rogers, 1931).

Waikerie Brass Band, 1930s (Source: State Library South Australia: B 34089)

There are still more stories to be found regarding the experiences of bands in the Great Depression and thankfully, some are brought to light through community newspapers.  For example, two stories about the Walcha Brass Band, published in the Walcha News newspaper (Walsh, 2019a, 2019b).  The Walcha Brass Band suffered through the 1930s due to the impacts of the Depression but recovered soon after the cessation of the Second World War and survived until 1969 when it disbanded  (Walsh, 2019b).

If this small sample of AGM’s are to go by it is evident that bands were fully aware of the impacts of the depression.  Which made them all the more pleased to find they were riding the economic impacts as best they could. 

Employ a Bandsman:

Every band wants to retain their members as best they can.  This was no different for the bands during the Depression years where, as it was mentioned, people had to leave their localities to find work elsewhere.  Again, the fact that bands were losing members due to Depression conditions, factors that were really beyond their control, sometimes had a detrimental effect on the bands.  One strategy that bands used was to try to find employment for bandsmen in their own localities and on occasion implored local businesses to help them.  This was not an easy thing for bands to ask.

Freeling Brass Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW)

In 1931 the loss of members from the Freeling Model Brass Band from South Australia was noted as a significant factor affecting the survival of the band.  We can see in an article published in The Bunyip newspaper just how dire the circumstance of the band was in 1931.

The secretary (Mr. E. L. Anders) read the report and balance sheet on the year’s work.  He stated that the Band were in a financial position, but were unfortunate in losing eight playing members during the year; some having left the district through unemployment.  […] He also stressed the point, that little or no interest was shown by the playing members and the support from the public was very scanty.  This let the band down badly, and if not more support was forthcoming, the band would have to go into recess for a short period. […] A lengthy discussion arose, and for a time it was hard to distinguish what was being said.  It was proposed that the band go into recess.  After order was restored, it was proposed and seconded that the band carry on. 

(“FREELING MODEL BRASS BAND.,” 1931)

The Muswellbrook Brass Band, located in the Newcastle area of New South Wales, recognized that they might lose two members due employment issues and they made a request to the public in their March committee meeting.  This request was detailed in the local Muswellbrook Chronicle newspaper.

Employment Sought for Members.

Reference was made to the possibility of losing two valuable members of the Band owing to their inability to obtain employment in the town.  The hope was expressed that this matter would come under the notice of the general public, and that anyone in the position to offer employment would communicate with Mr. Wallace (hon. Secretary). 

(“MUSWELLBROOK BRASS BAND.,” 1935)

Similarly, in the same year, the Dandenong Brass Band from Victoria (as can be seen in the article below) also put out a plea to try to find employment for two of their members.

Dandenong Journal, 21/03/1935, p. 5

The Waratah Brass Band from Tasmania and the Port Adelaide Municipal Band were other bands that noted the loss of members due to employment issues (“WARATAH.,” 1935; “YOUR LOCAL BAND NEEDS SUPPORT!,” 1938).  It was a circumstance that many bands found themselves in during these years.

Port Adelaide Municipal Band (Source: The Citizen, 30/11/1938, p. 7)

Finding themselves in a slightly different situation, in 1937 a brass band located in Canberra was “disbanded as a protest against the refusal of the Department of Interior to guarantee all members permanent employment.”  (“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937).  They were to play at an Armistice Service at Parliament House which forced the Department of Interior to hire a Sydney based band (“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937).  However, in trying to defend this decision, the Secretary of the Department, Mr. Carrodus did say…

…that at least half of the members of the band had been given departmental jobs, but because of the stringent observance of the Returned Soldiers’ Preference Act it would be impossible to absorb them all.”

(“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937)

It is hard to read of these circumstances and not feel saddened about the state some of these bands.  They were trying to exist in a time of history where outside forces were affecting how they operated; membership and commitment being a major part of those factors. No doubt they were doing the best they could under the circumstances.

The bands played on:

Brass band marching on Anzac Day, Sydney, 1930 (Source: National Library of Australia: 14446)

Music has always been known as a great reliever to troubles and during this time our brass bands rose to the challenge, not only for the good of the band and band members but also for the public and other causes.  In fact, some commentators suggested that there was no need for music making to stop.  In 1931 a Dr A. E. Floyd wrote in an article published in the Australasian newspaper,

The effect of the present financial stringency on every man’s music and musical progress need not be unmitigatedly bad; indeed it may be easily, with a little forethought, be decidedly good. 

