For nearly as long as we have had formal brass bands in Australia, we have had band associations. These early groupings were either large or small where affiliated bands worked with each other. Except for perhaps in Victoria where, as we found in a previous post, they experienced some major upheaval just thirty years after the first band association came into being. However, the collegial atmosphere brass bands led to associations that tried to foster common aims and ideals.
One core function of a band association was the formulation of rules of competition and association. It would be fair to say that some of these rules were contentious back then (even as they are sometimes now). This being said, the function of competition rules was to make sure that every competing ensemble was on a level playing field with other bands. There were the odd protests, of course, this goes without saying. Generally, the judgment of State associations held when questioned. However, with all States creating rules of competition, when it came to bands wanting to compete in other States, this undoubtedly caused problems at times. The States then tried to start working with one another to bring some uniformity in rules for competitions that attracted interstate entrants.
Hence the subject of this post. This is an examination of how the State band associations tried to put aside their differences and work with each other. This post is not a synthesis of the different State competition rules. As will be seen, uniformity was not an easy process and some iterations of a National Council did not last long. Undoubtedly the War years intervened in the activities of bands, so a working National Council was further fragmented and delayed. When reading this post, people might get a sense of déjà vu, however, this will be open to individual interpretation. This is just another of those fascinating stories that add further history to the activities of Australian bands and bandsmen.
The early years, 1900 – 1930:
The current iteration of our ‘National Band Council of Australia” (N.B.C.A.) dates back to 1930s and their competition result archive and history reflects this (National Band Council of Australia, 2019a, 2019b). However, efforts by the State associations to work together and hold National competitions predate this by at least three decades.
The first State band association to form in Australia was the Band Association of New South Wales (B.A.N.S.W.) in 1895 and they staged their first interstate band competition in Sydney, 1896 (Greaves, 1996). This was followed by the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) in 1901 with other State association forming soon after (Greaves, 1996). With each State association now assuming responsibility for running competitions, there were a number of rule differences for bands to negotiate, especially if they competed in interstate events.
In October 1903, prior to the Royal South Street band competitions, the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) held their 2nd Annual General Meeting, and it is within the report presented by President Mr. Frederick Sutton and Secretary Mr. W. H. Betters that we see the first indications of State band associations wanting to work together to hold Australian band championships (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1903). The relevant parts of this report read as follows:
In connection with contest work your executive devised a scheme whereby the vexed question of the band championships of Australia have been determined upon conditions that should be satisfactory to all. The basis of the championships, as you are already aware, was placed before the Band Association of New South Wales and met with its approval, so that the first and second-class Australian band championships are now strictly under the joint control of the two associations. An agreement was effected with the New South Wales Association whereby our association, being the founders of the project, should have the right to introduce the first-class championship contest of Australia this year (1903). The promoters of the South street contests, Ballarat, applied for the privilege of holding, for determination at their competitions, the first-class championship for this year, and your delegates granted the application.
It was satisfactory to notice that the New South Wales and Victorian Associations had mutually agreed upon a championship being established on a legislative and businesslike basis, a matter in which the Victorian Association had taken the initiative.(Sutton and Betters in “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1903)
A report of the 1903 Royal South Street Band Sections published by The Argus newspaper confirms that this championship was the first given the status of an Australian championship.
By arrangement of the Victorian and New South Wales Band Associations, the first-prize taker in the principal event at this gathering will secure the championship of the Commonwealth.(“SOUTH-STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1903)
The Newcastle City Band from New South Wales was the winner of the Royal South Street competition in 1903. (Royal South Street Society, 1903)
Of course, this initiative did not end here. During the 1905 South Street contests, another conference of band representatives took place. However, this time, they included representatives from South Australia. As can be seen in the article below, the aim of this conference was to approach the Commonwealth Government for a grant to hold Australian championships alternating between various States, and to bring about uniformity in rules (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS.,” 1905). These early conferences, while well-meaning, did become a repetitive process with no real resolutions.
In general, these State band associations affiliated with each other and recognized each other’s rules and processes. And it was not uncommon for letters and other correspondence from State associations to be presented at various meetings. A decade on from the 1903 competitions in Ballarat, and eight years on from the 1905 conference in Ballarat, the South Australian Band Association (S.A.B.A.) received a letter from B.A.N.S.W. “suggesting a conference of the Australian associations in order to discuss and possibly bring the rules of the different associations into something approaching uniformity.” (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1913).
