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

19060000_Broken-Hill-Band_Kalgoorlie
Broken Hill City Band 1906 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

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 a number of 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 (VBA) 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 VBA wrongly assuming the status of some of their members (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  Apparently, the VBA 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 VBA, 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.

Needless to say, 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), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44491455

BALLARAT BAND CONTESTS. (1906, 03 December). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from 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), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170199282

BALLARAT EISTEDDFOD. (1906a, 29 October). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 2. Retrieved from 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), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115680908

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

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

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

BROKEN HILL BAND. (1911b, 28 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), p. 6. Retrieved from 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), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45165481

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

Farrant, J. (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. Retrieved from 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). Retrieved from https://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2014/report_136.aspx

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

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

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

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

KALGOORLIE BAND COMPETITIONS : Notes by an Observer. (1911, 29 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), p. 2. Retrieved from 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), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45164623

Kalgoorlie Band Contests : The Quickstep. (1911, 09 September). Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931), p. 6. Retrieved from 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), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33083145

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

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

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

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

No title. (1906, 29 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from 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 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-30-brass-solo-contests

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

Royal South Street Society. (1906c, 04 November). 1906-11-04 Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 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), p. 21. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33398332

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

VISITING BRASS BANDS : Smoke Social in Kalgoorlie. (1911, 05 September). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), p. 10. Retrieved from 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

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 is 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:

  • Silver City Ladies’ Brass Band (Founded in 1940)
  • Sydney Ladies Brass Band (1930-1945)

Queensland:

  • Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band (Active in 1940)

South Australia:

  • Burra Cheer-up Girls Brass Band (Founded in Nov. 1915)
  • Clare Girls’ Band (Active 1914 – 1918)
  • Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band (Active from 1921)
  • Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band (Active from 1919)

(pp. 71-73)

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 (“That Ladies’ Band,” 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)
19400000_Silver-City-Ladies_Brass_phot9302
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 a battle against bandsmen conservatism.  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.

19150000_Traralgon-Band_phot6409
Traralgon Brass Band, 1915?

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: IBEW)

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.

19180000_Burra-Cheer-Up-Ladies_Brass_phot16239
Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band, 1918 (Source: IBEW)

References:

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

THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND. (1906, 08 February). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from 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), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88813153

Bound for Australia. (2014, November 29). Hilda and the Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band. Blog post Retrieved from https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/1779/

Bound for Australia. (2015, January 31). Dockside with the Randwick District Town Band. Blog post Retrieved from 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), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167027361

Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band [photo: 15733]. (1940). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot15753.jpg

Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band [photo: 6239]. (1918). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16239.jpg

Clare Girls’ Band [photo: 3428]. (1914). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot3428.jpg

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

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

Holman, G. (2018, April). Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries. Acadmia.edu. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/36360090/Women_and_Brass_the_female_brass_bands_of_the_19th_and_20th_centuries

LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED. (1937, 27 February). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), p. 30. Retrieved from 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), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168197030

Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band [photo: 1877]. (1906). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot1877.jpg

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

Silver City Ladies’ Band [photo: 9302]. (1940). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

Sydney Ladies’ Band [photo: H2009.32/8]. (1934, October 6). State Library of Victoria. Retrieved from http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336537

Talbot, O. M. (1933). Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band [photo: PRG 155/2/1]. State Library of South Australia. Retrieved from https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/PRG+1555/2/1

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

Traralgon Brass Band [photo: 6409]. (1915?). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot6409.jpg

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

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