Drummers and drums: perceptions of percussion in early Australian bands

Concord Citizens’ Band 1928 (Source: IBEW)


It ain’t the blaring cornets,
Nor the fussy old bassoon
(Though of course I’m always willin’
To admit they helps the toon.)
Nor yet it ain’t the piccolo what makes your heart go thumpin’
Nor yet it ain’t the croonin’ flutes what sets your pules a jumpin’:-
It’s the drums!
It’s the drums what makes the band
(Dean in Quickstep, 1921)

When reading and researching material related to old bands, it would be fair to say most of it relates to brass playing musicians in bands.  Of which some have been explored in previous posts on this blog.  However, what of the other musicians in the band, the percussionists and the instruments that they used?  It was a matter of how many mentions could be found.  To adapt an analogy; stories on brass bands are haystacks, stories on band percussionists are definitely needles.

It is very rare to find a photo of an old brass band that does not have the drums of the band featured prominently in the formation.  The photo above of the Concord Citizens’ Band from 1928 shows as much with the drums “posed” and the band crest visible on the bass drum.  The photo was picked at random.  The information it conveys is very typical of band photos in general (especially in the early years).  Photos aside, the sound of a band on parade, then and now, is very much defined by the beat of a bass drum and the patterns of a snare.  Mr Dean in his little ditty above alludes to this!

This post will examine three aspects of percussion in early Australian brass bands starting with some writing on percussion in general.  There are some articles on the drums themselves which was interesting to find, and included is a story on one of the many famous band drummers.  Admittedly there is a vested interest in this topic as I am a percussionist in a local brass band and a community concert band.  This post is dedicated to all those musicians who have made the percussion section their home.


We can see from early photos that percussion in Australian brass bands was limited to a side drum or two, and a bass drum.  This is no fault of the band; rather, it is the limit of the music that was written and what percussion was called for.  Bands did not see fit to expand the percussion section until music called for those instruments and it is only in later years that the range of percussion in a band was expanded to include more orchestral percussion instruments.

It was interesting then to read various mentions of side drums and bass drums (and drummers) in relation to brass bands. The main source of commentary comes from adjudicator comments in band competitions.  Thankfully, the newspapers of the day generally published full adjudicator comments so we can build a picture of their thinking.  Drums had a role to play in band music and some adjudicators comments were specifically directed to that role.

This being said, the number of comments on the drums varied.  Some adjudicators made a point of mentioning the drums in every section, others were more reserved and only mentioned them when they felt they needed to mention them.  One example of a reserved comment comes from the adjudicator of the 1928 Queensland Brass Band Championship Contests which was held over Easter in Townsville.  The article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin summarised the comments, but buried in this we find a succinct mention about the drums of the Brisbane Federal Band when performing their A Grade Oval March, “Red Gauntlett”:

The winning band, Brisbane Federal, made a fine, smart opening, cornets and drums being good. (“THE BAND CONTEST.,” 1928)

That’s basically all that was said about the drums, which is perhaps understandable. If the adjudicator felt there was something notable, he probably would have said so.

As a complete contrast, we have the comments from Captain Harry Shugg at the 1936 Renmark Centenary Bands Contests where he gave a remark on the drums for every band.  And even when a band was unfortunate enough not to have a side drum like the Loxton Brass Band as these excerpts from the comments show:

(Selection): Tempo di Marcia: No side drum.  Third cornet does not balance.  Side drum much missed.


(Quickstep): MUSIC – “Victoria”.  No side drum.

(“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936, p. 4)

The selection that all bands played was “Songs of Homeland”.

For the most part, Capt. Shugg was firm, but encouraging to all bands as it was a D Grade contest, and this included remarks on the drumming.  For the seven bands that competed, of which came from the towns of Renmark, Moonta, Loxton, Nuriootpa, Waikerie, Mildura and Berri, all of them received some comment on the drums, especially in the Quickstep sections.  Capt. Shugg knew that drums help set the mood of the march so phrases like, “Good beat off by drums” and “Good drums; band begins with smart and crisp style” (“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936) were given to two of the bands.  However, if something was very wrong, Capt. Shugg made a mention of it, of which the Berri Brass Band found out in their playing of the march “The Australasian”,

Poor toned bass drum.  Tone of the band a little noisy, cornet’s in particular; side drum much too heavy in P. passages; does not vary tone at all (“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936, p. 4)

Harry Shugg was a perfectionist, he was conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band at the time!