Notwithstanding the disruption of the First World War on Australian society in general, once this had finished the associations carried on with their activities. It is in the year of 1921 where we see the next mention of a National Council being formed through an article published in the The Argus newspaper reporting on a conference held in Ballarat. A summary of the article tells us that:
- An Australian Band Council has been formed
- “Only one association from each state is to be recognized.”
- An order of States has been decided as to who will host the next championships.
(“INTERSTATE BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1921)
Slightly more detail on this 1921 Ballarat conference was provided by the Northern Star newspaper brass band correspondent, ‘Drummer Boy’ where he has noted that, in addition to only one association being recognized in each State, “only players of bands affiliated with that association will be permitted to play in contests in other States.” (Drummer Boy, 1921). There was also another discussion on how many professional musicians could play in each band, with the recognition that brass bands were essentially amateur groups. The next conference was to be held in Brisbane (Drummer Boy, 1921).
There may or may not be a connection, but a picture of an “Australian Band Committee” was published by the Daily Mail in 1923 (pictured at the head of this post) (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE.,” 1923). Perhaps this is a result of the aforementioned Brisbane conference although, at this stage, the connection is unclear.
While there had been championships held in various States billed as interstate band contests, they were essentially conducted by the respective State association under their own rules. However, the formation of an Australian Band Council meant that championships could now be held under National rules and patronage. In 1925 we see how this is affected through a tiny article published in the Toowoomba Chronicle where the 1926 Toowoomba competitions “at Easter will carry the 1926 Australian Championship title for the A, B, and C Grades” (“THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL.,” 1925). This is an important step in banding competitions as it is now evident that the States had actually agreed on common rules and a national committee had given patronage to a competition. This recognition was not forgotten by local brass bands. In 1927, the Victorian Band Association (V.B.A.) upheld a protest brought about by one band, which was written up in an article published by The Age newspaper:
Malvern Tramways Band complained that two other bands in Melbourne were claiming themselves to be Australian champions, and a ruling was sought. It was set out that the title of the Australian championship was legitimately held to belong to Malvern Tramways Band by reason of its success in winning the Australian championship contest at Toowoomba, Q. last Easter. The association secretary (Mr. W. Martin) stated that he had replied that the Queensland Band Association had the right to grant the championship in 1926, and by its success at the Toowoomba contest Malvern Tramways Band was thereby the possessor of the title. The matter was one in which the band itself could take what action it considered advisable.”(“Victorian Band Association.,” 1927)
On a side note and somewhat related, this was a perfect case of when a State association proved to be effective on one ruling but failed to uphold another ruling. The two other bands that Malvern Tramways was referring to in their protest were their two main crosstown rivals: Brunswick City Municipal Band and Collingwood Citizens’ Band. In the latter part of 1927, these two bands held a “challenge contest’ at the Exhibition Building with adjudicators “P. Jones, P. Code & R. McAnally” presiding (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Interestingly, the presenters of this contest declared that “This contest…will decide which is the best brass band in Australia” (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Needless to say the Victorian Bands’ Association was not pleased about this contest and they tried to disqualify both Brunswick and Collingwood – which brought about a response from Brunswick accusing the V.B.A. of over-stepping itself as the current VBA rules “do not provide for a challenge contest” (“BEST BAND DISCORD,” 1927). The challenge contest still went ahead with Collingwood winning by two points (Greaves, 1996).
If the preceding two decades could be regarded as tentative, the next two decades where the National Council was reformed could be regarded as consolidation. In 1931 a new Victorian Bands’ League was formed by a large group of Melbourne metropolitan bands and every other band in the State rapidly affiliated. This led to the demise of the VBA and we see in a Herald article from 1933, the other State associations recognized the VBL as the single association for bands in Victoria and they sent through their affiliations with the new league (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). In the same article, Mr. H. G. Sullivan, Secretary of the VBL “said he wanted to see the formation of an Australian Band Council to unify band contests throughout Australia” (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). This move was also welcomed in other States. The Secretary of the Queensland Band Association (Q.B.A.) Mr. J. R. Foster, “said they were hopeful that in the near future a Federal Council would be formed to control and lay down rules for brass band contests throughout Australia.” (“BRASS BAND CONTESTS.,” 1933).
