A room to call their own: the space and place for bands

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The old Orange City Band Hall (Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, October 2019)

Introduction:

There is no doubting that bands need material items to help them function as a band, as they do now.  And so, a previous post was written regarding instruments, sheet music and uniforms and how bands obtained such items .  Perhaps it was remiss of that post not to mention band rooms as an added essential item.  However, when researching for this current post, that omission is now justified – there is lots of historical writing on band rooms!

For the early bands, finding a room to practice in was no easy task.  We shall see that some of them were housed in stables, auction rooms, schools, rotundas, and most were subject to the whims and mercies of their local councils.  Several bands had to solicit funds from the general public for a variety of items, rooms included.  For some bands, they were able to build their own band room.  Bands that were attached to an industry were lucky enough to have rooms provided for them.

There is a similarity in the stories from across Australia when it came to bands and their rooms.  No doubt the bands themselves would have shared some of the stories when they met at events and competitions.  Bands, while competitive, are also collegial.

It is regarding band rooms that we see bands being innovative and inventive.  For the early bands, finding their own place and space was an achievement. Here are some of the stories.

Space, place, and memory:

Before this post delves into the practical stories on band rooms, it is important to explore the meaning of a band room to a community, to bands and to people.  The concept of space and place helps to explain this meaning – it is what is termed, “humanistic geography”; “A place can be seen as space that has meaning” (Selten & van der Zandt, 2011).  However, the concept of space and place should not be seen as entirely geographical.  There is social meaning as well.  It is people who provide meaning to a place and within places communities are made.

For a local band, having their own room was of great importance, they needed places to practice.  And having their own room gave them a sense of connectedness to the local community.  As Mackay (2005) writes in his article, “…connection to place is vital to our sense of identity – both personal and communal.” (Mackay, 2005).  To be able to inform a local community that their band was rehearsing in a certain place also gave the band a sense of local identity.  Rooms were a place to call home, where band members could rehearse and were also part of a band’s history.  A room was a source of pride:

The powerful sense of that place – the look of it, the feel of it, the smell of it – will stir all kind of emotions in you, positive and negative, not accessible via mere memory.

(Mackay, 2005)
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Jerilderie Town Band, date unknown. (Source: IBEW)

For some bands people, the room gave them a sense of connectedness with the local community and their fellow band members.  Often, all it takes is a mention of the room to trigger a strong memory.  Mr H. A. McVittie, former bandmaster of the Jerilderie Town Band mentions reading a paragraph published in the Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser newspaper in April 1945 about the destruction of the old band hall by fire (“Jerilderie Shire Council,” 1945).  For Mr. McVittie, this act triggered very strong memories, not only for the band room, but for himself and his fellow band members.  The article published in May 1945 opens:

Mr. H. A. McVittie, writing from Collarenebri, where he conducts the Collarenebri “Gazette,” has had memories of his old home town awakened by a paragraph which appeared in a recent issue of this paper, in which the destruction by fire of the old band room in Eastern Park was recorded.  Says Mac:-

I was given some sort of a pulsation the other day when the “Herald” arrived and I read of the destruction of the old band room in the Eastern Park.  IF there was one place more than another that held for me many happy recollections of my old home town it was the old bandroom.  If I remember correctly it was built there by the one-time Jerilderie Municipal Council and placed at the disposal of the Jerilderie Town Band as a practice room.

(“The Old Bandroom,” 1945)

The remainder of the article is devoted to Mr. McVittie’s memories big and small, and it is wonderful to read these stories.  In the finishing paragraph, he wrote this poignant observation:

Well old towners, I must close down on this somewhat hurried and disjointed sketch.  But I feel that you will excuse me for just a passing memory of the old room that gave to me so many pleasant hours.

(“The Old Bandroom,” 1945)

This is just one example of a strong connection to place that a bands person has.  For Mr. McVittie however, the story does not end with the initial article in May as two months later, he writes to the Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser newspaper again.  One memory triggered many others, and old Jerilderie band people wrote to Mr. McVittie in Collarenebri and detailed their own connections with the band, the room and Jerilderie.

My memories of the old band room, which were recently published in the “Herald,” seem to have stirred the embers of the past and rekindled interest in the good old days – the days when we were young.  Letters have come to me from the most unexpected quarters in which the writers touch on some old Jerilderie theme or other, prompted by my references to the old band room, sketchy and incomplete as they were.

(“OLD MEMORIES NEVER DIE,” 1945)

It would be fair to say that other bands people share similar recollections of their rooms and the social and musical connections that they made while associated with that place.  However, to allow this connectedness to develop, bands had to have their rooms…

Building:

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South Melbourne City Band Grand Opening of Band Room & Rotunda, 01/02/1925 – march card backing. (Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Building a band room was an option open to many bands – once they had found a suitable site and had raised the funds.  This was a task that was undertaken only by the most committed ensembles as a reliance on their own labour and the goodwill of subscribers was taxing.  Nevertheless, for the most part, it became achievable, and the bands always had a sense of pride when they had a room they had built themselves.

Dealing with local councils and building regulations was the most difficult part as the Warragul Brass Band found in 1906.  They wanted to build a band room on a site that was currently being used by the local tennis and croquet clubs (“WARRAGUL BAND.,” 1906).  Unfortunately, the request was refused due to the incumbency of the said clubs at the site and the council wanting to build a new depot.  However, for the South Melbourne City Band, they had much more success with building a band room and a rotunda in 1925, as the march card backing above indicates.  They built their rotunda with labour provided by the bandsmen and friends for a total cost of £300 and held a grand opening and concert (“Albert Park Improvements.,” 1925).  This rotunda has unfortunately become a victim of change and is no longer in the park.

Then there was the fundraising aspect which either worked or did not work.  It is evident that communities were largely generous when the cause was right and the appeals from local bands were worthwhile.  The Hills Central Brass Band located in Adelaide was one group that laid out the reasons for their fundraising quite clearly in a 1912 article published in the Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser newspaper.  They held a concert to help with their building fund and implored the local community to help them:

It has been decided to hold a concert and social in the Mount Barker Institute on August 20 in aid of the Hills Central Brass Band building fund.  This is a most deserving institution and it is hoped that the public will recognise its usefulness and generosity by lending their patronage to this entertainment.  In all cases of distress and in many public festivities the band has volunteered assistance in the past and the least the public can do in return is to support it.

(“HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1912)
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Collie Brass Band, winners of B Grade Championship, 1921 (Source: State Library of Western Australia: BA579/138)

Coming into 1918 we find that the Collie Brass Band from Perth was trying to secure land for a band room, and many supportive platitudes were written about the band by the colloquial writer ‘Bandsman’ in the local Collie Mail newspaper, and from this there was council support:

Some of the members are now playing in the leading Australian Military Bands in England and France and messages are continually coming through saying that they are keeping in form for the old band.  What would they say if on their return, they found the old band defunct?  It was within an ace of being so last winter solely through the lack of suitable practice room.

The Collie Council has realised the necessity and have promised to find a suitable block of land, knowing that a Band room will be an asset to the town and will always belong to the citizens as do the instruments and all other property of the band.

(Bandsman, 1918)

Some years later in 1926, the Katanning Brass Band from Western Australia found itself wanting to build their own room and they also called for public support.  In an innovative move, the Katanning Brass Band formed a committee out of representatives from many other community organisations to guide the fundraising and building of a new band room (“Katanning Brass Band.,” 1926).  They were ultimately successful in this strategy.  After a year of work, in January 1927 they opened their new band room:

Monday evening last marked quite an epoch in the history of the Katanning Brass Band, the occasion being the opening their own practise room.  A brass band may be regarded as a sort of semi-public institutions and a public utility.

[…]

They have been very thankful for the use of the fire station and other buildings loaned to them from time to time, but it has not always been convenient for both parties, and thus many drawbacks have been encountered. Then early last year a brilliant idea emanated from somewhere, a scheme to carry out a gala day.  The bandsmen recognised their own inability to put the matter through, and so they invited the assistance and co-operation of the various sports of the village, the ladies, and in fact all who had the welfare of the band at heart, and a willingness to join in.

(“Katanning Brass Band.,” 1927)
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Millicent Brass Band, 13/04/1913. (Source: State Library of South Australia: B+57528)

In South Australia, local citizen, benefactor and Patron of the Millicent Brass Band, a Mr. H. F. L. Holzgrefe, J.P., proudly laid the foundation stone of their new band room (“MILLICENT BRASS BAND.,” 1928).  This had been an important project for the Millicent Brass Band and the significance was not lost on Mr. Holzgrefe who made these remarks after laying the stone:

The foundation stone was inscribed :- “This stone was laid by H. F. L. Holzgrefe, J.P., May 19, 1928.”  After it had been declared “well and truly laid,” Mr. Holzgrefe said the bandsmen had acted wisely in building a room for their own use.  It would tend to keep the members united, and make practising easier in many ways.  A band was a very useful institution, and no community should be without one.

[…]

Mr. Tothill warmly thanked Mr. Holzgrefe for his handsome contribution.  He then asked him to accept from the band an inscribed silver trowel as a memento of the occasion.  The president’s remarks were warmly applauded and Mr. Holzgrefe received an ovation when he acknowledged the gift.

(“MILLICENT BRASS BAND.,” 1928)

It was admirable that some bands around Australia managed to get the funds together and build their own band room.  Unfortunately, it is unclear just how many of these band rooms survive.  However, if the picture of the Orange Brass Band Hall at the start of this post is anything to go by, no doubt, there are some around Australia that may have been repurposed. We only must look for them.

Finding:

Short of building their own rooms, finding a suitable space was another option and whether the room was provided for bands by generous people or by councils, it was still a place to practice.  Again, there were instances when requests were mulled over as councils were sometimes very officious.

To start with it is worth exploring the experiences of some industry bands.  They were often luckier than most as they were provided with rooms on or near the sites of their industry.  The Thompson’s Foundry Band gained their first room in 1894 on the site of the Thompson’s Foundry in Castlemaine (“FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM.,” 1894).  As reported in the Mount Alexander Mail newspaper:

The opening of the new Foundry band-room erected in Parker-street, was made the occasion of a social last night tendered by the President, Mr David Thompson.  The room, which is a commodious one for practice, is 25ft long, 10ft wide, and 12ft high.  It is nearly painted green, with a dado of chocolate colour.

(“FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM.,” 1894)

It was also lucky for the Thompson’s Foundry Band that the head of the foundry was a great supporter of the band.  The Thompson’s Foundry Band still rehearse in a building associated with the foundry.

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The Advocate, 06/04/1912, p. 22. This building was added to the property of the nearby tram depot in 1930 and extended.

Likewise, the Malvern Tramways Band started out rehearsing in a room within the tram depot and then in 1930 they moved into old school buildings acquired by the tramways for the recreation of their employees (“BAND NEWS,” 1930).  The building, pictured above when it was De La Salle College, was renovated by the tramways to include two more spaces behind the original hall and was mainly used by various tramway employee clubs such as bands (both brass and harmonica) and sporting groups (Heritage Council Victoria, 1999).  It was soon after, in 1931, that the Malvern Tramways Band moved out of this building and into converted stables owned by the Malvern Council behind Northbook House.

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(Former) Northbrook House Stables. Now home to Stonnington City Brass (formerly Malvern Tramways Band). (Photo taken by Jeremy de Korte, July 2013)

As mentioned, the local councils had quite an influence on how bands obtained rooms and as early as 1896 we see that disagreements sometimes arose, as was the instance between the Palmerston Brass Band in Darwin and the District Council.  Published among the many news items on the 4th of December1896, we can see this snippet in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette newspaper:

The collision between the Brass Band and the District Council has, we believe, had the effect of raising the charge for the Town Hall to a fixed figure for all societies and clubs using it.  By and bye, when the Masonic Hall is an established fact, the social public will not need to bother the Council, and the revenue of the Town Hall will decrease rather materially.

(“Notes of the Week.,” 1896)

Four years later we find the Palmerston Brass Band is using a room provided for them by a Mr. H. Dwyer, of which he was thanked in an annual general meeting (“Palmerston Brass Band.,” 1900).

The Hawthorn City Council found the plight of the Hawthorn City Band more favourable.  In May 1909 it was reported in the Richmond Guardian newspaper that “the patronage of the Hawthorn City Council has been bestowed upon the above band, and a room had been provided for the band to practice in.” (“Hawthorn City Band.,” 1909).  In 1918 however, the Daylesford Brass Band, wishing to reform, found themselves in differing circumstances.  The Secretary of the Daylesford Brass Band sent a letter to the local Borough Council asking if the council could provide a room where the band could practice, a perfectly reasonable request.  It seems that at the time, the band instruments and music from a former iteration of the band were stored in the Town Hall Lodgeroom, and “could the council supply the bandmaster with a key?” (access was needed every so often) (“BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED.,” 1918).  Which, unfortunately, touched off a debate within council on why the instruments were in the Town Hall in the first place – not so much the fact that the band wanted a practice room!  However, it also seems that a number of the instrument were in fact owned by the council so they stayed where they were. (“BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED.,” 1918).

Similar stories of councils deciding when and where bands could rehearse make up a large part of stories around rooms.  The Picton Council could find no objection to having the Picton District Brass Band wanting “free use of the supper room on Monday nights for band practice […] providing they pay for the electric light.” (“Picton Brass Band,” 1931).  However, there were other cases when councils could not, or would not help their local bands locate rooms, and a couple of instances in Queensland involving the Warwick City Band and Mackay City Band Association reflect this (“NO LARGER BANDROOM AVAILABLE,” 1945; Scotia, 1941).

Daily Mercury, 27/11/1945, p. 2

There was obviously a delicate balance involved when trying to find rooms and it seems that dealing with councils formed a major part of negotiations, as councils tended to be the judges of where things were put, and they controlled some of the funding.  Nevertheless, for some bands it all paid off and they were able to practice in rooms provided for them.

Using:

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Portrait of the Nerang & District Brass Band, Queensland, formed in July, 1902. (Source: State Library of Queensland: 3612)

Once rooms were found or built, bands were free enough to use them as they saw fit although by today’s standards, some of the locations were a bit unusual.  We can see little stories in the articles above where bands rehearsed in fire stations and the like.  This section will highlight where some of the bands rehearsed and some of the problems that were encountered.  The Nerang & District Town Band for example started out rehearsing in the stables of the Nerang Nestle Milk Factory which cannot have been a wholly comfortable experience (Gold Coast City Brass Band, 2014).  Down south in Victoria, the Horsham Brass Band and the Oakleigh District Brass Band found themselves in rooms provided for them by generous supporters, until they found something else (“BAND ROOM.,” 1908; “Oakleigh District Brass Band.,” 1918).  The Kempsey Brass Band from N.S.W. were pleased to report that they were in slightly more appropriate quarters as they found space in the local School of Arts (“KEMPSEY BRASS BAND.,” 1921).  Whilst the Frankston Brass Band in the southern reaches of Melbourne managed to gain space in the local Mechanics’ Institute (“Frankston Brass Band,” 1924).  Out west the Narembeen Brass Band rehearsed “in the old Westralian Farmers Buildings” (“Narembeen Brass Band.,” 1937).

However, like any building, band rooms were not immune to the problems faced by any other building in towns and cities and there were some unfortunate incidents.  In February 1925 it was reported by the Blue Mountain Echo newspaper that the Katoomba District Band room had been broken into twice since Christmas (“Band-room Vandalism,” 1925).  While the damage was easily fixed, some instruments had been shifted and sheet music was strewn about.  The local police believed children were the perpetrators (“Band-room Vandalism,” 1925).

Much more serious was the threat of fire and two bands in the same year suffered the consequences.  In February 1926, fire consumed the room at the back of the Richmond Town Hall which was being used by the Richmond City Band  and unfortunately all band property was presumed lost, and the room and stock were uninsured (“FIRE AT RICHMOND.,” 1926).  This had a detrimental effect on the band and within four years the band had folded – on a side note, two artefacts survived and are now being held by the Richmond & Burnley Historical Society (Langdon, 2014).  Similarly,  in April 1926, fire broke out in the building used by the City Concert Band in Rockhampton however in this incident, all instruments were saved (“FIRE AT ROCKHAMPTON.,” 1926).

