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

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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 particular 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 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 WBA went ahead in Orange and we have an account published in the Nepean Times as a representative from the Penrith Band attended the meeting.  While the WBA 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 WBA has been reformed and will hold its first contest in Bathurst with a number of bands wanting to participate (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1926).

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Lithgow Mercury, 22/02/1926, p. 1

Coming into 1932 we see yet another iteration of the WBA 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)

It would seem that 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 WBA, 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).

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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:

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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 WBA 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.

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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), p. 1288. Retrieved from 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), p. 1289. Retrieved from 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), p. 1288. Retrieved from 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), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141982006

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording]. Australia’s heritage in sound. [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), pp. 1288-1289. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

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

MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES : Progressive Movement. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from 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), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236121302

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

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

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

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

Western Band Association : Penrith Represented. (1925, 28 November). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 – 1962), p. 6. Retrieved from 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), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118043369

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

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

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

 

Brass bands of the New South Wales Central West: Part 1: Bands for every town

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Orange District Band, 1928. (Image courtesy Central West Libraries)

Introduction:

Nearly every small town in New South Wales can speak of their own band, and why should a town with the population of Condobolin be so far behind the time? (Band Enthusiast, 1902)

This question was asked in a letter to the Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder newspaper in January 1902.  The person who wrote the letter under a pseudonym, “Band Enthusiast” asked a worthy question as to why his town had not caught up with the times and started their own band.  Condobolin is a town located in the Central West region of New South Wales and at this time, they were lagging behind other towns in the region.  By the time 1902 has ticked around, some towns in the Central West have already had bands for the best part of a decade.  Condobolin was feeling left out and wanted a band to boost civic pride and give townsfolk something else to do.

There is always a bigger picture and if we were to examine layers of history, patterns of immigration and the development of towns, agriculture and industry, we would find that the bands of the Central West were very much products of their location and people – and there were many of them!  For the purposes of this post, the focus will be on a large regional block of New South Wales; Lithgow and Bathurst in the east, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo in the west, Mudgee, Galong Wellington & Tottenham in the north and Oberon, Blaney, Cowra, Grenfell and Forbes in the south with many localities big and small in between.  It is just over 400km from Lithgow to Lake Cargelligo and from North to South around 200km.  As you can see from the brief list of towns, there are some famous places, some of which are etched into Australian psyche and history. The middle line of Central West can be drawn through the towns of Lithgow, Bathurst, Orange, Parkes and Condobolin.  Below this introduction is a Google map of this area.

For the sake of brevity with reading and writing, this blog topic in two parts.  Part 1 focuses on a little history of the N.S.W. Central West and stories of the individual bands.  Part 2 focuses on the various iterations of the Western Band Association and regional competitions.  Given that there were twenty-eight bands that have existed in the Central West, this provides us with a rich history of music-making.  Much like a previous post on the bands surrounding Canberra, this post is a result of a visit to Orange in October 2019 where various resources were accessed thanks to the assistance of the excellent librarians at Orange Library.  They pointed out several features of their own town related to brass bands and I was naturally curious about the other bands in the region.  The Trove archive has also provided an amount of information.

One might say the development of bands in this region is very typical when compared to other parts of Australia, and to some extents this is correct.  Well-might every town in the Central West have a band or want a band.  They were community groups to be proud of.

The Central West:

To provide some context to the bands in this region, it is important to appreciate the history of the region as a whole.  Early settlers travelled various locations, mainly to farm sheep on the vast plains although some towns were originally settlements to house convicts (Blainey, 2001; Kass, 2003).  The main impetus to population growth was the discovery of various minerals across the region namely gold, copper, shale, limestone and coal and most of the miners originated from Wales and Cornwall (Kass, 2003; Payton, 2005).  With greater migration came town services and recreation as well as transport links – roads and railways.  Kass (2003) wrote of the migration, “These new people left their mark.  Sometimes, particular ethnic practices of skills affected the area” (p. 16).

