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. 

Trans-continental connections: the brass bands of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie

Introduction:

Above is an intriguing photo.  This photo of the Broken Hill City Band dated 1906 starts a story through the message that is penned around the edges; “Broken Hill City Band 1906 with compliments to Kalgoorlie Band”.  Knowing the geography of Australia as we do, the towns of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie are very far apart.  Yet as we also know, during these times brass bands toured fair distances to participate in competitions and performances.  It was no different for these two bands.  They did meet, twice in five years.

The photo above is held in the archives of the Victorian Bands’ League, so we wonder why it is still in Victoria. That story cannot be told due to a lack of information.  However, we do know when and where the two bands met, and the first meeting was in Victoria at the famous South Street Competition.  The fact that they were both at South Street in 1906 reflects a ‘can do’ attitude from both bands, as well as many others.  The travel was long and expensive, but the lure of rewards beckoned. Such was the case when the bands met again in 1911, the next time in Kalgoorlie.

Hence this post covers the years of 1906 and 1911, two different times.  We can marvel at the travel that was undertaken and the other ‘little’ stories surrounding the trips.  The central theme of this post, however, is the fact that these bands met and seemingly formed a mutual respect and friendship through music, geography, and circumstance.

The early bands of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie:

Aside from the distance from each other, the establishment of both Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie followed relatively similar paths.  Both are remote mining towns that experienced rapid population growth with the discovery of minerals – “silver, lead and zinc” in Broken Hill in 1883 and gold in Kalgoorlie in 1893 (Frost, Malam, Williams, & Malarz, 2014, p. 39).  With increased population came increased services and demand for transport links, most importantly the early railways (Frost et al., 2014).  Interestingly, a rail link from Broken Hill to Adelaide was built before Broken Hill was linked to Sydney and over in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, rail links were built to the south coast at Esperance and west to Perth (Frost et al., 2014).  With the development of these important centres, and the influx of people came the establishment of early brass bands (Farrant, 1989).

Briefly, the bands of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie started with years of each other with bands in Kalgoorlie-Boulder commencing in 1895 and consolidating themselves a few years later – by 1900 there were two bands in Boulder and one band in Kalgoorlie (Farrant, 1989; Goldfields Brass Band, 2004).  The remaining band in Kalgoorlie, the Goldfields Brass Band can trace its lineage back to the Boulder Brass Band having been gifted a store of music and instruments in 1963 (Goldfields Brass Band, 2004).  The Kalgoorlie brass bands had a healthy respect and support of each other, and in the early years were boosted by the talents of the five McMahon brothers who arrived in Kalgoorlie-Boulder in 1900 (Farrant, 1989; Greaves & Earl, 2001).  Over the coming years, the famous Cornetist and Conductor Hugh McMahon and his brother Henry (Harry) took their bands all the way to Ballarat to compete at the South Street competitions with varying degrees of success (Greaves & Earl, 2001).

A similar development of brass bands occurred in Broken Hill where a band was established in 1899 as the “Bermingham’s Band…with J. J. Bermingham and his 9 sons comprising the majority of the membership” (Barrier Industrial Unions (BIU) Brass Band, 2019).  The band expanded its membership and was renamed the Broken Hill City Band a year later – the current Barrier Industrial Unions (BIU) Brass Band is a direct descendant of this early band (Barrier Industrial Unions (BIU) Brass Band, 2019).  The townsfolk and band members of Broken Hill, like Kalgoorlie, appreciated music and visits from other brass bands were well-attended (“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906).

1906: The South Street Competition, Ballarat:

The year is 1906 and from across Australia, brass bands have once again made their way to the South Street competition.  Since the commencement of brass band and brass solo/ensemble sections at South Street in 1900, this section of the competition continues to grow.  In 1906 these thirteen listed bands participated in the A and B grade sections with many bands participating in both grades, and many other musicians competing in the solo and ensemble sections:

(Vic.) Ararat Model (B Grade)
(Vic.) City of Ballarat (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Bairnsdale Municipal (A & B Grades)
(NSW) Broken Hill City Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Collingwood Citizens’ Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Daylesford Citizens (B Grade)
(Vic.) Eaglehawk Borough (B Grade)
(WA) Kalgoorlie and Goldfields Infantry and Regimental Band (A Grade)
(Vic.) Maldon Miners (B Grade (Withdrew from A Grade))
(Vic.) Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Richmond City Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band (A Grade)
(Tas.) Ulverstone Rangers (A & B Grades)