Perhaps the most interesting comments on drums in bands came from a Mr R. S. Kitson who adjudicated the 1933 Adelaide Royal Show Contest.  On a night that was notable for the pouring rain which affected many performances, a comment was made on the use of the bass drum in one of the sections:

Referring to the use of drums in operatic selections, Mr. Kitson said, “The use of the bass drum in operatic selections, especially in ‘lento’ passages, and on such a night, is not advisable.  Brass band arrangements are principally made from orchestral scores, and the kettle drum part is allotted to the bass drum in brass bands.  The bass drum cannot be tuned as a kettle drum, and therefore, except in martial movements, is quite of place. (Allegro, 1933)

Then we have the writing of Cecil Clarence Mullen, of whom his work was reviewed in a previous post.  In a section of his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) he took aim at bandmasters for not training their bass drummers properly (Mullen, 1951).  We know from the analysis of his work that Mullen was opinionated and a commentator.  In summary, Mullen was of the opinion that some bass drummers did not know how to read their parts properly, that some conductors did not teach the drum parts properly (or did not care enough), and that some bass drummers used “two sticks on the march” (Mullen, 1951, p. 8) – that is a questionable opinion!

It was not just bandmasters that drew the ire of Mullen, he had criticism for adjudicators as well,

Adjudicators are also open to criticism in not pointing out these faults to bands when doing the quickstep.  The average judge is quick to rush in with his “Out of tune at bar 20” but how many band judges have we known who have written in their notes that “Bass drummer is not playing his part correctly”. (Mullen, 1951, p. 8)

The opinions of Mullen aside, we can see that the playing of drums was noted in aspects of competition, and performances in general.  To finish this section, here is an excerpt from the first paragraph of a 1914 article published by the Cootamundra Herald regarding the newly formed Stockinbingal Brass Band:

The music loving people of Stockinbingal decided that an up-to-date and progressive town like theirs should not be without its town band; and last Sunday morning late slumberous were aroused by the blast and blare of brass to the accompaniment of the thunderous boom of a drum. (“STOCKINBINGAL BRASS BAND,” 1914)

The drums are always noted on these occasions!


Regarding the instruments themselves, they were a source of pride to a band, and also triggered memories as well.  Often featuring prominently in photos, the drums were sometimes centred, sometimes at the side, sometimes used as a table for trophies.  And it is easy enough to spot the drummers of the band as they would be holding their sticks (and not holding brass instruments!).

Kew City Band 1915?. (Source: Victorian Collections: Kew Historical Society Inc.)

Above is a picture of the Kew City Band taken in approximately 1915 when the band was on tour to Northern Tasmania.  While the band is not sitting down in a formation, they have made an effort to place their bass drum and side drum. The band crest is clearly visible on the bass drum where, despite the photo being in black and white, there is a clear distinction in some of the colours.  Fortunately, in a very rare newspaper article from 1910, there is a full description of how the bass drum was painted and what colours were originally used.

The amplification of the arms of the borough of Kew on the shell of the band’s bass drum is an artistic painting from the brush of a local artist Mr. W. D. Wentworth.  […] Two blues have, for many years, been the sporting colours of Kew and royal blue was accordingly adopted as the grounding colour, with linings of light blue.  The arms of the borough of Kew consist of a shield containing six wheat sheaves, and surrounded by the royal arms.  In a scroll at the bottom of the shield is contained the motto of the municipality, “Cresco”.  The body of the shield is in light blue, with gold outline, artistically shaded, and the artistic representation of the golden corn is richly effective.  The artists has discarded any assistance from transfers, and the whole production, with the royal arms in minutest detail, are in brushwork.  Notwithstanding that winter time is, as a rule, a dull period with bands, the Kew organisation keeps in symphony with the borough motto, ‘To Grow’. (“Kew Brass Band.,” 1910)

This was a very detailed description and there is much to suggest that the bass drum in the picture is the same one that is described here.  The band would have been very proud to parade with this drum.

Not all music involved drums and we can find examples where drummers displayed not only a talent for playing their instruments but also making them.  In 1914, the drummer of the Australian Light Horse Band, a Mr E. Fowler, constructed his own set of tubular bells out of “brass piping cut to various lengths, suspended within an oak encasement, and tuned to concert pitch” (“A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY,” 1914).  The article displayed below from the Goulburn Evening Penny Post also tells us how the said drummer practises on his instrument and that it will be “a most useful addition to the band’s equipment” (“A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY,” 1914).

Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 14/02/1914, p. 2

We know that bands come and go over the years and in 1937 it was the discovery of the old side drum of the Diamond Creek Brass Band at the local school that triggered some memories.

Memories of the times when Diamond Creek echoed to the lilting strains of its own uniformed brass band marching along the streets were revived this week when it became known that the original side-drum of many years ago is now being used at the school.

For years, the drum and a ‘cello have lain in dust at the school.  Other instruments are to be found stacked away in the hall.  The school committee had a new skin fitted to the drum. (“DIAMOND CREEK BRASS BAND,” 1937)

Drums and percussion are like many instruments, they provide meaning to organisations and people – they become a part of the musical family.  It is fortunate that we have these windows on the details and memories of these instruments here.


He could become personal, although never malicious.  To a drummer: “I love every hair on your bald head, but when I say roll on the drums — roll!!! (Cleve Martin detailing the words of Major Adkins to a drummer of the A.B.C. Military Band during rehearsal in “STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

There were many individual drummers who were recognized over the early years for their talent and as such, took up regular engagements with brass bands.  This section will highlight one of these drummers who was renowned throughout Victoria at the time, and also show where drummers were similarly recognized.  To end this section will be some lists reproduced from Mullen’s booklet listing famous side and bass drummers.

Malvern Standard, 14/12/1912, p. 4

When researching for this post, there was a drummer who kept standing out, Harold Brassey Allen (“A Famous Drummer Boy,” 1912; Quickstep, 1921).  In his later years, he was famous enough to be written about in one of the weekly Herald columns penned by the colloquial, ‘Quickstep’.  In summary, Brassey Allen was recognized for his talent very early in his musical career.  In the picture here we see him in his early years, dressed in full Scottish regalia, with side drum.  Brassey was no ordinary drummer and displayed a versatility that saw him perform with pipe bands, drum & fife bands, and brass bands (Quickstep, 1921).

Brassey had already been playing side drum for a number of years with the Armadale State School Cadet unit when he joined the South Melbourne District Band in 1910 (Quickstep, 1921).  Upon leaving the South Melbourne District Band a few years later, he joined the Prahran City Band under Mr E. T. Code and five years later joined the Malvern Tramways Band of which his talent was brought to the fore through his xylophone solos and drumming (Quickstep, 1921).  He was also recognized early at the South Street contests for his talent, winning his first prizes at the age of 13 although South Street never had any formal competitions for drummers.  Brassey, and his brothers, were all superb musicians Brassey and his brother Arthur are listed in the Mullen pages below (Mullen, 1951; Quickstep, 1921).

Herald, 17/09/1921, p. 5
Horsham Times, 18/02/1941, p. 2

Drummers were recognized for other reasons as we see in this bold move, for 1941, the Warracknabeal Brass Band admitted two female side-drummers into the band, Misses Bette Clark and Margaret Vaughan (“WOMEN DRUMMERS IN WARRACKNABEAL BAND.,” 1941).  As we can see, The Horsham Times certainly gave the information in the headline, but most of the article was not about their ability as drummers.  Rather, it was about the fundraising for their uniforms and what kinds of uniforms they were going to wear!  No doubt the inclusion of two female side-drummers in a rural brass band was due to the Second World War which was raging at the time.

Below are Mullen’s lists of famous side-drummers and bass drummers who have appeared with bands competing at the South Street competitions.  Given that Mullen’s lists only go to 1951, there were likely to be several more famous drummers after this time.  However, once again we can thank Mullen for his effort in compiling these lists of names.

Excerpts from pp. 53-54, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Noted Bass Drummers. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)
Excerpts from pp. 54-56, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Side Drummers and Kettle Drums. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)


The early bands clearly valued their drummers and drums and people took notice of them.  We have seen how bands were marked up or down for the quality of the drumming in their playing, and where bandmasters were criticised for not teaching their drummers the correct parts.  We have seen where the instruments themselves had meaning to bands and also where the drummers developed their own substantial reputations.

The percussion section of a band is always a special place to be and no doubt the early drummers thrived in the band environments.  We say thank you to these drummers for their work which set the scene for future percussionists in community bands.