Naturally, some towns grew bigger than others due to their location on major transport routes, the success of the mines or agriculture.  Some towns like Hill End dwindled due to the exhaustion of mines (“Hill End,” 2004; Hodge, 2013).  Others, like Bathurst, were regional centres in their own right – Bathurst, in particular, is one of the first towns established after the crossing of the Blue Mountains (Blainey, 2001).  European influences on some towns are obvious.  Below are some pictures of two bandstands in Orange located in parks at either end of the town centre.

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Cook Park Bandstand, Orange (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)
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Robertson Park Bandstand, Orange (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)

The history of this region is fascinating, and it is through the development of these industries and towns that gives rise to brass bands, an amount of which are still in existence.  These famous towns are historic in their own right.  The bands themselves developed reputations that extended far beyond this region.

British Influences:

If we consider that the main immigration of the time was from Britain where brass bands had already taken hold in certain areas, it stands to reason the ethnic practices that Kass mentions would include certain kinds of music-making.  Bythell (2000) tells us that this was no accident,

The successful transplantation of the brass band to the colonies in the late nineteenth century should not surprise us, given the importance of ordinary, wage-earning immigrants from Britain in building-up Australasia’s population and developing its communities and institutions.  The contribution of British-born bandsmen to Australian banding is particularly noticeable in mining areas whose counterparts in ‘the Old Country’ were major centres of the movement. (p. 227).

More specifically and related to the regional area, Payton (2005) states that “Brass bands were popular among the Cornish at Hill End, Bathurst and elsewhere…” (p. 234).  The link between mining and brass bands cannot be understated, and the names of some of the early bands reflected this origin.  This was very much a transplanting of culture and the Central West became blessed with a number of brass bands.

Where bands were formed:

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Parkes Town Band (Source: IBEW)

In most of the major towns, they could boast one band although some had two or three.  In the smaller towns, they could claim one band.  As is the case with some of these activities, some bands folded or merged.  In 1908 for example, the Parkes Brass Band merged with the nearby Parkesborough Brass Band to become a single entity (“Parkes Brass Band.,” 1908).  Below is a table showing a list of locations where brass bands were mentioned, most of which were in existence in the early 1900s.  Today a number of bands remain in the major towns and these are highlighted by links – interestingly, some of the bands that exist today in this region are now concert bands.  The source of the table data was from various newspaper articles found in the Trove archive:

Bathurst Bimbi Blayney Canowindra
Condobolin Cowra Cudal Cumnock
Eugowra Forbes Grenfell Gulgong
Hartley Vale Hill End Kandos Lithgow
Millthorpe Molong Mudgee Oberon
Orange Parkes Peak Hill Portland
Stuart Town Tullibigeal Wellington Yeoval

There was no doubting the enthusiasm, civic pride and motives of the early townsfolk when it came to starting brass bands.  However, it was not only townsfolk who started bands.  Robert Bartlett (2018) wrote in his book Orange and District: A History in Pictures. 2 that “…a volunteer band attached to the Volunteer Military Corps in Orange was established about 1874” and that “The Orange Town Band was formed in the late 1880s” (p. 48).  Here, this is an example of two bands that had existed in the town in relatively early times.  The Orange Town Band was afflicted with a few stops and starts in its early years, however, it still exists to this day (Bartlett, 2018).

It is interesting to see how local newspapers reported on proposals to start bands or reported on bands already in existence.  For example, a correspondent writing for the Peak Hill Express in August 1902 says of the newly formed Yeoval band,

One would scarcely think of hard times and drought at the small township of Yeoval, since the local Brass Band has commenced practice.  The Bandmaster, (Mr. Kennerson) came yesterday from Eugowra to give his pupils their first lesson.  I am afraid (although I should be very sorry to dishearten our amateurs), that some time will lapse before the Yeoval Brass Band will appear in a contest or even turn out a few professional players” (“YEOVAL.,” 1902)

The optimism is admirable given that Yeoval was a small township located inland from the main road linking the major towns of Molong and Wellington.