To finish off this section and to backtrack a little bit, we have the case of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and their wanting of space to rehearse.  In early years, as can be seen in the photo at the end of this post, it is rumoured that they used to rehearse in a quarry due to the lack of a room.  There might be some truth to the rumour however they too had to make applications to council for additional places to rehearse, in this case, wanting a park where they could practice their marching – which raised debate on whether this was appropriate on Sunday mornings (“THE SUNDAY QUESTION.,” 1905).

Moving:

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Northern Star, 15/06/1933, pg. 5

Yes, it had to happen every so often of which the early bands did the best they could to adapt.  Although at times, it involved the moving of buildings, as detailed in the article above (“BAND-ROOM REMOVAL,” 1933).  And moving buildings was sometimes a condition set upon bands by local councils, as the Albury Brass Band found out when they wanted to move the old fire station to a new site owned by council (“OLD FIRE STATION AS BANDROOM.,” 1916).

Conclusion:

There is obviously much more that could be written about bands finding their own space and place as band room stories are intertwined with the histories of the bands themselves.  Rooms have their own histories.  How often do we see band rooms displaying the history of bands in the form of trophies, photos, shields and other ephemera?  Perhaps it is time we celebrated the rooms.

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Collingwood Citizens’ Band rehearsing in a quarry, 1906. (Source: IBEW)

References:

Albert Park Improvements : New Band Stand Opened. (1925, 02 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155554629

BAND NEWS : Malvern Municipal and Tramways Band. (1930, 07 August). Malvern Standard (Vic. : 1906 – 1931), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66452967

BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED. (1918, 18 October). Daylesford Advocate, Yandoit, Glenlyon and Eganstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119561430

BAND ROOM. (1908, 16 June). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72810141

BAND-ROOM REMOVAL : Building for Practices. (1933, 15 June). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article94219810

Band-room Vandalism. (1925, 27 February). Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 – 1928), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108852760

Bandsman. (1918, 28 March). THE COLLIE BAND ROOM. Collie Mail (Perth, WA : 1908 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189243021

Collingwood Citizens’ Band rehearsing in a quarry. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot19034]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

de Korte, J. D. (2013). Malvern, Vic. : Northbrook Stables : South side [Photograph]. [IMG_0413]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 08 July). Instruments, sheet music and uniforms: how the bands of old obtained the essentials. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/05/13/instruments-sheet-music-and-uniforms-how-the-bands-of-old-obtained-the-essentials/

de Korte, J. D. (2019). Orange, N.S.W. : Old Orange City Band Hall, 1888 [Photograph]. [IMG_4453]. Jeremy de Korte, Sydney, N.S.W. 

De La Salle Brothers’ Boys’ School, MALVERN : Blessed and Opened by the Archbishop : His Grace on the Education Question : Fair Play for Catholic Schools. (1912, 06 April). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170941033

FIRE AT RICHMOND : Band Hall Destroyed. (1926, 27 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155771911

FIRE AT ROCKHAMPTON : City Band Instruments Saved. (1926, 13 April). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21021996

FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM. (1894, 10 October). Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 – 1917), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198243209

Frankston Brass Band : First Practice on Friday, February 18. (1924, 06 February). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73498546

Gold Coast City Brass Band. (2014). History : If it happened on the Gold Coast then the Gold Coast City Brass Band was there to help Celebrate the Occasion. Gold Coast City Brass Band. Retrieved 07 August 2020 from http://www.goldcoastcitybrassband.com/history/

Hawthorn City Band. (1909, 22 May). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1907 – 1920), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257211806

Heritage Council Victoria. (1999, 08 September). Malvern Tram Depot : Coldblo Road Armadale, Stonnington City. Heritage Council Victoria. Retrieved 09 August 2020 from https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2138

HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND. (1912, 19 July). Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147747963

Jerilderie Shire Council. (1945, 19 April). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134629256

Jerilderie Town Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot6408]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Katanning Brass Band : Proposed Band Room. (1926, 13 February). Great Southern Herald (Katanning, WA : 1901 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147654428

Katanning Brass Band : Opening of new practice room. (1927, 24 January). Southern Districts Advocate (Katanning, WA : 1913 – 1936), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209839059

KEMPSEY BRASS BAND. (1921, 30 August). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234195704

Langdon, D. (2014). Brass bands [Newsletter article]. Richmond & Burnley Historical Society Newsletter, 31(5), 2 & 4-6. 

Mackay, H. (2005, 15 October). A sense of place. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/a-sense-of-place-20051015-ge11sy.html

Millicent Brass Band. (1913). [Photograph (b&w print)]. [B+57528]. State Library of South Australia, Millicent Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+57528

MILLICENT BRASS BAND : Successful Building Appeal : A Generous Patron. (1928, 22 May). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77706076

Narembeen Brass Band. (1937, 11 March). Bruce Rock Post and Corrigin and Narembeen Guardian (WA : 1924 – 1948), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211359163

NO LARGER BANDROOM AVAILABLE. (1945, 27 November). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170630099

Notes of the Week. (1896, 04 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3333362

Oakleigh District Brass Band : A Valuable Local Institution. (1918, 16 February). Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88808027

The Old Bandroom : Former Bandmaster in reminiscent mood. (1945, 03 May). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134632025

OLD FIRE STATION AS BANDROOM : Removal and tenure of occupancy. (1916, 16 September). Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times (Albury, NSW : 1903 – 1920), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109967848

OLD MEMORIES NEVER DIE : Further reflections from Collarenebri. (1945, 05 July). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134633491

Palmerston Brass Band. (1900, 23 February). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4259300

Picton Brass Band : To practice in Town Hall Supper Room. (1931, 14 October). Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112760838

Portrait of Nerang and District Brass Band, Queensland, formed in July, 1902. (1902). [photographic print : black & white]. [3612]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, South Bank Collection. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/143348

Scotia. (1941, 20 May). CORRESPONDENCE : Band Practice Room : (To the Editor). Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189029180

Selten, M., & van der Zandt, F. (2012, 25 October). Space vs. place. About Geography. Retrieved 20 August 2020 from http://geography.ruhosting.nl/geography/index.php?title=Space_vs._place

South Melbourne City Band. (1925). South Melbourne City Band : Grand Opening [March card backing]. South Melbourne City Band, South Melbourne, Victoria. 

THE SUNDAY QUESTION : Band practice at Collingwood. (1905, 29 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198599129

WARRAGUL BAND : Request for Bandroom Site. (1906, 12 June). West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic. : 1898 – 1930), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68669583

Williams, H. W. (1921). Collie Brass Band, winners of B Grade Championship [1 negative : acetate, black and white ; 3 x 4 cm.]. [024861PD]. State Library of Western Australia, Collie Museum collection of photographs. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3507727

Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards

Introduction:

Administering band associations was, and is even now, never an easy task.  Granted, the first focus of early band associations was managing the affiliations of member bands, forming rules and running competitions.  These tasks aside, there was little else they did.  In this arcane and insular world of administration, decisions that the early band associations made were at times difficult to understand and criticism was rife.  It can be seen in previous posts on the history of the National Band Council of Australia and the experiences of bands in South Street just how peculiar some administrative decisions could be.  In their defence however, we can also see that the associations were acting on the information that they had available at the time, and that some questionable decisions can simply be attributed to a lack of communication.

This post is focusing on aspects of band administration where the difficult decisions of band grading and choices of music were made by sub-committees known as Music Advisory Boards.  These noted groups of bands people, often adjudicators and conductors, made recommendations to band associations.  While some records are not as informative as they could be, the Trove archive gives us some clues as to how they operated.

It is an interesting portion of band history where some bands people desired more of a focus on the music but recognized the value of association.  Balancing these two ideals was a challenge!

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

19330706-(19330714)_VBL-AGM-P1
A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, p. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
19200814_Herald_J-Booth-Gore
Herald, 14/08/1920, p. 16

Above is part of the first page of an annual report presented by the Victorian Bands’ League at their second Annual General Meeting on 14th July 1933.  Prominently displayed on this first page are all the officers of the League; Delegates, Administrators, Conductors and Adjudicators, representing country, regional and metropolitan areas.  A good mix of people at the time to run the fledging League!  There is one group of musicians listed on this page that warrants special mention and is nominally the focus of this post – the Music Advisory Board.

It was not always possible to discern why the Music Advisory Boards existed in the first place.  Through research in the Trove archives, it was mentioned that they did exist, but their exact purpose in assisting the Associations was harder to find – however their contemporary counterparts operate in much the same way so we can apply this knowledge back over the years.

This post is not trying to dismiss the operations of other State band associations and their MAB’s.  However, the Victorian Bands’ Association and Victorian Bands’ League provided the most information through newspaper articles as to who was included in their MAB’s over the years.  Which means it presents a perfect case study of how the personnel changed (or did not change) over the years.  Below is a table detailing the members of the Victorian MAB over a time period of thirteen years.  Knowing Victorian band history, we can see that these musicians were all eminent conductors/adjudicators who displayed an extensive knowledge of brass band repertoire.  And they were all conductors of Victorian A Grade bands.

1920 – VBL1922 – VBA1927 – VBA1933 – VBL
P. CodeJ. Booth-GoreP. CodeJ. Bowden
P. JonesL. HoffmanF. C. JohnstonJ. Booth-Gore
H. R. ShuggF. C. JohnstonP. JonesF. C. Johnston
 P. JonesR. McCaskillA. H. Paxton
 H. NivenH. R. ShuggH. R. Shugg
 H. R. Shugg  
(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)
19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, p. 17

What is obvious here is the consistency of some of the appointments namely Percy Code, Percy Jones, Frank “Massa” Johnston, and Harry Shugg.  Some pictures of these bandsmen are on the side of this post.  We could assume that with the passage of time, if the same people were well-regarded in that role then they would continue to serve.  The interesting fact about the Victorian MAB members is that they carried through the changeover from the VBA to the VBL.  On a side note, given that many of these conductors were working with metropolitan bands at the time they would have been the instigators of the VBL in the early 1930s.

There were some occasions regarding band competitions where MAB’s were not involved in choosing music.  We can see articles published in the Advocate newspaper in 1921 and 1927 that Percy Jones was the adjudicator of the popular New Year’s Day Burnie carnival band competition (“BURNIE.,” 1927; “BURNIE CARNIVAL.,” 1921).   However, it is in the 1927 article where we can see that Percy Jones himself made recommendations to the Burnie Athletics Club on the choice of music for the next carnival band competition:

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.”

(“BURNIE.,” 1927)

One notable criticism of the music choices made by MAB’s came from Cecil Clarence Mullen in his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  We know from a previous post that Mullen was very opinionated, and it is not clear how much influence he wielded through his writings, especially his booklet.  He wrote:

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 6)
19200911_Herald_P-Code
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Now while Mullen might be right about the years when the largest crowds attended the brass band competitions at South Street, it must be recognized that he was merely expressing his opinion and it might be a short stretch to link crowd numbers with choices of music.  He went on further in this section of the booklet to explain his reasons for wanting more operatic arrangements in the band competitions with the implied belief that they were far more musical than what current brass band composers were providing, and that they were more pleasing to the ears of the audience (Mullen, 1951).  He was especially taken with the operatic arrangements of Alexander Owen and he also wanted a sight-reading section to be introduced (Mullen, 1951).  This was not the first time Mullen wrote with favour on operatic works being played by bands.  In a later article he attributed the fine playing of bands in the early years to their playing of operatic works (Mullen, 1965).

Aside from Mullen, there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism in early newspapers regarding the choices of music made by the MAB’s.  Which contrasts with the criticisms levelled at State Band Associations and MAB’s regarding grading of bands.  Grading was a vexed issue, and this will be explored in the next section.

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

To understand why grading does or does not work, it’s important to know a little history on how Associations applied grading to bands.  The first competition that included grading of some sort was in New South Wales at the 1896 Intercolonial Band Contest held in Sydney in November where bands were grouped into “first division” or “second division” (Greaves, 1996, p. 23).  In Victoria, the first five years of South Street from 1900-1905 were ungraded and, Mullen (1951) has provided some history as to how grading developed from 1905.

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909.

(p. 7)

Having only three grades was the status quo in Victoria until, according to available resources, a D grade was introduced in 1922 (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922).

19210108_Herald_L-Hoffman
Herald, 8/01/1921, p. 11

Let us take a look at how bands moved up or down grades over some years.  Below are links to files that show the grades in certain years from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.  The Victorian dataset is more condensed as they show the grades in the years 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 & 1927.  For Queensland, the dataset is more spread due to limited information and the files are based on information from the years 1913, 1919 & 1937.  Included is an example of grading presented by the Western Australian Band Association in 1932, which is very limited, however there’s an interesting discussion from the WABA meeting that took place that year.  All band lists were obtained from newspaper articles held in the Trove archive and can be accessed from the links in the citations.  The grade files will appear as PDF’s and can be downloaded.

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

(Source of Victorian grade data: “BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1923; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; “Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

(Source of Queensland grade data: “Band Association.,” 1919; “GRADING THE BANDS.,” 1913; “NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937)

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

(Source of Western Australian grade data: Delegate, 1932)

19200828_Herald_P-Jones
Herald, 28/08/1920, pg. 19

The Victorian context is possibly a better example of grade history given the range of years.  Here we see a bulge– a smaller number of bands in A Grade and D Grade while B Grade is larger and C Grade having the most numerous amount of bands  Taking a look at the C Grade in particular, while the D Grade was introduced in 1922, in 1924 there is large expansion of bands in C Grade.  Whether this is down to the number of bands that affiliated that year, or general musical standard is open to interpretation.  1924 was certainly a golden year of bands, except for perhaps the A Grade where there were only three bands.  Regarding the A Grade, once the top bands were placed in that grade, they tended not to leave.  In 1926 and 1927 we see a jump in that number due to bands moving up from B Grade.

In Queensland it is a little more difficult to interpret the grading history given the lack of information, so a reliance on the available years is necessary.  However, there are some similarities with Victoria, especially in the middle grades.  In 1919 there is a large expansion in the number of bands in C Grade.  We also see some innovation on the part of the Queensland Band Association in 1937 where there is a D Grade, but there are also grades to cater bands that are from specific locations or age groups.  Here we see a “Sub D Grade (Country)” and a “Boy’s Band (Under 15 years)” (“NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937) which no doubt helped more bands participate in events.

The example from Western Australia is obviously small, but the list originates from an article published in the Sunday Times regarding a wide-ranging meeting held by WABA.  The regrading of bands was included in the discussion as an agenda item:

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support.

(Delegate, 1932)

Victoria offers more information on the roles of the MAB in the regrading process as the Queensland Band Association seems to have undertook this role themselves (there is no mention of a Queensland MAB).  The role of the MAB’s in advising on regrading is evident although it seems, at least in the early stages, that the V.B.A. undertook the regrading process with their MAB offering limited advice.  We see in 1920 that,

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive…

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

However, in 1922, the Victorian MAB was responsible for the regrading process:

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows…

(“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

And mention of the role of the MAB in regrading bands is again mentioned in articles from 1926 and 1927 (“BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926).

This is not to say grading was always a smooth process and there were always levels of criticism from various parties, as well as disagreements between States – the rules were never fully unified.  As early as 1914 we can see letters in the papers regarding the grading of bands.  One letter from Mr S. E. Hambleton, then Secretary of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band stood out for its candidness.  Part of his letter was criticism while contributing his own ideas:

The band of which I am secretary has not won a cash prize for five years, and although I have made applications to be re-classified (claimed on two years’ rules), I am told that the Victorian Band Association would not listen to it as we are an A Grade band.  The other bands know this, and, of course, will not enter for the higher grade, with the promise, perhaps of a life sentence hanging over them.

