For bands and for community: admire the rotunda

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

History not forgotten:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(p. 7)

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

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

(Rose, 2017, p. 12)

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

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

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

(Rose, 2017, p. 16)

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

Bands and Rotundas:

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

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

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

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

(A Lover of Music, 1893)

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

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

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

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

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

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

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

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

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

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

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

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

These sentiments sound very familiar to those of times past.

Commemorative rotundas:

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

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

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

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

(“Band Rotunda Wanted.,” 1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposals, building and public opinion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 

Bands on Australian islands: unique challenges in unique environments

19320000_phillip-island-bb_phot16005
Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932 (Source: IBEW)

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles.  In addition, this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons from former secure health facilities in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles.

Introduction:

When we look at the distribution of brass bands in Australia between 1900 – 1950 we can see that they mushroomed everywhere.  Some towns and localities were lucky to have two or three.  Bands merged, split, started, and ended, and we know that individual bandsmen were great traveler and had various loyalties.  Given the size of Australia, it can be assumed that geography was an early challenge – it took a long time to get anywhere and obtain the fundamentals for running a band.  Yet the early bands did it and several bands survived.

This post is about the brass bands that were located on some of the islands that surround Australia.  In selecting the islands and bands, I took a punt with some and accidentally found some others.  When looking for stories and histories I found that information on these island bands was a bit hit and miss.  In some cases, there were only one or two newspaper articles (that I found) where there was only a mere mention of a band.  Timelines were difficult to establish but we can get a rough guess based on early articles and later articles.  However, the fact that these bands had an existence of sorts only adds to the rich history of bands in this country.

I started this post with a disclaimer.  The reason for this is that two of the bands were located on islands where Aboriginal missions were established, and another band was located on a small island that once housed a facility for isolating people with leprosy.  To delve deeper in the pasts of these missions and this facility uncovered some disturbing facts, as I tried to build a background as to why bands were established in these locations.  All locations had unfortunate pasts which will have to be acknowledged in this post, but we recognize that at the time, bands were created with a similar purpose to those in other locations.

This post will address each location, or groups of locations in turn and we will see that the bands in these places were innovative, dedicated and proud.  We will also see that they were engaged with island life and that being a band on an island had a special meaning.  These bands may not have had the reputation or resources of bigger ensembles, but they did have a certain spirit given to them by their locations.

Kangaroo Island (South Australia):

Kangaroo Island, located off the coast of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia is nominally Australia’s third largest island behind Tasmania and Melville Island (Sealink Travel Group, 2019).  At 155km in length and up to 55km in wide it is big in area but contains only four main settlements, of which Kingscote is the main town (Sealink Travel Group, 2019).  The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association has documented history prior to 1836 however most of the recorded history occurs after this date (Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association, 2019).

We first see mention of a brass band on Kangaroo Island in an article published by The Register in 1906 which makes mention of a concert presented by the Kingscote Brass Band (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).  This concert was in aid of an instrument fund and was basically a social evening and dance. However, the article also makes mention of another performance held during a lunch hour where the band, with some innovation, broadcast their performance by telephone!  As written in the article:

Last Tuesday, during the luncheon hour, through the courtesy of the P.M. here (Mr. Lamprey), the Kingscote Brass Band played selections through the telephone to Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda Lighthouses.  The music was much appreciated by the watchers by the sea at either end of the island.  Cape Borda is 70 miles westerly from Kingscote, and Cape Willoughby is about 30 miles easterly.

(“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906)

To think they did this in 1906 is quite remarkable and inventive.

The activities of the Kingscote Brass Band were mentioned in the local newspaper, The Kangaroo Island Courier in late 1907 where they were noted for wanting to present a program of Christmas Carols and marches on Christmas Eve (“Kingscote Brass Band Items.,” 1907).  This is in addition to their fundraising effort for new instruments.  In the middle of 1908, the said newspaper received a letter from a mainlander who had read an article in Australian Bandsman about the travel of Kingscote Brass Band members (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908).  In his letter he says, “I think the 12-mile man is the bandmaster and he deserves a lot of encouragement for his trouble” and then proceeds to wax lyrically, “…although I don’t suppose he considers it a trouble, as all men who are interested in their particular band never find anything troublesome where the band is concerned.” (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908).

Kangaroo Island Courier, 21/12/1907, p. 3

We have been told.

There is a further mention of the Kingscote Brass Band giving a performance in 1921 where they were noted for showing improvement in their playing (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921).  The article mentions that they had been tutored by their former conductor who was visiting the island after a 10-year absence (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921).  Unfortunately, due to limited resources, it is unclear how much longer this band survived. However, it is clear from this brief amount of information that they were appreciated when they performed.

King Island (Tasmania):

King Island is located in the middle of Bass Strait off the northern coast of Tasmania.  It is renowned for its produce although it has never had a big population, there are some well-known localities on the island.  It is also known for the ruggedness of its coastline and there are many instances of shipping coming to grief on the rocks. The main center of population is the town of Currie where they still have a community band.

In terms of early brass bands, King Island is unique as there are two brass bands mentioned as having existed in the early 1900s.  Information on this band also comes from an island newspaper, the King Island News and we first see a mention people wanting for form a band in Currie in 1914 (“King Island.”, 1914).  Although two years later the Currie Brass Band has still not been founded and the money that was initially raised has been donated to wounded King Island soldiers returning from World War 1 (“No title,” 1916).