(Floyd, 1931)

Admittedly, the context of Dr. Floyd’s article was more on making music in the home environment.  However, there is no doubt that his thoughts were cross-applicable to playing in ensembles outside of the home as well – his encouragement was for people to keep making music no matter the circumstances for health reasons.

For our bands it was a little more difficult as engagements slowed and money was scarce.  The bigger bands, often based in metropolitan centres were luckier than most as they could keep up with a regular pattern of performances, parades and competitions.  Indeed, the Victorian Bands’ League presented some very impressive massed band events during this time including one in 1937 that involved six hundred bandsmen! (“BIG BANDS DISPLAY,” 1937).  In Sydney, a grand competition was held in 1938 which drew together bands from across Australia (Bandsman’s year book, 1938).  While in the regional town of Wellington in New South Wales, their first competition in twenty five years was labelled a “Tremendous and Outstanding Success” by the Wellington Times newspaper (“WELLINGTON BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

Music for a cause:

The brass bands also did their bit for charitable causes and lent their services to help the needy.  For the bands, this was not a new style of engagement as over time they were regularly engaged in helping raise money for charity – the Victorian Bands’ League massed bands event in 1937 raised money for charity.  However, during the Great Depression this was giving a new meaning and we find the bands involved in some distinct social causes as well.

We can see that bands were an uplifting presence.  In North Queensland the Mirani Brass Band helped to lift spirits during a harvest thanksgiving event and the band was noted for their playing – practices had lifted after harvest when more members were available (“DISTRICT NEWS.,” 1930).  While over in Western Australia, the Merredin Brass Band joined other local organisations in an engagement that raised money for the needy in the district (Branson, 1931).  The Matron of the Clare Hospital located in South Australia wrote an appreciative letter to the Blyth Agriculturist newspaper to thank the “generosity of the general public” and the Clare Brass Band was given a special mention for raising money for a new dressing table in the Isolation section (Pattullo, 1934).

The thanks went both ways.  In April 1930 a letter was published in the Burra Record newspaper co-written by the President, Bandmaster and Secretary of the Spalding Brass Band thanking a Mr. P. Clark of Burra for financing a trip and engaging them to play (Hewish et al., 1930).  No doubt the band was grateful for these kinds of opportunities.

Burra Record, 16/04/1930, p. 3

We can also see mentions of brass bands leading marches and demonstrations, which is perhaps understandable.  Many brass bands were supported by industry at this time and no doubt some of the workers were affected by the conditions around them.  Mention was made of a brass band leading an Anti-Eviction procession in Sydney in 1933 and in Newcastle, a brass band headed up 600 unemployed from the “West Wallsend District” who marched on the town hall in 1935 (“ANTI-EVICTION PROCESSION.,” 1933; “UNEMPLOYED,” 1935).

Sydney Morning Herald, 14/08/1933, p. 10

Resilience:

We have already seen that some of the effects of the Great Depression on brass bands led to them going into recess or suffering financial and membership difficulties.  We have also seen that bands kept up their activities as best they could.  They were resilient in the face of adversity.  And if it was one activity that brought people together, it was the brass band.  In this decade, some bands even started up again.

In the township of Leeton, located in the Riverina district of New South Wales, a long letter was published in the Murrumbidgee Irrigator newspaper written by a contributor with the colloquial name of “Has Been”.  In 1932 the Leeton Band resumed practicing and this writer waxed lyrical on how much this band would mean to the town.

Sir,- I notice by your advertising that the Leeton Band is commencing its practices again, which means that we are again to have the pleasure of hearing band music.  This, I am sure, will be very pleasing to quite a number of people in our town and district, for the band is a decided acquisition to any town, no matter how small.

(“Has Been”, 1932)

Of course, there was a trade-off to reforming the band and “Has Been” wrote an appeal to the townsfolk to look for employment opportunities for bandsmen.

Might I add another word to the employers of labour, whether it be shop, farms or factory, when in need of a man, give the band secretary a chance to supply you with a bandsman.  If there is not a man in town suitable for the job, ask the band secretary to see what he can do.  The band secretary, being a life man, would, no doubt insert an advert in the city papers, worded something like this: “Wanted – A mechanic (or whatever the position was that had to be filled), good man only; must be bandsman (cornet player preferred) – Apply Secty Leeton District Band.