Our band of 24 could be divided into three parts and absorbed by B Grade bands and allowed to play in B Grade.  Why not classify the individual players and thus stop good players in A Grade bands from becoming members of a lower grade through better inducements.  Collingwood and Prahran are the only two bands classed as A Grade, although there are four or five others advanced enough to compete in this grade.

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in.

(Hambleton, 1914)

Again in 1914, a letter was published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper lamenting the grading process carried out by the Queensland Band Association after the Maryborough contests.  The writer, Mr W. Jackson, a Delegate of the Childers band, was obviously annoyed at the whole process and made this quite clear in his letter.  He wrote (in part),

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music.

(Jackson, 1914)

It would be fair to say that both Mr Hambleton and Mr Jackson made some fair points re grading problems in their respective states.  They both knew their bands and how the administration worked.  We could assume that the State associations were trying their best in trying to please everyone but in some respects, it was never a perfect process.  Perhaps this was the reason MAB’s were formed to advise on grading.

As mentioned above, at times the rules and administration of different State associations came into conflict with each other regarding registration and grading.  One notable example was highlighted in Tasmania after another one of the contests in Burnie.  At a meeting of the Tasmanian Band Association in 1930, this was raised as an agenda item:

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)
19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, p. 16

…which is fine in theory but as discovered in the history of the National Band Council of Australia, unification of rules was an ideal that never really reached fruition despite the best intentions of State associations.

What we have seen in this small history are situations where the grading process was fraught with difficulty, did not please everyone and criticism was rife.  And it was a thankless task as the reputations of the early bands hinged on success in competition and the decisions of the State associations.  Most of the time it was done correctly.  On occasion there were problems.  With the influx of bands starting up and wanting to participate in events, grading them was a necessity that called upon the State associations to try to find solutions.  When this went wrong, the administration was generally found to be lacking.

Conclusion:

For the MAB’s involved in the processes of choosing music and advising on band regrading, generally they did the right thing and all they could really do was offer advice.  Thankfully, the reputations of the MAB members carried them through some of the decisions made by State associations.  Evidently the fact that many of the Victorian members held their positions for many years is a testament to their authority as prominent bandsmen.

We should thank these early members of the MAB’s for the foundations that they laid as the members of the modern MAB’s carry out their tasks in much the same way as they did back then.

19200724_Herald_H-Shugg
Herald, 24/07/1920, p. 11

References:

BAND ADJUDICATOR : For Newcastle Contest : Mr. Percy Jone’s Career. (1920, 04 December). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162621130

BAND ASSOCIATION : Deciding Championship. (1923, 21 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213824101

Band Association : Grading for the Contest. (1919, 20 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176840373

BAND ASSOCIATION : Registering and Grading. (1930, 24 January). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29151289

BRASS BANDS REGRADED. (1927, 18 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3885887

BURNIE. (1927, 17 June). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68241846

BURNIE CARNIVAL : New Years Day : Bright Prospects. (1921, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69316043

CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS. (1926, 18 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3782670

Delegate. (1932, 21 August). BRASS BANDS : W.A. Association News : And General Notes. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58669392

Drummer Boy. (1922, 21 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93411340

GRADING THE BANDS. (1913, 27 October). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118654062

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

Hambleton, S. E. (1914, 13 January). EFFECT OF GRADING. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241657411

Jackson, W. (1914, 08 May). BAND GRADING : (To The Editor). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178879778

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

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, XXXVI(1), 30-47. 

NEW GRADING LIST ISSUED BY QUEENSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1937, 12 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183521534

Quickstep. (1920a, 28 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Knight of the Baton. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242311544

Quickstep. (1920b, 14 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Meritorious Career. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242305795

Quickstep. (1920c, 07 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : An Enthusiastic Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242306287

Quickstep. (1920d, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920e, 24 July). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Leader of Two Famous Bands. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308343

Quickstep. (1921a, 19 February). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Noted Musical Qualities. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242256082

Quickstep. (1921b, 08 January). Bandsmen’s Gossip : St Vincent’s Bandmaster. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242259553

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Classification of Bands. (1924, 19 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213535974

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Special and General Meeting. (1920, 18 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211906214

Victorian Bands’ Association : Grading for the Year. (1922, 24 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205773169

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Victorian Bands’ League : Annual General Meeting : Annual Report [Annual Report]. Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a740621ea691478e4b482

Cecil Clarence Mullen: Enthusiastic commentator, historian and statistician of brass and military bands

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p0-FC
Front Cover, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

Introduction:

There has always been an ecosphere of activity surrounding brass bands, then and now ranging from retail to journalism, and people who take a general interest in day-to-day activities.  This level of interest varies among people, and especially in the bands of old, there was an amount of engagement in these ensembles.  One only has to read past newspapers as a measure of this engagement.  Most readers of this blog know I dwell in the Trove archive to find information for these posts; it is through these newspaper articles that the life and atmosphere of these bands can be fully appreciated.

This post is different from previous posts where the focus is not on bands per se, but on a bands person who described himself as very involved in the brass band movement, Cecil Clarence Mullen.  I am very thankful to have been gifted one of his rare booklets, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  He wrote another article on the history of Victorian bands in 1965 for The Victorian Historical Magazine.  However, there is more to explore in his writing, including some of the opinions on the band movement and the work he did as a brass band statistician.

Mullen had a role to play documenting the band history of Victoria and it is unfortunate that his work is not well known.  We will see where Mullen’s work was at its most valuable, but also where some of his work could be questioned – this post will be taking a subjective view of some of his writing and opinions.  It must be recognised that at the time, Mullen did not have the information resources at his disposal like we do now.  However, what he did do was make an effort to record and compile results in a way that was unique.

C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):

It was difficult to build a full picture of Mullen’s life as some resources were not comprehensive.  Through the research of State records (Public Records Office Victoria and Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria), it is found that he was born in 1895 and initially lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.  For much of his further life, he lived in the nearby suburb of Abbotsford and was still residing in that suburb when he died in 1983 at the age of 88 (Mullen, 1983).  As for employment, it is listed in some records that he worked as a Clerk at the Argus newspaper and various other local newspapers (Ruddell, 2010)

Mullen’s amateur interests were extensive and varied including music, sports, local history and it seems youth and education as well (Ruddell, 2010).  He was complimented on his work with local youth groups of which he made every effort to prepare youth for further work and education (“Richmond Boys’ Club,” 1932).  It is through further research in the Trove archive that we see a fuller picture of Mullen’s mindset as he was an avid contributor of letters to the newspapers.  He wrote on all sorts of topics; youth, education, transport, parks, library opening hours, manners at the opera, sports, politics, etc (Mullen, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952a).  The articles displayed below are only a tiny sample of his letter output.

19371217_Argus_Mullen-Sport-Schools
Argus, 17/12/1937, p. 10
19401607_TheAge_Mullen_Volunteers
The Age, 10/07/1940, p. 6
19471218_Herald_Mullen-School-Holidays
Herald, 18/12/1947, p. 15
19520103_Argus_Mullen-Letter
Argus, 03/01/1952, p. 6

Regarding his letter writing, it seems he did not write to the papers on one of his favourite topics, brass bands, except for one instance when he requested photos of the Kalgoorlie brass bands for his brass band history collection (Mullen, 1951a).  It is also in this letter that we see that Mullen has described himself as a “statistician and historian of brass and military bands” (Mullen, 1951a).

19510113_Kalgoorlie-Miner_Mullen-Letter
Kalgoorlie Miner, 13/01/1951, p. 2

This post will not dwell on Mullen’s interests in other subjects however they do provide some clues as to how Mullen went about doing things, and what his personal attitudes were like.  He gives the impression of being an egalitarian person and was a firm advocate for youth groups (Mullen, 1952b).  He did not like some of the aspects of competition, taking aim through one of his letters at “the selfish competition of mankind, instead of the co-operation of mankind” (Mullen, 1940).  In another one of the newspaper letters he advocates for the abolition of school sports, and in his booklet, he advocates for the abolition of grades in band contests (Mullen, 1937, 1951b).  In saying so, Mullen still supported the aims of the Royal South Street Society band competition sections and sponsored trophies for “Best Drummer” in 1958, another trophy in 1959, and a trophy in 1964 for “Bandmaster showing Best Deportment” (Royal South Street Society, 1958, 1959, 1964).   As for his historical work, we will examine his band history research in the next sections, however, it should be noted that there is an amount of conjecture over the accuracy of his sports history writing and statistics (Hay, 2010).

An enthusiastic commentator is probably an apt description of Mullen given his penchant for writing on all manner of subjects.  His band history work is what provides the most interest (for this post) and we will see a person who clearly enjoyed his statistics.

C. C. Mullen: Historian of Brass & Military Bands:

There is no doubt, through reading his works, that Mullen was an enthusiastic advocate, documenter and historian of brass and military bands.   Both his main works on the subject, his booklet and his later article attest to this.  This section will review his booklet first, then his article from 1965.

1951: “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”:

The first impression that is given about the booklet is that he clearly wrote this booklet as an outlet for his interest in brass bands and musicians. The aim of this booklet, as Mullen notes in the preface, was to publish

…for the first time in the history of brass bands in this country, a condensed history of bands and players who have taken part in most important annual band competitions in Australasia – that of South Street, Ballarat, Victoria.

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)

With this aim, he achieved his goal and the book contains the names of musicians, the bands they were associated with, and which instruments they played.  Below is small except from one of the lists which makes up many of the pages of this booklet.:

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p15
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

In the preface, Mullen outlines his life in the brass band movement.  In summary he:

  • was a pupil of Edward Code,
  • apparently knew all the famous bandmasters of the day,
  • was embedded in the administration of the early Victorian Bands’ Association, and later the Victorian Bands’ League,
  • was a contributor of articles to all the famous band magazines (Mullen, 1951b).

He notes that the famous Bandmaster Edward Code was a great influence on his early life and that he felt honoured as a former pupil to have published this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Interestingly, both Edward Code and Mullen are buried in the same cemetery in Melbourne, the Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in Melbourne’s north – although 65 years apart.

Mullen was not afraid of expressing his opinions on bands and the administration of bands.  On page four of his booklet is a one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands to the community, with a paragraph (below) on his thoughts of bands in schools (Mullen, 1951b).  A previous post has touched on the historical discrepancies with the starting of school bands in Victoria and Mullen adds his own discrepancy when he declares “I had the first band in Victoria composed of schoolboys” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).  When reading this paragraph, it brings to mind a piece of writing in one of the old brass band magazines where the writer had some choice words for the headmasters of the day about not starting bands (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929).  Perhaps it was Mullen himself who wrote the article in this 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, but we may never know for sure.

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p4
Excerpt from p. 4, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

In finishing his one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands, Mullen laments that the State and National controlling bodies have not done enough to promote bands.  He states,

It is up to our band controlling bodies and the Australian Band Council to take this matter up seriously and see that more cannot be done to keep the importance of brass bands before the people of Australia.

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 4)

The main aim of this booklet, as mentioned, was to document the prize-winning brass band musicians and bands who had participated in the South Street competitions over a number of years.  Two pages of the booklet are devoted to a poem Mullen wrote on South Street.  Another section of the book was written by a contributor, “Baton” who wrote a history of the band sections at South Street (Baton, 1951).  This contribution is comprehensive and valuable and adds to the existing histories of the band sections at South Street.

Mullen also wrote other small sections in the starting pages and ending pages of the booklet, where, we still see that he is using the booklet to express his own opinions – which is understandable.  Some section headings in the starting pages are telling;

  • “Test Selections need revising” (he felt that operatic works instead of technical works made better test pieces),
  • “Band grading should be abolished” (he felt the grading system had outgrown its usefulness)
  • “Bad drumming of class marches” (Apparently Bandmasters were not teaching or paying attention to the drummers about learning their parts properly) (Mullen, 1951b, pp. 6-8)

In the later pages of the booklet, Mullen provides some useful historical information on the South Street competitions, South Street judges, how Britain developed band music in Australia,  the Quickstep section and the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (Mullen, 1951b).  Still, he is wanting to express his opinions in these pages and makes comment on how “Grand Opera assists bandsmen” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 61).  Mullen, as we’ve seen, is also a great advocate for the young and has used a section to advocate for young band conductors.  Also, in another section, while he congratulates young soloists for participating in South Street, he also took aim at their onstage deportment – Mullen obviously did not like young soloists who sat down while playing and he gave a serve to bandmasters “who encourage this sort of thing” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62).

In one of the final sections of the booklet titled “High Cost of Running Brass Bands” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62), we read that he is trying to advocate for more monetary support for the brass band movement.  He levels criticism at various entities such as the Federal Government on tariffs on musical instruments, the State Government on the money being spent on the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Australian Band Council for not talking to governments on behalf of brass bands (Mullen, 1951b).  Mullen takes a singularly myopic viewpoint, well-meaning, but possibly futile.  Of course, this is all in relation to his support for young musicians and their access to instruments and the expense of obtaining such instruments.  He laments that,

Unfortunately Australia is so “sports minded” that it is a much easier proposition to conduct a boy’s cricket or football team than to form a junior band and give youngsters the chance of a musical education or at least a musical mind.

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

Meaning, that if all things were ideal in Mullen’s viewpoint, money would be better spent on the brass band movement.

Would it not be a good investment for the future education of this country for our Governments to spend something on band music in order to help Australia to have a cultured mind – something she lacks at present.

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

In this section about the monetary challenges faced by brass bands and lack of support, Mullen has managed to draw in his other points of interest in sports, politics/government and education of youth!

In finishing a review of Mullen’s written paragraphs and opinions in this booklet, it is as has been mentioned; he used this booklet to express is many opinions, ideas and advocacy. His writing was well-meaning, but one wonders how much effect it had on the powers that be?  I personally feel that the lists of bandsmen, instruments and bands provide much more historical interest and meaning in this booklet.

1965: “Brass Bands have played a prominent part in the History of Victoria”:

In 1965, fourteen years later after publishing his booklet, Mullen published another article in The Victorian Historical Magazine with the above title.  Mullen is aged 70 in 1965 and his wealth of historical knowledge about the brass band movement is evident in this article.  The richness of historical information about bands, conductors, adjudicators, the South Street competitions and Victorian musical life can be fully appreciated here – possibly more so than his previous booklet which contained a limited range of historical writing (Mullen, 1951b, 1965).

Mullen provides an amount of context in this article.  To build the narrative, he starts off with the large and then brings focus.  In the opening paragraphs, this means tracing brass instruments from biblical times to the development of bands in England and then to Victoria with a focus on immigration (Mullen, 1965).  In this article, Mullen also draws in some historical information about Victorian bands and events, and he has quoted large parts of various band magazines.  For example, the next section after the introduction is about bands playing at the Eureka Rebellion of which he used information from “The Australian Bandsman.  26th October 1923” (Mullen, 1965, p. 31).  This section on the Eureka Rebellion is useful as it focuses on the band history of Ballarat – which became home to the famous Royal South Street band competitions.

Progressing through the article, we can see that Mullen provides lots of detail throughout various sections while continuing his historical narrative.  When reading, there is an impressive list of bands, bandsmen, competitions and little stories to be discovered.  He has written a section on the “Famous Band Families” such as “James Scarff, Samuel Lewins and Thomas E. Bulch” and the “Codes” – brothers “Edward, John, Alfred and William” and sons of Edward, “Percy” and brother “Samuel” (Mullen, 1965, pp. 36-39).  The South Street band competitions were a subject that had a special interest to Mullen and he devoted another whole section to them, again, listing memorable bands, bandsmen and adjudicators (Mullen, 1965).

In the later writing of this article, there were some notable historical events that Mullen mentions such as the early tours of Besses o’ the’ Barn Band and the Sousa Band, the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League, the impact of the World Wars on local bands, radio broadcasting and in the band world, the activities of the ABC Military Band (Mullen, 1965).  The final section of the article gives praise to the Victorian brass bands for maintaining a high standard of playing, although Mullen attributes this to,

…bandmasters setting a fine example in teaching young players a love for classical works of the of the great composers relating to Grand Opera, Ballet, Symphonies, Oratorio, Sacred and Religious works, and good songs that have been set to music.