Allegro. (1933, 21 September). BANDS AND BANDSMEN : Show Contest Marred by Heavy Rain. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47003081

THE BAND CONTEST : Adjudicator’s Comments. (1928, 11 April). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61026813

Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comments : COMPLIMENTARY REFERENCES TO PLAYING THROUGHOUT : Decidedly High for D Grade, Says Capt. Shugg. (1936, 29 October). Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record (Renmark, SA : 1913 – 1942), pp. 4-5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109291574

Concord Citizens’ Band. (1928). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16030.jpg

DIAMOND CREEK BRASS BAND : School Drum Revives Memories. (1937, 12 November). Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic. : 1922 – 1939), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56846146

A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY. (1914, 14 February). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98833598

A Famous Drummer Boy—Master Harold Brassey Allen. (1912, 14 December). Malvern Standard (Vic. : 1906 – 1931), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66391732

Kew Brass Band. (1910, 22 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1925), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89698715

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

Osborne, B. (1915?). Kew Band. Victorian Collections : Kew Historical Society Inc. [Photograph mounted on card of the Kew Band while on tour in Tasmania]. Retreived from https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/58269a46d0cdd11284b9d7ac

Quickstep. (1921, 17 September). BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP : The Art of Drumming. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242423372

STARS OF THE RADIO : Founder of the National Military Band : Picturesque Major Adkins. (1941, 27 November). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64402540

STOCKINBINGAL BRASS BAND. (1914, 09 January). Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139522962

WOMEN DRUMMERS IN WARRACKNABEAL BAND. (1941, 18 February). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72689341

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

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


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 really 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.

Argus, 17/12/1937, p. 10
Age, 10/07/1940, p. 6
Herald, 18/12/1947, p. 15
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).

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.:

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.

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.

Excerpt from p. 19, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bass (G) Trombone”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
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.


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.


Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Melbourne, Vic.: 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), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullen, C. C. (1952, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from 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, 36(1), 30-47.

Mullen, C. C. (1983, 01 January). This is the last will and testament of me…. Will and Testament. Wills and Probates, (919/613, VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from 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 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 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 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2020). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

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

The poetry of brass bands


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.


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.

Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection


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):

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 Advertiserby a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”.  One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950’s!

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.


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.


Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from 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. Blog post Retrieved from https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]: Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16862.jpg.

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

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

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


The A.B.C. Military Band: an ensemble of the times

Postcard of the A.B.C Military Band. Possibly in 1930 or 1931 (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Archives)


To view the early history of bands in this country would be to see a history that is based around brass bands.  This was no accident as much of the brass band culture was imported into the Antipodes by early settlers from the United Kingdom (Bythell, 2000).  However, in amongst this brass band culture, there were a few oddities in the form of military bands – bands that included woodwinds.  They were a rarity, but they certainly existed.  One of the most famous groups was the A.B.C. Military Band which was only in operation from 1930 – 1951.  This ensemble built an enviable reputation for their playing, sound, and demeanor.

Military bands were not new ensembles in Australia, certainly not in name.  But the A.B.C. Military Band accomplished much more than previous ensembles, no doubt partly due to the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C.’s radio network.  Also, it provided many musicians with a unique employment opportunity, guidance by the best wind band conductors that could be found, and a large following through Australia.

This post will delve into the short history of the band with material mainly found through the Trove archive and will highlight some of the more interesting stories of this ensemble.  Depending on which history is read, most will say the band started in 1933 however this isn’t the case as it essentially started in 1930.  There are only limited photos of the band that seem to exist which are displayed with this post.

Unfortunately, the band is no longer part of the musical landscape, so we have only articles and photos that preserve the memory.  And as will be seen, in the end, the ensemble was closed due to reasons that are only too familiar today.

1930-1933: Starting a band:

To start this small history, we need to see what the A.B.C. was doing regarding the running and broadcasting of its own ensembles.  From using the Trove archive, we can find that in-house ensembles were barely getting started if they existed at all.  Interestingly there was one that stood out.  In 1929 the Table Talk newspaper published an article on the famous conductor Percy Code, who was an eminent bandsman and composer.  Percy, in amongst his other musical activities, was the conductor of the 3LO Orchestra which was labeled as being the “National Broadcasting Orchestra” – the A.B.C., at the insistence of the Government, had taken over several radio services and when taking over 3LO had gained an orchestra as well! (Bradish, 1929).  Unfortunately, this article is the only mention of such an orchestra although 3LO broadcast many forms of music during this time, including brass bands (“3LO.,” 1929).