(Mullen, 1951; “No title,” 1906; Royal South Street Society, 1906c)
19050000_Goldfields-Regimntal_008561d
Goldfields Infantry Regimental Band 1905 (Source: State Library of Western Australia: Government Photographer Collection: 008561D)

Considering the travel methods of the day, to attract this many bands with three of them travelling from other colonies is quite remarkable.  Such was the lure of the South Street competition.  For the Kalgoorlie Regimental band, they were travelling paths set down by the Boulder City Band and the Boulder A.W.A Mines Band before them as they participated South Street in 1902, 1903 and 1905 and achieved excellent placings (Farrant, 1989; Greaves & Earl, 2001).  Travel for Kalgoorlie bands to get to South Street involved a train, a ship and another train and tours often lasted for six weeks (Farrant, 1989).  The distance for the Broken Hill band was not quite as long but involved a roundabout way of travel as the band took a train to Adelaide and then another train from Adelaide to Ballarat (“BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD.,” 1906a).

The details of the 1906 South Street competition were notable for several reasons.  Much of this was due to the performance of the legendary St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band from Geelong who, despite their youth, managed to win all of the A Grade sections and carry off the Sutton Shield & Cup and the Boosey Cup (“The Ballarat Band Contests.,” 1906; “BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD.,” 1906b).  By all accounts the quality of their performance and subsequent win were undisputed. However, there was a degree of controversy about this competition and some felt results underneath St. Augustine’s were unjustified.

19061117_Advocate_Ballarat-Competion
Advocate, 17/11/1906, p. 14

Some of the controversies were pinned to the choice of the adjudicator.  Unlike previous years when the band sections were adjudicated by eminent brass band authorities such as James Ord Hume, Captain W. G. Bentley, and Albert Wade, the 1906 competition was adjudicated by a Professor Frederick W. Beard LRAM of Birmingham (Greaves, 1996). Professor Beard, “did not pretend to be a brass band expert” but apparently “had a thorough knowledge of orchestral work and he knew enough about brass instruments to qualify for the position he undertook…” (“BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD.,” 1906b).  Such a decision did not go down well with some bands. Upon the return of the Kalgoorlie band back home, their President, Mr Eli Shaw read out a resolution of the Richmond City Band at the welcome home reception which stated,

That this band respectfully declines to enter or compete at any band contest unless a practical brass band conductor, or conductors, be appointed as judge, the definition of ‘practical’ being an approved registered conductor, who has piloted bands to victory in large contests, and that copies of this resolution be forwarded to all secretaries of all registered bands in Victoria asking them to adopt the same, and forward on to secretary of Victorian Band Association, Ballarat.

(“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

Such was the ill-feeling from one band who participated in this competition.

For the Broken Hill City Band, the results simply did not go their way in the A grade or B grade sections except for winning the third prize for discipline behind the Bairnsdale & Eaglehawk bands (Royal South Street Society, 1906c).  However, their playing was judged by others to be excellent and it was felt that their placings were not deserved (“BALLARAT BAND CONTESTS.,” 1906).

The experiences of the Broken Hill Bands and the Kalgoorlie band were somewhat linked and for the Kalgoorlie band, some felt they had been treated extremely unfairly by the Victorian Band Association (V.B.A.) and the adjudication.  It was not until the Kalgoorlie Band arrived in Ballarat that they found out they had been unexpectedly regraded from B grade to A grade on account of the V.B.A. wrongly assuming the status of some of their members (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  Apparently, the V.B.A. told Kalgoorlie they had sixteen members who had played with the A.W.A Band and the Boulder City Band in previous years, of which the Kalgoorlie Band “proved” that these sixteen “had never played before in a contest” (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  If we are to believe this account, it would seem the V.B.A., which was the band association overseeing the registrations, had made a grievous mistake somewhere.