(Mullen, 1965, p. 46)

In other words, music that was not originally written for brass bands.

Mullen was ever fond of lists (which will be evident further in this post), and in this final section he has listed a number of notable brass band conductors, in addition to others previously named in his article such as “Harry Shugg” (Geelong Harbour Trust, Malvern Tramways & City of Ballarat) (Mullen, 1965, pp. 11, 43).  (The list below has been ordered into a bulleted list which is different from how it is presented in the article):

(Mullen, 1965, pp. 9-11, 47)

If there is one criticism of this article it is the way that Mullen has finished it, there is no real conclusion.  It just…ends.  Mullen leaves the article hanging by making mention of the most recent overseas visit of an international military band (prior to the publication of this article) in 1965).  The final paragraph reads:

The most recent visit of an overseas musical combination to Victoria was that of Her Majesty’s Scots Guards, under Captain James Howe, in March 1964, when it played at the Moomba Carnival in Melbourne.

(Mullen, 1965, p. 47)

It is admirable that Mullen wrote an article such as this given that lack of historical writing on the band movement in Victoria as a whole.  What this article does do is create many links between bands, bandsmen and historical context, which is no doubt due to Mullen’s interests in these subject areas.  We should thank Mullen; despite this article being written fifty-five years ago to this date, it is still relevant and serves as a useful guide to much of the band movement history in Victoria.

C. C. Mullen: Statistician:

Returning to Mullen’s publication on brass bands, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), we will see what can be considered to be the real historical value of this booklet, the lists of names and bands.  Mullen was meticulous in the way he compiled his lists.  No doubt he had access to the names and competition wins through his work at the newspapers, but to compile the lists covering fifty-one years is quite remarkable.  All of the bandsmen and bands can be cross-referenced with the Royal South Street results database (Mullen, 1951b; Royal South Street Society, 2020).

A small excerpt of one of the lists has been displayed earlier in this post.  The way Mullen has compiled these lists is quite logical.  He has started with all the conductors and then listed all the prize winners for every instrument of a brass band.  Interestingly, although South Street never held any solo competitions for Side or Bass Drummers, Mullen lists the bandsmen he considers notable on these instruments.  In the closing pages of the statistics, he lists all of the bands from every State and New Zealand that have participated in South Street over the time frame of this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Below are samples of some of the lists, and they are fairly self-explanatory.

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p19
Excerpt from p. 19, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p41
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bass (G) Trombone”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p63-64
Pages 63-64, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bands which have competed at South Street Competitions 1900-1951”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

As we can see above, Mullen clearly had an eye for statistical detail.  No doubt he felt he was doing the band movement service by publishing all of this, and to some extent he was.  This is the only booklet of its kind to emerge from this era.  Nowadays we can access all of these results through the South Street results database and find names in the Trove archive.  Mullen did not have these electronic means, and even though the lists do not include the competition scores and rankings of bandsmen, the lists are still very informative.  Another reason to thank Mullen for his work.

Conclusion:

Mullen has made a great contribution to the history of the band movement in Victoria through his own personal interest, dedication, and knowledge.  In the absence of any other work of this nature, both his booklet and later article provide an overall picture of the band movement.  Yes, his opinions were controversial when viewed in a new light.  However, I feel he meant well, and I also feel that Mullen’s work on the history of the band movement needs to be more widely known.

References:

Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Horticultural Press. 

THE EDITOR’S BATON: Bringing up the boy to the band. (1929). The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, XXV(2), 1 & 3.

Hay, R. (2010). Cec Mullen, Tom Willis and the search for early Geelong football. The Yorker, Spring(42), 3-5. 

Mullen, C. C. (1937, 17 December). Sport in Schools. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

Mullen, C. C. (1940, 16 July). Voluntary Service. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204409992

Mullen, C. C. (1946, 08 January). NORTHERN TRAMWAY ROUTES. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22221100

Mullen, C. C. (1947, 18 December). School Holidays. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243844022

Mullen, C. C. (1951a, 13 January). Goldfields Brass Bands : To the Editor. Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256809482

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

Mullen, C. C. (1952a, 03 January). LETTERS (in a nutshell) : Too old. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23155399

Mullen, C. C. (1952b, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204978021

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, XXXVI(1), 30-47. 

Mullen, C. C. (1983). This is the last will and testament of me…. In Wills and Probates (Vol. VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). North Melbourne, Victoria: Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189122433

Royal South Street Society. (1958, 25 October). 1958-10-25 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 27 January 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1958-10-25-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1959, 23 October). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 27 January 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1964, 24 October). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 27 January 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved 13 October 2017 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

Ruddell, T. (2010). Introducing Cec Mullen: pioneer sports historian. The Yorker, Spring(42), 2. 

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

The early bands of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie:

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

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

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

1906: The South Street Competition, Ballarat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

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

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

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

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

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

(“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

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

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

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

1911: The Kalgoorlie Eisteddfod:

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

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

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

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

…and remarking on uniforms,

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

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

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

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

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

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

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

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

(“KALGOORLIE EISTEDDFOD,” 1911)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“Kalgoorlie Band Contests.,” 1911)

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poetry of brass bands

Introduction:

While undertaking research for my blog posts thus far I have come across all manner of writing describing brass bands, their members and competitions.  Much of the writing is very useful in finding the “little stories” behind people, places and events.  Occasionally I have come across some oddities in the mix and this post is going to highlight an aspect of writing; poetry.

In this context of brass band history, penning up a poem about musicians, bands and competitions might seem very colloquial.  And in some respects, it is.  One only has to look at the style of writing and while the poems might not have won any literature awards, they were helpful in bringing to life some little stories in a unique style.

Below are just three of these brass band poems.  I have not been actively searching for these.  However, if while searching for material on other topics and they appeared, I have made a note of them for the novelty.  These are defiantly the needles in haystacks!  Two of the poems were published in local newspapers by writers using pseudonyms while the third poem was composed by brass band writer C. C. Mullen in his rare book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951).

I am quite sure there are other brass band poems in other newspaper articles so this post might be expanded in the future.  Please enjoy the language and stories that are being told here and remember that they were for another time.  Perhaps this blend of artforms might be used again one day.

“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

One of the first blog posts in Band Blasts from The Past was about the famous Cornetist and Conductor William Ryder who travelled to Australia in 1910 with the renowned Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band (de Korte, 2018).  Just eight years later, after stints with bands in Victoria and New South Wales, he arrived in Maryborough, Queensland to take the reins of the Maryborough Naval Band and we found that an enterprising contributor, under the pseudonym of ‘Bannerman’, had penned a poem to welcome him to town.  No doubt this would have been perceived as a very friendly gesture, and it gave the town some insight into the prowess and reputation of Ryder as a musician.  This poem was published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser on Wednesday, 8thMay, 1918.

A WELCOME

Here’s a hearty welcome “Billy”,
To our pleasant country town,
And may Fortune every lead you,
And misfortune never frown.
We are pleased to have you with us,
And we hope you long may stay
To encourage local talent
In the latest style and way.

When you played the “solo cornet”
With the finest in the land,
You were classed as England’s champion
In the famous “Besses Band.”
And here in fair Australia
You can show us all the way
As the Champion of the Champions
From the South to old Wide Bay.

“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.

(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)

“Back to South Street” by Cecil Clarence Mullen (1951):

There is one brass band musician and writer among many who is significant to early Victorian brass band history, Cecil Clarence Mullen (C. C. Mullen).  His writing might be rare and hard to find now, however, being a band journal representative he had a unique insight into the workings of brass bands and was associated with many famous bands, conductors and administrators (Mullen, 1951).

It is in his little book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951) that we find his poem, “Back to South Street”. In this piece of writing Mullen has cleverly highlighted the nostalgia of the South Street event while noting many of the famous names of bands and bandsmen.  It is a worthwhile poem to read for the sake of history.

19510000_Mullen
Front Cover Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection)

BACK TO SOUTH STREET

Just let me go back to South Street
For a week with the famous bands,
And take with me others who would compete
In Australia’s Golden City of renown.

Just let me alight at the station
With cornet, trombone and drum,
And meet bandsmen from all over the Nation,
To whom South Street once more come.

Just let me line up in the station yard
And play through Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,”
Or “The Heavens Are Telling” by Haydn – just as hard,
As bands played in the days before us.

Just let me march along Sturt Street
With gay crowds lining the way,
With step by step and beat by beat,
Is South Street just the same to-day?

Just let me see who is judging again,
Is it Stead or Bentley with ears for tune?
Short, Beswick, Sutton or Morgan – men of fame,
Or King of them all – J. Ord Hume.

Just let me go through Inspection
As we did when we dressed with much care;
With the gayest uniform in our section,
That made all our rivals stare.

Just let me compete in the solos again
From the grand old Coliseum stage,
With “Adelaide” or “Gipsy’s Warning” – or “Pretty Jane,”
“Zelda” and “Miranda” of a later age.

Just let me mount he platform
And play through “Beethoven’s Works.”
Or any Alexander Owen’s selections
That South Street bands would not shirk.

Just let me play through the Test piece,
Be it “Mercandante.” “Mozart” or “Liszt,”
“Wagner,” “Chopin” of “Meyerbeer,”
The tests that were tests on our lips.

Just let me march in the Quickstep
With Ord Hume’s “B.B. and C.F.”
“The Challenge,” “Cossack” or “Ravenswood”
Or was the “Twentieth Century” the best?

Just let me see the others swing past,
Code’s, Prout’s, Rozelle and Boulder.
Wanganui, Newcastle and Bathurst Brass,
Great names that come dear to the older.

Just let me see those fine Geelong bands,
St. Augustine’s, Municipal and Harbour Trust.
Also Collingwood, Malvern, Richmond, Prahran,
Perth City – all great power among us.

Just let me see Geelong Town again
With Sharpe Brearley at the head of affairs.
They ranked with Prout’s in quickstep fame,
First in marching honours was often theirs.

Just let me see the giants of the baton,
Riley, Code, Bulch and Prout,
McMahon, Barkel, Jones and Hoffman.
Many, alas, have gone out.

Just let me see others again,
Partington, Shugg, Johnston, Bowden.
Men who kept time in South Street’s fame;
Wade and Baile must be among them.

Just let me think if I missed any,
Yes, there was Davison, Niven, Lewins – any more!
Hopkins, Ryder, Billy May among many,
Not forgetting Frank Wright and J. Booth Gore.

Just let me see the best of officials
And critics like Davey, Gartrell and Hellings,
Humphreys and Boyce – Kings of staff and whistle,
May march us again – well, there’s no telling.

So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.

(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)

“Dungog Brass Band” by ‘Mad Mick” (1954):

19120000_Dungog-BB_phot16862
Dungog Brass Band, 1912 (Source: IBEW)

Above is a picture of the Dungog Brass Band from around 1912 and unfortunately, this is one of the only pictures I could find of them.  However, some thirty years later this prose was published in the Dungog Chronicle : Dungog and Gloucester Advertiser newspaper by a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”.  One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950s.

From reading the poem it appears that ‘Mick’ is a third cornet player.  This poem is quite good in describing who the band is, what it does and where it goes, but the prose hints at some problems like attendance issues.  We can appreciate that this was a local town band, and this was the way they did things. I think every band has a ‘Mick’ in their midst and we can thank him for highlighting the Dungog Brass Band in the way that he did.

DUNGOG BRASS BAND

I’ve heard it said that Old King Cole was happy, gay and free,
And he liked music sweet and low, played by his fiddlers three,
But in Dungog we’re luckier than King Cole in his day,
We have a band of 25 with band-master, Bob Gray;
And of this band we all feel proud, a mighty job they do,
They play in aid of charities, and spastic kiddies too.
Some Saturdays they entertain at each and every pub,
They finish off the evening playing at the Bowling Club.

Now I would like to tell you all the names of those who play,
And how old Bob the baton waves, and gets them on their way;
Soprano cornet heads the list and that’s I. Kennedy.
That solo cornet it is played by little Johnny Lee;
Keith Kennedy is downstairs for he is baritone,
And forwards, backwards, goes Stan Leayr upon the old trombone;
Now solo tenor horn Barry Schofield plays alone,
Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot! Don Redman goes upon his saxophone.

First tenor horn’s Wal Arnold, third cornet Mick Neilson,
Johnny Schofield’s second cornet, Hector Robson the side drum;
Ken Wade with his euphonium, gets down to bottom D,
While second solo tenor horn is little Barry Lee;
Then there’s E bass Freddy Schofield and Ted Mathews is the same,
And there’s one more solo cornet, Artie Redman is his name;
The secretary is Jack Kerr, he’s also big bass drum,
While tenor horn number three is played by “Butch” Neilson.

There’s only six more instruments and players for to pen,
For to conclude the roll call of Bob and his merry men;
And Bob calls them “some-timers,” they don’t attend a lot,
Sometimes they’re there for practice and sometimes they are not.
There’s the E bass and the B bass, and repiano cornet too,
And they’re played by Tommy Ferris and Keith Lean and Shelton, Blue,
Well now I’ve two trombonists whose attendances are poor
And they are “Sambo” Neilson and offsider Dennis Moore.

Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.

(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)

…and something from me:

In concluding this next blog post in Band Blasts From the Past,
Some tales of bands and bands people, but they won’t be the last.
For as we know from history, stories wait until they’re found,
Of the many tales of bands people who were there to make a sound.

References:

Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151083205

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). [Photograph]. [phot16862]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Mad Mick. (1954, 29 September). DUNGOG BRASS BAND (By ‘Mad Mick). Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140539879

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

Quickstep. (1920, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

Finding National consensus: how State band associations started working with each other

19230205_Daily-Mail_Aus-Band-Committee
Daily Mail, 5/02/1923, p. 3

Introduction:

For nearly as long as we have had formal brass bands in Australia, we have had band associations.  These early groupings were either large or small where affiliated bands worked with each other.  Except for perhaps in Victoria where, as we found in a previous post, they experienced some major upheaval just thirty years after the first band association came into being.  However, the collegial atmosphere brass bands led to associations that tried to foster common aims and ideals.

One core function of a band association was the formulation of rules of competition and association.  It would be fair to say that some of these rules were contentious back then (even as they are sometimes now).  This being said, the function of competition rules was to make sure that every competing ensemble was on a level playing field with other bands. There were the odd protests, of course, this goes without saying.  Generally, the judgment of State associations held when questioned. However, with all States creating rules of competition, when it came to bands wanting to compete in other States, this undoubtedly caused problems at times.  The States then tried to start working with one another to bring some uniformity in rules for competitions that attracted interstate entrants.

Hence the subject of this post. This is an examination of how the State band associations tried to put aside their differences and work with each other.  This post is not a synthesis of the different State competition rules.  As will be seen, uniformity was not an easy process and some iterations of a National Council did not last long.  Undoubtedly the War years intervened in the activities of bands, so a working National Council was further fragmented and delayed.  When reading this post, people might get a sense of déjà vu, however, this will be open to individual interpretation.  This is just another of those fascinating stories that add further history to the activities of Australian bands and bandsmen.

The early years, 1900 – 1930:

The current iteration of our ‘National Band Council of Australia” (N.B.C.A.) dates back to 1930s and their competition result archive and history reflects this (National Band Council of Australia, 2019a, 2019b).  However, efforts to form a National Council predate this by another ten years. 

The first State band association to form in Australia was the Band Association of New South Wales (B.A.N.S.W.) in 1895 and they staged their first interstate band competition in Sydney, 1896 (Greaves, 1996).  This was followed by the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) in 1901 with other State association forming soon after (Greaves, 1996).  With each State association now assuming responsibility for running competitions, there were a number of rule differences for bands to negotiate, especially if they competed in interstate events.