Argus, 29/10/1930, p. 15

In 1930, articles first start appearing mentioning a newly-formed A.B.C Military Band.  Although, just about all of the articles only provided details on when the band could be heard on the radio (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  What we do know is that the great Harry Shugg, the famous conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, was the first conductor of the band in 1930, a position he apparently held until 1933 (“CONDUCTOR AT 18.,” 1931).  The Postcard at the start of this post shows him in front of the band in what looks like a recording studio.


ABC Military Band on Tour, Possibly in 1934 (Source: Western Australia Television History)

1933 – 1934: Guest Conductor, Capt. Adkins:

This time period was perhaps the most interesting for the A.B.C. Military Band with superb guest conductors, a new focus on musicality and National tours (Ken, 2012).  In November 1933 the A.B.C. assembled 40 musicians from around Australia to form a new Military Band, which, according to the article, was only supposed to be engaged for 10 weeks (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).  They were initially conducted by their deputy conductor, Mr. R. McAnally (another prominent bandsman), until the guest conductor Capt. H. E. Adkins, the then Director of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, commenced his position (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).

Weekly Times, 03/03/1934, p. 8

Capt. Adkins arrived in Australia in December 1933 and immediately started conducting the band.  He apparently had trepidations over what he was about to do but was quickly won over after his first rehearsal with the ensemble (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  When speaking at a club in Sydney about his initial experiences with the band, he said that while on his way out from England, “I had a feeling of anxiety, but it disappeared after our first practice yesterday.  I was very agreeably surprised, and in a few months’ time the band will be the equal of any in the world” (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  The band commenced touring around Australia and the choice of Capt. Adkins as Guest Conductor won praise in many places.  The Evening News from Rockhampton was one newspaper that published an enthusiastic article by stating at one point that Capt. Adkins , “…is recognized as the world’s greatest authority on woodwind instruments” (“A.B.C. National Military Band.,” 1934).  Likewise, a reporter with the pseudonym of “G.K.M.” writing for the Weekly Times newspaper congratulated the A.B.C. and noted that Capt. Adkins “…is setting a new standard for Australian bandsmen.” (G.K.M., 1934).  A month later the Weekly Times published a picture of Capt. Adkins at his farewell from Australia (“The Adkins Way,” 1934).

A later article from 1941, published in the Portland Guardian after Capt. Adkins had left the band (and Australia), followed through on some of memories and anecdotes of his tenure in front of the band.  We see a bandsman who was brought out to bring an ensemble up to a very fine standard of playing – and that’s exactly what he did!

Cleve Martin, now deputy-conductor, and E Flat clarinetist under Adkins, is one who remembers the swaggering, lovable, downright English band-leader.

“Take this so-and-so stand away, I never use the thing”

That first remark from Captain Adkins was typical of his downright ‘take no nonsense’ style,” says Cleve Martin. It was a blitz beginning with the Empire’s No. 1 bandsman, but the players soon became used to his roars and worked hard to give him the precision that he sought.

“The musical monologue is my method of conducting,” Adkins explained to the boys.  “I’ll talk to you all the time during rehearsal and in public performances.”


There was much more that Adkins did for the band and much more on how he acted in front of band members and audience. Firm, but fair would probably be an accurate way to describe his mannerisms, without being too over the top:

He could become personal, although never malicious.  To a drummer : “I love every hair on your bald head, but when I say roll on the drums – roll!!!”


He was truly loyal to this band, so much so that he could not say goodbye to them in person when it was time to go.

His comradeship with the National Military Band was staunch.  Beneath the brusque sergeant-major manner was a soft nature.  He demanded the best possible playing, but also worked himself, and was deeply appreciative of the band’s response.  He expressed his attitude in a farewell wire to the band : “Sorry I failed to see you off.  At the last moment I realised I could not face it.”  At the hotel that night, someone noticed that he was on the verge of tears.


Having finished his guest appointment, Capt. Adkins returned home to England and Stephen Yorke resumed his direction of the band.