In 1918 the King Island News reported on the formation of another brass band, this time in the mining settlement of Grassy which is located on the eastern side of the Island (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918).  Initially called the Grassy Brass Band, this band was actually set up by the mining company for the recreation of employees at the mine and was known as the King Island Tungsten Brass Band (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918).  This band was called for all over the island and in 1919 was noted for its performances of Christmas music in Currie (“No title,” 1919).

Again, this is another instance where some history is incomplete as we don’t know for certain when this band stopped operations.  While the articles are not listed, the King Island Tungsten Brass Band did numerous engagements on the island and were a valued part of the island community.

Phillip Island (Victoria):

Phillip Island is an island that occupies the southern portion of Westernport Bay in Victoria and is well-connected to the rest of the state by road and ferry.  People might know it because of certain penguins however it has had a long history of settlement and there are several towns on the island with the main town being Cowes.

It should be no surprise that a brass band formed on Phillip Island in the township of Cowes.  The Phillip Island Brass Band was much more proactive than any other brass bands on Australian islands and were much more well-traveled.  They were even proactive enough to enter the South Street band contests on two occasions and took themselves on an educational trip around Tasmania (Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934; “Visiting Band,” 1947).

Examiner, 30/08/1947, p. 3

A proposal to form the Phillip Island Brass Band is mentioned in an informative article from the Frankston and Somerville Standard on the 30thMay, 1923 (“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923).  They had all the right intentions too, as the article opens with these platitudes:

An effort is being made to form a brass band on Phillip Island.  The advantages of such an institution are many.  Anything that will encourage the practice of music, especially concerted music, is worthy of hearty support, and the metal and moral benefit derived by any young man who gives his mind and time to learning an instrument is great.

(“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923)

The article goes on to note that the promoters of the band were under no illusions as to what they might need in terms of men willing to join the band, instruments, a hall to play in, and a whole host of other items.  The Island Progress Association, as well as the local council, were behind the project and a band was formed.

19340709_herald_phibb-crop
Herald, 09/07/1934, p. 8

As mentioned, the band was quite proactive in the way they did things, even bordering on the unusual.  For example, to help raise funds for a trip to the South Street contests in 1934, a picture of a bandsman helping with the chicory harvest was published in the Herald newspaper (above) – this was apparently a common activity at the time (“COWES BANDMEN HANDLE CHICORY CROP,” 1934).  They did make it to South Street, twice, once in 1932 where they competed in C and D grades and also in 1934 where they only competed in D grade.  The results of their endeavors are listed in the table below:

Year:Competition:Grade:Section:Points:Place:
1932Victorian Band ChampionshipsCNo. 1 Test Piece124
No. 2 Test Piece120
Quickstep133
DNo. 1 Test PIece1203rd
No. 2 Test PIece1193rd
Quickstep1263rd
1934Victorian Band ChampionshipsDSelection277Equal 3rd
Quickstep1674th
(source of table data: Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934)

Aside from this, they were well-known and in 1935 they were one of the bands to form a Gippsland Branch of the Victorian Bands’ League with other bands from Warragul, Wonthaggi, Korumburra, Leongatha and Dandenong (“Victorian Bands League.,” 1935).

The Age, 8/10/1935, p. 4

There seems to have been some disquiet after the band returned from Tasmania in 1947.  In January 1953 the State Governor visited Phillip Island and the visit was written up in an article in The Argus newspaper.  As the article says:

Yesterday was an exciting day for Cowes, Phillip Island.  Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor, paid his first official visit to the island and almost everybody, including the town’s brass band, turned out for the occasion.

Until last week the band had been “in recess for four years,” as one member tactfully put it.  But it acquitted itself well.

(“Cowes turned out to meet the Governor,” 1953)

The cause and conclusion of this four-year recess might require further research.

The Trove archive has some limitations as articles fall into copyright from 1955 so we don’t exactly know when the Phillip Island Brass band went defunct.  But they are one of the well-documented bands with further information to be found on the website of the Phillip Island & District Historical Society.

Palm Island and Thursday Island (Queensland):

Palm Island Brass Band, Queensland, 1931 (source: State Library of Queensland: 166102)

Palm and Thursday islands are located off the coast of Queensland with Palm Island near the coast at Townsville and Thursday Island in the Torres Strait off the far northern tip of Queensland.  These islands are mentioned because of their unique status as former Indigenous Missions and the fact that both former missions once had brass bands.

This post will not go into the pros and cons of Indigenous missions aside to say that they existed and are part of Australia’s history.  It was a very different time with different attitudes, and we can only assume that the people who once ran these institutions thought they were doing the right thing by Indigenous people.  A brass band was obviously seen as a binding activity and one which other Australians would accept.

Unfortunately, the language in local newspapers that mentioned the bands were as one would expect from this time.  There was interest in the island bands and we see in an article from 1926 published in The Northern Miner newspaper that the bandmaster of The Towers Concert Band visited the island to assist the Indigenous conductor and was duly thanked in a letter from the Palm Island Band conductor (“PALM ISLAND BAND,” 1926).  By some accounts, the people of the island appreciated the fact that a brass band, as well as a football team and cricket team, had been set up by the Superintendent of the settlement, and certainly, these were seen as worthwhile activities (Watson, 2005).   In 1927 the football team and brass band visited Townsville and apparently “astonished” the crowd – for both football and music (“FOOTBALL,” 1927).