Expressions of enthusiasm for staring a brass band in the town of Cudal, located on a road from Orange to Forbes was all very well.  But this enthusiasm was tempered by a pragmatic question over instruments, as written in an article from March 1902 in the Leader newspaper,

Cudal boys intend on starting a brass band.  Why not?  Mr. Walter Carter, who has been considerable time in the band at Wellington, and who is settling in town, will act as instructor and also conductor.  The trouble is, where are the instruments coming from?  Perhaps some person who is interested will push the thing ahead.” (“CUDAL.,” 1902)

This is, of course, another aspect of starting a brass band, finding the right people to actually start them and instruct pupils!  In the town of Cumnock, located near the towns of Yeoval and Molong, they found a person willing to start a band.  A local and popular factor manager, Mr R. E. Higgins pushed an effort to start a band and it seems he was successful (“CUMNOCK.,” 1904).  The Cumnock Brass Band was still in existence in 1927 (“CUMNOCK.,” 1927).

The township of Kandos, located south-east of Mudgee, provides an interesting example of how to start a band properly.  Aside from the fact that got started much later than other towns, an article published in the Lithgow Mercury in March 1918 tells us much.  It seems their town band was going to be supported financially by the N.S.W. Cement Co., so all they really needed from potential musicians was “determination and enthusiasm” (“KANDOS.,” 1918).  And they really wanted a band for the town,

As a town band is a means of pleasurable entertainment, a welcome relaxation from the workers’ daily round and common task that appeals more than any other, the committee confidently look to the citizens of our model township for aid and support, financial and other ways.  Meanwhile, a goodly number of names of intending members with more or less experience has been booked, and quite an encouraging number of names of intending pupils have likewise been handed in.” (“KANDOS.,” 1918)

Nine years later we find that the Kandos Town Band is thriving.  In the September 26th issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, an article about the happenings of brass bands in New South Wales is published and there is a small paragraph on the Kandos Town Band:

Kandos Town Band has emerged from its winter seclusion and rendered a fine programme on Sunday, September 11 under the baton of Bandmaster Julius.  The band has always had strong financial support and its efforts are always appreciated.” (“New South Wales,” 1927, p. 23)

Then, of course, are the times when bands have, for whatever reason, gone into recess and then reformed.  Such was the case of the Oberon Brass Band in 1936 when a tiny article published in the Sydney Morning Herald makes mention of the reformation of this band (“OBERON BAND RE-FORMED.,” 1936).

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The old Orange City Band Hall (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)

Some of the brass bands mentioned above were located in smaller towns and faced challenges that did not really affect bands in bigger locations, though that did not stop these towns trying to start them.  We know that bands in some of the bigger centres of “Bathurst, Wellington, Orange, Blaney, and Lithgow” were in existence by the early 1890s (“Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893).  The Orange City Band, as we can see above in the photo, was lucky enough to have its own band hall.   The band in the tiny town of Yeoval might have had aspirations of entering competitions but for the bands in bigger towns with more resources, this was a reality.  It was seen in an earlier post how the Bathurst District Brass Band travelled all the way to Ballarat to compete in the first South Street band sections in 1900 and gained high praise for their playing (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900; Nedwell & Hill, 1900; “To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  For many other bands in this region, travel to neighbouring towns or to Sydney for competitions became routine, no doubt helped by the early railways.  The nature of competing and competitions for these bigger bands will be examined in Part 2 of this blog post.

Challenges laid bare:

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Grenfell Town & District Band, ANZAC Day 1923 (Source: IBEW)

Operating a band was not an easy task.  And the early newspapers show numerous instances of where the local band put out a call for help.  Most of the assistance was to be in the form of small concerts or other events that would provide funds for a band.  In September 1900, a tiny article published in the Wellington Times newspaper asks the townspeople of Stuart Town to support their band,

At a public meeting held at Stuart Town on the 17th instant (Mr. A. G. Coleman in the chair) it was decided to hold a concert and social at Boehme’s Hall, on November 9, for the purpose of putting the funds of the Stuart Town brass band on a sound financial basis.  Tickets for the concert will be 2s and s, and for the social 3s and 2s.  Mr. Howard Warn is the hon. Sec.” (“The Stuart Town Band.,” 1900)

Then there was the distinct challenge of gaining and retaining members of the band which was either overcome…or not. The McPhail and Peak Hill District Band was one ensemble that managed to turn things around with an effective recruitment campaign.  Through an article published in the Peak Hill Express from December 1905, we see why there was a loss of initial membership and how they are progressing,