(“Has Been”, 1932)

“Has Been” was probably working a bit ahead of himself but the initiative was warranted given the difficult times – and many other bands were trying the same initiative.

The Tully Brass Band from North Queensland was perhaps one of the luckier ensembles as six years prior to 1933, residents of the town subscribed to the band and £400 had been spent on instruments (“TO BE RE-FORMED,” 1933).  When the band was reformed in 1933 those instruments were still available, so the band was able to restart almost immediately.  We can see in the photo below what the band was like in the 1930s.  

Tully Brass Band marching. ca. 1930s (Source: State Library of Queensland: 33123)

To be resilient a band had to be able to handle the circumstances as best they could and gathering public and council support was a chief aim.  When these pieces fell into place, bands could survive reasonably comfortably despite the outside circumstances.  For bands to restart during this time was an additional challenge which some of them managed with success.

Conclusion:

Coming out of the 1920s where the world seemed to be recovering only to plunge into another crisis must have been a major shock.  For bands, this meant a greater focus on administration especially finances, engagements, and membership.  Some aspects were simply out of their control such as the movement of members due to employment – as enjoyable as playing in a band might be, the outside need was to find a job.  It was admirable that many bands sought to find work for their members and themselves become a social service.

No doubt the work the bands were doing was appreciated by their communities either through live performance or over the wireless.  Music is uplifting.  Music could help people forget about their predicaments, if only for a short time.  The bands did their best.

References:

“Has Been”. (1932, 26 February). REFORMING THE BAND : (To the Editor). Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155893074

Adkins, H. E. (1934, 10 January). Britain’s Big Brass Bands. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1158876

ANTI-EVICTION PROCESSION. (1933, 14 August). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16998155

Australia’s Rise From Depression : Story Told By Figures. (1936, 15 February). Northern Producer and Morawa and District Advertiser (WA : 1930 – 1947), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257624349

BAND ASSOCIATION : The Annual Report. (1932, 12 May). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article180704011

BAND IS NOT TO PLAY : Demand Permanent Jobs. (1937, 11 November). Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW : 1924 – 1938), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237760894

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. 

BIG BANDS DISPLAY : 600 Players. (1937, 25 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article180841683

Branson, I. N. (1931, 28 April). The Meldrum Benefit. Wheatbelt Wheatsheaf and Dampier Advocate (Merredin, WA : 1930 – 1939), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article251755519

DEVONPORT. (1931, 31 March). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67710241

DISTRICT NEWS : Mirani : (From our Correspondent). (1930, 23 December). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170235248

Eklund, E. (2008). 10 June 1931. In M. Crotty & D. A. Roberts (Eds.), Turning Points in Australian History (pp. 48-61). University of New South Wales Press Ltd. 

Floyd, A. E. (1931, 03 January). MUSIC : Need the Depression Stifle Music? Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141416272

Franklin Harbour Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot3437]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

FRANKLIN HARBOUR BAND. (1936, 26 November). Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune (Cowell, SA : 1910 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219473615

Freeling Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot15438]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

FREELING MODEL BRASS BAND. (1931, 19 June). Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96642544

Gawler Brass Band May Not Continue. (1936, 18 July). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55830899

Gray, W. H. (1932, 09 January). BAND CONCERTS : Appeals for More Liberal Support : To the Editor of “The Mercury.”. Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29939058

Hewish, P. A., Carlson, A. C., & Mannion, F. J. (1930, 16 April). SPALDING’S BRASS BAND APPRECIATION : (To the Editor). Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37488195

HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND. (1930, 21 March). Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147845925

Hutchens, G. (2020, 29 March). The lessons of our past and our neighbours’ present could guide Australia’s economic response to coronavirus. ABC News. Retrieved 02 October 2020 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-29/australias-history-of-economic-support-coronavirus-covid-19/12100194

Illustrations Ltd. (1932). Large group of people in shed near tables full of vegetables and fruit [picture] [1 negative : glass, b&w ; 17 x 22 cm.]. [101841PD]. State Library of Western Australia, Illustrations Ltd collection ; 8292B/A/6851-1. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb2649568

INTO RECESS : Yeppoon Brass Band. (1932, 26 April). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54737835

ITEMS OF INTEREST : Dandenong Brass Band. (1935, 21 March). Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213964037

McAnulty, H. (2017, 13 January). History Talking: Surviving life in the dole-drums of the Depression. Central Western Daily. https://www.centralwesterndaily.com.au/story/4403111/history-talking-surviving-life-in-the-dole-drums-of-the-depression/

