A pastime with a purpose: band music in our institutions and the fourth prison band in the world.

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Band. ca. 1890. (source: State Library Victoria: cr001189)

Please note: This blog post has drawn upon information from photographic and print resources whereby the names of managers and deceased persons from former orphanages, secure health institutions, and penal institutions may have been mentioned.  Also, there are depictions of the recreational activities of such institutions described in this blog post. 


…undoubtedly music had a fundamental relationship to humanity.  It softened and soothed the hardness and harshness of life.

(Hotson in “Sunday Night Meeting AT THE SOCIALIST HALL,” 1920)

If there is one aspect of our band movement that has stood the test of time it is a willingness to play for all and encourage participation in music making.  One might say it goes with the territory.  However, our bands are special groups, and at times, they have performed for people who are in life situations where they are separated from general society.  It was judged at the time, rightly or wrongly, that this was necessitated, but it is not for this post to comment on the why.  It is the purpose of this post to highlight where band music has made a difference to the lives of the people within various institutions.

Let us turn back time to the early 1900s where we will find that the description, function, and language of these institutions is very different to what we know now.  It was not uncommon to read early newspapers and reports which mention Prisons and Orphanages, but also Lunatic Asylums, Benevolent Asylums, and Colonies.  It was also not uncommon in the newspapers to label anyone who was resident at these institutes as inmates – even hospitals.  The language of this post will draw upon the language of the time with its early usage and naming conventions, even if we are uncomfortable with this language in our own time.

Music had a role to play in such institutes, not only for listening but also for making and participating.  In the early 1900s, much thinking was being given to the humane way in which the people in the institutes could be treated and kept occupied, and music was a key activity.  We can view this as early forms of music therapy and there were some very forward-thinking people who made sure that music, partly through bands, became a staple part of the institutional routines.

At the start of this post is an early photograph of the (R.V.I.B.) Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Brass Band from approximately 1890 which clearly displays how a meaningful activity such as a band was accessible.  This post will firstly show how bands made a difference through performances as many different institutions invited bands to come and play for their residents.  The next sections will highlight bands that were set up in institutes such as Orphanages, special institutes, and prisons.  This post will not be able to cover all forms of music making.  However, it will show how pervasive our band music was and how music was a pastime with a purpose.

Listening to music:

The institutions:

Several bands including the State Public Service Band, the Essendon and Moonee Ponds Salvation Army Band, and several other concert parties have kindly given concerts during this year.  These entertainments are very much appreciated and do much towards relieving the monotony of the patients’ lives. 

(Adey in Victoria. Lunacy Department, 1927b, p. 19)

There was no shortage of thanks given to bands for the work they did in these years, this mention by Mr. John K. Adey, then Medical Superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane, Sunbury being just one of them.  Aside from the two bands that are mentioned above, several other bands gave their services to the various Victorian Lunacy Department institutions including the Victorian Police Band, the Northcote Band (who visited the Hospital for the Insane, Ararat in 1925), the Beechworth Town Band, and the Essendon City Band (Victoria. Lunacy Department, 1914, 1927a, 1928).

Victorian Public Service Military Band. Herald, 06/06/1940, p. 7

This is just one series of examples noting bands visiting asylums, but why were they there? Firstly, these asylums were not pleasant places to be in, and too often we dwell on the negativity surrounding them, articles in the modern media being a prime example of focusing of the negativity of old asylums (Kamm, 2018; Pike, 2015).  This perception of negativity is a holdover from the early part of last century where the public knew very little about what went on inside these asylums because they were, essentially isolated. As Ann Hardy (2019) notes in her blog post about perceptions and lost voices of the asylum,

Asylums were considered as having unsuitable management, and not providing adequate care, and being isolated only fuelled negative ideas about them and further pushed institutions and inmates out of societies view. 

(Hardy, 2019)

Research by Dolly MacKinnon, however, shows that some social practices permeated the operations of asylums.  In a journal article about musical concerts in Queensland asylums, she wrote,

The insane were kept out of the public eye, yet the social and cultural values and practices of the times provided the filter through which appropriate musical recreation and employment were determined.” 

(MacKinnon, 2000, p. 43)

In a later article she challenges the perceptions of the asylum.

Stereotypical views of asylums or mental hospitals do not conjure up images of recreation and entertainment, but rather places of isolation, gendered confinement, and boredom.  Yet within the surviving Australian institutional records (from 1860 to 1945) it is clear that medical and lay staff, patients, and volunteers went to great lengths to provide entertainment and recreation of asylum inmates.

(MacKinnon, 2009, p. 128)

She further writes that,

…between the 1860s and circa 1945 the provision of recreation for Australian psychiatric inmates came from three main sources; paid professional groups, volunteers (from both inside and outside the asylum), and the asylum band.  Asylums made continuous and strenuous efforts to include the community in many of these activities.  Those that did volunteer were publicly thanked in their efforts by the medical staff.


Recreation was one of the few asylum activities that attempted, albeit in a highly regulated way, to encourage patients to respond and interact in appropriate ways in a social, physical, as well as an emotional sense.” 

(MacKinnon, 2009, p. 134 & 145)

The presence and performances of bands in these kinds of institutions was very important to the well-being of patients and staff.

The bands:

Herald, 05/02/1917, p. 6

It was not uncommon for bands of this time to go and support these institutions either through their playing at the institution or by raising money through other means.  We can see this through articles published in the newspapers of the day and the reports that were submitted to the government of the day.  An article published in an August 1904 issue of the Daily Telegraph newspaper from Sydney tells us that the Newtown Brass Band played at the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane and there were a number of visitors in the grounds to listen to them  – although one the inmates escaped during the performance.  (“ESCAPE FROM A LUNATIC ASYLUM.,” 1904).  The Oakleigh Brass Band from Melbourne were quite active in this area of performance and the Talbot Colony for Epileptics and the Cheltenham Benevolent Asylum were two of the beneficiaries of their visits (“ASYLUM INMATES ENTERTAINED,” 1917; “Talbot Colony for Epileptics,” 1914).

Daily Telegraph, 15/08/1904, p. 7

General Hospitals also hosted performances of brass bands as they sought to bring some music and entertainment before their patients and staff.  The Lakes Creek Brass Band (pictured below) was booked to play at the Rockhampton General Hospital at various times during 1914 (“THE LAKE’S CHEEK BRASS BAND.,” 1914).  Likewise, the Darwin Brass Band paid a surprise visit to the Darwin Hospital to play a selection of music at Christmas time, a performance that was very much appreciated by the audience and communicated to the band by the Matron in charge (“XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL.,” 1920).

The Lakes Creek Brass Band, 1909. (source: IBEW)

As well as boasting their own significant music program which once included a brass band, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind also hosted performances by various musical groups.  The employees of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board generously gave their time to provide some entertainment for the Institute and part of this entertainment included items played by the Malvern Tramways Band (“TRAMWAYS ENTERTAIN BLIND FOLK.,” 1925).  Likewise, in later years, the bands of the Victoria Police (pipe and brass) also gave their time to play for the R.V.I.B. (“Police help for Blind Institute,” 1947).