For some time past McPhail and Peak Hill District Band has not been heard so frequently as in the past, for the reason that the members being miners, were mostly out of the district.  As a result, the Band has had to recruit, and this being done, with some £30 worth of instruments, the Band is on the up grade again, and during the coming year will be heard to advantage.  The members have some really fine instruments, and everything points to a bright future.” (“McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905)

One can sense the inherent frustration of a Mr W. H. Gray, committee member of the Grenfell Town Band through a supplementary report published in the Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser in August 1931 regarding some issues surrounding his band.  Firstly, Mr Gray has tried to justify the music library and choices of music for performances by stating,

In the first place the library referred to is an extremely important factor in the make-up of the band, and comprises all the music as used by them, and the same as in a reading library, there are good, band and indifferent pieces, and it requires a great deal of time to look through a quantity of music and make a selection of numbers that will be interesting to players to practice, and which will also please the majority of the listening public. […] Of course, there are numbers that will be uninteresting to the musically uneducated, but if we were to confine ourselves to the class of music that would appeal to that that type of listener we would get nowhere.  And so it is necessary to have an assortment that will appeal to the highbrow as well as the lowbrow, if I may be permitted to use that term.” (Gray in “TOWN BAND,” 1931)

Mr. Gray went on to making other forthright comments in his report of which are quoted here;

Most of them think the instrument has only to be blown into and it will play itself”

[…]

A lot of programmes could be much improved if I could get fuller rehearsals.  A lot to poor and bad spots in a performance are caused by members who only come along to rehearsal occasionally, and are not entirely familiar with the programme, and are not competent enough to read at sight, make mistakes which disconcert the rest of the players.”

[…]

In a small town like this there is not the same chance or privilege to get a better combination, as there is only a certain percentage or average of all who take up the study of music who ever amount to much, and distance from other places are a bar to attracting other players here.”

[…]

I would now like to appeal to the public for support.  We have to be continually adding to our library, instruments have to be kept in repair, and band room rent and lighting to be paid.  The bandsmen give a great deal of their time.  Of course it is looked upon as a recreation, but it is not always so, as duties often interfere with other plans, so that a band call is sometimes a sacrifice to the men.  […] You will now see it takes a certain definite amount of money to run a band, also a certain amount of sacrifice on behalf of the bandsmen, and as I hope the band gives a lot of pleasure to people that in the future better monetary support will be given that will enable us to continue and improve on the work already done.” (Gray in “TOWN BAND,” 1931)

This particular article was as informative as it was fascinating.  We see here a committee member who has outlined a number of frustrations yet still asks the public for support, as well as asking his bandsmen to give a greater effort.  The challenge of being in a smaller town without ready access to a pool of musicians and other resources is not unique.  To have laid it all out in a local newspaper to this extent is certainly brave – one wonders the comments he received from his bandsmen who might have read this!

Conductors and bandsmen:

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Bathurst Town Band (Source: IBEW)

It has been mentioned at times in this post certain names of people who were influences on their local bands.  Again, this is nothing new when compared to other bands in Australia – this was a time of the journeyman band member who frequently changed towns and bands.  To keep up retention for any length of time was a major challenge.  Yet there were some remarkable stories of longevity and the lengths towns went to honour their brass band people.

The year is 1920 and, in an article, published in January of that year in the Bathurst Times, news breaks of a possible transfer of the conductor of the Bathurst District Band, a Mr Samuel Lewins, to somewhere else in N.S.W. because of employment.  This was a conductor who had been at the helm of the band for a considerable length of time,

Mr. Verbrugghen, the conductor of the State Orchestra, has been telling the public that he success of the orchestra is due to its conductor.  By the same line of reasoning the success of the Bathurst District Band is due to its bandmaster.  Is proof wanted?  It can be found in the fact that during the thirty-three years the band has been going it has had hundreds of members, but only one conductor.” (“BRASS BANDS,” 1920)

Rightly, or wrongly, there were fears the band would collapse if the conductor left the band,

Now there is a rift looming.  Bathurst is likely to lose Mr. Lewins, and in losing him the city is in danger of losing the District Band as we now know it.