Daily Mercury, 26/09/1927, p. 7

Slightly differently, the Thursday Island Brass Band once included “white and black players” pre-war but was reformed after the war with just aboriginal musicians (“ISLANDERS’ BRASS BAND,” 1952).   Both bands were clearly still in operation in the 1950’s, but clearly the novelty of having Indigenous bands had not changed, despite this cited article providing additional information (“‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’,” 1953).  In 1954 the Palm Island Brass Band was to be included in a mass-gathering of bands in Townsville to greet Queen Elizabeth (“Townsville Band Festival,” 1954).

We can always judge the attitudes of the time as being unfortunate and the language as patronising.  We also know that there are still bands dotted across the Top End and some very good music programs that are helping to reform a culture of Indigenous community bands (Cray, 2013; Sexton-McGrath, 2014).  In some respects, these former Mission bands as well as other mainland mission bands created a legacy that has given new life to new bands.

Peel Island (Queensland) and Norfolk Island:

We come now to Peel Island and Norfolk Island, both very different places yet both have interesting pasts.

Peel Island is located in Moreton Bay, Brisbane and is a former Quarantine Station.  Yet for many years it housed people forcibly removed from home and family for being contracted with Leprosy.  By all accounts, this was harsh, isolated, unforgiving and primitive place and it accommodated people from all backgrounds and races (Brown, 2018).  The churches were the only organisations to try to bring comfort to the inmates and it is noted in 1928 that one Churchman made an appeal for an Eb Bass for a member of the Peel Island Brass Band (“CHURCH NEWS.,” 1928).

This is the first evidence we have that there was a band of sorts on Peel Island and newspaper articles sporadically reported on the various iterations of the band (“SIDE DRUM WANTED FOR PEEL ISLAND’S BAND,” 1945). Likewise, there are also reports of bands visiting the Island to entertain the inmates  – the picture below is of a Salvation Army band visiting Peel Island in 1920 and in 1939 the Brisbane Juvenile Band was part of a concert party (“Concert At Peel Island,” 1939).

19200000_peel-island_salvation-band
Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during the 1920s (source: State Library of Queensland: 74802)

Norfolk Island is another place with a very interesting past and the inhabitants are extremely proud of their history (Low, 2012).  Located off the coast of NSW, the inhabitants display a very independent streak, despite their association with Australia.  Which makes it all the more interesting that there is mention of a brass band that once existed on Norfolk Island.  There is not much to indicate the brass band existed apart from rare mentions in Australian newspapers.  We see mentions of a band in 1904, 1905 and 1926 where they are mentioned as being in attendance at official events and for rehearsing every week (Barnes, 1926; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1904; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1905).  It is unclear when the Norfolk Island Band officially started or ended.

Conclusion:

It is quite clear that these early brass bands of our islands had their own unique histories, although one might call them quirks.  While there are many similarities to other bands located on the mainland, the isolation and geography meant they had to be innovative and were also part of their communities.  It is fortunate that we can read about them now and wonder at their existence.  The knowledge that some of them existed in questionable environments is also a wonder but also indicates that they were a sign of the times.

We appreciate that these bands were part of a greater movement and that we can acknowledge the history.

References:

‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’. (1953, 19 January). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50564060

Barnes, J. (1926, 11 June). UNDER BLUE SKIES : Life on Norfolk Island : No. 4. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104960531

Brown, A. (2018, 07 July). Queensland’s last leper colony reveals its secrets. Brisbane Times. https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/queensland-s-last-leper-colony-reveals-its-secrets-20180704-p4zpd1.html

CHURCH NEWS. (1928, 29 September). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21343088

Concert At Peel Island. (1939, 26 March). Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98238889

COWES BANDMEN HANDLE CHICORY CROP. (1934, 09 July). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243161356

Cowes turned out to meet the Governor. (1953, 22 January). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23223484

Cray, S. (2013, 14 August). Brass band babies. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 14 August 2013 from https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/intothemusic/brass-band-babies/4887046

ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS. (1908, 11 July). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191629848

FOOTBALL : Aboriginal Team. : Defeats Townsville. (1927, 26 September). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173762864

ISLANDERS’ BRASS BAND. (1952, 31 May). Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216499386

Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association. (2019). History. Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://www.kipioneers.org/history

KING ISLAND : Grassy News. (1918, 21 May). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50981378

“King Island.” “Fat Stock for Victoria.” “Dear Beef for Launceston.”. (1914, 29 May). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217035552

THE KINGSCOTE BAND. (1921, 19 March). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191552031

Kingscote Brass Band Items. (1907, 21 December). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191635685

Low, M. K. (2012). Putting down roots : belonging and the politics of settlement on Norfolk Island (Publication Number 9451462) [PhD, University of Western Australia, School of Social Sciences]. University of Western Australia Research Repository. Perth, Western Australia. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/putting-down-roots-belonging-and-the-politics-of-settlement-on-no

MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA. (1906, 21 November). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56693536

No title. (1916, 17 March). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212036865

No title. (1919, 08 January). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212038832

NORFOLK ISLAND. (1904, 22 March). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19271611

NORFOLK ISLAND : Empire Celebration. (1905, 26 June). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14687675

PALM ISLAND BAND : An interesting letter. (1926, 13 February). Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80657422

Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932. (1932). [Photograph]. [phot16005]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND. (1923, 30 May). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75954089

Royal South Street Society. (1932, 29 October). 1932-10-29 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1932-10-29-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1934, 03 November). 1934-11-03 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1934-11-03-brass-band-contests

Sealink Travel Group. (2019). About Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Sealink. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://www.sealink.com.au/about-kangaroo-island/

Sexton-McGrath, K. (2014, 09 November). Yarabah Band Festival: Return of the brass band brings thousands out to Indigenous community. ABC News Queensland. Retrieved 31 January 2019 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-09/yarrabah-band-festival-brass-band-brings-thousands-to-community/5877834

SIDE DRUM WANTED FOR PEEL ISLAND’S BAND. (1945, 27 June). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48954474

Townsville Band Festival. (1954, 09 February). Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81658839

Unidentified. (1920). Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s [copy print : b&w]. [74802]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OneSearch. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680

Unidentified. (1931). Palm Island Brass Band, Queensland [photographic print : black & white , 1931.]. [166102]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, One Search. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/220300

Victorian Bands League. (1935, 08 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203851495

Visiting Band. (1947, 30 August). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52603726

The A.B.C. Military Band: an ensemble of the times

S6.2_20180609_19310000_ABC-Military-Band_Postcard
Postcard of the A.B.C Military Band. Possibly in 1930 or 1931 (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

Introduction:

To view the early history of bands in this country would be to see a history that is based around brass bands.  This was no accident as much of the brass band culture was imported into the Antipodes by early settlers from the United Kingdom (Bythell, 2000).  However, in amongst this brass band culture, there were a few oddities in the form of military bands – bands that included woodwinds.  They were a rarity, but they certainly existed.  One of the most famous groups was the A.B.C. Military Band which was only in operation from 1930 – 1951.  This ensemble built an enviable reputation for their playing, sound, and demeanor.

Military bands were not new ensembles in Australia, certainly not in name.  But the A.B.C. Military Band accomplished much more than previous ensembles, no doubt partly due to the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C.’s radio network.  Also, it provided many musicians with a unique employment opportunity, guidance by the best wind band conductors that could be found, and a large following through Australia.

This post will delve into the short history of the band with material mainly found through the Trove archive and will highlight some of the more interesting stories of this ensemble.  Depending on which history is read, most will say the band started in 1933 however this isn’t the case as it essentially started in 1930.  There are only limited photos of the band that seem to exist which are displayed with this post.

Unfortunately, the band is no longer part of the musical landscape, so we have only articles and photos that preserve the memory.  And as will be seen, in the end, the ensemble was closed due to reasons that are only too familiar today.

1930-1933: Starting a band:

To start this small history, we need to see what the A.B.C. was doing regarding the running and broadcasting of its own ensembles.  From using the Trove archive, we can find that in-house ensembles were barely getting started if they existed at all.  Interestingly there was one that stood out.  In 1929 the Table Talk newspaper published an article on the famous conductor Percy Code, who was an eminent bandsman and composer (Gibbney, 1981).  Percy, in amongst his other musical activities, was the conductor of the 3LO Orchestra which was labeled as being the “National Broadcasting Orchestra” – the A.B.C., at the insistence of the Government, had taken over several radio services and when taking over 3LO had gained an orchestra as well! (Bradish, 1929).  Unfortunately, this article is the only mention of such an orchestra although 3LO broadcast many forms of music during this time, including brass bands (“3LO.,” 1929).

Argus, 29/10/1930, p. 15

In 1930, articles first start appearing mentioning a newly-formed A.B.C Military Band.  Although, just about all of the articles only provided details on when the band could be heard on the radio (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  What we do know is that the great Harry Shugg, the famous conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, was the first conductor of the band in 1930, a position he apparently held until 1933 (“CONDUCTOR AT 18.,” 1931).  The postcard at the start of this post shows him in front of the band in what looks like a recording studio.

19340000_ABC-Mil-Band-Perth
ABC Military Band on Tour, Possibly in 1934 (Source: Western Australia Television History)

1933 – 1934: Guest Conductor, Capt. Adkins:

This time period was perhaps the most interesting for the A.B.C. Military Band with superb guest conductors, a new focus on musicality and National tours (Ken, 2012).  In November 1933 the A.B.C. assembled 40 musicians from around Australia to form a new Military Band, which, according to the article, was only supposed to be engaged for 10 weeks (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).  They were initially conducted by their deputy conductor, Mr. R. McAnally (another prominent bandsman), until the guest conductor Capt. H. E. Adkins, the then Director of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, commenced his position (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).

19340303_WeeklyTimes_Adkins
Weekly Times, 03/03/1934, p. 8

Capt. Adkins arrived in Australia in December 1933 and immediately started conducting the band.  He apparently had trepidations over what he was about to do but was quickly won over after his first rehearsal with the ensemble (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  When speaking at a club in Sydney about his initial experiences with the band, he said that while on his way out from England, “I had a feeling of anxiety, but it disappeared after our first practice yesterday.  I was very agreeably surprised, and in a few months’ time the band will be the equal of any in the world” (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  The band commenced touring around Australia and the choice of Capt. Adkins as Guest Conductor won praise in many places.  The Evening News from Rockhampton was one newspaper that published an enthusiastic article by stating at one point that Capt. Adkins , “…is recognized as the world’s greatest authority on woodwind instruments” (“A.B.C. National Military Band.,” 1934).  Likewise, a reporter with the pseudonym of “G.K.M.” writing for the Weekly Times newspaper congratulated the A.B.C. and noted that Capt. Adkins “…is setting a new standard for Australian bandsmen.” (G.K.M., 1934).  A month later the Weekly Times published a picture of Capt. Adkins at his farewell from Australia (“The Adkins Way,” 1934).