Of course, the band movement in Australia was not alone in the way they provided music for these institutions.  The band movement in Aotearoa New Zealand was similarly engaged in doing the same kinds of performances.  For example, in the Te Waipounamu South Island city of Christchurch, on the Sunday before Christmas each year all the bands in the city would turn out to perform at various institutions and hospitals (“BANDS’ VISITING DAY,” 1938).

Press, 19/12/1939, p. 13

And as mentioned, the bands turned out for charitable events to aid in the care of the infirm.  In one instance, the newly-formed Richmond Boys’ Band was featured in an article published by the Richmond Guardian newspaper when they assisted at an event to provide support for the Blind Soldiers’ Fund (“Richmond Boys’ Brass Band,” 1918).

The work of the Salvation Army bands should also be noted as they were also very active in this area of performance. Below is a photo of a Salvation Army Band visiting the Peel Island Lazaret which was a facility to house Queensland sufferers of Leprosy.

Salvation Army Brass Band visiting Peel Island Lazaret (Qld.) during 1920s. (source: State Library of Queensland: 74802)

There was no doubt that the bands were busy in this area of performance, and full credit to the work that they did. 


Postcard: St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band. Champions of Australia, 1906 (source: Jeremy de Korte Collection)

While the workings of the Lunatic Asylums were virtually unknown to the public at the time, the same could not be said for other institutions such as the Blind Institutes and the Orphanages.  And both mentioned types of institutions promoted their musical activities to the extent that the bands attached to them had excellent reputations.  The musicians that both programs produced were very good and in Victoria for example, while some former R.V.I.B. musicians did display their talents outside the Institute, the Orphanages were better known for producing some of Australia’s finest brass musicians.  This section will briefly examine the music-making at both forms of institutions.

The Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind:

Lantern Slide: Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Orchestra, 1900. (source: Museum Victoria Collections: MM 95962)

Music-making at the R.V.I.B. was an activity that was immersed in the daily routines of the students, and this involved singing, piano, organ, a string orchestra, and a brass band.  A first mention of a brass band at the R.V.I.B. is made in an article published by The Age newspaper as far back as 1874 where they played “The Standard Bearer March with excellent precision and time” (“DEAF AND DUMB INSTITUTE AND BLIND ASYLUM.,” 1874).

It appears that the Institute’s musicians were sent out to tour and raise funds as soon as they could do so.  Judith Buckrich, in her book on the history of the R.V.I.B, details some of the tours of the musicians, and even in the earlier years, the touring was quite extensive.  From an Institution that started in 1866, to have musical groups sent to various places in Victoria by 1877 was a remarkable achievement.

The Asylum’s musicians and singers were often on the road.  In 1877, the choir gave concerts in Taradale, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Eaglehawk, Echuca, Maryborough, Chinaman’s Flat, Stawell, Ararat, Beaufort, Learmonth and Ballarat.  The band performed in Emerald Hill, Eltham, Dandenong, Footscray, Berwick and other places.  They earned £827 for the Asylum.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 36)

Reflecting on music-making at the Institute as a whole, some writers asserted that the musicians at the R.V.I.B were performing at a higher standard than amateurs. A writer under the pseudonym of ‘Assistant Needlewoman’ wrote an expansive article for the Argus newspaper in June 1886 in which she meticulously detailed the workings of the Institute (Assistant Needlewoman, 1886).  She offered this considered opinion of the musical skills of the students.

While the musical world of Melbourne is divided as to whether there shall be a chair of music, a conservatoire, or whether, as would be best, we should be content for the present with a grand orchestra, the material for which is almost ready to hand, the claims of this well-known and deserving institutions are entirely overlooked.  With one conscientious and painstaking music teacher, upon whom is laid the Herculean task of giving instruction in piano, organ, and solo-singing, the pupils of the Blind Asylum have already done enough to show that they are worthy of the best professional training to be had.

(Assistant Needlewoman, 1886)

The article by ‘Assistant Needlewoman’ correlates with the history detailed by Buckrich as in 1888, there are some detailed accounts of how many students are involved in music-making.

Members of the choir and band numbered twenty-nine, and some students were members of both.  Eighteen students were being taught the piano and two, the organ.  Many concerts have been given during the year and this activity had earned the institution the tidy sum of £480 after expenses.  It seems that the choir and band now enjoyed free travel on the railways.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 50)

Four years after the article penned by ‘Assistant Needlewoman’, a writer with the pseudonym of ‘Benvolio’ visited the R.V.I.B. and was most impressed with what he saw during his visit – “All will agree that the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind is one of the most humane establishments in the colony…” (Benvolio, 1890).  He wrote an article for the Illustrated Sydney News newspaper which was just as detailed as the article written by four years earlier.  Benvolio’s remarks on the music program provide us with some additional insight.

…in most cases, they find outside employment, either at their trades or in teaching music, for which most of them display a wonderful aptitude, one of the former pupils being a very successful teacher in one of the suburbs, and at present bandmaster of the Asylum, which boasts a very efficient brass band and string band, besides a senior and junior choir, and several very capable solo vocalists and pianists, to say nothing of the more advanced pupils referred to, whose performances on the organ are astonishing.

(Benvolio, 1890)

As mentioned, musical groups such as the choir and string orchestra frequently went on tour and we can see that in some Victorian and Tasmanian towns, the visits were precluded by letters in the local newspapers explaining the charitable situation of the Institute (Hogarth, 1897; Winkelman, 1897).  The R.V.I.B. was always in need of funds and “one sources of funding that remained reliable was the concerts given by its various bands, orchestras and choirs.” (Buckrich, 2004, p. 58).  While the R.V.I.B. groups were in the towns, they were assisted by many of the town’s folk – and the local bands.  In two instances, the Ulverston Brass Band and the Rutherglen Brass Band were thanked for their help (Hogarth, 1900; “Victorian Institute for the Blind.,” 1893).

In the early 1890s we can see that the list of engagements for the band was not so much in towns and tours, but for specific events.  The “Royal Agricultural Society Annual Show”, “Roman Catholic Bazzaar, Albert Park”, “Miss Turner Grammar School Sports”, and the “Caulfield Grammar School Sports” are just some of the engagements the band performed at during 1892 (Buckrich, 2004, pp. 58-59).

The work of the R.V.I.B. was expanded during the First World War to help returned soldiers who had become vision impaired and blind, and the choir and band “gave several concerts at the Base Hospital, as well as the Soldiers’ Lounge in St Kilda, to assist the Red Cross with funds” (Buckrich, 2004, p. 82).  It is unclear as to the official status of the band in future years after the early 1900s.  However, the music department is still an integral part of the Institute.