A clue as to why the National Council was resurrected at this time lies in a long newspaper article from 1934 published in the Central Queensland Herald newspaper in which Mr. Foster, was interviewed. He provided some enlightening history:
“Years ago the whole of the State Band Associations throughout Australia were controlled by a Central Australian Band Conference, but since 1918 this body has not functioned although several attempts were made to revive the Council” said Mr. Foster yesterday.
“Last year, through the efforts of the Q.B.A., negotiations were made between New South Wales and the Victorian Bands’ League to hold a conference representing all States to endeavour to formulate a set of rules applicable to band contests throughout the Commonwealth.”
“The conference, which will be held in Sydney, will commence on April 9 and all States except Western Australia have expressed their intention of being represented.”
“Included in the agenda will be a suggestion from Queensland that every effort will be made to establish an Australian school for band music on the same lines as Knellar Hall in England.”
“If this could be achieved it would be of inestimable help to building band-masters to study the theory of music and up to date band training methods”(“HALL OF BAND MUSIC,” 1934)
“At present time all State Associations are affiliated, but it is felt that the establishment of a uniform set of contesting conditions will further cement the co-operation already existing amongst the State Associations.”
The history of the current NBCA notes that its official formation was on the 13th of April 1934 which correlates with these events. (National Band Council of Australia, 2019b). A small publication comprising of a constitution, contest rules and quickstep & marching regulations was also published for the Australian Band Council at this time (Australian Band Council, 1934)
No doubt this is an interesting set of developments and hopeful proposals. Evidently, the State associations were quite collegial in the way they were now operating. It seems, however, that “The proposition by Queensland for the establishment for a college of music for the education of bandmasters and trainers could not be entertained at present owing to the expense involved.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934). This being said, an order of National championships was decided – “Queensland in 1935, in South Australia in 1936, in Victoria in 1937, and in New South Wales in 1938.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).
We also see evidence from this conference on just how difficult it was to achieve unity in rules. Mr. Dall, then Secretary of S.A.B.A. and the South Australian representative at the conference, was quoted in an article published in the Advertiser newspaper on the 30thof April:
“If such conferences are continued they will be of tremendous benefit to contesting bands in Australia. We found it difficult to frame rules owing to the different conditions operating in the various States. In framing a set of rules to apply to all States without seriously affecting any State’s present rules, we found it necessary to compromise on several items so that they would be applicable to all States.”
“If the conferences can be continued there is no doubt that in the near future a set of rules will be framed that will be entirely satisfactory to all bands throughout the Commonwealth. With this object in view we framed a set of rules for two years trial.”(“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS HERE IN 1936,” 1934)
The next biennial conference of the Australian Band Council was held in Brisbane during May 1936. The Courier-Mail reported on some resolutions which included making Melbourne the national headquarters in future and that all future conferences would be held in Melbourne (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936). “Mr. H. J. Sullivan, secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League, who is the Victoria delegate to the council, was appointed permanent Federal secretary of the council.” (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936).
Evidently, a new President of the Australian Band Council was elected as seen by the picture which was published by the Australasian Bandsman newspaper in 1937 (“Lieut. K. G. Kennedy,” 1937).
Numerous rule changes were reported on before the commencement of the 1938 conference in Melbourne by the brass band correspondent to the Advertiser newspaper, colloquially known as ‘Baton’. He wrote a very detailed overview of the rule proposals which, unfortunately, cannot be listed here due to brevity. However, the rule proposals covered areas such as registration, marching and the quickstep competition (Baton, 1938). The conference, held at Hawthorn Town Hall in suburban Melbourne was a success and the Mayor of Hawthorn gave the conference, and brass bands full praise (“BANDS PRAISED,” 1938).