A later article from 1941, published in the Portland Guardian after Capt. Adkins had left the band (and Australia), followed through on some of memories and anecdotes of his tenure in front of the band.  We see a bandsman who was brought out to bring an ensemble up to a very fine standard of playing – and that’s exactly what he did!

Cleve Martin, now deputy-conductor, and E Flat clarinetist under Adkins, is one who remembers the swaggering, lovable, downright English band-leader.

“Take this so-and-so stand away, I never use the thing”

That first remark from Captain Adkins was typical of his downright ‘take no nonsense’ style,” says Cleve Martin. It was a blitz beginning with the Empire’s No. 1 bandsman, but the players soon became used to his roars and worked hard to give him the precision that he sought.

“The musical monologue is my method of conducting,” Adkins explained to the boys.  “I’ll talk to you all the time during rehearsal and in public performances.

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

There was much more that Adkins did for the band and much more on how he acted in front of band members and audience. Firm, but fair would probably be an accurate way to describe his mannerisms, without being too over the top:

He could become personal, although never malicious.  To a drummer : “I love every hair on your bald head, but when I say roll on the drums – roll!!!”

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

He was truly loyal to this band, so much so that he could not say goodbye to them in person when it was time to go.

His comradeship with the National Military Band was staunch.  Beneath the brusque sergeant-major manner was a soft nature.  He demanded the best possible playing, but also worked himself, and was deeply appreciative of the band’s response.  He expressed his attitude in a farewell wire to the band : “Sorry I failed to see you off.  At the last moment I realised I could not face it.”  At the hotel that night, someone noticed that he was on the verge of tears.

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

Having finished his guest appointment, Capt. Adkins returned home to England and Stephen Yorke resumed his direction of the band.

19410000_Hood_ABC-Mil-Band
ABC Military Band playing with ABC commentator on a vessel. (Source: flickr : Australian National Maritime Museum)

1934 – 1951: Concerts, the War and the final years:

As with any organization of its size, the A.B.C. was not immune to industrial trouble and in the middle part of 1934, there was a court case over the rate of pay for the Military Band musicians (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Stephen Yorke had taken over as conductor by this time and was asked to give evidence in court.  The crux of the issue was over which players in the band deserved extra remuneration as the court had decided that the band was like an orchestra with actual principal players.  Mr. Yorke apparently stated that any player in the band could be considered a principal player as they all played some kind of solo part – but he didn’t have knowledge of the industrial award that distinguished between “leaders” and “principals” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Whereas the Musicians’ Union countered that the principal players should be the first player of any class of instrument, and any single players of an instrument (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Capt. Adkins in his treatise had said that “the oboe was essentially a solo and color instrument.  Therefore an oboe player must be called upon at times to perform work comparable to that of a principal.” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  The final decision was that the commission followed the argument put forward by the Musicians’ Union where the principal players were the first players of a group of instruments and any player of single instruments were considered to be the principals (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).

In the year of 1936, we see the band, under the baton of Stephen Yorke, continue their series of broadcasts, concerts and other engagements around Australia.  Under Mr. Yorke, the reviews indicate that the quality and standard have not diminished, and they are receiving rave reviews (“A.B.C. Military Band.,” 1936).  Unfortunately, the A.B.C. raised the ire of some listeners who wanted more brass band music to be played, and berated the A.B.C. for putting on the wrong kind of music –they expressed support for regular performances of the military band as well (“A.B.C. Neglects the Bands.,” 1938).

The Second World War started in 1939 and the A.B.C. Military Band was there to lift the spirits of Australians over the radio with patriotic music  As can be seen in the article here published by the Shepparton Advertiser, it enthusiastically endorses the music played by the band on the radio (“NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS,” 1941).

19410127_SheppartonAdv_ABC-Mil-Band-Sessions
Shepparton Advertiser, 27/01/1941, p. 4

As with most other organizations war hit home with the sad passing of an ex-member of the band at Tobruk.  The Smith’s Weekly newspaper in October 1941 published an obituary for Clarinetist John Smith, and highlighted his musical excellence:

A brilliant young musician, he took two scholarships at the Sydney Conservatorium for clarinet playing, and was considered one of the finest artists on that instrument in Australia.

Graduating from the Conservatorium, he went straight into the A.B.C. Military Band.  At the time of his enlistment he was a member of a leading Sydney theatre orchestra.

About 12 months ago he went overseas with a battalion of Pioneers, and served throughout the Middle East.

He wrote to a friend in the A.B.C. Military Band:

“My work in field stretcher-bearing which is the fate of all good bandsmen. It has proved quite interesting, though sometimes hard to take.  It has given me the opportunity of witnessing some examples of sheer braver and doggedness that other chaps probably never see.”

(“Ex-A.B.C. Musician Killed At Tobruk,” 1941)

Sadly, it was through doing this job that Smith lost his life.