This is how maters stand.  Mr. Lewins is an officer in the Railway service.  He is reaching the retiring age, and when that time comes (as will be in about two years), he proposes to remove to Sydney or some other centre.  Is Bathurst going to allow him to go without making an effort to keep him?

[…]

What will Bathurst do?  Will it get busy during the two years yet to go, and arrange to keep the District Band and its conductor, or will it sit down and allow matters to drift?  Two years is not a long time.  Some towns have been trying for a dozen years to get a man with the brass band knowledge of Mr. Lewins and with equal worth as a citizen, but have failed.  Bathurst has the musician man and the citizen, and should see that he is kept here.” (“BRASS BANDS,” 1920)

The story of Mr Lewins at the helm of the Bathurst District Band does not end here.  In 1926 we find that he is still conducting and as a measure of appreciation, the townsfolk honour Mr Lewins with a plaque as a testimonial to his now forty years as conductor of the band (“THE LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL,” 1926; “MR. S. LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL,” 1925).  Mr Lewins kept conducting the band for another twelve years until 1938.  In 1936 he was further honoured for conducting the band for fifty years with the erecting of commemorative gates at Machattie Park (“LEWINS COMMEMORATIVE GATES,” 1936).  In 1938, having achieved the record as the “oldest bandmaster in the Commonwealth”, is suffering from ill health and has had to retire from leading the Bathurst District Band – by all accounts, this is an astonishing record (“MR. S. LEWINS,” 1938).  Two years after his retirement at the age of 78, Mr Lewins passes away with tributes flowing from band people all around Australia (“MR. SAMUEL LEWINS,” 1940).  For a brief time afterwards, the band is conducted by one of his sons and soon after Mr Harold Walmsley takes over as conductor of this band and the Bathurst Boys’ Band (“BATHURST AND ITS BANDS,” 1941).

Samuel Lewins was but one of many remarkable musicians that have called the Central West their home and the legacy of these musicians lives on.  One must recognize that every musician made a contribution to their bands, and in some cases to Australia as euphonium player and conductor of the Orange Town Band, Herbert Rockliff did in the AIF (Orange City Council, 2015).  To my knowledge, not one band conductor has come close to the Lewins record yet.

Bands of the Central West:

To reiterate a point, the development and running of bands in the Central West were no less compared to other bands around Australia.  In fact, it was fairly typical – challenges were commonplace.  However, to have so many bands in the one region did bring out the best of bandsmen and they did their best to keep bands operating.  Perhaps circumstance was unkind to some of them – they were tied to their towns and if the towns dwindled the bands folded.  But for the most part, at least in some of the bigger towns, their legacy lives on.

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Peak Hill Band, 1911 (Source: IBEW)

Part 2: Association and competition ->

References:

Band Enthusiast. (1902, 17 January). Brass Band for Condobolin – Views of an Experienced Bandsman. Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder (NSW : 1899 – 1952), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213298751

Bartlett, R. (2018). Orange and district : a history in pictures. 2. Orange, New South Wales: Robert Bartlett.

BATHURST AND ITS BANDS : Mr. Walmsley’s View. (1941, 30 September). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160522981

Bathurst Town Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot18345.jpg

Blainey, G. (2001). The tyranny of distance : how distance shaped Australia’s history (Rev. ed.). Sydney: Macmillan.

BRASS BANDS : The People’s Music. : The District Band Conductor. (1920, 08 January). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111547245

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). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

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

CUDAL. (1902, 08 March). Leader (Orange, NSW : 1899 – 1945), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252290799

CUMNOCK. (1904, 13 February). Molong Express and Western District Advertiser (NSW : 1887 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139537587

CUMNOCK. (1927, 08 January). Molong Express and Western District Advertiser (NSW : 1887 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139984068

de Korte, J. D. (2019a). Cook Park Bandstand, Orange [Photograph].

de Korte, J. D. (2019b). Old Orange City Band Hall, 1888 [Photograph].

de Korte, J. D. (2019c). Robertson Park Bandstand, Orange [Photograph].