The band associations affiliated with each other and recognized each other’s rules and processes.  It was not uncommon for letters and other correspondence from State associations to be presented at various meetings.  With this in mind, through an article in Adelaide’s Register newspaper in 1913, we see that the South Australian Band Association (S.A.B.A.) received a letter from B.A.N.S.W. “suggesting a conference of the Australian associations in order to discuss and possibly bring the rules of the different associations into something approaching uniformity.” (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1913). This was probably one of the first approaches from one association to another with a proposal to at least discuss differences in rules.  There is no indication at this stage as to whether this conference took place, or if it did, what the outcome was.

The Register, 24/04/1913, p. 4

Notwithstanding the disruption of the First World War on Australian society in general, once this had finished the associations carried on with their activities.  It is in the year of 1921 where we see the next mention of a National Council being formed through an article published in the Argus newspaper reporting on a conference held in Ballarat.  A summary of the article tells us that:

  • An Australian Band Council has been formed
  • “Only one association from each state is to be recognized.”
  • An order of States has been decided as to who will host the next championships.

(“INTERSTATE BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1921)

Slightly more detail on this 1921 Ballarat conference was provided by the Northern Star newspaper brass band correspondent, ‘Drummer Boy’ where he has noted that, in addition to only one association being recognized in each State, “only players of bands affiliated with that association will be permitted to play in contests in other States.” (Drummer Boy, 1921).  There was also another discussion on how many professional musicians could play in each band, with the recognition that brass bands were essentially amateur groups. The next conference was to be held in Brisbane (Drummer Boy, 1921).

There may or may not be a connection, but a picture of an “Australian Band Committee” was published by the Daily Mail in 1923 (pictured at the head of this post) (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE.,” 1923).  Perhaps this is a result of the aforementioned Brisbane conference although, at this stage, the connection is unclear.

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette, 28/05/1925, p. 4

While there had been championships held in various States billed as interstate band contests, they were essentially conducted by the respective State association under their own rules. However, the formation of an Australian Band Council meant that championships could now be held under National rules and patronage.  In 1925 we see how this is affected through a tiny article published in the Toowoomba Chronicle where the 1926 Toowoomba competitions “at Easter will carry the 1926 Australian Championship title for the A, B, and C Grades” (“THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL.,” 1925).  This is an important step in banding competitions as it is now evident that the States had actually agreed on common rules and a national committee had given patronage to a competition.  This recognition was not forgotten by local brass bands.  In 1927, the Victorian Band Association (V.B.A.) upheld a protest brought about by one band, which was written up in an article published by The Age newspaper:

Malvern Tramways Band complained that two other bands in Melbourne were claiming themselves to be Australian champions, and a ruling was sought.  It was set out that the title of the Australian championship was legitimately held to belong to Malvern Tramways Band by reason of its success in winning the Australian championship contest at Toowoomba, Q. last Easter. The association secretary (Mr. W. Martin) stated that he had replied that the Queensland Band Association had the right to grant the championship in 1926, and by its success at the Toowoomba contest Malvern Tramways Band was thereby the possessor of the title.  The matter was one in which the band itself could take what action it considered advisable.”

(“Victorian Band Association.,” 1927)

On a side note and somewhat related, this was a perfect case of when a State association proved to be effective on one ruling but failed to uphold another ruling.  The two other bands that Malvern Tramways was referring to in their protest were their two main crosstown rivals; Brunswick City Municipal Band and Collingwood Citizens’ Band. In the latter part of 1927, these two bands held a ‘challenge contest’ at the Exhibition Building with adjudicators “P. Jones, P. Code & R. McAnallay” presiding (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927).  Interestingly, the presenters of this contest declared that “This contest…will decide which is the best brass band in Australia” (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927).  Needless to say the Victorian Bands’ Association was not pleased about this contest and they tried to disqualify both Brunswick and Collingwood – which brought about a response from Brunswick accusing the V.B.A. of over-stepping itself as the current VBA rules “do not provide for a challenge contest” (“BEST BAND DISCORD,” 1927).  The challenge contest still went ahead with Collingwood winning by two points (Greaves, 1996).

The 1930’s:

19370626_Bk2_Photo_K.G.Kennedy_Aus-Band-Council
1937. Lieut. K. G. Kennedy. The well-known Drum-Major and Adjudicator, also President of the Australian Bands’ Council. (Source: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

If the preceding two decades could be regarded as tentative, the next two decades where the National Council was reformed could be regarded as consolidation.  In 1931 a new Victorian Bands’ League was formed by a large group of Melbourne metropolitan bands and every other band in the State rapidly affiliated.  This led to the demise of the VBA and we see in a Herald article from 1933, the other State associations recognized the VBL as the single association for bands in Victoria and they sent through their affiliations with the new league (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  In the same article, Mr. H. G. Sullivan, Secretary of the VBL “said he wanted to see the formation of an Australian Band Council to unify band contests throughout Australia” (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  This move was also welcomed in other States.  The Secretary of the Queensland Band Association (Q.B.A.) Mr. J. R. Foster, “said they were hopeful that in the near future a Federal Council would be formed to control and lay down rules for brass band contests throughout Australia.” (“BRASS BAND CONTESTS.,” 1933).

19330627_Toowoomba-Chronicle_Band-Council-Control
Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette, 27/06/1933, p. 4

A clue as to why the National Council was resurrected at this time lies in a long newspaper article from 1934 published in the Central Queensland Herald newspaper in which Mr. Foster, was interviewed.  He provided some enlightening history:

“Years ago the whole of the State Band Associations throughout Australia were controlled by a Central Australian Band Conference, but since 1918 this body has not functioned although several attempts were made to revive the Council” said Mr. Foster yesterday.

“Last year, through the efforts of the Q.B.A., negotiations were made between New South Wales and the Victorian Bands’ League to hold a conference representing all States to endeavour to formulate a set of rules applicable to band contests throughout the Commonwealth.”

“The conference, which will be held in Sydney, will commence on April 9 and all States except Western Australia have expressed their intention of being represented.”

“Included in the agenda will be a suggestion from Queensland that every effort will be made to establish an Australian school for band music on the same lines as Knellar Hall in England.”

“If this could be achieved it would be of inestimable help to building band-masters to study the theory of music and up to date band training methods”

“At present time all State Associations are affiliated, but it is felt that the establishment of a uniform set of contesting conditions will further cement the co-operation already existing amongst the State Associations.”

(“HALL OF BAND MUSIC,” 1934)

The history of the current NBCA notes that its official formation was on the 13th of April 1934 which correlates with these events. (National Band Council of Australia, 2019b).  A small publication comprising of a constitution, contest rules and quickstep & marching regulations was also published for the Australian Band Council at this time (Australian Band Council, 1934)

No doubt this is an interesting set of developments and hopeful proposals.  Evidently, the State associations were quite collegial in the way they were now operating.  It seems, however, that “The proposition by Queensland for the establishment for a college of music for the education of bandmasters and trainers could not be entertained at present owing to the expense involved.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).  This being said, an order of National championships was decided – “Queensland in 1935, in South Australia in 1936, in Victoria in 1937, and in New South Wales in 1938.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).

Courier-Mail, 23/0

We also see evidence from this conference on just how difficult it was to achieve unity in rules.  Mr. Dall, then Secretary of S.A.B.A. and the South Australian representative at the conference, was quoted in an article published in the Advertiser newspaper on the 30thof April:

“If such conferences are continued they will be of tremendous benefit to contesting bands in Australia.  We found it difficult to frame rules owing to the different conditions operating in the various States.  In framing a set of rules to apply to all States without seriously affecting any State’s present rules, we found it necessary to compromise on several items so that they would be applicable to all States.”

“If the conferences can be continued there is no doubt that in the near future a set of rules will be framed that will be entirely satisfactory to all bands throughout the Commonwealth.  With this object in view we framed a set of rules for two years trial.”

(“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS HERE IN 1936,” 1934)

The next biennial conference of the Australian Band Council was held in Brisbane during May 1936.  The Courier-Mail reported on some resolutions which included making Melbourne the national headquarters in future and that all future conferences would be held in Melbourne (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936).  “Mr. H. J. Sullivan, secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League, who is the Victoria delegate to the council, was appointed permanent Federal secretary of the council.” (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936).

Courier-Mail, 1/05/1936, p. 18

Evidently, a new President of the Australian Band Council was elected as seen by the picture which was published by the Australasian Bandsman newspaper in 1937 (“Lieut. K. G. Kennedy,” 1937).

Numerous rule changes were reported on before the commencement of the 1938 conference in Melbourne by the brass band correspondent to the Advertiser newspaper, colloquially known as ‘Baton’. He wrote a very detailed overview of the rule proposals which, unfortunately, cannot be listed here due to brevity.  However, the rule proposals covered areas such as registration, marching and the quickstep competition (Baton, 1938).  The conference, held at Hawthorn Town Hall in suburban Melbourne was a success and the Mayor of Hawthorn gave the conference, and brass bands full praise (“BANDS PRAISED,” 1938).

The Argus, 1/08/1938, p. 2

In 1939 the National Championships were held in Bundaberg, QLD over Easter and we see some reporting of new rules that were decided upon at the Melbourne conference.  The Cairns Post, while highlighting the local brass band that was to take part, also reported that:

Rule nine of the Contest Rules governing all future championship contests now reads:- “(a) The Australian championship shall be competed for annually at a time and place to be decided by the Council, and shall be for “A” grade only”

“(b) State championships shall be held at such time and place as may be decided by the governing body.”

(“BAND CHAMPIONSHIP.,” 1939)

Such are the vagaries of the rules. It was at this time however when the world was again plunged into War and there was a suspension of a majority of band contests.  We next see articles relating to the National band council appear again in the middle to late 1940s.

The 1940s & 1950s:

It appears that the Australian Band Council was quiet during the Second World War years, which was understandable and certainly there is not much evidence to suggest that National competitions took place.  This is not to say there were not local and State competitions during this time, at least in Victoria (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939).  However, as shown by these same records, a competition was held in Frankston, Vic. in late 1945 and early 1946 which was called an “Australian Championship” (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939, p. 34).  While it was called as such, the only bands that participated came from Victoria.

Coming into the 1950s we again see the ideals of the Australian Band Council being reiterated in local newspapers. Published in 1952, an article in the Mudgee Guardian tries to explain what the A.B.C. actually is and what it does:

“While the N.S.W. Band Association controls Band matters within that State, the Australian Band Council is the governing body for Band matters throughout the Commonwealth, and has jurisdiction within each State.

The objects of the A.B.C. are similar to the N.S.W.B.A. that is to say: To ensure that Band contests, solo and part competitions shall be conducted throughout Australia under a uniform set of rules: to deal with any appeals which may be made to the Council by any affiliated State governing body in respect of any action taken under any rule of the Council: to promote a general love and knowledge of Band music and good fellowship amongst Bandsmen: and to promote and assist in the promotion of, and to control Band contests.”

(“BAND SERIES No. 6.,” 1952)

The article then proceeded to highlight other aims and ideals.

Unfortunately, the exact date of a name change to the National Band Council of Australia is unclear, however, as mentioned, their website publishes National results dating back only to 1950 (National Band Council of Australia, 2019).

19550113_Central-QLD-Herald_ABC-President
Central Queensland Herald, 13/01/1955, p. 17

Conclusion:

The history of the National Council is unique as there were a special set of circumstances needed to make sure it formed and succeeded.  The various starts had similar aims and ideals with the uniformity of rules being first and foremost.  Collegiality was emphasized despite the difficulty in creating a uniform set of rules and procedures.  The interactions between different State associations are clearly highlighted in this regard.  It seems that the State associations tried to make this work with the best of intentions and that is something to be admired.  Certainly, the legacy is still seen today with the continued existence of a National Band Council of Australia and the National band championships which are held each year in a different State.

References:

AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE. (1923, 05 February). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218974562

Australian Band Council. (1934). Australian Band Council : Constitution : Contest Rules : Quickstep Regulations and Instructions  [Constitution]. Oxford Press. 

AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL : Future Conferences in Melbourne. (1936, 01 May). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38467409

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1913, 24 April). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59254032

BAND CHAMPIONSHIP : For Australian Title : Cairns Participation. (1939, 25 February). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42169758

BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS. (1934, 23 April). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1192269

BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS HERE IN 1936 : Conference Frames Rules for Two Years’ Trial. (1934, 30 April). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74095881

Band President. (1955, 13 January). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75434128

BAND SERIES No. 6 : Band Council. (1952, 13 October). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156439664

BAND UNITY MOVE : States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243112744

BANDS PRAISED : Hawthorn Conference. (1938, 01 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12454503

Baton. (1938, 14 July). BANDS AND BANDSMEN : Plans for Band Council Conference. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35597004

BEST BAND DISCORD : Brunswick-Collingwood Contest to Go On. (1927, 23 June). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 23. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243967808

BRASS BAND CONTESTS : Federal Council of Control? : Conference for Brisbane. (1933, 27 June). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254338919

CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST. (1927, 02 August). Corowa Free Press (NSW : 1875 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236067765

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 15 March). The politics of affiliation: The Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/15/the-politics-of-affiliation-victorian-bands-association-to-the-victorian-bands-league/

Drummer Boy. (1921, 05 November). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93081749

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

HALL OF BAND MUSIC : Australian Proposal. (1934, 05 April). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70310251

INTERSTATE BAND CONFERENCE. (1921, 27 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4629185

Lieut. K. G. Kennedy. (1937, 26 June). Australasian Bandsman

National Band Council of Australia. (2019a). Contest Results. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/archives/results

National Band Council of Australia. (2019b). History of the NBCA. National Band Council of Australia. Retrieved 02 June 2019 from https://www.nbca.asn.au/index.php/about/history

THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL. (1925, 28 May). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253924392

Victorian Band Association : Claim to Australian Championship. (1927, 22 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204193668

Victorian Bands’ League. (1939). Notebook – Victorian Bands’ League Contest Records (1939 – 1950)  [Notebook]. Victorian Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b7ce49921ea6916bcdba41c 

International band tours of the early 1900s: bringing music to Australia

Introduction:

It is a massive undertaking to take any musical group on tour which stands true even today.  But let’s examine these undertakings from another time.  When we look back at the grand tours of brass and military bands in the early 1900s, we can only marvel at the schedules they set for themselves, the places they visited, and the effect they had on local populations.  Australians it seemed had an insatiable appetite for viewing the best in the business and visiting bands were not disappointed when they toured here.

Visiting bands did not come all the way to Australia just to return home again.  Often, Australia was just one stop on a world tour.  From reading the Trove archive we can see that the movements of the bands in foreign countries was eagerly reported on because Australians knew they were next to see them.  And when the bands did arrive in Australia, each concert was widely advertised.

This was a great age of band movements in Australia and around the World.  It must have been quite a sight too when each band was alighting from ships and trains which were eagerly awaited on by an adoring crowd.  Parades of massed bands, dinners, receptions, concerts, photographs, articles and other events all greeted visiting bands when they stepped upon our shores. Thankfully our libraries hold some ephemera and newspaper articles from those tours, so we can imagine just what it would have been like.

This post will highlight some of the visiting band tours and will see that some bands had vast reputations which preceded them. However, the famous bands were not the only groups to visit.  This post will not cover all tours or bands.  Undoubtedly there might have been other bands that visited that are buried in time (more stories to uncover).  However, for the bands that did visit, their tours last in memories, and even in some of the local bands that were beneficiaries of the expertise of visiting bandsmen.  There are some fascinating stories that surround these tours.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band travels around the world, twice:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Besses_Card
Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145704095)

The reputation of this unique brass band is well-deserved. Besses o’ the’ Barn Band from the Manchester area, England is one of the oldest brass bands in the world and has been an ensemble of excellence since its establishment in 1818 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018a).  So it was with a great deal of excitement the world over (and from the band itself) when Besses commenced its first world tour in 1906 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  This first tour took them to “North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  For each performance they attracted vast audiences and it is written in their history that their visit to Melbourne was most notable with no less than “twenty-two of Australia’s finest brass bands” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b) preceding them in a parade along Collins St.  This must have been quite the spectacle and sound!  Before they arrived in Melbourne they had been in Sydney and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in 1907 gave an enthusiastic review of their performances (“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND,” 1907).  In July 1907 the Argus newspaper published an article which gives us an amount of detail about the parade and the massed bands that led it:

Immediately they alighted from the Sydney express the visiting bandsmen stepped across the platform into the railway yard and as they did twenty-two bands, under the conductorship of Mr. E. T. Code, commenced to play an inspiring march.  Each man in those twenty-two bands contributed his full share to the volume of sound the like of which has rarely been heard in Melbourne. […] A procession was formed and heralded by the twenty-two local bands, the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band were drive up Collins Street in two drags.  The street was crowded with citizens whose curiosity had prompted them to see the famous bandsmen at first opportunity.