MUSWELLBROOK BRASS BAND : Committee Meeting. (1935, 01 March). Muswellbrook Chronicle (NSW : 1898 – 1955), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107669487

National Museum Australia. (2020, 15 April ). 1932: Height of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment. National Museum Australia. Retrieved 26 September 2020 from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/great-depression

Pattullo, B. (1934, 12 January). THE CLARE AND DISTRICT HOSPITAL : | To the Editor |. Blyth Agriculturist (SA : 1908 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217990434

Peterborough Federal Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot6378]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Peterborough Federal Band : Annual General Meeting. (1931, 17 July). Times and Northern Advertiser, Peterborough, South Australia (SA : 1919 – 1950), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110542695

Pohjanpalo, J. (1930). Brass band marching on Anzac Day, Sydney, 1930 [1 negative : nitrate, black and white]. [nla.obj-15268053]. National Library of Australia, Jorma Pohjanpalo collection of photographs of Sydney and Queensland, 1928-1931. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-152628053

Rogers, G. S. (1931, 15 April). POINTS FROM LETTERS : Brass Bands or Primary Production. Advertiser and Register (Adelaide, SA : 1931), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45760607

TO BE RE-FORMED : Tully Brass Band. (1933, 13 May). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41214410

UNEMPLOYED : Meet Shire Council : MANY DEMANDS : 600 March from West Wallsend : Strikers State Their Case. (1935, 12 July). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138136031

Unidentified. (1933). Marching brass band, Tully, ca. 1930s [photographic print : black & white , ca. 1930s.]. [33123]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OneSearch. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/192004

Waikerie Brass Band. (1930). [Photograph]. State Library South Australia, Waikerie Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+34089

Walsh, B. (2019a, 27 February). Walcha History: Band stands and delivers for Premier. Walcha News. https://www.walchanewsonline.com.au/story/5922107/walcha-band-stands-and-delivers-for-premier/

Walsh, B. (2019b, 13 March). Walcha History: Walcha Town Band’s final years. Walcha News. https://www.walchanewsonline.com.au/story/5947106/walcha-town-bands-final-hurrah/

WARATAH : The Band. (1935, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86569751

WELLINGTON BAND CONTEST : THE FIRST FOR 25 YEARS : A Tremendous and Outstanding Success. : UNBOUNDED ENTHUSIASM. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246369

WILD SELLING : New York Panic : PROFITS WIPED OUT : £80,000,000 Slump. (1929, 26 October). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16596498

Williamson, A. (2009). The Cud on History — Looking Back on The Great Depression in Australia [Electronic Magazine Article]. The Cud: Entertain a new perspective: chew the cud. Retrieved 26 September 2020, from http://thecud.com.au/live/content/cud-history-—-looking-back-great-depression-australia

YOUR LOCAL BAND NEEDS SUPPORT! : A Short History. (1938, 30 November). Citizen (Port Adelaide, SA : 1938-1940), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236745262

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

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 

International band tours of the early 1900s: bringing music to Australia

Introduction:

It is a massive undertaking to take any musical group on tour which stands true even today.  But let’s examine these undertakings from another time.  When we look back at the grand tours of brass and military bands in the early 1900s, we can only marvel at the schedules they set for themselves, the places they visited, and the effect they had on local populations.  Australians it seemed had an insatiable appetite for viewing the best in the business and visiting bands were not disappointed when they toured here.

Visiting bands did not come all the way to Australia just to return home again.  Often, Australia was just one stop on a world tour.  From reading the Trove archive we can see that the movements of the bands in foreign countries was eagerly reported on because Australians knew they were next to see them.  And when the bands did arrive in Australia, each concert was widely advertised.

This was a great age of band movements in Australia and around the World.  It must have been quite a sight too when each band was alighting from ships and trains which were eagerly awaited on by an adoring crowd.  Parades of massed bands, dinners, receptions, concerts, photographs, articles and other events all greeted visiting bands when they stepped upon our shores. Thankfully our libraries hold some ephemera and newspaper articles from those tours, so we can imagine just what it would have been like.