After the conclusion of hostilities, we see the band resume its normal activities of performances and broadcasts which continued through the rest of the 1940’s (“A.B.C. BAND CONCERT,” 1946; “A.B.C. BAND RECITAL,” 1948).  Stephen Yorke was still the conductor of the band.

As another measure of the quality of musicians that were associated with the band, one of them was Tuba player Cliff Goodchild.  Cliff’s first real musical position was with the A.B.C. Military Band and after the band ended he gained a position with the Sydney Symphony, a position he held for 36 years (Veitch, 2008).  He was also a consummate bandsman and over his lifetime held positions as “Secretary of the National Band Council of Australia, President of the Band Association of NSW, founder and co-organiser of the NSW School Bands Festival and formed a number of bands, including the Waverly Bondi Beach Brass Band and the Sydney Brass” (Veitch, 2008).

Funding cuts brought about by Australian Federal Government in 1951 leave the A.B.C. no choice but to close the band  (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).  This was a bitter end to a no doubt special period in Australian ensembles where we had a band that was excellent in its playing and revered throughout Australia. At the final concert in Sydney, conductor Stephen Yorke thanked the band and the audiences for their appreciation of the ensemble (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

19511015_TheAge_ABC-Mil-Band-Farewell
The Age, 15/10/1951, p. 3

Conclusion:

By all accounts this was a truly remarkable band; the finest musicians from all over Australia brought together under various conductors and being boosted to higher and higher levels.  A band that all Australians supported and were proud of. We see the high praise given to the conductors and musicians and with the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C., the sound of the band is heard Australia-wide.  From reading the articles of the time, we just have to wonder why they would cut such a fine ensemble?  But as we know, governments change and priorities change.  Who knows what the band could have become had the Federal government of the day not enforced funding cuts?

References:

3LO : St. Augustine’s Band. (1929, 05 October). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29626577

The Adkins Way. (1934, 03 March). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223202315

A.B.C. BAND : Visiting Conductor’s Praise. (1933, 16 December). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11721475

A.B.C. BAND CONCERT. (1946, 02 June). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229456055

A.B.C. BAND RECITAL. (1948, 30 May). Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169373651

A.B.C. Band’s Farewell. (1951, 15 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205334832

A.B.C. Military Band. (1936, 17 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204916718

A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg. (1930?). [Postcard : L13.8cm – W8.8cm]. [0016]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b39988221ea6d0008c461a6

A.B.C. MILITARY BAND : Forty Players Selected. (1933, 14 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203351163

A.B.C. National Military Band. (1934, 16 January 1934). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201261855

A.B.C. Neglects the Bands. (1938, 02 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206948874

Australian National Maritime Museum. (2006, 29 August). ABC Military Band playing with ABC commentator on a vessel, 1933-1951 [Photograph ]. flickr. Retrieved 08 July 2018 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/anmm_thecommons/8525965007/

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. 

CONDUCTOR AT 18 : Harry Shugg’s Career. : PROMINENT BANDSMAN. (1931, 01 January). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67694778

Ex-A.B.C. Musician Killed At Tobruk. (1941, 11 October). Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234602068

G.K.M. (1934, 17 February). New Standard in Band Music. Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223199691

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 5707 from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

IN THE LAW COURTS : A.B.C. Military Band : Extra Pay for Principals. : Court Decides Who They Are. (1934, 11 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205536311

Ken. (2012, 20 August). The 6WF Story – Part 2 of 3 : The Australian Broadcasting Commission. Western Australian Television History (WA TV History). http://watvhistory.com/2012/08/the-6wf-story-part-2-of-3/

MILITARY BAND AT 3LO. (1930, 29 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4214065

NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS. (1941, 27 January). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175188421

STARS OF THE RADIO : Founder of the National Military Band : Picturesque Major Adkins. (1941, 27 November). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64402540

Veitch, H. (2008, 02 August). Bold as brass in pushing the bands : Cliff Goodchild, 1926-2008. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/bold-as-brass-in-pushing-the-bands-20080802-gdsoq6.html

Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark

Introduction:

If one were to read various articles or histories of brass bands or view photos from a period from 1900-1950s, they would notice an almost total lack of material relating to women playing brass instruments.  This is not to say that women were not involved in brass banding with the many women’s’ auxiliaries supporting bands.  However, when women did play brass instruments it was reported very differently to male brass bands.  It did not help matters that some articles from newspapers were patronizing in tone and that female brass bands when they were formed, were treated as a novelty – until they started playing!

It was a different time, and in the period from 1900 to the 1950s society was in almost constant upheaval with two world wars and the Great Depression to contend with.  However, people craved things that were familiar to them so in some cases where male brass bands were not available, a female brass band was formed.  The Salvation Army was at the forefront of female brass bands but even their bands were treated as a novelty.  What is evident from the research is that there were pockets where female brass bands were welcomed, but in other quarters attitudes were hard to shake.

This is an aspect of Australian band history that is probably not well known, however, it is important to recognize the fact that while female brass bands were rare, they certainly made their mark and paved the way for more females to join bands in the latter half of the last century.  The story here will cover some of the more notable female brass bands that were formed, and some personalities.  Yes, there was some underlying sexism, and this will be touched on – we wonder at these attitudes today.  These historical pictures and articles tell an amazing story of life and from this, we can see the achievements of female band musicians.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no definitive list of female brass bands in Australia. However, due to the rarity of female brass bands, others have attempted to create a listing and the list by Gavin Holman has included the more notable Australian female bands (Holman, 2018).  Hopefully, in the near future, a more substantial list will be produced.