There were also the woes of adjudication which upset many in the band community.  At the same reception where Mr Eli Shaw read out the resolution by the Richmond City Band, he also read out letters of support from the Broken Hill band and the Hobart band.  Perhaps, this letter is somehow tied into the photo at the head of this post, but we may never know this for sure.  The letter, written by the bandmaster of Broken Hill, was printed in an article published by the Kalgoorlie Western Argus upon the return of the band back home:

Permit me and the members of the Broken Hill City Band to offer you and the talented members of your Kalgoorlie Band our sincerest sympathy in the position in which an utterly outrageous adjudication has placed you at this Ballarat contest.  It is the consensus of opinion amongst all whom we have met, and are disinterestedly capable of giving a sound musical judgement, that your rendering of the test and choice, especially the latter, was a real musical treat, and that the judge, in awarding such an absurdly low number of points, insulted the musical intelligence of hundreds, who, I am sure, are infinitely more capable of giving a fair judgement than he did.  Allow me once more to offer you our sincere sympathy, and we hope that this perverted judgement will not prevent us from hearing your magnificent band many times again here.

(“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

The sentiments of the bandmaster of the Hobart band were very similar – a grave injustice had been done, not only on this band but the whole community of bands.

The Kalgoorlie band did what they could under the circumstances and obviously drew praise for their playing.  Upon the completion of the Ballarat contest, they travelled to Bendigo to present a concert and were awarded a civic reception upon their arrival, and received an excellent review of their performance (“KALGOORLIE REGIMENTAL BAND.,” 1906).  From Bendigo, they travelled home and Kalgoorlie gave them a hero’s welcome upon their return with a reception attended by the other bands in the region, local politicians and the Mayor (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).

Aside from the results in the band sections, competition results in the solo and ensemble sections were a consolation for both the Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie bands.  All sections had a number of entries and included musicians from bands that were not in the main band sections (Royal South Street Society, 1906a, 1906b).  It would have been pleasing for the Royal South Street Society to have so many entries.

1911: The Kalgoorlie Eisteddfod:

The Kalgoorlie Eisteddfod was obviously a much smaller event than South Street, yet it seemed to generate similar excitement and interest from participants and audience.  So much so that several public authorities, the Eisteddfod and the West Australian Band Association made sure that visiting bands were treated to the finest hospitality. The 1911 Eisteddfod was notable for the participation of the Albany Brass Band and the Broken Hill City Band who travelled to Kalgoorlie to compete against the three Kalgoorlie-Boulder bands.

In August 1911 the Broken Hill City Band commenced a long journey to Kalgoorlie.  The Trans-Continental Railway was yet to be built, so the band took the train to Adelaide where they presented a concert on the 18th of August before taking a ship to Albany (“BROKEN HILL BAND.,” 1911a).  There was a huge amount of interest generated by the arrival of these two bands in Kalgoorlie.  On the 25th of August, both the Albany and Broken Hill bands arrived in Kalgoorlie, and their travel movements were reported on by the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper – of which also highlighted an example of the hospitality they were being awarded,

The Broken Hill men got off the Karoola at Albany, and special carriages were provided for both the Barrier and Albany men through to the goldfields.  At Northam the carriages were shunted off, and later attached to the express, so that there was no confusion caused in regard to transhipping baggage, etc.  The Albany men gave a concert at Northam while waiting for the express, and realised a fair profit.

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

…and remarking on uniforms,

The green and gold uniforms of the players from Broken Hill are particularly effective, and in mufti they wear green hat bands and gold lettering; also badges of green and gold. The Albany attire is of blue, with red facings and badges of the same colours.

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

Both bands were received at the Kalgoorlie station by a plethora of officials and townsfolk and the railway station reception also included a small combination of the three Kalgoorlie-Boulder bands playing music.  After this welcome, both bands formed up and marched to the Eisteddfod office and then after more speeches, marched to their hotel (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911).

Fortunately, the article in the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper also published the names of the bandsmen from both bands so we have this piece of history on record:

P. Pfitzner, conductor
W. May, professional cornet
H. Mitchell, solo cornet
A. Hendy, solo cornet
J. Shannon, repiano cornet
S, Phillips, flugel horn
E. Holland, second cornet
H. Halse, third cornet
W. Keays, soprano cornet
E. W. Barwick, solo horn
R. Rawle, second horn
John Richards, first horn
W. Partington, baritone
O. Hannett, baritone
D. Hopkins, euphonium
R. Ramsay, euphonium
C. Thomas, trombone
Stan Phillips, trombone
J. Martin, bass trombone
J. Bartley, BBb bass
W. Head, BBb bass
O. Berriman, Eb bass
S. Goldring, Eb bass
C. Kumm, bass drum
R. Gummow, side drum
M. Williams, side drum
Mr. J. Doherty, is the drum major, Mr. J. Mitchell is the manager, and Mr. W. W. Barwick the secretary.