This post will highlight some of the visiting band tours and will see that some bands had vast reputations which preceded them. However, the famous bands were not the only groups to visit.  This post will not cover all tours or bands.  Undoubtedly there might have been other bands that visited that are buried in time (more stories to uncover).  However, for the bands that did visit, their tours last in memories, and even in some of the local bands that were beneficiaries of the expertise of visiting bandsmen.  There are some fascinating stories that surround these tours.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band travels around the world, twice:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Besses_Card
Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145704095)

The reputation of this unique brass band is well-deserved. Besses o’ the’ Barn Band from the Manchester area, England is one of the oldest brass bands in the world and has been an ensemble of excellence since its establishment in 1818 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018a).  So it was with a great deal of excitement the world over (and from the band itself) when Besses commenced its first world tour in 1906 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  This first tour took them to “North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  For each performance they attracted vast audiences and it is written in their history that their visit to Melbourne was most notable with no less than “twenty-two of Australia’s finest brass bands” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b) preceding them in a parade along Collins St.  This must have been quite the spectacle and sound!  Before they arrived in Melbourne they had been in Sydney and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in 1907 gave an enthusiastic review of their performances (“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND,” 1907).  In July 1907 the Argus newspaper published an article which gives us an amount of detail about the parade and the massed bands that led it:

Immediately they alighted from the Sydney express the visiting bandsmen stepped across the platform into the railway yard and as they did twenty-two bands, under the conductorship of Mr. E. T. Code, commenced to play an inspiring march.  Each man in those twenty-two bands contributed his full share to the volume of sound the like of which has rarely been heard in Melbourne. […] A procession was formed and heralded by the twenty-two local bands, the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band were drive up Collins Street in two drags.  The street was crowded with citizens whose curiosity had prompted them to see the famous bandsmen at first opportunity.

[…]

The bands which took part in the ceremony of welcome were as follows: St Kilda City, Prahran City, Code’s Melbourne Band, South Richmond Citizens, Collingwood Citizens’, Richmond City, Malvern City, Williamstown Premier, Footscray City, Stender’s, Doncaster, South Melbourne City, Brighton City, Brunswick City, Warneeke’s, Bootmakers, Camberwell, Box Hill, Fitzroy Military, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy Citizen’s, Kyneton City, St Vincent de Paul Orphanage, St. Arnaud, Castlemaine, Maryborough, and Ballarat bands were also represented.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907)

Regarding the huge crowds, an 1907 article in the Quiz newspaper from Adelaide which reported on the progress of the Besses tour thus far, noted that 70,000 people lined the parade route in Melbourne, which is a staggering amount of people for this kind of event (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).  Such was the popularity and reputation of this ensemble.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band welcoming parade turning from Collins Street to Swanston Street, Melbourne, July 1907. The massed bands are led by Edward Code. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive: 13953)

However, Besses did not finish touring after this first monumental effort.  Not one year after they had arrived back in England, the band embarked on another world tour (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND,” 1909).  As noted in their band history (2018b), “Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band) which was a very long time for bandsmen to be away from home. Needless to say, Besses had not lost any popularity on their next world tour and again drew large crowds wherever they went.

Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to one bandsman staying on in one city, and another bandsman joining them on their tour.  In a previous post, we can read the story of Besses Lead Cornetist William Ryder who absconded from the tour in Melbourne and joined the Wests Theatre Company before becoming the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018; Stonnington City Brass, 2018).  This being done, it appears that Besses invited one of our most famous bandsmen, Percy Code to join them on the rest of the tour (Bradish, 1929; Gibbney, 1981).  The conductor of Besses during this world tour was Mr. Christopher Smith and after the tour ended he was secured by the Adelaide Tramways Band for his services in 1911 (Seymour, 1994).

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1906 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

There is no doubt that Besses left their mark on Australian banding and were adored by audiences.  Certainly, in the succeeding years, many fine Australian bands dominated the landscape and as we saw some ex-Besses musicians now called Australia home.  Besses was one of the first bands to include Australia in their tour, but they were not the last.  Next to tour was the famous Sousa Band from the USA!

Sousa heads South:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Sousa-Card
Postcard: Australia welcoming the Sousa Band (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145695597)

The band of John Phillip Sousa was no less famous than the Besses band, although much bigger with sixty musicians and some additional soloists in their touring party.  They toured Australia and New Zealand from May 12th to August 23rd, 1911 and like the Besses band generated huge excitement wherever they went (Lovrien, 2012).  In fact, the excitement had started brewing before they had even arrived with newspapers reporting expected arrival dates and schedules (“SOUSA’S BAND.,” 1911).  As with the Besses tour that had just finished, the Sousa band was feted with ceremony, functions, awards, parades and large audiences – upon arriving in Sydney there was a grand parade featuring twenty NSW brass bands (“SOUSA AND HIS BAND,” 1911).