Grenfell Town & District Band : ANZAC Day 1923. (1923). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot7150.jpg

Hill End. (2004, 08 February). Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/hill-end-20040208-gdkq2n.html

Hodge, B. (2013). Hill End & Tamboroora – a brief history. Hill End & Tamboroora Gathering Group. Retrieved from https://www.heatgg.org.au/hill-end-story/brief-history/

KANDOS : Brass Band Proposals : (From our Correspondent). (1918, 27 March). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218467481

Kass, T. (2003). A thematic history of the Central West : comprising the NSW historical regions of Lachlan and Central Tablelands. Parramatta, N.S.W.: NSW Heritage Office.

LEWINS COMMEMORATIVE GATES. (1936, 17 July). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160530723

THE LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL. (1926, 09 February). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161492356

McPhail and Peak Hill District Band. (1905, 15 December). Peak Hill Express (NSW : 1902 – 1952), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107246068

MR. S. LEWINS : Retirement Reported. (1938, 12 August). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160909451

MR. S. LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL. (1925, 29 December). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161496572

MR. SAMUEL LEWINS : Death Yesterday. (1940, 24 May). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160642933

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396

New South Wales. (1927). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(1), 23 & 25.

OBERON BAND RE-FORMED. (1936, 07 November). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17286874

Orange City Council. (2015, 01 February). Herbert Rockliff. Centenary of World War 1 in Orange. Retrieved from http://www.centenaryww1orange.com.au/service-men-and-women/herbert-rockliff/

Orange District Band. (1928). Central West Libraries [Photograph].

Parkes Brass Band. (1908, 17 April). Western Champion (Parkes, NSW : 1898 – 1934), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111917460

Parkes Town Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot6375.jpg

Payton, P. (2005). The Cornish overseas : a history of Cornwall’s ‘great emigration’ (Rev. and updated ed.). Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press.

Peak Hill Band. (1911). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot9371.jpg

The Stuart Town Band. (1900, 20 September). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139003931

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

TOWN BAND : Grenfell Band. (1931, 17 August). Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser (NSW : 1876 – 1951), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112830663

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

YEOVAL. (1902, 22 August). Peak Hill Express (NSW : 1902 – 1952), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107245170

The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Introduction:

If there is one longstanding event that has been synonymous with bands, it would have to be the South Street competitions.  There have been whole generations of bands people who have made the journey to Ballarat to participate in the competition, and when the bands’ sections were introduced, they were extremely popular with the crowds.  Such is the reputation of South Street that the first band contest in 1900 attracted two bands from other colonies.

Remembering that this was Australia in 1900.  The separate colonies had contingents over in South Africa for the Boer War, cities and towns were much smaller, transport networks consisted of railways, ships and mostly dirt roads.  Yet brass bands thrived where they were established due to otherwise limited entertainment.  Ballarat at the time was lucky to have three!

While the story of this first South Street contest will focus primarily on the bands and results, there were some other stories to come out of this event and newspaper articles of the day reported on all sorts of angles – reactions from townspeople, travel, and even the voices of local Churches contributed an opinion.  Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.

What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands traveling to the South Street event and carrying on the history of the bands’ people before us.  Many of the most famous brass band composers, adjudicators, conductors, musicians, and bands from around Australia are associated with South Street in some way. Their legacy will not be forgotten.

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

The beginning of South Street:

  The South Street events were famous even before the band sections were added to the program.  The origins of the competitions can be traced back to 1879 when eight young men, none over the age of seventeen decided to form a debating society (Blackman, 1966).  The society was very successful in gaining members and funds and was eventually able to own their own building (Blackman, 1966).  However it wasn’t until 1891 when the first debating competition was held, and from this first event, subsequent competitions were held and other sections were added (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

In terms of music, the early Society started holding Monday night concerts in 1893 where many songs were sung and the audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966).  In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year was held in Her Majesty’s Theatre for the first time (a venue bands people know very well) and in 1897 the first choral competitions were held (Blackman, 1966).  A year later solo singing was added as a section and with these new sections, the time period for the competitions was extended and three venues across Ballarat were used (Blackman, 1966).  In 1899 Alfred Hall brought into use as a dedicated venue because of large and appreciative crowds (Royal South Street Society, 1979).  And in 1900, the first brass band sections were introduced into the program with immediate success (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

South Street Society adds bands to the program:

There was nothing new about having brass bands in Ballarat as they were popular for ceremonial and recreational music.  Indeed, as the Royal South Street Society (1979) has noted:

By the 1870’s, bands were features of the Ballarat scene.  However, it was the German combination known as Baulch’s Band which first brightened the local processions and played at important functions.  Then came Apps Soldiers’ Hill Band, and a couple of other minor combinations.