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Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band, 1933 (source: State Library of South Australia: PRG+1555/2/1)

Enter the Salvation Army:

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Daily Telegraph, 16/08/1905, p. 8

The Salvation Army has always been well-known for the quality and musical standard of their brass bands, and this reputation has stretched back for many decades.  So it was near the start of the 1900’s that the Salvation Army, having run male brass bands for many years, started a female brass band and it is from this decision that the Daily Telegraph publishes an article in 1905 with a patronizing headline (“AN AMAZON BRASS BAND.,” 1905).  This is but one early example where the formation of a female brass band is treated as a novelty, despite being formed by the Salvation Army.  As can be read in the article, part of it focuses on the uniforms the members will be wearing, but nothing on the women playing instruments.

This band is taken on tour and is used as a demonstration band in various towns and cities.  On the 8thof February 1906, the Barrier Miner newspaper covers the visit of the “Austral Brass Band” to town and the article is a perfect display of attitude giving way to admiration (“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  As the reporter has written,

Some curiosity has been aroused by the advent in Broken Hill of a ladies’ brass band having for its name “The Austral” and being comprised of 21 lady performers dressed in Salvation Army costume.  As these bandswomen took the tram to the southern suburb last night, many observers speculated on what their bright faces must suffer when puffed up at the end of a bass instrument or when trying to sustain a long passage on the cornet.

From the opening number it was easy to see that the Austral Band is one that is worth listening to.  The bandswomen do not stand when rendering a selection, but are seated in four rows, and seem to exert themselves no more than is absolutely necessary.  The effect of the music in the piano passages is much sweeter and less masculine than a men’s band, while the forte portions of the selections are surprising in their volume of sound.  The attention to time and harmony which was evinced in last night’s performance discloses the long training which the Austral Band must have been through under a good master.”

(“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

Very much an article of two halves and the language is varied.  Unfortunately, the perception that females should not be playing brass instruments due to the aesthetics of playing is one that is published occasionally, as will be seen in a later article.

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Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

Around the States, but mainly in South Australia:

The formation of female brass bands was not consistent across Australia and it is evident that in some States the idea of female brass bands was not supported.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note where they formed (and which bands they were).  Holman (2018) has listed these bands as having existed in the time period from 1900-1950:

New South Wales:Queensland:South Australia:
Silver City Ladies’ Brass BandBrisbane Ladies Coronation Brass BandBurra Cheer-up Girls Brass Band
Sydney Ladies Brass BandClare Girls’ Band
Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band
Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band
(p. 71-723)

As can be seen, by this list, South Australia had a number of female brass bands during this time and as Holman has written that this was mainly due to bandsmen enlisting in the armed services for WWI, and the women stepped forward to form bands (Holman, 2018).  Certainly, this was the case for the bands from the towns of Burra and Clare (Sara, 2014).  The Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in 1919 and built themselves up over many years (“A LADIES’ BRASS BAND.,” 1919).  The Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band is interesting as it was obviously formed in the same manner as other orphanage bands, although by looking at the photo in their article they included woodwinds as well (“WEEK’S PICTURES,” 1923).  The playing from this orphanage band was well regarded and appreciated (“THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL.,” 1922).  The photos below attest to the presentation and demeanor of these ensembles.

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Courier-Mail, 07/03/1934, p. 10

Both New South Wales and Queensland had female bands, but these were formed much later than the bands in South Australia, although obviously, the Salvation Army female band is an exception.  The Silver City Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in Broken Hill in 1940 and the Brisbane Ladies band was formed around the same time (“Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City,” 1940; Holman, 2018).  On a side note, it is the idea of a female band forming in Brisbane that brought out another bout of sexist (and instrumentalist?) behavior in the media with the publication of a letter in a local newspaper in 1934 (Incredulous, 1934).  As can be read in the letter, the language says it all and mirrors that of the writing from 1906 – old attitudes don’t seem to go away.  In later years, as mentioned in a previous blog post, a girls’ brass band was started at Balranald High School and a picture of them is in this article from 1949 (“GIRLS and a BRASS BAND,” 1949).

The story of the Sydney Ladies’ Brass band will be brought up later in this post as it has a special story which is interlinked with a story from Victoria.

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Clare Girls’ Band, 1914 (Source: IBEW)
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Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band, 1940 (Source: IBEW)
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Silver City ladies’ Band, 1940 (Source: IBEW)

Female bands in Victoria?:

Victoria has long been regarded as a center of bands however when it came to female bands there was a distinct lack of progression.  Through research, it appears that the first real proposal for starting a female brass band appeared in 1937, which is late compared to South Australia (“LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED,” 1937).  One could perhaps view this as bandsmen conservatism.  All was not lost in Victoria as the Salvation Army formed a ladies’ band in 1945, as can be seen by the picture below.

Melbourne Ladies’ Salvation Army Band, 1945 (Source: IBEW)

However, in amongst this came the remarkable story of Hilda Tansey who eventually became Australia’s first recognized female band conductor (Bound for Australia, 2014).