In 1939 the National Championships were held in Bundaberg, QLD over Easter and we see some reporting of new rules that were decided upon at the Melbourne conference. The Cairns Post, while highlighting the local brass band that was to take part, also reported that:
Rule nine of the Contest Rules governing all future championship contests now reads:- “(a) The Australian championship shall be competed for annually at a time and place to be decided by the Council, and shall be for “A” grade only”
“(b) State championships shall be held at such time and place as may be decided by the governing body.”(“BAND CHAMPIONSHIP.,” 1939)
Such are the vagaries of the rules. It was at this time however when the world was again plunged into War and there was a suspension of a majority of band contests. We next see articles relating to the National band council appear again in the middle to late 1940s.
The 1940s & 1950s:
It appears that the Australian Band Council was quiet during the Second World War years, which was understandable and certainly there is not much evidence to suggest that National competitions took place. This is not to say there were not local and State competitions during this time, at least in Victoria (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939). However, as shown by these same records, a competition was held in Frankston, Vic. in late 1945 and early 1946 which was called an “Australian Championship” (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939, p. 34). While it was called as such, the only bands that participated came from Victoria.
Coming into the 1950s we again see the ideals of the Australian Band Council being reiterated in local newspapers. Published in 1952, an article in the Mudgee Guardian tries to explain what the A.B.C. actually is and what it does:
“While the N.S.W. Band Association controls Band matters within that State, the Australian Band Council is the governing body for Band matters throughout the Commonwealth, and has jurisdiction within each State.
The objects of the A.B.C. are similar to the N.S.W.B.A. that is to say: To ensure that Band contests, solo and part competitions shall be conducted throughout Australia under a uniform set of rules: to deal with any appeals which may be made to the Council by any affiliated State governing body in respect of any action taken under any rule of the Council: to promote a general love and knowledge of Band music and good fellowship amongst Bandsmen: and to promote and assist in the promotion of, and to control Band contests.”(“BAND SERIES No. 6.,” 1952)
The article then proceeded to highlight other aims and ideals.
Unfortunately, the exact date of a name change to the National Band Council of Australia is unclear, however, as mentioned, their website publishes National results dating back only to 1950 (National Band Council of Australia, 2019).
The history of the National Council is unique as there were a special set of circumstances needed to make sure it formed and succeeded. The various starts had similar aims and ideals with the uniformity of rules being first and foremost. Collegiality was emphasized despite the difficulty in creating a uniform set of rules and procedures. The interactions between different State associations are clearly highlighted in this regard. It seems that the State associations tried to make this work with the best of intentions and that is something to be admired. Certainly, the legacy is still seen today with the continued existence of a National Band Council of Australia and the National band championships which are held each year in a different State.
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Australian Band Council. (1934). Australian Band Council : Constitution : Contest Rules : Quickstep Regulations and Instructions [Constitution]. Oxford Press.
AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL : Future Conferences in Melbourne. (1936, 01 May). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38467409
BAND ASSOCIATION. (1913, 24 April). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59254032
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BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS. (1934, 23 April). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1192269
BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS : FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO BE ASKED FOR GRANT. (1905, 26 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199409235
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Band President. (1955, 13 January). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75434128
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BANDS PRAISED : Hawthorn Conference. (1938, 01 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12454503
Baton. (1938, 14 July). BANDS AND BANDSMEN : Plans for Band Council Conference. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35597004
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Drummer Boy. (1921, 05 November). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93081749
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HALL OF BAND MUSIC : Australian Proposal. (1934, 05 April). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70310251
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Lieut. K. G. Kennedy. (1937, 26 June). Australasian Bandsman.
National Band Council of Australia. (2019a). Contest Results. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/archives/results
National Band Council of Australia. (2019b). History of the NBCA. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/about/history
THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL. (1925, 28 May). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253924392
Royal South Street Society. (1903). 1903-10-31 Brass Band Contests : Held at City Oval [Eisteddfod Results]. Royal South Street Society Results Database. https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1903-10-31-brass-band-contests
SOUTH-STREET COMPETITIONS : CHAMPIONSHIP BRASS BAND CONTESTS. (1903, 30 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10579779
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VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : SECOND ANNUAL MEETING. (1903, 20 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208159835
Victorian Bands’ League. (1939). Notebook – Victorian Bands’ League Contest Records (1939 – 1950) [Notebook]. Victorian Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b7ce49921ea6916bcdba41c