Inevitably, given the timing of the Sousa tour to the previous Besses tour, questions were asked as to which the finer band was.  In an article from May 1911, the World’s News newspaper sought to answer this question from a reader (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  The article reported on the differences between both bands and diplomatically opens the article by declaring that: “Comparisons are odious in connection with bands, as well as with politics” (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  However, it came down to the fact that one was a brass band as opposed to a military-style band and one band was much bigger than the other.  Musically, they were both very fine ensembles.

The Sousa band was a very different ensemble and they enthralled Australian audiences.  However, there is no real indication that the Sousa band had an influence on Australian bandsmen, and if they did, it was not reported.  One could assume the reason was that Australian bands, which were mostly brass at the time, were very much tied to the band tradition of England, not the USA.

Postcard: Sousa Band at the Glacarium, Melbourne, 1911 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

From Australia, the Sousa Band traveled to New Zealand where they again delighted audiences and received rave reviews (White, 2018).  And after this swing through the Southern Hemisphere, they returned to the mainland USA via a visit to Hawaii (Lovrien, 2012).

The Sousa tour, despite the number of places that they visited and the largeness of the audiences, did not generate a huge financial windfall and it was very expensive to take the band around the world (Lovrien, 2012).  However, in 1913 a court case was heard regarding the profits from the Australian leg of the Sousa tour.  From the brief flurry of newspaper articles that were written at the time, it appears that a series of contracts were entered into by the promoter of the tour, Mr. Branscombe with a Mr. Quinlan, and later a Mr. Singer over £30,000 in profits (“SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA,” 1913).  It is interesting that this case was heard two years after the tour had finished, and that these profits were not intended for the Sousa band itself.

Bythell (2000), writing on the band tours and exchanges between countries during this time says that “…the logistics and high costs or international tours and exchanges made them exceptional” (p. 229).  Certainly, it was noted in the New Zealand article on the Sousa visit that the tour (through Aus. & NZ) was costing “over £2,000 per week” (White, 2018).  Given the logistics of moving a sixty-piece band plus soloists around Australia and New Zealand, this figure is hardly surprising.

Despite this, the Sousa tour appears to have been a success for the band and audiences as Sousa was a renowned conductor and composer.  The time frame between this tour and the previous Besses tour had not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Australian public in wanting to see these kinds of entertainments.  The Sousa band did not disappoint.

The visit of a Belgian Band during the First World War:

Postcard: Belgian National Band, 1915 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

The Besses and Sousa bands were undoubtedly famous, but that did not stop other promoters searching for bands that might tour, which is exactly what happened during the early stages of the First World War.  In 1915, a band from Belgium visited the country and apparently went on tour through Australia and New Zealand. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).  A paragraph in a Leader newspaper article from May 1915 provides some detail on this band, but the band had no name – they were simply known as the Belgian Band:

A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia.  The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European.

(“MUSIC.,” 1915)

The reaction of the Australian press to this visit was understandable.  A number of articles expressed admiration that the musicians had actually left Belgium, while also expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Belgian people under German occupation.  An example of this kind of article was from the Daily News in Perth (“THE BELGIAN BAND.,” 1915).  Notwithstanding the circumstances of this visit, the band drew the interest of an Australian public and received good reviews for their performances (“Visit of Belgian Band,” 1915).  In an act of decency, the band promoters donated all profits to “…the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers Fund” (“BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA.,” 1915).

First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:

After the war, visits from overseas bands resumed quite early on with a visit from the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown”.  This band was brought to Australia by J. and N. Tait, the same promoters who engaged the Belgian Band in 1915 (“RENOWN BAND.,” 1920).  The Royal Marines actually visited twice; their first visit was in 1920 and they followed up with another visit in 1927.  The concerts of 1920 received some very favorable reviews with one article printed in the Argus praising the sound and playing of this ensemble, and making a comparison of conducting styles with the great Sousa (“Concert by Renown Band.,” 1920).  On the second tour, a concert in Melbourne was presented as a massed bands concert in combination with the “Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial  Band” and the “Victorian Railways Military Band” with the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Appeal Fund the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).