The cited blog post outlines much of Hilda’s life in brass banding. In summary, Hilda learned brass from her father and traveled with her father around Victoria (Bound for Australia, 2014).  Her father (who was a noted bandsman in his own right) eventually became the bandmaster of the Traralgon Brass Band and it is here where we first see a picture of Hilda with her Tenor Horn sitting in amongst the other band members (see below) (Bound for Australia, 2014).  This was obviously an extreme rarity in Victorian banding to have a young female playing brass in a proper brass band.  Yet soon after this photo was taken, Hilda is listed as a member of the Traralgon soloists that were entered in the A.N.A competition (Melbourne) in 1917 (“Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions.,” 1917).  Hilda’s career in bands progressed from this time.

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Traralgon Brass Band, 1915? (Source: IBEW)

The Sydney Ladies’ Band:

The Sydney Ladies’ band deserves special mention for being the most well-known of all female brass bands in Australia, and even more so after Hilda was appointed conductor in 1934 (Bound for Australia, 2014; Holman, 2018).  Again, much has been written about the Sydney Ladies’ Band by Holman and the Bound for Australia blog post, so this is a summary of the life of the band.  The band was formed in 1930 but had early financial difficulties however Hilda and other ladies took it over in 1934 and had the debt repaid through member contributions, paid engagements and social functions (Holman, 2018).

The band was quite busy in Sydney and participated in numerous parades and other events (Bound for Australia, 2014).  In 1936 the band broke even more ground by becoming the first female brass band to enter the City of Sydney Interstate Band Contest in the Open D Grade section against eight male brass bands (“WOMEN’S BAND,” 1936).   During the years of WW2 the band was involved in entertaining troops at various camps, however, later in the war years “the R.S.L. refused to let the band march on ANZAC Day 1945, and this was a contributing factor to the members’ decision to disband.” (Holman, 2018, p. 73).  As for Hilda Tansey, she kept up with her brass band activities and is seen in a picture from the 1960s playing with the Randwick District Town Band (Bound for Australia, 2015).

19341006_Sydney-Ladies_Brass_H2009.32:8
Sydney Ladies’ Band, 1934 (Source: State Library Victoria: pi007746)

Conclusion:

Against some odds, there were female brass bands in Australia and these bands, for the brief time they were in existence, made their mark and gained favorable reputations.  It is unfortunate these bands did not survive; however, it is shown that their legacy lives on.  Who is to say if they were ahead of their time as some bands were started out of a social necessity, whereas other bands were started as recreation and training for women and girls.

We can look back at those times and wonder what it was like and thankfully there are the articles and photos that allow us to do that.  We can also look back and wonder at the attitudes and language from some quarters where they felt that women should not play brass instruments due to aesthetics! Nevertheless, where there was a will, there was a way as Hilda Tansey clearly demonstrated with the Sydney Ladies’ Band.

I hope that the history of female brass bands becomes better known in Australia instead of the patchwork of little histories.  In amongst all the other histories of banding in this country, this is one of the special stories.

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Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band, 1918 (Source: IBEW)

References:

AN AMAZON BRASS BAND. (1905, 16 August). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237688608

THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND. (1906, 08 February). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44491455

Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions. (1917, 11 December). Gippsland Farmers’ Journal (Traralgon, Vic. : 1893 – 1896; 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88813153

Bound for Australia. (2014, 29 November). Hilda and the Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band. Bound for Australia: Stories from the families of those brave ancestors who made the sea voyage to Australia. https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/1779/

Bound for Australia. (2015, 31 January). Dockside with the Randwick District Town Band. Bound for Australia: Stories from the families of those brave ancestors who made the sea voyage to Australia. https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/dockside-with-the-randwick-district-town-band/

THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL. (1922, 20 January). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954),1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167027361

Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band. (1940). [Photograph]. [phot15753]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band. (1918). [Photograph]. [phot16239]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Clare Girls’ Band. (1914). [Photograph]. [phot3428]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City. (1940, 08 March). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48343327

GIRLS and a BRASS BAND. (1949, 17 December). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22799163

Holman, G. (2018). Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries  [eBook]. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/36360090/Women_and_Brass_the_female_brass_bands_of_the_19th_and_20th_centuries 

Incredulous. (1934, 07 March). That Ladies’ Band. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1177047

LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED. (1937, 27 February). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 30. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223891110

A LADIES’ BRASS BAND : Formed at Streaky Bay. (1919, 31 May). West Coast Sentinel (Streaky Bay, SA : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168197030

Melbourne Ladies’ Salvation Army Band. (1945). [Photograph]. [phot16298]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot1877]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Sara, S. (2014, 25 April). Burra Cheer-Up Ladies Band: Keeping the music alive during war’s dark days. ABC News. Retrieved 18 April 2018 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-25/burra-cheer-up-ladies-band/5404654

Silver City Ladies’ Band. (1940). [Photograph]. [phot9302]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band [picture]. (1934). [1 photographic print on cardboard mount : gelatin silver, hand col. ; 30 x 40 cm.]. [pi007746]. State Library Victoria, Tansey family collection. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336537

Talbot, O. M. (1933). Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band [Photograph (print), black and white]. [PRG+1555/2/1]. State Library of South Australia. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/PRG+1555/2/1

Traralgon Brass Band. (1915?). [Photograph]. [phot6409]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

WEEK’S PICTURES——IN AND AROUND THE CITY. (1923, 17 March). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 26. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63776526

WOMEN’S BAND : In Interstate Contest. (1936, 18 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17222570