Seventy-three students received instruction in music during 1922 – mainly in pianoforte, violin. Class and solo singing, flute, cornet and other band instruments, harmony, counterpoint, and the art of teaching.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 95)

The Orphanages:

The Largs Bay Orphanage Band. The Chronicle, 11/11/1922, p. 29

Admittedly, there is so much material on the exploits of the many Orphanage bands that they warrant a whole post just to unravel the fine work they did with their bands.  And unfortunately, this post will gloss over most of the achievements of these groups.  However, they do fit into this context of this post as the bands were set up to provide a musical activity to the routines of Orphanage boys and girls.  The newspaper photo above of the Largs Bay Orphanage Band shows an Orphanage band that was unique in Australia as all the band members were female – this band was also mentioned in a previous post (de Korte, 2018).

Orphanage bands in Australia were a copy of practices in England where the teaching of music in boys’ institutions was commonplace (Sheldon, 2009).  There was, however, a major difference to the outcomes of this musical education between the two countries.  Boys who were trained as musicians in English institutions readily found themselves recruited into the bands of the British Army and Navy (Sheldon, 2009).  Whereas the musicians that graduated from the Orphanage bands in Australia found themselves positions in the wider band movement.   Sheldon (2009) identified some benefits to music education in British institutions which were applicable to Australian Orphanages.

The evidence from the boys’ letters shows that they valued the intrinsic benefits of belonging to the band and learning an instrument.  For some poor boys, musical education offered a relief from the rigours of institutional care in circumstances where there were few pleasures on offer.

(p. 747)

We know that Orphanage bands in Australia have had a long and distinguished history, as well as enviable reputations.  The St. Augustine’s Band from Geelong is probably the most famous of them all, and it is mentioned that by 1898 they were already putting the call out for a new set of instruments (“ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND.,” 1898).  St. Augustine’s went on to win many competitions at South Street in Ballarat and toured extensively – in one instance, in 1906 they won the A Grade Championships at South Street (Royal South Street Society, 1906).  The band at St. Vincent’s de Paul in Melbourne was no less famous than their counterpart in Geelong and in 1921 they gained the services of Mr. Leslie Hoffman, a graduate of the St. Augustine’s Band, as their conductor (“St. Vincent’s Bandmaster,” 1921).  The Minton Boys’ Home Band in Frankston gained the services of another champion Geelong bandsman, Mr. Harry Shugg, when he became their instructor in 1928 (“BOYS’ BAND.,” 1928; Davies, 2005).  In Ballarat the boys at St. Joseph’s Orphanage Band were conducted by the very famous Frank Wright (pictured below) (St Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924, 1924).

Frankston and Somerville Standard, 20/04/1928, p. 4
St. Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924. (source: Victorian Collections: Federation University Historical Collection: 11049)

With so much talent from the Australian band movement involved in the music education areas of the Orphanages, it is no wonder that the bands did as well as they did.  As well as being an activity to occupy the minds of the Orphanage boys and girls, it also gave them a sense of purpose and achievement.

Westmead Orphanage Boys’ Band. Southern Cross, 30/10/1936, p. 10

The fourth prison band in the world:

The clock in the prison tower strikes the hour of midday. The prison brass band – a dozen trained prisoners – has fallen in on the grass plot in the central quadrangle.  At a signal from the official in charge it bursts into an inspiring rendition of Off to Glory march.  There may be dilletante criticism of the music’s aesthetic quality.  There can be no doubt of its volume and its lilting spirit.

(“A NEW PENTRIDGE.,” 1923)

Pentridge Prison really needs no introduction as an institution as innumerable stories have sprung from its bluestone walls.  It was not a place that immediately springs to mind as a place for music-making. Yet that is exactly what happened in the early 1920s.  Pentridge Prison became the institution that hosted the fourth prison band in the world.

Up until the early 1920s, Pentridge Prison was operated like many other prisons in Victoria under the governance of the Penal and Gaols Department.  Reports on the on Victorian prisons from this time were not very informative and focused mainly on statistics – the reports of 1922 and 1923 being prime examples (Penal and Gaols Department, 1923, 1924).  Conditions for the Victorian prisoners were hardly humane as prisons “had been designed to ensure prisoner separation” (Paterson, 1997, p. 134).  However, as Paterson (1997) and Wilson (2014) identified in their respective research papers into the history of Victoria’s prison system, it is in the early 1920s when the Penal and Gaol Department, and Pentridge Prison, underwent a series of reforms.  The key to these reforms was prisoner education and music-making was a strong part of this.

Efforts by people such as Mr. Gibson Young, an eminent Melbourne musician with strong managerial skills and an association with the brass band movement, sought to bring music into Pentridge through community singing.  In 1921 he had the full intention of running community singing in the gaols. 

Now that the Music Week organisation has been placed on a more or less permanent basis, my executive committee is anxious to do all in its power to bring the good tidings of music into every department of civic life, and realises that no better opportunity for upliftment exists than among the prisoners in our gaols.

(Young, 1921)

While community singing was useful as an ad hoc form of recreation and a break in the prison routine, The new governor of the Pentridge in 1922, Major Walter Condor, had bigger ideas and he wanted to form a brass band.  His plans were outlined at the of the Tattersalls Club in Melbourne where he was trying to solicit donations for three pianos at Pentridge (“PIANO FOR PENTRIDGE,” 1922).  Major Condor, having previously overseen the A.I.F. camp at Langwarrin, had very firm ideas about making Pentridge a much more humane place for the prisoners and introducing educational reforms.

To the strains of “home, Sweet Home,” Victorian criminals may yet be welcomed back to the prisons after new convictions.  The provision of music for prisoners is one of the ideals of the governor of Pentridge Major Condor, and he hopes for much from such an experiment in the reclamation of the State’s “Bad Hats.”


Major Condor said that one of the most humanising things was work, and next to that was music.


Ten days later, Major Condor gained further support for a brass band at a conference of the National Federation at Ballarat where some delegates thought it was a very good idea.  A Dr. Booth thought his “idea was a good one” and that “It was essential that the prisoners should not only have plenty of work to do, but the mind should be occupied after working hours.” (“A PRISONERS’ BAND.,” 1922).  And so, the brass band at Pentridge was created.

At first it was conducted by Mr. Gibson Young, and he had obviously used his contacts in the brass band movement to get the instruments and music that were needed – the Coburg Brass Band and Malvern Tramways Band were two bands that are mentioned as having donated these items (Cremona, 1923).  Mr. Young, who was associated with the Malvern Tramways Band, had apparently “remarked that Major Condor might try to inveigle members of the Malvern Tramways Band into Pentridge to strengthen the personal of his band” (Cremona, 1923).  One wonders what Mr. Harry Shugg, then conductor of the MTB, might have thought of this remark (if he knew about it).

An article published in The Herald newspaper in February 1923 gives us some insight into the way music has begun to transform life at Pentridge.

There are already 15 men in the band.  Some of them have had experience in regimental bands, some of have been connected with various bands that are not known in Pentridge.  Others have just “taken to music” as the best means of whiling away the time until they can know again outside of the walls.