[…]

The bands which took part in the ceremony of welcome were as follows: St Kilda City, Prahran City, Code’s Melbourne Band, South Richmond Citizens, Collingwood Citizens’, Richmond City, Malvern City, Williamstown Premier, Footscray City, Stender’s, Doncaster, South Melbourne City, Brighton City, Brunswick City, Warneeke’s, Bootmakers, Camberwell, Box Hill, Fitzroy Military, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy Citizen’s, Kyneton City, St Vincent de Paul Orphanage, St. Arnaud, Castlemaine, Maryborough, and Ballarat bands were also represented.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907)

Regarding the huge crowds, an 1907 article in the Quiz newspaper from Adelaide which reported on the progress of the Besses tour thus far, noted that 70,000 people lined the parade route in Melbourne, which is a staggering amount of people for this kind of event (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).  Such was the popularity and reputation of this ensemble.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band welcoming parade turning from Collins Street to Swanston Street, Melbourne, July 1907. The massed bands are led by Edward Code. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive: 13953)

However, Besses did not finish touring after this first monumental effort.  Not one year after they had arrived back in England, the band embarked on another world tour (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND,” 1909).  As noted in their band history (2018b), “Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band) which was a very long time for bandsmen to be away from home. Needless to say, Besses had not lost any popularity on their next world tour and again drew large crowds wherever they went.

Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to one bandsman staying on in one city, and another bandsman joining them on their tour.  In a previous post, we can read the story of Besses Lead Cornetist William Ryder who absconded from the tour in Melbourne and joined the Wests Theatre Company before becoming the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018; Stonnington City Brass, 2018).  This being done, it appears that Besses invited one of our most famous bandsmen, Percy Code to join them on the rest of the tour (Bradish, 1929; Gibbney, 1981).  The conductor of Besses during this world tour was Mr. Christopher Smith and after the tour ended he was secured by the Adelaide Tramways Band for his services in 1911 (Seymour, 1994).

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1906 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

There is no doubt that Besses left their mark on Australian banding and were adored by audiences.  Certainly, in the succeeding years, many fine Australian bands dominated the landscape and as we saw some ex-Besses musicians now called Australia home.  Besses was one of the first bands to include Australia in their tour, but they were not the last.  Next to tour was the famous Sousa Band from the USA!

Sousa heads South:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Sousa-Card
Postcard: Australia welcoming the Sousa Band (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145695597)

The band of John Phillip Sousa was no less famous than the Besses band, although much bigger with sixty musicians and some additional soloists in their touring party.  They toured Australia and New Zealand from May 12th to August 23rd, 1911 and like the Besses band generated huge excitement wherever they went (Lovrien, 2012).  In fact, the excitement had started brewing before they had even arrived with newspapers reporting expected arrival dates and schedules (“SOUSA’S BAND.,” 1911).  As with the Besses tour that had just finished, the Sousa band was feted with ceremony, functions, awards, parades and large audiences – upon arriving in Sydney there was a grand parade featuring twenty NSW brass bands (“SOUSA AND HIS BAND,” 1911).

Inevitably, given the timing of the Sousa tour to the previous Besses tour, questions were asked as to which the finer band was.  In an article from May 1911, the World’s News newspaper sought to answer this question from a reader (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  The article reported on the differences between both bands and diplomatically opens the article by declaring that: “Comparisons are odious in connection with bands, as well as with politics” (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  However, it came down to the fact that one was a brass band as opposed to a military-style band and one band was much bigger than the other.  Musically, they were both very fine ensembles.

The Sousa band was a very different ensemble and they enthralled Australian audiences.  However, there is no real indication that the Sousa band had an influence on Australian bandsmen, and if they did, it was not reported.  One could assume the reason was that Australian bands, which were mostly brass at the time, were very much tied to the band tradition of England, not the USA.

Postcard: Sousa Band at the Glacarium, Melbourne, 1911 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

From Australia, the Sousa Band traveled to New Zealand where they again delighted audiences and received rave reviews (White, 2018).  And after this swing through the Southern Hemisphere, they returned to the mainland USA via a visit to Hawaii (Lovrien, 2012).

The Sousa tour, despite the number of places that they visited and the largeness of the audiences, did not generate a huge financial windfall and it was very expensive to take the band around the world (Lovrien, 2012).  However, in 1913 a court case was heard regarding the profits from the Australian leg of the Sousa tour.  From the brief flurry of newspaper articles that were written at the time, it appears that a series of contracts were entered into by the promoter of the tour, Mr. Branscombe with a Mr. Quinlan, and later a Mr. Singer over £30,000 in profits (“SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA,” 1913).  It is interesting that this case was heard two years after the tour had finished, and that these profits were not intended for the Sousa band itself.

Bythell (2000), writing on the band tours and exchanges between countries during this time says that “…the logistics and high costs or international tours and exchanges made them exceptional” (p. 229).  Certainly, it was noted in the New Zealand article on the Sousa visit that the tour (through Aus. & NZ) was costing “over £2,000 per week” (White, 2018).  Given the logistics of moving a sixty-piece band plus soloists around Australia and New Zealand, this figure is hardly surprising.

Despite this, the Sousa tour appears to have been a success for the band and audiences as Sousa was a renowned conductor and composer.  The time frame between this tour and the previous Besses tour had not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Australian public in wanting to see these kinds of entertainments.  The Sousa band did not disappoint.

The visit of a Belgian Band during the First World War:

Postcard: Belgian National Band, 1915 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

The Besses and Sousa bands were undoubtedly famous, but that did not stop other promoters searching for bands that might tour, which is exactly what happened during the early stages of the First World War.  In 1915, a band from Belgium visited the country and apparently went on tour through Australia and New Zealand. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).  A paragraph in a Leader newspaper article from May 1915 provides some detail on this band, but the band had no name – they were simply known as the Belgian Band:

A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia.  The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European.

(“MUSIC.,” 1915)

The reaction of the Australian press to this visit was understandable.  A number of articles expressed admiration that the musicians had actually left Belgium, while also expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Belgian people under German occupation.  An example of this kind of article was from the Daily News in Perth (“THE BELGIAN BAND.,” 1915).  Notwithstanding the circumstances of this visit, the band drew the interest of an Australian public and received good reviews for their performances (“Visit of Belgian Band,” 1915).  In an act of decency, the band promoters donated all profits to “…the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers Fund” (“BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA.,” 1915).

First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:

After the war, visits from overseas bands resumed quite early on with a visit from the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown”.  This band was brought to Australia by J. and N. Tait, the same promoters who engaged the Belgian Band in 1915 (“RENOWN BAND.,” 1920).  The Royal Marines actually visited twice; their first visit was in 1920 and they followed up with another visit in 1927.  The concerts of 1920 received some very favorable reviews with one article printed in the Argus praising the sound and playing of this ensemble, and making a comparison of conducting styles with the great Sousa (“Concert by Renown Band.,” 1920).  On the second tour, a concert in Melbourne was presented as a massed bands concert in combination with the “Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial  Band” and the “Victorian Railways Military Band” with the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Appeal Fund the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).

19270508_Massed-Mil-Bands_Green-Mill_FC
Programme (front cover), featuring: Royal Marines Band H.M.S. “Renown”, Victorian Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Band & Victorian Railways Military Band. (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League)

In 1934 the Band of the Grenadier Guards visited Melbourne as part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations, with a subsequent tour of Australia as well.  There was some initial confusion as to which Guards band was going to visit with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Welsh Guards being mentioned in some press (“GUARDS’ BAND VISIT.,” 1933).  It seems there was also some objection to the tour on the part of the Musicians’ Union. A letter to The Herald in September 1933 berated the Union for their stance with the writer stating that “Their visit will be education and beneficial to our unemployed musicians.” (Musician, 1933).  A visit to Australia by a band of this caliber was beneficial to all who witnessed them (not just unemployed musicians).  The band made a special appearance at the South Street competition of 1934 with a concert presented to an appreciative audience which included the Duke of Gloucester who was also visiting Australia (“South-street Band Contests.,” 1934).

19341101-19341103_South-Street-Centenary-Contest_p6
1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest program, p. 6 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

These two British military bands were highly regarded, and it appears that their tours were more genuine with concerts in combination with Australian ensembles and presenting inspirational performances.  There was no comparison with the previous tours of Besses and Sousa as these were again, very different groups.  However, Australians were no less enthusiastic about the visits of these bands and made them feel very welcome.

Conclusion:

What we have seen here is only a small sample of the bands that visited Australia within a shorter time frame.  Each group was very different, yet they elicited an amount of excitement from the Australian audiences, bandsmen and public authorities.  Yes, they were expensive undertakings.  But musically they were invaluable.  This truly was a great age of banding.

References:

Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band. (1910). [1 postcard : col. ; 9.6 x 13.9 cm.]. [nla.obj-145695597]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597/view

THE BELGIAN BAND. (1915, 24 May). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81173645

BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA. (1915, 20 June). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120796314

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Photograph]. [13953]. Manchester Digital Music Archive. https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/artefact/13953/BESSES_O’_TH’_BARN_BAND_PHOTOGRAPH_1907

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Postcard]. [nla.obj-145704095]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145704095/view

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1909, 04 November). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145853191

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018a). A Glorious Past. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018). From Whitefield to Wellington. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses?showall=&start=1

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND. (1907, 15 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14867586

Bradish, C. R. (1929, 05 September). Prominent Personalities : PERCY CODE | CONDUCTOR OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA. Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146712994

Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press. 

Concert by Renown Band. (1920, 04 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1708206

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

FOR MAYOR’S FUND : Renown Band Concert. (1927, 06 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243915027

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 20 April 2018, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

Glanville Hicks, E. (1927). MASSED MILITARY BANDS : (Including Band of H.M.S. “RENOWN”) : GRAND RECITAL  [Programme]. City of Melbourne. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5caad8b321ea6703e46303f4 

GUARDS’ BAND VISIT : Centenary Tour Almost Certain. (1933, 10 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205104515

Lovrien, D. (2012, 13 June). The Sousa Band 1910-11 World Tour. John Philip Sousa. https://sousamusic.com/sousa-band-1910-11-world-tour/

MUSIC. (1915, 15 May). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918), 35. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91368715

Musician. (1933, 11 September). GUARDS’ BAND VISIT. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243423748

RENOWN BAND. (1920, 05 July). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62924146

Royal South Street Society. (1934). South Street “Centenary” : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades  [Programme]. Royal South Street Society. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5d425e0c21ea6b1a84382033 

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10. https://www.sydneytramwaymuseum.com.au/members.old/Trolley_Wire/259%20-%20Trolley%20Wire%20-%20Nov%201994.pdf 

SOUSA AND HIS BAND. (1911, 14 May). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120777076

Sousa Band – Immense Audience, Glacarium, Melbourne. (1911). [Postcard]. Sousa Band, Melbourne, Victoria. 

SOUSA’S BAND. (1911, 09 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10877792

SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA : Question of profits : Writ for £7926. (1913, 01 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196234795

Sousa’s Band : An interesting question asked by readers. (1911, 13 May). World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128266800

South-street Band Contests. (1934, 02 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205082990

Stonnington City Brass. (2018). Band History. Stonnington City Brass. Retrieved 13 May 2018 from https://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/history.html

Visit of Belgian Band : An enjoyable concert. (1915, 10 August). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954),7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121995771

Walmsley Bolton. (1915). The Great Belgian National Band. Conductor – – Mons Jules Ardenois (of Antwerp) [Postcard]. Walmsley Bolton, Nottingham, U.K. 

White, T. (2018, 13 July). Memory Lane: A famous musician brings his band to town. Manawatū Standard. https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/lifestyle/105412732/memory-lane-a-famous-musician-brings-his-band-to-town

The politics of affiliation: Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League

19380000-19370000_VBL-Officials_pg50
Source: The Bandsman’s Year Book and Official Programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. 1938, pg. 50

Introduction:

Although the history and reputation of Victorian banding lies partly with individual bands, the history of the associations that they formed shows Victorian banding in a different light.  This post is focused on a period from 1901 to 1933, where, during the development of the various associations and leagues lies a somewhat rancorous battle for the heart and soul of Victorian bands of which was covered in the newspapers of the day and laid out in detail.   

The focus of this post is the general history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) from 1901-1933 and the official formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (V.B.L.) in 1931.  Tied into this is the history of various early geographical groupings of bands and the eventual move to form much larger associations.  However, with association came division and as will be shown the seeds of division started much earlier than 1931.  This is a tale of the Victorian band movment that is probably not well known to most Victorian bands people.  

My curiosity has been growing over time as I wondered why there were no records that existed prior to 1931.  I knew that the headquarters of the V.B.A. had been in Ballarat, yet whatever records that may have existed were not provided to the V.B.L.  When researching for this post the reasons became obvious – they were two entirely separate organisations that wanted little to do with each other.

The research for this article has been informed by involved searching through the Trove archive with the aim of building a chronology of articles and events.  With this searching has come some revelations as to the Victorian band movement in the 1900s. This history is important to the band community as it highlights what once was, and how the administrations operated.

1900 – 1920: The V.B.A. and other associations:

The first seeds of a State association were sown in 1901 when delegates from Geelong and Ballarat brass bands decide to form a “Ballarat and Geelong District Band Association” with the rules of the new association to be presented to a conference of bands at the next South Street competition (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1901).  Here we have an association that had been set up based on a small geography, but most importantly developed ties to the South Street competitions which became increasingly important to the band community (Royal South Street Society, 2016).  It should be noted that there was already a Geelong Band Association in existence, although this small association broke up after 1908 (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In 1907 it becomes obvious that the V.B.A. is expanding as they had a meeting in Bendigo where discussion took place about lobbying the council to let them use a reserve to hold a band competition with the aim of attracting bands from across Australia (“BANDS ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This is one of the earliest reports of the V.B.A. promoting competitions in regional areas.

Within other geographical regions, distinct band associations started around the same time although not all of them affiliated with the newly formed V.B.A. In the Melbourne area, a new association called the “Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association” (M.M.B.A.) was formed in 1906 (or 1907) by twenty-five bands (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This new association formed their own rules and constitution with the encouragement of the V.B.A., of which a representative attended the meeting.  It is not until a meeting in 1908 that the M.M.B.A. discusses aligning with the V.B.A. and a committee of five is set up to investigate this (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In contrast, a new Gippsland Band Association (G.B.A.) started in 1908 and emphatically ruled out associating with the association in Ballarat (“GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  It should be noted that while Gippsland bands did eventually join with State band associations, the G.B.A. was still going in 1947 and possibly longer (“Gippsland Bands’ Association,” 1947).

Despite the seemingly good running of the association there are some indications that some bands wanted the headquarters moved from Ballarat for various reasons.  In 1917, a letter was sent to the Bendigo Citizens’ Band by the Metropolitan Bands Association proposing a shift of the next meeting of the V.B.A. to Melbourne.  This letter was read out at a meeting of the Bendigo Citizens’ Band and the responses were detailed by the Bendigo Independent newspaper in an article.

Correspondence from the Metropolitan Band Association was read, requesting the bands’ support in having the meeting of the Victorian Band Association held in the metropolis instead of at Ballarat.  Several members spoke in favour of the Victorian Bands’ Association meeting being continued in Ballarat, as it was only another move to have everything of any importance held in the metropolis.  The secretary (Mr. E. K. Varcoe) in commenting on the matter, said it clearly showed that centralisation was at the back of the suggestion, and Melbourne desired everything in Melbourne with the exception of the mice plague… 

(“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

Obviously, there were a few choice words used at this meeting (by 1917 standards).