Interest slackened in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the century the musical reputation depended on the famous Prout’s Band and the City of Ballarat Band.  Later the Ballarat Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Home Bands had brief periods in the limelight (pp. 6-7).

With this in mind, the progression of the South Street Society was to add a brass band and brass solo sections to the program of events with sections to be held on Friday the 5th of October and Saturday the 6th of October (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  The competition was divided into four sections; the first part of a Selection Contest and a Solo Cornet contest to be held on Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b).  All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall.  Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996).  In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).

Ballarat welcomes the bands:

Well, not entirely.

It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place.  Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War.  The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event.  The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.

A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith.  He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).

Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic.  Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:

On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels.  Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two.  Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).

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Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

It seems Ballarat had no shortcomings in accommodating and promoting the band competition, not only for the bands but for the people themselves. The enthusiasm was palpable, and Ballarat was festive.  As mentioned, huge crowds flocked to the City Oval to watch them march and play.  And just to make sure people arrived in Ballarat and enjoyed themselves, The Herald reported on October 5th, 1900 that, “A public holiday has been proclaimed and is being generally received.  Excursion trains have been run for thirty or forty miles round, and these are being well patronised” (“HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT.,” 1900).

The Bands:

Of course, the competition would not have been a competition without the bands themselves.  The nine bands that took part were – Ballarat Militia Band (3rd Battalion), Bathurst District Brass Band, Bulch’s Model Brass Band, Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band, Geelong Town Band, Hopetoun Brass Band, Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), The Lord Nelson Mine Band & Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band.  Three of the bands were based in Ballarat which gave them a distinct home town advantage, and home town rivalry.  Two were from interstate while one came from Geelong, one from St. Arnaud and two from the Bendigo area.  It made for a full competition for the times.  In addition, there were two solo contests which attracted entrants from the aforementioned bands including a Cornet player by the name of John. F. Code from the Albert Park Band (more commonly known as Code’s Melbourne Band) (Royal South Street Society, 2018c).

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

It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received.  An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.

The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands was enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise that was given to the Bathurst District Brass Band.  Bathurst traveled the furthest distance to arrive at the competition and as noted by Greaves (1996)

Bathurst District Band, the only entrant from New South Wales, and a runner up in the quickstep contest, found themselves to be quite popular in Ballarat and they were asked to return the following year.  Their conductor Sam Lewins, had to decline because of the expense and distance involved but suggested that the society contact the Newcastle City Band a much better combination, he assured them, than the Bathurst Band (p. 29).

Bathurst Band also won praise for participating in the services at the City Oval on October 7th with other bands that had participated in the competition (the same service that was criticized by the Church).  A letter was sent by J. W. Nedwell and W. D. Hill, the Honorary Secretaries of the Soldiers’ Statue Fund to the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper, published on October 22nd where they thanked Bathurst Band and the other bands for their performances (Nedwell & Hill, 1900).

Unfortunately, a boundless rumor took hold after the competition about the conduct of the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band.  Said the opening of an article in The Bendigo Independent newspaper on the 19th of October:

We were informed that it has been rumoured in certain quarters, especially in Eaglehawk that the Eaglehawk Brass Band while in Ballarat last week competing for the band prizes, were guilty of conduct which incapacitated them from winning the prize.  One allegation was that they found Ballarat ale so enticing as to imagine that it had been specially brewed for them. (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

The article goes on to say that the rumors were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanor and behavior of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of the competition.  A Colonel Williams of the 3rd Battalion was quoted as saying in the article:

…he observed the men of the Eaglehawk Band on several occasions, and he heard nothing but praise for them all the time, and whoever started the slander ought to be “ducked” in a horse trough.  The people of Eaglehawk, he says, should feel very pleased with the behaviour of their bandsmen on their visit to Ballarat (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

It appears that there was no instance when the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band was inebriated while competing or on any other occasion.  The headline of the article is unfortunate and misleading.