 (“PRISON DE LUXE,” 1923)

By April 1923, the work that was taking place at Pentridge was noticed by the Chief Secretary, a Mr. Baird who was most impressed with what he saw in the music-making and the effect it had on prisoners (“IMPROVEMENTS AT PENTRIDGE,” 1923).  And some months later, Pentridge was a prison that was well on the way to reformation, all under the watch of Major Condor (“A NEW PENTRIDGE.,” 1923).  Mr. Gibson Young, the bandmaster of the prison band and conductor of the community singing, left his position (and Australia) in September 1923 and was presented with a gold-mounted baton by the band (“GAOL MUSIC,” 1923).  

Mirror, 22/09/1923, p. 2

Major Condor left the prison in November 1923 to try a new career radio broadcasting (Thomas, 2006).  While he had only been governor at Pentridge for eighteen months, he had overseen substantial reforms that benefited the prisoner population and facilities.  

He gave the prisoners more healthful surroundings, brightened their quarters, permitted slight decorations of the cells, and with a colour scheme has banished gloom from the long corridors.  He gave them a brass band, Saturday and Sunday concerts, taught them games, improved their methods of working at trades by installing electric machinery in the shops, and increased their self-respect.

 (“MR. CONDER.,” 1923)
Herald, 06/02/1926, p. 17

On a slightly humorous note, a letter was published in the Labor Call newspaper apparently from a prisoner at Pentridge.  In this letter, he provides his ‘opinion’ on the band.

Our brass (very brass) band keeps a fellow from getting the “blues,” except when they play “Home, sweet home.” We are going to petition against the tune, as it only applies to the “Gov.” himself – he has a good home here.” 

(No. —, 1924)

The band at Pentridge prison kept going from strength to strength at from these early years and were noted by all that saw them perform.  They were, or course, part of a bigger picture of reform at the prison, and Pentridge was no longer seen as a dull institution (“AN HOUR IN PRISON.,” 1927).  The band had established themselves quite a bit over the subsequent years, to the extent that the Governor of Pentridge at the time, Mr. J. Brown, thought that the prisoners at Pentridge led all other prisoners in Australia in their musical abilities – he wanted them to go up in musical competition with the prisoners at Goulburn prison.  (“GAOL MUSIC DERBY,” 1935).

Literally there is music in the air at Pentridge every day.  An accomplished brass band of 26 instruments, led by Warder George Williams, plays marches and waltzes as the gangs go to and from their labours at the lunch hour.


On a side note, when researching this post, this author learned that the Cornet used by Warder George Williams was donated to the Coburg Historical Society in 1978. 

Herald, 17/01/1938, p. 11

The Pentridge Brass Band lost the services of bandmaster Warder Williams in 1938 when he moved to Geelong to become an attendance officer for the Education Department (“FAREWELL TO PRISON BAND CONDUCTOR,” 1938).  Depending on which source is accessed, he was the conductor of the band for seven to ten years.  Evidently, the band was still in operation in the early 1950s as they were mentioned in an article published by The Herald newspaper about the new prison brass band which had been established in the Ballarat Gaol (“HARMONY IN GAOL,” 1951).  In 1954, the State Government spent £1,000 for a whole new set of instruments for the Pentridge Brass Band (“News of the Day,” 1954).

Herald, 12/11/1951, p. 5

It is unclear what happened to the Pentridge Prison Brass Band after the 1950s due to a scarcity of available records, and unfortunately, this author was unable to locate a picture of the band.  However, it is evident that the band had a very positive effect on the prisoners and staff, and that it fitted into the reforms that swept over the Victorian prison system.  


There were many different types of music-making in these institutions, some which was kept hidden and others that were very much out in the open.  However, whatever the type of institution, the singular aim was to improve the mind with wholesome activities.  Music was the perfect activity, and bands were the outcome.  This was music therapy at its best.


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ASYLUM INMATES ENTERTAINED. (1917, 05 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242459034

BANDS’ VISITING DAY. (1938, 19 December). Press,13. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19381219.2.115

Benvolio. (1890, 02 August). MELBOURNE INSTITUTIONS: THE VICTORIAN ASYLUM AND SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND. Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1881 – 1894), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63615405

BOYS’ BAND. (1928, 20 April 1928). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74994629

Buckrich, J. R. (2004). Lighthouse on the boulevard : a history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, 1866-2004. Australian Scholarly Publishing. 

CONCERT BY WESTMEAD ORPHANAGE BOYS’ BAND. (1936, 30 October). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167081032

Conder, W. T. (1926, 06 February). One Year of Broadcasting. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244058874

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de Korte, J. D. (2018, 22 April). Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/04/22/early-female-brass-bands-in-australia-they-were-rare-but-they-made-their-mark/

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ESCAPE FROM A LUNATIC ASYLUM. (1904, 15 August). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236885955

FAREWELL TO PRISON BAND CONDUCTOR. (1938, 17 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244947562

GAOL MUSIC. (1923, 22 September). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77760324

GAOL MUSIC DERBY. (1935, 20 June). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182259204

Group of men wearing band uniforms and holding their brass instruments, R.V.I.B. [picture]. (1890). [negative : glass 16.3 x 21.4 cm. (full plate)]. [cr001189]. State Library Victoria, RVIB collection of glass negatives. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/32332

Hardy, A. (2019). “Islands of the Insane” – our records, perceptions and the lost voices from the ‘asylum’. Hunter Living Histories : University of Newcastle. https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2019/10/16/islands-insane/

HARMONY IN GAOL. (1951, 12 November). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247850691

Hogarth, J. T. (1897, 05 April). ROYAL VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210364264

Hogarth, J. T. (1900, 22 May). ROYAL VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND : To the Editor. Rutherglen Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser (Vic. : 1886 – 1957), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article268489459

AN HOUR IN PRISON : VISIT TO PENTRIDGE. : Where Gloom is Dispelled. (1927, 14 December). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96058047

IMPROVEMENTS AT PENTRIDGE : FOURTH PRISON BAND IN WORLD. (1923, 23 April). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213810752

Kamm, R. (2018, 28 February). Life inside Victoria’s 19th-Century ‘Lunatic’ asylums. Vice Media Group. Retrieved 13 September 2020 from https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/vbpqwj/life-inside-victorias-19th-century-lunatic-asylums

THE LAKE’S CHEEK BRASS BAND. (1914, 27 February). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article53319792

Lake’s Creek Brass Band, Rockhampton. (1909). [Photograph]. [phot20842]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures – Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

MacKinnon, D. (2000). ‘A captive audience:’ Musical concerts in Queensland mental instituions c.1870-c.1930. Context: A Journal of Music Reseach, Spring(19), 43-56. https://cpb-ap-se2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.unimelb.edu.au/dist/6/184/files/2017/01/19-5-A-captive-audience-172c2wo.pdf

MacKinnon, D. (2009). Divine Service, Music, Sport, and Recreation as Medicinal in Australian Asylums 1860s-1945. Health and History, 11(1), 128-148. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20534507

MR. CONDER : CONTROL OF PENTRIDGE GAOL : FAREWELL BY PRISONERS. (1923, 07 November). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93506230

MUSIC AID TO RECRUITING. (1940, 06 June). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243225676

A NEW PENTRIDGE. (1923, 02 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203628053

News of the Day. (1954, 11 December). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205727521