The letter was countersigned by representatives of the Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Brunswick, Malvern and St Kilda brass bands and it was sent to all country bands affiliated with the V.B.A. at the time.  The Bendigo Citizens’ Band did end up sending a representative to a meeting in Melbourne.  Subsequently, in a vote on the matter at a later V.B.A. meeting, the motion to move the V.B.A. headquarters to Melbourne was defeated 23 to 6 (“BANDS’ ASSOCIATION.,” 1917). 

Warrnambool Standard, 22/11/1917. p. 3

1920 – 1929: Division – the first V.B.L.:  

If the V.B.A. felt that issues of division from the late 1910s had been placated, the early 1920s showed them otherwise.  The Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association was still in existence and were running their own contests, within the oversight of the V.B.A.  In February 1920 they held a series of contests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in conjunction with the R.S.S.I.L.A., Vic. Branch with entries received from 30 bands – one highlight was a challenge contest between the Hawthorn City Band and the Collingwood Citizens’ Band (“METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST.,” 1920).

Over the next few years however, the V.B.A. found itself dealing with a rival Victorian band association, the Victorian Bands’ League which was formed by a grouping of disgruntled metropolitan bands and apparently some country bands.  At a meeting held on the 23rd of May 1921, the new chair of the (first) V.B.L., a Mr. H. G. Johnson stated that,

…one of the objects of the new league was the control of band contests, also the fostering of a better feeling among bands and bandsmen. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)

…and further in this article we see some further reasoning as to why representatives of these bands had met.

Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the affairs of bands and band contests were at presented being controlled by the Victorian Bands’ Association in Ballarat.  Band matters generally could be better managed by having headquarters of the controlling body in Melbourne. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)
Herald, 23/04/1921, p. 17

One of the main driving forces behind the new V.B.L. was an official of the M.M.B.A, Mr George S. Tucker.  Formerly associated with the Malvern Town Band and the St. Kilda City Brass Band under conductor Mr. F. C. Johnston, he mainly focused on administrative work (Quickstep, 1921).  A weekly column in the Herald newspaper from April 1921 penned by “Quickstep” provides an outline of his band career, but it is the opening paragraph that really introduces Mr. Tucker.

The foremost figure in the band world at present moment is George S. Tucker, the hon. secretary of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association.  A firm and fearless official, a keen debater, and an acknowledged authority on contesting and administrative matters, he has held office for a record term.  Melbourne is recognized as a centre of advanced thought in regard to band politics, and the formation of a new controlling body to be knowns as the Victorian Band League is now receiving attention of the bands.  Mr Tucker has been entrusted with the organisation of this new venture. 

(Quickstep, 1921)

Perhaps the new league was a little overzealous in the way it announced itself.  It is all very well stating that a meeting had been attended by several bands, but it might have helped if the new V.B.L. had sought assurances from the bands themselves that they would be affiliating with the new body.  This was revealed at a meeting of the V.B.A. held in June 1921.  

A letter was received from the St. Kilda Band Association stating that at a meeting of delegates from several bands in Melbourne in May it was decided to form a new league, and it was opined that this would prove to be a very successful body.  It was stated that the Geelong and Coburg bands had agreed to join.

A delegate stated that as far as Geelong and Coburg bands were concerned both had notified their intention of sticking to the V.B.A.  The Malvern Band – which band had a delegate at the meeting – said that he was surprised to find himself elected to the league without authority.  They were also sticking to the V.B.A.

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921)

As well as this, State associations were nominally affiliated with each other and almost as soon as the new league was announced in May, the Band Association of N.S.W. and the South Australian Band Association wrote to the V.B.A. expressing their continued affiliation and refusal to recognize the new V.B.L. (“NEW BAND AUTHORITY,” 1921).  Letters were also received from the Tasmanian Band Association and West Australian Band Association, although W.A.B.A. asked for further information and expressed an opinion that “there was no need for a second body” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921).

Sunraysia Daily, 17/05/1921, p. 4

Nevertheless, the fledging V.B.L. was not to be put off and in early August they announced that they would be holding a massed bands event for a hospital charity at the Exhibition Oval involving 250 bandsmen (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).  Bands were given permission to march from Prince’s Bridge and the Collingwood Band was to march from Collingwood.  The massed band was conducted by Mr. F. C. Johnston who was titled as “the Victorian Band League conductor” (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).

Argus, 10/08/1921, p. 7

Early in 1922 we can see that the new V.B.L. is holding meetings at a favourite haunt in the form of a café located at the corner of Swanston Street & Queen’s Walk.  At a meeting in January, plans were put in place for another “massed bands display on February 12, in aid of the Homeopathic Hospital”. (“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922).  Furthermore, it also appears that some bands were reluctant to join the new League, probably because South Street regarded the V.B.A. as the governing body. This statement from the meeting is telling.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band is now affiliated and it is to be hoped that other “A” grade bands will follow. 

(“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922)

A meeting of the associations took place in June 1922 when a delegation from the V.B.L., including Mr. Tucker, travelled to Ballarat to meet with the V.B.A. to see if a workable solution to governing and/or amalgamation could be found.  The opening paragraph of an article published by the Ballarat Star newspaper provided some background, of which an excerpt is below.

The V.B.L. was originally the Metropolitan Band Association, but enlarged its title and scope in the hope of getting control of brass bands in Victoria.  Evidently this ambition has not been realised, as last night the V.B.L. came with a humble request for authority under the V.B.A. constitution to perform certain local functions while subject to the authority and endorsement of the V.B.A.

(“BAND CONTROL,” 1922)

It is clear in this long article that relations between the V.B.A. and the M.M.B.A. had not been as good as they could be with Mr. H. A. Farrell, President of the V.B.L. calling the bickering between the two associations, at times, “childish” (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  This article reported in detail the proceedings of this meeting, and for the sake of brevity, will not be fully covered in this post.  The discussion was amicable, but the differences were not fully resolved. The main issue was how to manage any confusion between the two associations regarding the running of contests and player registrations (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  The V.B.A. promised to take this request to a full meeting of the Executive where the answer came in August – the V.B.A. rejected the proposal of admitting the V.B.L. into some form of relationship (“BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES,” 1922).

The Herald, 23/08/1922, p. 6

Whatever relationship the two associations had, soured considerably in 1923 when the V.B.L. held a contest in South Melbourne over Easter.  Eight bands took part in this contest, these being; “South Richmond, South Melbourne, Nunawading, Preston, Moorabbin, Deep Rock, Caulfield District, and Socialists.” (“EASTER BAND CONTESTS,” 1923).  Action from the V.B.A. was swift and punitive in the form of disqualifications and fines.  Two bands, Preston Citizens’ Band and the Socialist Party Band were fined £5/5/ and “their bandmasters, conductors, and players be disqualified for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).  Additionally, Mr. James Scarff (Adjudicator) who was registered with the Malvern Tramways Band and Mr. Ivan Hutchinson (Official) of the Footscray Municipal Band were also fined “and disqualified from membership of any associated band for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).

This action by the V.B.A. obviously did not sit well with the V.B.L. or any of the bands that participated in this contest and a few days later Mr. Henry Hellinger, Bandmaster and Conductor of the Preston Citizens’ Band wrote a scathing letter to the Herald newspaper regarding this punitive action by the V.B.A. – he was not impressed as shown by the middle paragraph of his letter.

In the first place, both of these bands are members of the Victorian Band League, and as such, the interference in their private business by any other association becomes a piece of intolerant impertinence.  The Victorian Band League, in organising this contest, open only to members of the Band League, have done something that the so-called Victorian Band Association has never done during its existence.  Furthermore, the V.B.A. has never organised a contest.  Its headquarters are in a country centre, and it can never be a great success, as the bands connected with it have no direct representation no matter what part of the State the band hails from. 

(Hellinger, 1923)

The V.B.L. also acted against the V.B.A. in the form of a resolution which was carried in their June meeting.

At the last meeting of the Victorian Band League a resolution was carried as under: – “That in view of the drastic, and also unconstitutional attitude adopted by the Victorian Band Association with regard to bands and officials who took part in our recent contest held at South Melbourne in future no band affiliated with the Victorian Band League will take part or assist in any way any performance, & c., or assist or organised by any band affiliated with the Victorian Band Association.

(“A BANDS DISPUTE.,” 1923)

The animosity displayed by both associations was hardly conductive to the good administration of bands in Victoria.  It might be fair to say that neither association helped themselves here and festering problems did not seem to go away. Early in 1924 it was reported that band secretaries and band members complained that the V.B.A. was not treating competitors at Ballarat and elsewhere fairly and that there was a “movement to reorganise the Victorian Band League.”  – of which a special meeting was called of metropolitan bands (“BANDSMEN’S DISCORD,” 1924).

Later in 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the V.B.A. in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the V.B.A. in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the V.B.A. as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924).  It seems that the bands listed in this move were not affiliated with the first Victorian Bands’ League, but they did express similar issues and complaints.  Now, the V.B.A. was up against the metropolitan bands on two fronts.

A proposal from a number of Metropolitan bands that they should be allowed to form a branch of the Victorian Band Association in Melbourne, which came before the association at its meeting last night, was viewed with suspicion by many of the delegates, who saw in it an attempt to shift the centre of government to the metropolis. The subject was debated at considerable length.

The president (Mr E. Ballhausen) reported that Messrs Frank Johnston (Collingwood bandmaster), Ben J. Warr and Hanson had waited on the executive of the association, with a view to having steps taken to form a branch of the association in Melbourne.  The secretary read letters in support of this request from the Kingsville-Yarraville, Footscray, Coburg, Prahran City, Hawthorn City, Turner’s Brunswick, Collingwood, St. Vincent de Paul, Brunswick City, St Kilda City, Newport Workshops, Malvern Tramways and Richmond District Bands. It was suggested by a committee of the bands interested that the branch should be known as the Metropolitan branch of the Victorian Band Association, the branch to consist of all bands within a radius of 25 miles of the G.P.O., Melbourne affiliated with the V.B.A.; the branch to have power to conduct all association business of the branch  according to the constitution and rules of the association.

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicious of the metropolitan bands’ intentions.  A Mr. Hewett of the Soldiers’ Band was quoted as saying, 

…the move was only the thin edge of the wedge to shift the headquarters of the association to Melbourne.  Some of the bands concerned were sympathetic with the Metropolitan Band League.  

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Well-might the V.B.A. be annoyed at repeated requests by the metropolitan bands to run themselves and move the headquarters, but the V.B.A. still held sway over the administration of bands in Victoria.  Harking back to the events of 1923, the V.B.A. saw fit to rectify some decisions relating to the South Melbourne contest at their July meeting.

“The following disqualifications were removed and the players given permission to play with bands as follows: – Ivan Hutchinson (Footscray City); F. L. Ellis (Malvern Tramways); Theo. Parrell (Brunswick City).  These three players were formerly members of the Socialist Party Band, which was disqualified for playing at  Victorian Band League contest.”

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924)

As can be seen in these years of the 1920s, there were attempts to move the headquarters of the Victorian Band movement from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these repeated attempts were thwarted by the V.B.A.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition, however none of the associations behaved in an admirable fashion.  The political infighting can only be described as difficult, along with a whole host of other words.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metropolitan bands, of which were mostly “A” grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the V.B.A.  Perhaps the V.B.A. was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the early 1930s.

1930 – 1935: Changeover – the second V.B.L.:

The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with another formation of the V.B.L. and the demise of the V.B.A.  The Royal South Street Society had worked closely with the V.B.A. for many years, and in the early years of the V.B.A. other State band associations had affiliated with the them (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the V.B.A. would become as the latest iteration of the V.B.L. rapidly established itself.

In 1930 the V.B.A. was still holding a regular schedule of meetings in Ballarat attended by delegates representing bands from across the State.  An article published in The Age newspaper makes mention of a proposal to divide the Victorian band movement into districts administered by the V.B.A. (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next V.B.A. State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

The Age, 18/03/1930, p. 11

Just over a year later in April 1931, news broke of a new organisation to be formed called the Victorian Bands’ League.  This new league was to be formed by many metropolitan bands who were agitating to have the headquarters of the Victorian band movement in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting and listed all the metropolitan bands who that sent representatives.

At a meeting attended by representatives of 28 metropolitan bands last night, it is decided that a new organisation to be known as the Victorian Bands’ League should be formed.  Delegates from Collingwood Citizens, Malvern Tramways, Brunswick City, Coburg City, Prahran City, Richmond City, Footscray City, Essendon Citizens, Heidelberg Municipal, Mentone Citizens, Fitzroy Municipal, Jolimont Workshops, St Kilda City, Kew District, Northcote Citizens, Williamstown City, Sunshine District, Caulfield District, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Ringwood bands stated that those bands would join the new league.  Delegates from the Hawthorn City, Kingsville and Yarraville, St. Vincent de Paul’s, Oakleigh City, Kensington, Preston City, Returned Soldiers and Reservoir bands state that the subject would be discussed officially by the committees.  It is understood however that within the next few days these bands will signify their intention to associate themselves with the new league.

(“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

A subsequent meeting of the V.B.A. in May 1931 acknowledged the formation of the new league, but was buoyed by the support of band associations from Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1931).  The official decision of this V.B.A. meeting was to treat the new league with “indifference” (“INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE,” 1931).

The V.B.L., in a proactive move, sent its officers into country areas to meet with district bands.  In June they headed to the Goulburn Valley region and met with representatives from the Shepparton, Kyabram and other bands and in July travelled to Bendigo to attend a conference of Bendigo bands (“NEW BAND LEAGUE.,” 1931; “VICTORIAN BANDS,” 1931).  The V.B.L. had simple, but effective messages for these country networks; that the VBA wasn’t functioning properly for Victorian banding and the VBL wanted to set up district associations and competitions.  The result of these meetings was that the Goulburn Valley bands were enthused by the new league and apparently bands attending the Bendigo conference promised that they would affiliate with the V.B.L. 

In August, the V.B.L .had its first substantial endorsement when S.A.B.A. broke away from its affiliation with the V.B.A. and decided to endorse the V.B.L. (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, S.A.B.A. had apparently indicated that it still supported the V.B.A.

The V.B.L. showed off its strength in September 1931 when it organised a massed bands event held at the M.C.G.  The Sporting Globe newspaper published an article highlighting how this event was to be undertaken.

Under the auspices of the newly-formed Victorian Bands’ League, a concert will be given at the Melbourne Cricket Ground tomorrow by 30 massed bands, which will march through the city, starting at 2.15.

An interesting feature will be the presence of bands from Mildura, Warracknabeal, Warrnambool, Yallourn, Trafalgar and Korumburra, which are paying their own travelling expenses to Melbourne.

Not for many years has such a gathering of bandsmen been held in Melbourne.  More than 700 bandsmen will take part in the recital of which a Fox Movie-Tone film will be taken.  

(“Bands League,” 1931)

In October the V.B.L. gained the affiliation of the South Street Society who were going to resume band competitions in 1932 under the auspices of the V.B.L. (“VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE.,” 1931).

Obviously the VBL had been busy since it was formed in April and such expansion and activity had not gone unnoticed by the V.B.A., of which had initially shown indifference to the VBL.  At a Ballarat conference called by the V.B.A. in November and attended by representatives of fourteen bands, consideration was given to the developments of the new league, however the V.B.A. did not consider it to be a real threat to its survival (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).  A final resolution of the meeting was “to wait upon the mayor and councillors of Ballarat and the South street society with the object of bringing about unity in the band movement, the governing centre to be in Ballarat” (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).

