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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

18980412_Bendigo-Independent_Oamaru-Band-Melbourne
Bendigo Independent, 12/04/1898, p. 3

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

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

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

19080114_Colonist_Kaikorai-Band-Announcement
Colonist, 14/01/1908, p. 3

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

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

Conductor Laidlaw was so taken aback that his baton simply froze.  Some of the bandsmen maintained that the Scots conductor turned a shade of green! It was to his credit, however, that after the initial shock he pulled the band together. (p. 40)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19131121_Invercargill_Timaru-Regimental
Band of 2nd, South Canterbury, Regiment, Timaru (Source: Early New Zealand Photographers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the contest, the adjudicator, Mr. Stephen York, told Mr. Estell the Woolston Band had not scored well because it was not properly balanced.  Moreover, to add to the band’s misfortune, five members were suffering from influenza. (p. 47).

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

(Royal South Street Society, 1934)

19341101-19341103_South-Street-Centenary-Contest_p3-p4
Programme, South Street “Centenary” : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades, pg. 3-4. (Souce: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Part Two – Australian Bands in New Zealand ->

References:

THE BAND CONTEST. (1898, 12 April). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184290848

BAND CONTEST. (1899, 11 November). Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article228744480

Bathurst Band Contest : Complaints from New Zealand. (1899, 17 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63910068

BRILLIANT PLAYING : Ballarat Band Contest. (1934, 05 November). Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19341105.2.61

FIREMEN SCORE IN BAND CONTEST. (1947, 22 September). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134239668

THE GRAND BAND CONTESTS : Close of South-St Competitions. (1910, 24 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216382480

Kaikorai Band. (1908, 14 January). Advertisement. Colonist (N.Z.), p. 3. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TC19080114.2.24.1

Kaikorai Band at Ballarat. (1908, 11 November). Otago Witness (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW19081111.2.151

McKesch, H. J. (1913). Band of 2nd South Canterbury Regiment, Timaru. Early New Zealand Photographers and their successors [Digital Image]. Retrieved from http://canterburyphotography.blogspot.com/2014/03/mckesch-henry-john.html Early New Zealand Photographers and their successors.

N. Z. Govt, & Auckland Weekly News. (1910). THE WANGANUI GARRISON BAND IN MELBOURNE: WELCOMED BY A HUGE CROWD AT THE NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT AGENCY. Auckland Council – Te Kaunhera o Tâmaki Makaurau : Auckland Libraries – Ngā Pātaka Kōrero o Tâmaki Makaurau : Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections [Digital Image AWNS-19101110-4-5]. Retrieved from http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aucklandcity.govt.nz%2Fdbtw-wpd%2FHeritageImages%2Findex.htm&AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=heritageimages&QF0=ID&NP=2&MR=5&RF=HIORecordSearch&QI0=%3D%22AWNS-19101110-4-5%22: Auckland Weekly News.

New Zealand Bands Guest Artists. (1947, 19 September). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134230123

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

NZ band has a big day at Ballarat. (1949, 31 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22788890

NZ BAND WILL FLY HERE. (1949, 27 August). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243675387

Royal South Street Society. (1908a). 1908-10-21 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-21-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1908b). 1908-10-24 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-24-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910a). 1910-10-17 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-17-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910b). 1910-10-18 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-18-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910c). 1910-10-19 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-19-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910d). 1910-10-20 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-20-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1920a). 1920-10-18 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1920-10-18-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1920b). 1920-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1920-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1920c). 1920-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1920-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1921a). 1921-10-19 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1921-10-19-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1921b). 1921-10-22 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1921-10-22-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1934). 1934-11-01 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1934-11-01-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1934). Souvenir Programme : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades. Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League. Retrieved from https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5d425e0c21ea6b1a84382033

 

Royal South Street Society. (1949a). 1949-10-28 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1949-10-28-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (1949b). 1949-10-29 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1949-10-29-victorian-brass-band-championship

SOUTH STREET BAND CONTESTS. (1920, 25 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4575694

UNSHAVEN BANDSMEN. (1899, 10 November). Hawke’s Bay Herald (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HBH18991110.2.22.1

VICTORIA : Intercolonial Band Contest. (1897, 22 April). Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209088576

VICTORY OF THE WANGANUI BAND : Magnificent Performance : Only Three off Possible in “Own Choice”. (1910, 03 November). New Zealand Times. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19101103.2.14

WANGANUI BAND : A Civic Reception. (1910, 29 October). Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times (Albury, NSW : 1903 – 1920), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111390543

THE WANGANUI BAND : Mayoral Reception in Melbourne. (1910, 27 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216382888

Waterside Bands To Be Welcomed. (1947, 11 September). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157898304

The Wellington Garrison Band. (1899, 07 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156812212

Zealley, A. E., & Ord Hume, J. (1926). Famous Bands of the British Empire : Brief Historical Records of the recognized leading Military Bands and Brass Bands in the Empire. London: J. P. Hull.