No. —. (1924, 24 December). LIFE IN GAOL. Labor Call (Melbourne, Vic. : 1906 – 1953), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article250083988

Paterson, W. C. (1997). Victoria’s prison policy 1851-1992: from hulks to unit management (Publication Number 21156) [PhD, University of Tasmania – School of Government]. Hobart, Tasmania. https://eprints.utas.edu.au/21156/

Penal and Gaols Department. (1923). Penal Establishments, Gaols, and Reformatory Prisons : Report and Statistical Tables for the year 1922 [Parliamentary Report](No. 25. – [1s] – 16851). Parliament of Victoria. https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1923-24No25.pdf

Penal and Gaols Department. (1924). Penal Establishments, Gaols, and Reformatory Prisons : Report and Statistical Tables for the year 1923 [Parliamentary Report](No. 26 — [9D.] — 15596). Parliament of Victoria. https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1924No26.pdf

PIANO FOR PENTRIDGE : PRISON CHIEF WANTS BAND ALSO. (1922, 05 September). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102724367

Pike, B. (2015, 03 March). Sydney’s shameful asylums: The silent houses of pain where inmates were chained and sadists regned. The Daily Telegraph. https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sydneys-shameful-asylums-the-silent-houses-of-pain-where-inmates-were-chained-and-sadists-reigned/news-story/b4205dc9a17e8ee0763711d93d720d04

Police help for Blind Institute. (1947, 13 September). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22507332

PRISON DE LUXE : PENTRIDGE MADE PLEASANT : Band Music, Electric Light. (1923, 27 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243791944

A PRISONERS’ BAND. (1922, 15 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903; 1916 – 1926), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213217073

Richmond Boys’ Brass Band to Make Debut at Racecourse Carnival for Blind Soldiers—Amazing Growth of Notable Movement that will Bring Fame to This District. (1918, 12 January). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811136

Royal South Street Society. (1906). 1906-11-04 Band Contests : Held at the City Oval Royal South Street Society Results Database. https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-11-04-band-contests

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. (1900). Lantern Slide – School Orchestra, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, circa 1900 [Lantern Slide, Standard (3¼ in. x 3¼ in.), Black & White]. [MM 95962]. Museum Victoria Collections, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Collection. https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/1390549 

Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s. (2007). [copy print : b&w]. [74802]. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680

Sheldon, N. (2009). The musical careers of the poor: the role of music as a vocational training for boys in British care institutions 1870–1918. History of Education, 38(6), 747-759. https://doi.org/10.1080/00467600903305590

St Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924. (1924). [Photograph]. [11049]. Federation University Australia Historical Collection, Victorian Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/502db00e2162ef0f4c4ac157

ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND. (1898, 01 March). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150368016

St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band : Champions of Australia. (1907). [Postcard]. Geelong, Victoria. 

St. Vincent’s Bandmaster : Mr. Hoffman Returns to Melbourne. (1921, 13 January). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171054534 

Sunday Night Meeting AT THE SOCIALIST HALL : MUSICAL DEMONSTRATION : LECTURETTE BY MISS KATHLEEN HOTSON : PENTRIDGE JAIL METHODS CONDEMNED. (1920, 18 November). Socialist (Melbourne, Vic. : 1906 – 1923), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article240692618

Talbot Colony for Epileptics : Visit by Oakleigh Brass Band. (1914, 24 January). Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88807177

Thomas, A. (2006). Conder, Walter Tasman (1888-1974) [published first in hardcopy 1981]. In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 27 October 2022, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/conder-walter-tasman-5747

TRAMWAYS ENTERTAIN BLIND FOLK. (1925, 29 May). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165137965

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1914). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1913 [Parliamentary Report](25). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25004/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1927a). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1925 [Parliamentary Report](11). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25149/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1927b). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1926 [Parliamentary Report](37). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25005/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1928). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1927 [Parliamentary Report](41). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:28338/one

Victorian Institute for the Blind. (1893, 27 January). Coastal News and North Western Advertiser (Ulverstone, Tas. : 1890 – 1893), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216216052

Wilson, R. (2014). Joseph Akeroyd: rediscovering a prison reformer (Publication Number 9921863848301341) [PhD, RMIT University – School of Management – College of Business]. Melbourne, Victoria. https://researchrepository.rmit.edu.au/esploro/outputs/doctoral/Joseph-Akeroyd-rediscovering-a-prison-reformer/9921863848301341

Winkelman, H. G. A. (1897, 25 November). THE VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND—VISIT OF THE BAND AND CHOIR. Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86326868

XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL. (1920, 28 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3303945

Young, G. (1921, 25 November). Pentridge Music. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242631362

YOUNG MUSICIANS. (1922, 11 November). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 29. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87519427

Trans-Tasman connections: the lure of competition and performance. Part Two – Australian Bands in New Zealand.


In comparison to the first part of this series of posts, the Australian bands were not quite as proactive as crossing the Tasman as their New Zealand counterparts.  When the Australian bands did go to New Zealand, they tended to do very well in competition and performances gained rave reviews.  This part of the post will detail the trips that four Australian bands made to New Zealand between 1900-1940.

1907: Newcastle City Band – Christchurch International Exhibition Contest:

1907, Newcastle City Band visiting New Zealand. New Zealand Mail, 13/02/1907 (Source: PapersPast)

It took a little bit longer for Australian bands to start reciprocal visits to New Zealand and in 1907 the then champion Newcastle City Band traveled to Christchurch via Wellington to participate in the International Exhibition Contest (“NEWCASTLE CITY BAND.,” 1907).  By all accounts, this was a huge event with no less than twenty-nine bands participating (Newcomb, 1980).  Also in attendance at the Exhibition was the world-famous Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band from England who performed to great acclaim (Newcomb, 1980).  Code’s Melbourne band was also intending to take part in the event however they did not end up going due to some of their bandsmen being unable to take time off work (Trombone, 1907).

The Newcastle Band achieved a very credible third placing against some top-ranking New Zealand bands and some of their soloists also achieved good placings (“BAND CONTEST,” 1907).  However, soon after the contest finished, questions were being asked over the judging with Newcastle and others feeling that Newcastle should have been placed higher.  In an article published in the Wanganui Herald, a Mr. Edgar Nicholas from Ballarat who was visiting was asked about the adjudicating at the contest by Lieutenant Bentley, formerly of England.  Mr. Nicholas said in his interview that,

I have been at all the band contests in Ballarat, where the principal bands in Australia compete.  We had had Messrs Ord-Hume, Wade, and Beard from England, but, speaking generally, Mr. Bentley has given equal satisfaction in Ballarat with these gentlemen”.


Speaking pragmatically in the interview, Mr. Nicholas noted that an adjudicator sometimes fails to please everyone given that Mr. Bentley had to judge 30 bands.  Also, as Mr. Nicholas suggests, some bands may not have been at their best given the late hours that some of them competed (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).  Mr. Nicholas kept drawing comparisons with the Ballarat South St. Eisteddfod, the first being that that in the case of large sections, Ballarat employed up to three judges and that in Australia there were separate gradings which, at the time, were not used in New Zealand (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).