19270508_Massed-Mil-Bands_Green-Mill_FC
Programme (front cover), featuring: Royal Marines Band H.M.S. “Renown”, Victorian Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Band & Victorian Railways Military Band. (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League)

In 1934 the Band of the Grenadier Guards visited Melbourne as part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations, with a subsequent tour of Australia as well.  There was some initial confusion as to which Guards band was going to visit with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Welsh Guards being mentioned in some press (“GUARDS’ BAND VISIT.,” 1933).  It seems there was also some objection to the tour on the part of the Musicians’ Union. A letter to The Herald in September 1933 berated the Union for their stance with the writer stating that “Their visit will be education and beneficial to our unemployed musicians.” (Musician, 1933).  A visit to Australia by a band of this caliber was beneficial to all who witnessed them (not just unemployed musicians).  The band made a special appearance at the South Street competition of 1934 with a concert presented to an appreciative audience which included the Duke of Gloucester who was also visiting Australia (“South-street Band Contests.,” 1934).

19341101-19341103_South-Street-Centenary-Contest_p6
1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest program, p. 6 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

These two British military bands were highly regarded, and it appears that their tours were more genuine with concerts in combination with Australian ensembles and presenting inspirational performances.  There was no comparison with the previous tours of Besses and Sousa as these were again, very different groups.  However, Australians were no less enthusiastic about the visits of these bands and made them feel very welcome.

Conclusion:

What we have seen here is only a small sample of the bands that visited Australia within a shorter time frame.  Each group was very different, yet they elicited an amount of excitement from the Australian audiences, bandsmen and public authorities.  Yes, they were expensive undertakings.  But musically they were invaluable.  This truly was a great age of banding.

References:

Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band. (1910). [1 postcard : col. ; 9.6 x 13.9 cm.]. [nla.obj-145695597]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597/view

THE BELGIAN BAND. (1915, 24 May). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81173645

BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA. (1915, 20 June). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120796314

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. (1907). [Postcard]. [nla.obj-145704095]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145704095/view

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. (1909, 04 November). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145853191

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018a). A Glorious Past. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018). From Whitefield to Wellington. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses?showall=&start=1

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

“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND. (1907, 15 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14867586

Bradish, C. R. (1929, 05 September). Prominent Personalities : PERCY CODE | CONDUCTOR OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA. Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146712994

Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press. 

Concert by Renown Band. (1920, 04 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1708206

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/

FOR MAYOR’S FUND : Renown Band Concert. (1927, 06 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243915027

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 20 April 2018, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

Glanville Hicks, E. (1927). MASSED MILITARY BANDS : (Including Band of H.M.S. “RENOWN”) : GRAND RECITAL  [Programme]. City of Melbourne. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5caad8b321ea6703e46303f4 

GUARDS’ BAND VISIT : Centenary Tour Almost Certain. (1933, 10 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205104515

Lovrien, D. (2012, 13 June). The Sousa Band 1910-11 World Tour. John Philip Sousa. https://sousamusic.com/sousa-band-1910-11-world-tour/

MUSIC. (1915, 15 May). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918), 35. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91368715

Musician. (1933, 11 September). GUARDS’ BAND VISIT. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243423748

RENOWN BAND. (1920, 05 July). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62924146

Royal South Street Society. (1934). South Street “Centenary” : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades  [Programme]. Royal South Street Society. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5d425e0c21ea6b1a84382033 

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 

SOUSA AND HIS BAND. (1911, 14 May). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120777076

Sousa Band – Immense Audience, Glacarium, Melbourne. (1911). [Postcard]. Sousa Band, Melbourne, Victoria. 

SOUSA’S BAND. (1911, 09 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10877792

SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA : Question of profits : Writ for £7926. (1913, 01 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196234795

Sousa’s Band : An interesting question asked by readers. (1911, 13 May). World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128266800

South-street Band Contests. (1934, 02 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205082990

Stonnington City Brass. (2018). Band History. Stonnington City Brass. Retrieved 13 May 2018 from https://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/history.html

Visit of Belgian Band : An enjoyable concert. (1915, 10 August). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954),7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121995771

Walmsley Bolton. (1915). The Great Belgian National Band. Conductor – – Mons Jules Ardenois (of Antwerp) [Postcard]. Walmsley Bolton, Nottingham, U.K. 

White, T. (2018, 13 July). Memory Lane: A famous musician brings his band to town. Manawatū Standard. https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/lifestyle/105412732/memory-lane-a-famous-musician-brings-his-band-to-town

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.

19330705_TheAge_VBA-Future
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

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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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