In 1900, travel around the Nation cannot have been easy or cheap, so just getting to Ballarat was an achievement in itself.  The early railways were a lifeline which enabled bands and spectators to descend on Ballarat.  The Bathurst band were probably over traveling and trains when they finally arrived back home.

The competition:

The results of the competition were widely published in the newspapers of the day.  Indeed, many newspapers relied heavily on telegraphs direct from Ballarat and these were published a day or two after the competitions were held.  An article published in The Ballarat Star on Monday, October 8th was particularly detailed as all adjudications were shown (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900).  The three adjudicators were; “Ernest Wood, T. E. Bulch…and Captain Tom Riley” (Pattie, 2010, p. 13).  Bulch was an adjudicator however his former band was one of the competitors.  Thanks to the excellent resources of the Royal South Street Society results database, we can see how the bands and soloists fared on each day and the final results of the Aggregate.  The full lists of results located on the can be found via the links below – the Lord Nelson Mine Band (St. Arnaud) won the contest for this year:

As can be read in the cited article from The Ballarat Star, October 8th, criticisms were mixed about the playing of the bands.  Given that these were early days of Australian bands, with instruments that were not the quality they are now, the playing can only be imagined.  Greaves (1996) writes that “…with the exception of the winning combination, “untunefulness”, according to the judges’ reports, was a common fault in the playing of all the competitors.” (p. 29).  The selection of music was the norm of the day with many bands playing arrangements of Operas for their selections and early marches for the Quickstep.

After the competition, there was undoubtedly some comment on the music and playing of certain bands that came from the competitors themselves.  The conductor of the Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), Mr. George Harrison, was effusive in his comments by giving praise to some bands but criticizing his own band.  In some respects, he was also biting the hands that fed him! In an article published in the Launceston Daily Telegraph on October 11th, Mr. Harrison conceded that yes, “undoubtedly the best bands won” although he questioned the amateur status of the “St. Arnaud (Lord Nelson mine) band” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  However, when reminiscing on the playing of his own band he went on to say,

Of the Second Battalion, I have only to say that they deceived me in saying they could play their parts in the quickstep without the music, and which is verified by the judge’s remarks, vis., that the music was wrongly interpreted.  Outside the music they could have got but few points for their general appearance, the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms being severely condemned by the military judge (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).

Not much comment is made on the solo Cornet and Euphonium competitions aside to note that they took place – the newspaper articles of the day merely listed the results.  Although Mr. George Harrison, commenting on the Cornet contest said that. “The contest was most farcical, not a single competitor giving an acceptable performance of the test piece.” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  Duly noted, however, the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.

One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing an early benchmark in competition for subsequent years to follow.  Perhaps the early conductors saw this as a learning experience but there is no doubt that rivalry was entrenched in the early bands, despite there being a level of comradery as well.

Conclusion:

It would have been an amazing experience to step back in time and view this first competition.  No doubt that we would have been astounded by the crowds and festive atmosphere, the bands, the playing and the whole spectacle.  For a first contest, it was a huge success with everyone in Ballarat, and beyond, making it a success.  Giving that it was billed as ‘The Intercolonial Band Contest’, it probably didn’t live up to its full potential given that only two interstate bands played. Yet it set the scene for future competitions and the reputation spread.  It is a credit to these early organizers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.

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A later photo of the South Street Band contest on the City Oval. Date and bands unknown (Source: IBEW)

References:

7343: Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat [Online photograph]. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot7343.jpg

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

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

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

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

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia. Australia’s heritage in sound [sound recording .]. Australia: Sound Heritage Association.

HistoryInPhotos. (1900, 13 March 2009). 3350805372 Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [image]. flickr. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3350805372

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

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

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

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396

Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.

Royal South Street Society. (2018a). Brass Band Contest (First part of Selection Contest). Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018b). Brass Band Contest (Second part of Selection Contest) / Brass Band Contest – Aggregate. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018c). Cornet Solo (with piano accompaniment) – “My Old Kentucky Home”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (2018d). Euphonium Solos (with Piano Accopaniment) – “The Pilgrim of Love”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

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

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

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