One Newcastle bandsman was quite firm in his comments which were published in a Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate newspaper article,

When our band-master tells us we played well I am satisfied.  He tells us often enough when we don’t play well; but we never played better than in the competition.”

(“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Aside from this issue over the placings, most accounts note that the Newcastle City Band had an enjoyable trip and were welcomed in various locations.  On the ship home, they played for an appreciative audience and were welcomed home with a civic reception (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Band:Own Choice:Test:Total:
Wanganui Garrison158147305
Kaikorai Brass158145303
Newcastle City156146302
(source of table data (Newcomb, 1980, p. 40))

1923: Redfern Municipal Band – South Island Brass Band Association Contest, Dunedin:

Some sixteen years after the first Australian band traveled to New Zealand, it took until 1923 for the next Australian band to arrive.  The Redfern Municipal Band, conducted by Mr. W. Partington, was a formidable band at the time and they undertook a short tour through the South Island of New Zealand on their way from Wellington to Dunedin.  Upon arriving in Wellington, along with a contingent of N.S.W. Bowlers, they were given a large civic reception by the Mayor (“BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN,” 1923).  The arrival of Redfern had generated an amount of excitement throughout New Zealand, suffice to say that their conductor Mr. W. Partington had conducted one of their own champion bands, The Wanganui Garrison Band for a while (“ENTERPRISING BAND,” 1923; Newcomb, 1980) – the band from Redfern was not unknown in New Zealand.

Redfern Municipal was ultimately triumphant in Dunedin by winning the A Grade section and Aggregate.  This was no easy feat given that a number of New Zealand’s A grade bands were in the section, including Mr. Partington’s former band, Wanganui.  Newcomb (1980) wrote of Redfern and the A Grade contest,

In Dunedin, it competed against seven of New Zealand’s top A grade bands.  After a week of intensive rehearsal in the “Edinburgh of the South” Redfern was rewarded for its painstaking efforts when it took out the A grade title 12 points ahead of Invercargill’s Hiberian Band. The 1st Canterbury Mounted Regiment Band was third.

The talking point of the contest was the poor performance of the Wanganui Garrison Band, under Mr. J. Crichton.  The veteran Wanganui conductor’s ambition was to thrash the Redferners…”

(p. 44)

Of course the triumph was noted in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, and rightly so, it was a great win for the Redfern band (“BAND CONTEST,” 1923; “REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, the backstory of the two conductors was intriguing and written up as part of an article published by the NZ Truth newspaper:

There is an interesting story (perhaps) behind the crossing of the Redferners.  Bandmaster Partington was over here for a while, and had charge of the Wanganui Band.  Within a very short period of training under his baton he made champions of them, winning the N.Z. honors last year.  Then there arose a controversy between Partington, of Aussieland and Jim Crichton, of Wanganui, the ex-bootshopman who knocked off trade to become a musician, undergoing a special course of study in London for the purpose of pursuing his brass-bound hobby.  He told P. that if he (C.) had the Woolston Band under his baton for a month he could beat anything that P. could bring against it.  There was such a heated argument that it was leading to something like a £1000 wager.  But P. left for Aussieland again, and took charge of the Redferners.  Now the question is: Did he bring the Sydneysiders over to compete against anything that Jim Crichton had under his wing? Well, Jim took the Wanganui cracks down to Dunedin to play against their old leader – and Wanganui was nowhere in the final!

(“Brass Bands and Bandsmen,” 1923)

When returning to Australia, there was a snippet of thought that the Redfern Band might head to England to compete (“REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, this evidently did not eventuate.  Their conductor, Mr. Partington, went on to other activities and formed a representative band that travelled Australia with the aim of heading to England.  But as detailed in a previous post, that tour ended up running out of money upon arrival in Perth.

1925: Malvern Tramways Band – New Zealand National Band Championship, Auckland:

Malvern Tramways Band, Auckland. Auckland Weekly News, 2/03/1925, p. 46. (Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections: AWNS-19250305-46-1)

Just two years later, another crack Australian band made the trip to New Zealand to compete.  The Malvern Tramways Band was renowned throughout Australia as one of the elite bands of the Commonwealth having won numerous competitions by this time.  So much so that the Malvern Band, like many others, tried to get to England however they too were unable to raise sufficient funds.  To compensate, they did arrive in New Zealand early in 1925 to commence a six-week tour culminating in the championships in Auckland (“Malvern Tramways Band,” 1925d).

The reputation of Malvern preceded them to New Zealand and all manner of hospitality was afforded for the band including, special observation cars on trains, reduced rail fares and free travel on New Zealand trams! (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925b).  They sailed from Melbourne to Invercargill and from there travelled up to Auckland giving concerts in all the major towns on the way (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925a).  By late February they had reached Auckland and commenced competing in the band sections and solo sections.  In competition, the Malvern Tramways band was formidable and they won just about every section except for the Quickstep where they achieved third place (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925b; “MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST,” 1925).  Newcomb (1980) wrote of the contest:

After many years of bickering, common sense prevailed when the North and South Island associations joined forces to stage the 1925 national contest in Auckland.

It was made doubly interesting by the presence of the Malvern Tramways Band from Australia under the conductorship of Mr. Harry Shugg.

New Zealand’s top A grade bands proved no match for the highly fancied Australian combination which won both tests, the hymn and the championship aggregate.

(p. 45)

After this astounding success in New Zealand, the Malvern Tramways Band sailed for Sydney where they performed their competition repertoire in concert to rave reviews (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925c).  Traveling back to Melbourne, the success of their New Zealand venture was written up a couple of months later by the local Prahran Telegraph newspaper (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925a).

1936: Cairns Citizens’ Band – New Zealand National Band Championships, New Plymouth:

Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band. Evening Post, 23/11/1935. (Source: PapersPast)

In October 1935, the Cairns Post newspaper published the news that the Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band would compete at the 1936 New Zealand Band Championships in New Plymouth (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).  Conducted by James Crompton, a person that was not unfamiliar to the New Zealand brass bands, the band was nominally the first band from Queensland to compete in New Zealand and the first from Australian Military Forces (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).

The Cairns Citizens’ Band won the New Zealand Championship that year, although they did not win the Test selection.  However, their aggregate points were enough that they could win the championship (“Cairns Band.,” 1936; Newcomb, 1980).  The New Zealand press was also impressed by the standards set in New Plymouth and an article published in the Evening Post newspaper praised the marching – the Cairns Citizens’ Band achieved 2nd place in the marching section (“GOOD MARCHING,” 1936).


There was a similarity of experiences for bands crossing to either side of the Tasman; with civic receptions, a very interested and informed public and commentary from the newspapers.  The excitement generated by viewing a visiting band was also interesting to note – and there were plenty of other articles that were written about bands (but too many to list in these posts)!  It was interesting to note just how close the Australian and New Zealand brass band movements were in terms of standards and rules, so much so that any band crossing the Tasman could expect near similar conditions of competition.  The best bands of each country could match the other and in the spirit of competition, this was plain to see.