Coming into 1932 with the VBL firmly entrenched in the Victorian band movement and the V.B.A. fighting for survival, there was no slowing in the activities of the V.B.L.  In January the V.B.L. staged another massed band event at the M.C.G.  This event was reported on by a newspaper from Tasmania of which praised the V.B.L. for its initiative, and lambasted the V.B.A. for “failing to co-operate new League” (“Victorian Bands,” 1932).   The V.B.A. in the meantime continued to hold meetings of its remaining affiliated bands and tried to emphasise that their best interests did not lie in the V.B.L. with its perceived “centralisation movement” (“COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE.,” 1932).  By August the V.B.A. had lost the affiliation of the two Ballarat bands which were forced to affiliate with the V.B.L. due to the South Street Society band competition being run by the VBL (“SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

In 1933 we see the last meetings, and demise of the V.B.A. with reports noting the affiliation of most other State band organisations with the V.B.L. (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  At a final meeting in July 1933, the V.B.A. reports that it “will shortly consider its future policy” and that “since April, the association has not received any registrations of bands” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1933).  After these articles, there are no other reports on the activities of the V.B.A. with reports on banding activities focused on the V.B.L.

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The Age, 5/07/1933, pg. 14

We can see in this picture of another massed bands’ event published in The Age newspaper, and from a pamphlet published by the VBL just how big these events are.  The V.B.L. had come unto its own. 

The Age, 25/09/1933, p. 13
Pamphlet: Victorian Bands’ League: Massed Bands’ Recital (source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

Conclusion:

Such was the state of the Victorian band movement over a period of just over 30 years.  This was not just a story on the V.B.A. and the V.B.L., it is a story on the loyalties of the band movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands, although questionable at times, eventually brought unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the V.B.A. did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There are probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.

References:

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1901, 02 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207506823

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1902, 02 September). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28243339

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1904, 21 September). Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210537933

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 16 July). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148551800

BAND CONFERENCE : The Victorian Association : Its Future Discussed. (1931, 09 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203727703

BAND CONTROL : VICTORIAN LEAGUE MAKES REQUEST : DESIRES AFFILIATION AS LESSER BODY. (1922, 20 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1-2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213033941

BAND UNITY MOVE : States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243112744

BANDS ASSOCIATION. (1907, 09 May). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226707129

A BANDS DISPUTE. (1923, 05 June). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204069486

Bands League : Big Concert Tomorrow. (1931, 26 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182546316

BANDS’ ASSOCIATION. (1917, 22 November). Warrnambool Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73972158

The Bandsman’s year book and official programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. (1938). (Band Association of New South Wales, Ed.). Band Association of New South Wales. 

BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES. (1922, 23 August). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243651715

BANDSMEN’S DISCORD. (1924, 29 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243752239

BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP. (1922, 21 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243644473

BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND : Headquarters of Band Association. (1917, 07 August). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219852652

CONTROL OF BANDS : Disqualification and Fines. (1923, 22 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2006296

CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS : The Rival Organisations. (1931, 13 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203035478

COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE. (1932, 15 January). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72597114

EASTER BAND CONTESTS : On South Melbourne C.G. (1923, 07 April). Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162535321

GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 26 March). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85231381

Gippsland Bands’ Association. (1947, 27 November). Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63262669

Hellinger, H. (1923, 26 May). BAND DISCORD : Case for the League. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244028675

ININTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE. (1931, 19 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242780150

MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE. (1921, 10 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4677374

MASSED BANDS’ PERFORMANCE. (1933, 25 September). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205107273

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1907, 12 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1918), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92814950

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 15 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197340110

METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST. (1920, 06 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202972992

METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL : Thin Edge of Wedge Suspected : VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION DISCUSION. (1924, 17 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214259035

NEW BAND AUTHORITY : Not Recognised by the N.S.W. Association : An Important Decision. (1921, 17 May). Sunraysia Daily (Mildura, Vic. : 1920 – 1933), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article258604675

NEW BAND LEAGUE : Support at Bendigo. (1931, 20 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4383879

Quickstep. (1921, 23 April). BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP : Achievements and Ideals. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242492106

Royal South Street Society. (2016). Our Disciplines. Royal South Street Society: 125+ years of pure performance gold. Retrieved 14 March 2018 from http://125.royalsouthstreet.com.au/disciplines/

SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST : Two Ballarat Bands Join Victorian League. (1932, 16 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203800235

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1931, 19 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205850303

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1933, 05 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204377301

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : ANNUAL MEETING : ELECTION OF OFFICERS. (1924, 22 July). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213532801

VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE. (1921, 01 June). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203967014

Victorian Bands : A Great Demonstration. (1932, 09 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218850147

VICTORIAN BANDS : New League’s Activities. (1931, 29 June). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186773875

VICTORIAN BANDS: Proposed State Districts. (1930, 18 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202255339

VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE : New Organisation Proposed : Metropolitan Control Wanted. (1931, 11 April). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957),14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4378405

VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE. (1931, 06 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4430001

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Massed Bands’ Recital : In Aid of the Lord Mayor’s Fund for Metropolitan Hostpitals and Children [Flyer/Pamphlet/Programme]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a683c21ea691478cf383e

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Former brass bands of the City of Yarra: A brief history.

This post was originally written as a local history project for Yarra Libraries, October 2017.

Introduction:

Around the City of Yarra are dotted many reminders of bygone days.  Given the history of the area, this is perhaps not surprising.  However, when looking at some buildings sets the mind to wondering if they were ever used and by whom.  This is the case with the many bandstands in public gardens in the City of Yarra.  Logic would dictate that if a bandstand had been built, then there must have been a band to play on it.  Delving into various histories and newspaper articles of the area would indicate that this was the case; that there were once brass bands located in the various suburbs.  Yet they are not here now and there is little physical evidence to indicate they existed aside from written articles and other histories.

For just over fifty years the brass bands served the suburbs of the City of Yarra and this post will provide a brief history of bands located in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond.  They existed in a time when there was little recorded or broadcast music and the local population went and saw their bands play on a regular basis.  As one Collingwood resident remembers,

They used to have a bandstand there in the Darling Gardens.  They’ve since built a new one of the same design.  They used to have bands there every Sunday and we would sit in the Gardens.  Sometimes the Salvos, sometimes the municipal band.

(Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council, 1994, p. 38)

The bands were engaged with their communities and were always out and about performing, marching and competing.  They were also at the behest of their Local Councils who at times supported the bands, but at other times tried to influence other outcomes.  As will be seen, other external factors also had affected the running of the bands. However, the fact the bands existed is exciting enough and their stories deserve to be heard.

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Marching contest in Ballarat. Date and bands unknown. (Source: IBEW)

The Collingwood Citizens’ Band:

Out of the three main bands that once existed in the City of Yarra area the Collingwood Citizens’ Band is the most renowned due to its many successes in Australian and local band championships (Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This success was mainly due to the prowess of the band under their famous conductor, Mr. Francis Charles Johnston who was known as “Massa” Johnston for most of his conducting career (Rasmussen, 2005).

We first hear of a band in Collingwood with an article from 1901 which outlined the professions of bandsmen outside of the banding lives (this article also included a band that had Fitzroy in its name) (“SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND.,” 1901).  The band mentioned in the article is the Collingwood Imperial Band and it is not until 1904 where a series of public meetings were held with the aim of forming a new citizens band.  From the articles of the time, the Collingwood Imperial Band agreed to merge with the new Citizens’ Band and thus the Collingwood Citizens’ Band was officially born (“COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS BAND,” 1904).  The Collingwood Council, which facilitated the meetings, also wanted to form a juvenile band however it is not clear whether this band was ever started.

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The Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band. Possibly in 1911 (source: IBEW)

From an article published in 1915 by the Bendigo Independent newspaper, we can finally see list of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band competition successes up until this date (“THE COLLINGWOOD BAND.,” 1915).  Here we see a band that has been crowned champion band many times over, mainly from participating in the Royal South Street events.  The cups and shield evident in the photo certainly reflect this.  This competition success continued for many years and decades, no doubt helped by the influence of conductor Massa Johnston, who also conducted many other bands at the time to competition success (Rasmussen, 2005).

Collingwood Citizens’ Band had a fine reputation.  They used to practice every Sunday morning at Collingwood Football ground.  We could hear them quite clearly.  They had tremendous volume.  They sometimes used to march. (Collingwood History Committee et al., 1994, p. 38)

(Collingwood History Committee et al, 1994, p. 38)

There are numerous articles dating from the 1930s and 1940s which shows the band performing in many concerts, parades, and other events.  They also competed in competitions interstate and around Victoria, and because of their reputation, they were invited guests at other band events.  The Royal South Street Society did not run a band contest every year so Collingwood participated in other events.  In the early 1950s their conductor Francis “Massa” Johnston passed away and the band played at his funeral (“Tribute to Bandsman,” 1954).  This perhaps sounded a death knell for the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and it is not long after this date that we see no more articles about their activities.  It is unclear as to which year the band officially ended.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band were a remarkably stable ensemble for their time, especially when compared to neighboring bands.  They had an enviable contesting record and were the pride of the municipality. Their history is well noted, and it is hoped that we might see some of the physical artifacts come to light.

The Fitzroy Bands:

18850408_Sportsman_CityFitzBrassBand
Sportsman, 8/04/1885, pg. 4

Of the three bands that were located in the City of Yarra area, the Fitzroy bands were probably the most unstable and it is sometimes hard to tell where one ensemble ended and another one began!  We first see mention of a band in Fitzroy in 1885 where there is an article detailing the results of an intra-band sports day (“CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND.,” 1885).  As mentioned in the history of the Collingwood band, another article details the professions of bandsmen although this article makes mention of the Sim’s Fitzroy Military Band – perhaps this was a private ensemble, but this is the first and only mention of this particular band.  In 1906 a letter is written to the editor of the Fitzroy City Press advocating a new ensemble that is hoped will emulate the success of the neighboring Collingwood brass band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND,” 1906).  Certainly, in the coming years, the Fitzroy Citizens’ Band did taste competition success, and in 1915 competed against the bands of Collingwood and Richmond in several sections (Royal South Street Society, 1915).

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The North Fitzroy Brass Band, date unknown (Source: IBEW)

Other bands were evident in Fitzroy such as the North Fitzroy Band however it is unclear as to their fate.  Of interest is that in 1911 a public meeting was held where it was decided to ‘help’ form the current Fitzroy City Band into the Fitzroy City Citizens’ Band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND,” 1911).  Hence the confusion over timelines and history when bands reportedly kept changing their names.  In 1925 the Fitzroy City Council, in all its wisdom, accepts the services of the ‘Turners’ Brunswick Band’ and this ensemble become the new ‘Fitzroy Municipal Band’ (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).  Why the council would accept the services of a neighboring private brass band is unknown, however the consequences are that the existing Fitzroy Citizens’ Band and the new ensemble agree to absorb the members of the rival band, depending on the council decision – the council agreed to the Turner proposal (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).

In 1937 the local council provides money to the Fitzroy Municipal Band for the purchase of new uniforms with the tender for manufacture passed opened to local traders (“New Uniforms for Band.,” 1937).  Over the coming years, it is unclear what happens to the Fitzroy Municipal Band although it can be assumed that the Second World War intervened and the band went into recess.  Of interest is that in 1941 there was a meeting held about establishing a boys’ band in Fitzroy, and perhaps a junior choir (“BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY,” 1941).  There is no evidence to suggest this ensemble was ever started. Progressing to 1945 we see that a new Fitzroy Brass Band has been formed and is already doing performances – this new band was formed at the insistence of the local council (“NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS,” 1945). Four years later in 1949, we see possibly the last mention of the Fitzroy Brass band with a photo of their conductor playing the trombone at an event in Elsternwick (“Two Kinds of Band Music,” 1949).  There is no indication of when the Fitzroy Brass Band ceased to be active.

The Richmond Bands:

The story of the Richmond City Band is well-known due to the excellent research undertaken by the Richmond & Burnley Historical Society.  Like the Collingwood Citizens’ Band, the Richmond Band also competed on a regular basis and won many prizes.  While Richmond didn’t last as long as the Collingwood or the Fitzroy bands, the Richmond Band earned a reputation for being a fine ensemble (Langdon, 2014).

19060000_Richmond_City-Band
The Richmond City Band. The photo was taken at the 1906 South Street Ballarat Competition. (source: State Library Victoria: a04257)

As with most municipalities, there were often many brass bands that were formed, but not many survived.  In 1905, we see the Richmond City Band in “conflict” with the neighboring, and newly formed South Richmond Band over some event; this required council mediation to resolve (“RIVAL BRASS BANDS.,” 1905).  Coming to 1916 we see the Richmond City Band gaining the use of a new band room which was located behind the Richmond Town Hall (“Richmond City Band,” 1916).  Unlike other neighbouring areas, Richmond was lucky enough to have a boys’ band formed and this band gained success at the South Street competitions (“Richmond Boys’ Band.,” 1918; “Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress.,” 1918; Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This Richmond Boys’ Band also traveled and are noted as having marched in an Armistice Day parade in Nar Nar Goon in 1918 (Heather, 2016).

Sadly, the Richmond City Band fell victim to events outside their control.  In 1926 a fire destroyed their band hall and they lost instruments, uniforms and sheet music (“FIRE AT RICHMOND.,” 1926; Langdon, 2014).  This, and the fact that many band members were being employed in other musical endeavors plus a council wanting four local bands to merge meant that the Richmond City Band days were numbered.  In the 1930s the band ceased running in its current form (Langdon, 2014).

Conclusion:

If we are to take anything from the stories of these three bands it is that history is fickle and fragmented.  There is much that we don’t know.  The bands were very much part of the society of their time and while the local populace displayed pride in their bands, this often did not extend to local government.  I’m sure that if the bands had survived to this day, as quite a number of Melbourne’s brass bands have done, then they would be thriving with new musical energy.

References:

Allan Studio. (1911?). Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band [Photograph]. [phot15975]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot7343]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY. (1941, 18 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205297038

CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND. (1885, 08 April). Sportsman (Melbourne, Vic. : 1882 – 1904), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229822096

THE COLLINGWOOD BAND. (1915, 04 January). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219867088

COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS’ BAND. (1904, 13 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197229077

Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council. (1994). In those days : Collingwood remembered : memories of Collingwood residents / interviewed by the Collingwood History Committee (3rd ed.). Carringbush Regional Library in association with the City of Collingwood. 

FIRE AT RICHMOND. (1926, 27 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 29. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3736962

FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND. (1911, 17 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196208248

FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND. (1906, 17 August). Fitzroy City Press (Vic. : 1881 – 1920), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65662507

Heather. (2016, 08 November). Celebrating the Armistice at Nar Nar Goon in 1918. Casey-Cardinia: Commemorating the Great War: 1914-1918. http://caseycardinia1914-1918.blogspot.com/2016/11/celebrating-armistice-at-nar-nar-goon.html

Langdon, D. (2014). Brass bands. Richmond & Burnley Historical Society Newsletter, 31(5), 2 & 4-6.

New Uniforms for Band. (1937, 10 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205600050

NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS. (1945, 15 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206859489

North Fitzroy Band, Melbourne. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot2121]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Rasmussen, C. (2005). Johnston, Francis Charles (Massa) (1880-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 12 October 2017, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-francis-charles-massa-13009

Richmond Boys’ Band. (1918, 23 February). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93810988

Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers. (1918, 06 July). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811606

Richmond City Band. (1916, 07 October). Richmond Australian (Vic. : 1914 – 1916), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119691234

Richmond City Band. Ballarat Compts 1906. (1906). [postcard : printed, b&w]. [a04257]. State Library Victoria, J. D. Meade postcard collection. https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab44040

RIVAL BRASS BANDS. (1905, 24 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199417022

Royal South Street Society. (1915, 23 October). 1915-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 13 October 2017 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1915-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved 13 October 2017 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND. (1901, 18 April). Tocsin (Melbourne, Vic. : 1897 – 1906), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197522624

SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES. (1925, 30 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2132043

Tribute to Bandsman. (1954, 18 January). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954),4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206089857

Two Kinds of Band Music. (1949, 14 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189488717