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

A day later both bands were getting into their practice on the city oval which was reported on by the Kalgoorlie Miner.  The welcoming ceremonies were not over.  After their afternoon practice on the oval, both bands marched to the town hall to be received by the mayor and councillors who awarded them another civic reception (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDDFOD,” 1911).  Toasts were given all around and it appears the Mayor of Kalgoorlie had spent some years in Broken Hill, so he was familiar with the town and mines.  The camaraderie was evident as was the hospitality.  Mr J. Mitchell, secretary of the Broken Hill band said as much in his response to the welcome.

…he appreciated the kindness that had been shown them, especially by the energetic committee and secretary, who had secured free railway passes for them, otherwise Broken Hill Band could hardly have taken the trip.

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDDFOD,” 1911)

A few days later the Broken Hill band presented a concert in Kalgoorlie’s Victoria Park which was well-attended by the townsfolk.  As a measure of support, the band received £32 in total from contributions which obviously helped with some expenses – the trip was estimated to cost £400 (“BROKEN HILL BAND.,” 1911b).  The band was said to have performed with “good quality of tone, excellent balance, and intelligence in interpretation” which was high praise for the visiting ensemble (“BROKEN HILL BAND.,” 1911b).  No doubt a good review for the band to have!  Interest in the bands had not waned and was carried through to the Eisteddfod proper.  Certainly, the enthusiasm from the townspeople and friendship of the local bands between each other attracted the notice of local commentators (“KALGOORLIE BAND COMPETITIONS,” 1911).

19111010_Kalgoorlie-Western-Argus_Competition-Broken-Hill-March
Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 10/10/1911, p. 21

The band sections of the Eisteddfod commenced in the first week of September and were adjudicated by Mr Charles Allison who also did his bit by leading the combined bands on a street march and conducting them on the oval (“KALGOORLIE BAND COMPETITIONS.,” 1911).  The sight of the three Kalgoorlie-Boulder bands combined with the bands of Broken Hill and Albany would have been quite spectacular.  Over the coming days, all bands competed in a variety of band and solo/ensemble sections and results were mixed between them – the Kalgoorlie Band won the overall championships however the Broken Hill band won the Street March section (“BAND CONTESTS,” 1911; “STREET MARCHING COMPETITION,” 1911).

19111010_Kalgoorlie-Western-Argus_Competition-Massed-Bands
Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 10/10/1911, p. 21
19111010_Kalgoorlie-Western-Argus_Competition-Procession
Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 10/10/1911, p. 21

By all accounts, this was a very good band contest with little reported controversy and where all bandsmen exhibited the best of behaviour towards each other.  Indeed, even during the contest, social nights were encouraged and the Kalgoorlie-Boulder bands made sure the visiting bands were very welcome (“VISITING BRASS BANDS.,” 1911).  This hospitality was not lost on the visiting bands and in an article published on the 9th of September in the Truth newspaper we read that,

The visiting bandsmen, however, express their intense appreciation of the kindness and courtesy extended to them on all hands.  The Chamber of Mines, the School of Mines, the brewery manager, the Race Club, secretaries, the manager of the power house, and others did their best to make the Albany and Broken Hill men enjoy themselves.

(“Kalgoorlie Band Contests.,” 1911)

According to an account by a member of the Broken Hill band who documented the whole trip, and which was published in the Barrier Miner newspaper, the Broken Hill band commenced then commenced a long trip home – a train to Perth, a ship to Adelaide and another train to Broken Hill.  The band arrived back in Broken Hill on September 17th and despite some results not going their way, they acquitted themselves well and certainly enjoyed the trip west (“THE BROKEN HILL BAND.,” 1911).

Conclusion:

What is evident here through these ‘little stories’ is just one example from many of the connections and friendships that were made between early brass bands.  There is probably much more that can be written on this topic.  However, one must admire the fact that these bands traversed vast distances and in doing so gave themselves chances that they otherwise would not have had.  The fact that the Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie bands came from towns that developed around mining obviously helped the friendships that developed.

I have formed no doubt through the research for this post that these two bands gained valuable experiences from their trips.  Competitions aside, it was the camaraderie of early bands people and the connections that were formed that made the trips even more worthwhile.