It is the collegial nature of band movements that enabled these visits to happen and to this day, the friendly rivalries remain, and visits continue to take place.  Kudos to the bands that made these early trips as they set a foundation for other bands to build on.

<- Part One – New Zealand Bands in Australia


Auckland Weekly News. (1925). AUSTRALIAN BAND’S SWEEPING SUCCESS : MALVERN TRAMWYS (MELBOURNE), WINNERS OF ALL THE A GRADE SHIELDS AND THE McLED CUP [Digital Image AWNS-19250305-46-1]. Ngā Pātaka Kōrero o Tâmaki Makaurau / Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Auckland, N.Z. https://digitalnz.org/records/38490933/australian-bands-sweeping-success-malvern-tramways-melbourne-winners-of-all

AUSTRALIAN BAND FOR NEW ZEALAND CONTEST. (1935, 23 November). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19351123.2.26.1

BAND CONTEST : Redfern Win The Aggregate : Wellington Watersiders Third. (1923, 24 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230224.2.68

BAND CONTEST : Winners of Competitions. (1907, 16 February). New Zealand Times. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19070216.2.61

BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN. (1923, 08 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230208.2.25

Brass Bands and Bandsmen. (1923, 03 March). NZ Truth. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230303.2.2.4

Cairns Band : Wins Championship. (1936, 02 March). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172909750

THE CITY BAND. (1907, 27 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136605589

ENTERPRISING BAND : Sydney Competition Band Likely to Visit Wanganui. (1923, 12 January). Hawera & Normanby Star. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HNS19230112.2.17

GOOD MARCHING : Port Nicholson Band : Recent National Contest. (1936, 09 March). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19360309.2.25

THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST. (1907, 15 February). Wanganui Herald. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WH19070215.2.32

MAKING HISTORY : Band For New Zealand : Cairns to Cross Tasman. (1935, 02 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41708070

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925a, 20 February). New Zealand Herald. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19250220.2.132

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925b, 20 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243874312

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925c, 10 March). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16207234

Malvern Tramways Band : Leaves for New Zealand. (1925d, 13 February). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165132427

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Recent New Zealand Tour : Success in Competitions. (1925a, 22 May). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165141099

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Wins Championship of New Zealand. (1925b, 06 March). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165137387

MALVERN WIN A GRADE TEST. (1925, 27 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19250227.2.83.1

New Zealand International Exhibition. (1907, 12 February). Star, 3. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19070212.2.57.2

The Newcastle (N.S.W.) City Brass Band; Champion Band of Australia, At Present Visiting New Zealand. (1907, 13 February). New Zealand Mail. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZMAIL19070213.2.235.6

NEWCASTLE CITY BAND : Going to New Zealand. (1907, 29 January). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136608558

Newcomb, S. P. (1980). Challenging brass : 100 years of brass band contests in New Zealand, 1880-1980. Powerbrass Music for the Brass Band Association of New Zealand. 

REDFERN BAND : New Zealand Triumph. (1923, 09 March). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) ,8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118834570

Trombone. (1907, 09 February). The Exhibition : The Band Contests. Lyttelton Times. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT19070209.2.71

Trans-Tasman connections: the lure of competition and performance. Part One – New Zealand Bands in Australia.

GLNZ Series
Wanganui Garrison Band being welcomed in Melbourne. Auckland Weekly News, 10/11/1910. (Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections: AWNS-19101110-4-5)


It would be fair to say that the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, as countries and peoples, has been one of mutual respect, partnership, shared development, and healthy competitiveness.  This has been evident in many instances and has also been evident in the brass band movement.  So much so that over the years from just before 1900 up to 1950, bands regularly crossed the Tasman Sea with the aim of touring, performance, and participating in respective championships.

Travel was not always an easy task and was certainly expensive.  Yet in these early days of ships and trains, bands managed this and for the most part, were met with civic welcomes and hospitality wherever they went.  There were also times when eminent bandsmen also traveled to ply their services as adjudicators, conductors or band coaches.  This allowed a flow of new ideas, expertise and criticism that certainly helped the band movements of both countries.

As far as the information allows it, we will see who went where and when.  It has been interesting to read the perspectives of media from both Australia and New Zealand through using the resources of the Trove archive and DigitalNZ / PapersPast – media of the day reported on everything.  Also, the results database of the Royal South Street Society, the Brass Band Results website (UK) and history books regarding the band history of New Zealand have been very helpful.

For the sake of brevity, this post has been divided into two parts and the details of visits are in basic chronological order.  Part one is about the bands from New Zealand that traveled to Australia and part two highlights four of the Australian bands that went to New Zealand.  There are some fascinating stories to come out of these trips and one can appreciate the initiative.  I hope people enjoy reading both posts.

1897-1899: Invercargill Garrison Band, Oamaru Garrison Band & Wellington Garrison Band – Melbourne & Bathurst:

In the few years preceding 1900, Australia received visits from three New Zealand bands in relatively quick succession; the Invercargill Garrison Band in 1897, the Oamaru Garrison band in 1898 and the Wellington Garrison Band in 1899 (Newcomb, 1980).  In 1897 the Invercargill Garrison Band visited Melbourne to compete in the Druid’s Gala Contest in Melbourne and gained a credible forth placing out of the eleven bands that competed (“VICTORIA.,” 1897).  The next year, and in the same contest, the Oamaru Garrison Band visited and was higher placed although there’s some historical conjecture over the scores with an article in the Bendigo Independent newspaper reporting a tied third place other reports saying they achieved second placings in some sections (“THE BAND CONTEST.,” 1898; Newcomb, 1980).

The Bendigo Independent, 12/04/1898, p. 3

In 1899, the Wellington Garrison Band sailed to Australia and after a brief stop in Sydney, they traveled to Bathurst to compete in the Intercolonial Band Contest.  They immediately set the tone of their visit and marched from the railway station to the hotel followed by enthusiastic crowds (“The Wellington Garrison Band.,” 1899).  However, despite being a champion New Zealand band, they were brought undone in Bathurst by the deportment of their bandsmen.  It was widely reported in New Zealand and Australian press that the reason they lost points in the marching was because of  “nine of the bandsmen being unshaved” (“UNSHAVEN BANDSMEN,” 1899).  Apparently Wellington band “forgot” the regulations on shaving and were subsequently placed fifth in the marching even though their playing matched the Code’s Melbourne Band (“Bathurst Band Contest.,” 1899).  This being said, they redeemed themselves by winning the bulk of the solo contests in Bathurst (“BAND CONTEST.,” 1899).

1908 & 1921: Kaikorai Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:

Colonist, 14/01/1908, p. 3

Early in 1908, a tiny snippet of news was printed by newspapers across New Zealand; the Kaikorai Band from Dunedin was intending to compete at the Ballarat South Street Eisteddfod in October – as seen here in this advertisement published by the Colonist newspaper (“Kaikorai Band,” 1908).  The Kaikorai band was another one of New Zealand’s top bands at the time and obviously felt that they could take on the best of Australian brass bands (Newcomb, 1980). However, things did not go quite to plan on the day and Newcomb (1980) outlined one the main reasons:

Everything went wrong after one of the band’s top soloists, Billy Flea, cracked his lip.  The Flugel Horn solo had to be taken by Jim Pearson.  Though Billy was a strong player, Jim was the reverse.  As a result, another soloist, who was in the habit of relying on the finish of the Flugel solo to dovetail his entry, simply didn’t hear Jim, so never got started!