ABC Military Band playing with ABC commentator on a vessel. (Source: flickr : Australian National Maritime Museum)

1934 – 1951: Concerts, the War and the final years:

As with any organization of its size, the A.B.C. was not immune to industrial trouble and in the middle part of 1934, there was a court case over the rate of pay for the Military Band musicians (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Stephen Yorke had taken over as conductor by this time and was asked to give evidence in court.  The crux of the issue was over which players in the band deserved extra remuneration as the court had decided that the band was like an orchestra with actual principal players.  Mr. Yorke apparently stated that any player in the band could be considered a principal player as they all played some kind of solo part – but he didn’t have knowledge of the industrial award that distinguished between “leaders” and “principals” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Whereas the Musicians’ Union countered that the principal players should be the first player of any class of instrument, and any single players of an instrument (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Capt. Adkins in his treatise had said that “the oboe was essentially a solo and color instrument.  Therefore an oboe player must be called upon at times to perform work comparable to that of a principal.” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  The final decision was that the commission followed the argument put forward by the Musicians’ Union where the principal players were the first players of a group of instruments and any player of single instruments were considered to be the principals (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).

In the year of 1936, we see the band, under the baton of Stephen Yorke, continue their series of broadcasts, concerts and other engagements around Australia.  Under Mr. Yorke, the reviews indicate that the quality and standard have not diminished, and they are receiving rave reviews (“A.B.C. Military Band.,” 1936).  Unfortunately, the A.B.C. raised the ire of some listeners who wanted more brass band music to be played, and berated the A.B.C. for putting on the wrong kind of music –they expressed support for regular performances of the military band as well (“A.B.C. Neglects the Bands.,” 1938).
In 1939 the Second World War started, and the Military Band was there to lift the spirits of Australians over the radio with patriotic music.  As can be seen in the article here published by the Shepparton Advertiser, it enthusiastically endorses the music played by the band on the radio for lifting spirits of all Australians (“NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS,” 1941).

Shepparton Advertiser, 27/01/1941, p. 4

As with most other organizations war hit home with the sad passing of an ex-member of the band at Tobruk.  The Smith’s Weekly newspaper from October 1941 published an obituary for Clarinetist John Smith, and highlighted his musical excellence:

A brilliant young musician, he took two scholarships at the Sydney Conservatorium for clarinet playing, and was considered one of the finest artists on that instrument in Australia.

Graduating from the Conservatorium, he went straight into the A.B.C. Military Band.  At the time of his enlistment he was a member of a leading Sydney theatre orchestra.

About 12 months ago he went overseas with a battalion of Pioneers, and served throughout the Middle East.

He wrote to a friend in the A.B.C. Military Band:

“My work in field stretcher-bearing which is the fate of all good bandsmen. It has proved quite interesting, though sometimes hard to take.  It has given me the opportunity of witnessing some examples of sheer braver and doggedness that other chaps probably never see.”

(“Ex-A.B.C. Musician Killed At Tobruk,” 1941)

Sadly, it was through doing this job that Smith lost his life.

After the conclusion of hostilities, we see the band resume its normal activities of performances and broadcasts which continued through the rest of the 1940’s (“A.B.C. BAND CONCERT,” 1946; “A.B.C. BAND RECITAL,” 1948).  Stephen Yorke was still the conductor of the band.

As another measure of the quality of musicians that were associated with the band, one of them was Tuba player Cliff Goodchild.  Cliff’s first real musical position was with the A.B.C. Military Band and after the band ended he gained a position with the Sydney Symphony, a position he held for 36 years (Veitch, 2008).  He was also a consummate bandsman and over his lifetime held positions as “Secretary of the National Band Council of Australia, President of the Band Association of NSW, founder and co-organiser of the NSW School Bands Festival and formed a number of bands, including the Waverly Bondi Beach Brass Band and the Sydney Brass” (Veitch, 2008).

In 1951, we see that funding cuts brought about by the Australian Federal Government of the time leave the A.B.C. no choice but to close the band (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).  This was a bitter end to a no doubt special period in Australian ensembles where we had a band that was excellent in its playing and revered throughout Australia. At the final concert in Sydney, conductor Stephen Yorke thanked the band and the audiences for their appreciation of the ensemble (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

The Age, 15/10/1951, p. 3


By all accounts this was a truly remarkable band; the finest musicians from all over Australia brought together under various conductors and being boosted to higher and higher levels.  A band that all Australians supported and were proud of. We see the high praise given to the conductors and musicians and with the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C., the sound of the band is heard Australia-wide.  From reading the articles of the time, we just have to wonder why they would cut such a fine ensemble?  But as we know, governments change and priorities change.  Who knows what the band could have become had the Federal government of the day not enforced funding cuts?


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