References:

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

BALLARAT BAND CONTESTS. (1906, 03 December). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44520304

The Ballarat Band Contests : The Championship of the Commonwealth Won by St. Augustine’s Band : The Boys Carry off All the First-Class Prizes : An Unprecedented Feat. (1906, 17 November). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170199282

BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD. (1906a, 29 October). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115677274

BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD : Brass Band Section : Victories of the Orphans : St. Augustine’s Wins the Double. (1906b, 08 November). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115680908

BAND CONTESTS : Championship won by Kalgoorlie. (1911, 04 September). Evening Star (Boulder, WA : 1898 – 1921), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204606679

Barrier Industrial Unions (BIU) Brass Band. (2019). History. Barrier Industrial Unions (BIU) Brass Band. Retrieved 03 September 2019 from https://biuband.com.au/history/

BROKEN HILL BAND. (1911a, 19 August). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58436856

BROKEN HILL BAND. (1911b, 28 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91317321

THE BROKEN HILL BAND : Its West Australian Trip. : (By a Member). (1911, 20 September). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45165481

Broken Hill City Band. (1906). [Rectangular black and white photograph mounted on card : L21.6cm – W16.5cm]. [0006]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b59a68021ea690d805b060c

Eastern Goldfields Historical Society Inc. (2019). Kalgoorlie : City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Eastern Goldfields Historical Society Inc. Retrieved 03 September 2019 from https://kalgoorliehistory.org.au/towns/Kalgoorlie

Farrant, J. E. (1989). Boulder bands win at Ballarat, 1904/1905. Studies in Western Australian History, 10(April [Celebrations in Western Australian history / Layman, Lenore & Stannage, Tom (eds.)]), 107-113. https://search.informit.org/documentSummary;dn=890911633;res=IELAPA 

Frost, G., Malam, K., Williams, L., & Malarz, A. (2014). The evolution of Australian towns [Research Report](136). T. Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Communication. https://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2014/report_136.aspx

Goldfields Brass Band. (2004). History. Goldfields Brass Band. Retrieved 03 September 2019 from https://www.goldfieldsbrassband.org.au/history.php

Government Photographer. (1905). Goldfields Infantry Regimental Band [1 photographic print, mounted : b&w ; 10 x 12 cm.]. [008561d]. State Library of Western Australia, Government Photographer collection ; 816B/E/6541. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb2088645

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

Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Muso’s Media. 

KALGOORLIE BAND COMPETITIONS : Notes by an Observer. (1911, 29 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91315285

KALGOORLIE BAND COMPETITIONS : Street Marching Contest : Won by Broken Hill Band. (1911, 13 September). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45164623

Kalgoorlie Band Contests : The Quickstep. (1911, 09 September). Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208697815

KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND : Civic Reception. The Band’s Troubles. (1906, 11 December). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33083145

KALGOORLIE EISTEDDFOD : Brass Band Competitions : Visitors’ Movements. (1911, 26 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91321579

KALGOORLIE EISTEDDOFOD : Brass Band Competitions : Broken Hill and Albany Players : Reception Arrangements. (1911, 25 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91326006

KALGOORLIE REGIMENTAL BAND. (1906, 06 November). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article227751661

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

No title. (1906, 29 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210688939

Royal South Street Society. (1906a, 30 October). 1906-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 26 August 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-30-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 31 October). 1906-10-31 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 26 August  2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-31-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 04 November). 1906-11-04 Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 26 August 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-11-04-band-contests

Scott, R. V. (1911, 10 October). KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND COMPETITIONS AND EISTEDDFOD. Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 21. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33398332

STREET MARCHING COMPETITION : Won by Broken Hill. (1911, 04 September). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91325887

VISITING BRASS BANDS : Smoke Social in Kalgoorlie. (1911, 05 September). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33396714

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.

19330000_Streaky-Bay-Ladies_Brass_PRG-1555-2-1
Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band, 1933 (source: State Library of South Australia: PRG+1555/2/1)

Enter the Salvation Army:

19050816_DailyTelegraph_Salvo-Female-Band
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.

19060000_Salvation-Austral-Lasses_Ladies-Brass_phot1877
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.

19340307_CourierMail_Letter_Brisbane-Lady-Band
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.

19140000_Clare-Girls_Brass_phot3428
Clare Girls’ Band, 1914 (Source: IBEW)
19400000_Brisband-Coronation-Ladies_Brass_phot15753
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).

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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