Conductor Laidlaw was so taken aback that his baton simply froze.  Some of the bandsmen maintained that the Scots conductor turned a shade of green! It was to his credit, however, that after the initial shock he pulled the band together.

(p. 40)

This, of course, was reflected in the comments on their playing, an account that was published in the Otago Witness newspaper (“Kaikorai Band at Ballarat,” 1908). However, the Kaikorai Band did achieve one triumph when they won the discipline prize for their marching.

(Royal South Street Society, 1908a, 1908b)

In 1921 the Kaikorai Band returned to South Street to compete, however on this occasion they did not go as well as Australian bands had developed quite a bit in preceding years and Kaikorai was no match for them (Newcomb, 1980).  The only success on this occasion occurred in the Septette section where their group achieved first place.

(Royal South Street Society, 1921a, 1921b)

1910: Wanganui Garrison Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:

Two years after the Kaikorai band visited South Street, another one of New Zealand’s top bands, the famous Wanganui Garrison Band made the trip.  Conducted by Mr. James Chrichton for 21 years and succeeded by Mr. Alfred Wade in 1908, the band had built up an enviable contesting record and in 1910 they made the trip to Australia to compete (Newcomb, 1980; Zealley & Ord Hume, 1926).

Needless to say, the Wanganui Garrison Band was very successful at South Street and won both the Quickstep and Test sections over the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and both Ballarat bands – Prout’s and City (“THE GRAND BAND CONTESTS,” 1910).  As well as this superb win in the band contest, Wanganui also had many soloists and ensemble enter various sections, and they were similarly successful with many of them gaining places.

(Royal South Street Society, 1910a, 1910b, 1910c, 1910d)

When Wanganui returned to Melbourne, they were given a rapturous welcome by the Lord Mayor and the Agent for New Zealand (pictured at the start of this post) (“THE WANGANUI BAND.,” 1910).  After leaving Melbourne they traveled to Albury where they were given another civic reception (“WANGANUI BAND,” 1910).  From Albury, they traveled to Sydney to take a ship back to Auckland where they were greeted with a huge celebration by proud New Zealanders (“VICTORY OF THE WANGANUI BAND,” 1910).

1920: 2ndSouth Canterbury (Timaru) Regimental Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:

Band of 2nd, South Canterbury, Regiment, Timaru (Source: Early New Zealand Photographers)

After the First World War ended and bands were gradually getting back to normal activities, the South Street Eisteddfod resumed and the 2nd South Canterbury Regimental Band, also known as the Timaru Regimental Band, ventured to Australia to compete in the 1920 contests.  Despite them being a national champion band in New Zealand, at least before the war, their results in Ballarat were not that spectacular (Newcomb, 1980).  That being said, the A Grade section did include Malvern Tramways Band, Ipswich Vice-Regal Band, South Sydney and the City of Ballarat – Timaru came up against some of the best in Australia at the time.  Timaru Regimental did have some success in the Trombone Trio and placings in other solo sections so their experience of South Street was somewhat worthwhile (“SOUTH STREET BAND CONTESTS.,” 1920).

(Royal South Street Society, 1920a, 1920b, 1920c)

1934: Woolston Band – South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest, Ballarat:

In 1934 in the midst of a depression, the Woolston Band from Christchurch managed to find enough funds to make the trip to Ballarat with the aim of competing in the 1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contests – the name given as it was Victoria’s Centenary year since it became a separate colony.  This was an auspicious event as it was attended by the Duke of Gloucester and the Band of His Majesty’s Grenadier Guards.

By all accounts they acquitted themselves very well and up against some of Australia’s best bands, they achieved second place.  They did have some setbacks though.  Newcomb (1980) writes of Woolston’s effort:

The Woolston Band may well have won the contest had it not drawn the dreaded No. 1 position in the second test piece.  Bad weather resulted in a last-minute decision to stage the event indoors, and when the band started its performance it became evident that the standard seating formation did not conform with the acoustics of the hall.

After the contest, the adjudicator, Mr. Stephen York, told Mr. Estell the Woolston Band had not scored well because it was not properly balanced.  Moreover, to add to the band’s misfortune, five members were suffering from influenza.

(p. 47)

The standard of competition was very high and this was noted by the press that attended the event (“BRILLIANT PLAYING,” 1934).  The winning band was the famed Melbourne Fire Brigade Band.

(Royal South Street Society, 1934)

Programme, South Street “Centenary” : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades, pg. 3-4. (Souce: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

1947: Wellington Waterside Workers Silver Band / Auckland Junior Waterside Workers Band – Australian Band Championships, Newcastle:

After the cessation of the Second World War, band competitions resumed in New Zealand and Australia and in 1947 the Australian Band Championships were held in Newcastle, N.S.W.  Two New Zealand Bands made the trip to Newcastle that year with the Wellington band competing in A grade and the Auckland band competing in B grade.  On this occasion, both bands did not receive a civic welcome to Newcastle but instead were awarded a function put on by the Newcastle Waterside Workers’ Social Committee (“Waterside Bands To Be Welcomed,” 1947).

Out of these two bands, the Wellington Waterside Band was the only one to gain a placing by achieving 3rd place however their soloists won most sections (Newcomb, 1980).  The Auckland Junior band did not gain any placing and the A Grade championship was won by the Melbourne Fire Brigade Band (“FIREMEN SCORE IN BAND CONTEST,” 1947).  Both Waterside bands performed at other events during their stay which helped contribute money to various waterside workers’ benefit funds (“New Zealand Bands Guest Artists,” 1947).

1949: St. Kilda Municipal Band – South Street Eisteddfod, Ballarat:

In 1949 the St. Kilda Municipal Band from Dunedin, elated by their success at the Auckland NZ Band Championships this same year, decided to come to Ballarat and compete for the Australian championship as well (Newcomb, 1980).  Make the trip they did, and doing things differently to other New Zealand bands that had previously traveled to Australia, instead of taking a ship, they flew! (“NZ BAND WILL FLY HERE,” 1949).

To have a New Zealand band of this caliber at South Street was a major drawcard and they convincingly won or came 2nd in every section that they participated in (“NZ band has a big day at Ballarat,” 1949).  The section included bands from Ballarat and the famous Brisbane Excelsior Band.

(Royal South Street Society, 1949a, 1949b)


In concluding part one of this series of posts, one must admire the drive and determination of the New Zealand bands.  Success was never a guarantee; however, it was shown that the best New Zealand bands were certainly a match for the crack Australian bands (and vice versa).  Having bands visit from New Zealand was also a major drawcard to competitions for the visiting public.

In part two of this series, we can see how the Australian bands fared in New Zealand.

Part Two – Australian Bands in New Zealand ->


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