The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Introduction:

If there is one longstanding event that has been synonymous with bands, it would have to be the South Street competitions.  There have been whole generations of bands people who have made the journey to Ballarat to participate in the competition, and when the bands’ sections were introduced, they were extremely popular with the crowds.  Such is the reputation of South Street that the first band contest in 1900 attracted two bands from other colonies.

Remembering that this was Australia in 1900.  The separate colonies had contingents over in South Africa for the Boer War, cities and towns were much smaller, transport networks consisted of railways, ships and mostly dirt roads.  Yet brass bands thrived where they were established due to otherwise limited entertainment.  Ballarat at the time was lucky to have three!

While the story of this first South Street contest will focus primarily on the bands and results, there were some other stories to come out of this event and newspaper articles of the day reported on all sorts of angles – reactions from townspeople, travel, and even the voices of local Churches contributed an opinion.  Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.

What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands traveling to the South Street event and carrying on the history of the bands’ people before us.  Many of the most famous brass band composers, adjudicators, conductors, musicians, and bands from around Australia are associated with South Street in some way. Their legacy will not be forgotten.

3350805372_8964268f83
Metal button showing the Geelong Town Band c1900 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

The beginning of South Street:

  The South Street events were famous even before the band sections were added to the program.  The origins of the competitions can be traced back to 1879 when eight young men, none over the age of seventeen decided to form a debating society (Blackman, 1966).  The society was very successful in gaining members and funds and was eventually able to own their own building (Blackman, 1966).  However it wasn’t until 1891 when the first debating competition was held, and from this first event, subsequent competitions were held and other sections were added (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

In terms of music, the early Society started holding Monday night concerts in 1893 where many songs were sung and the audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966).  In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year was held in Her Majesty’s Theatre for the first time (a venue bands people know very well) and in 1897 the first choral competitions were held (Blackman, 1966).  A year later solo singing was added as a section and with these new sections, the time period for the competitions was extended and three venues across Ballarat were used (Blackman, 1966).  In 1899 Alfred Hall brought into use as a dedicated venue because of large and appreciative crowds (Royal South Street Society, 1979).  And in 1900, the first brass band sections were introduced into the program with immediate success (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

South Street Society adds bands to the program:

There was nothing new about having brass bands in Ballarat as they were popular for ceremonial and recreational music.  Indeed, as the Royal South Street Society (1979) has noted:

By the 1870’s, bands were features of the Ballarat scene.  However, it was the German combination known as Baulch’s Band which first brightened the local processions and played at important functions.  Then came Apps Soldiers’ Hill Band, and a couple of other minor combinations.

Interest slackened in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the century the musical reputation depended on the famous Prout’s Band and the City of Ballarat Band.  Later the Ballarat Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Home Bands had brief periods in the limelight (pp. 6-7).

With this in mind, the progression of the South Street Society was to add a brass band and brass solo sections to the program of events with sections to be held on Friday the 5th of October and Saturday the 6th of October (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  The competition was divided into four sections; the first part of a Selection Contest and a Solo Cornet contest to be held on Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b).  All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall.  Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996).  In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).

Ballarat welcomes the bands:

Well, not entirely.

It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place.  Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War.  The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event.  The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.

A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith.  He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).

Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic.  Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:

On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels.  Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two.  Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).

19001005_The-Herald_Ballarat-Holiday
Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

It seems Ballarat had no shortcomings in accommodating and promoting the band competition, not only for the bands but for the people themselves. The enthusiasm was palpable, and Ballarat was festive.  As mentioned, huge crowds flocked to the City Oval to watch them march and play.  And just to make sure people arrived in Ballarat and enjoyed themselves, The Herald reported on October 5th, 1900 that, “A public holiday has been proclaimed and is being generally received.  Excursion trains have been run for thirty or forty miles round, and these are being well patronised” (“HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT.,” 1900).

The Bands:

Of course, the competition would not have been a competition without the bands themselves.  The nine bands that took part were – Ballarat Militia Band (3rd Battalion), Bathurst District Brass Band, Bulch’s Model Brass Band, Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band, Geelong Town Band, Hopetoun Brass Band, Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), The Lord Nelson Mine Band & Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band.  Three of the bands were based in Ballarat which gave them a distinct home town advantage, and home town rivalry.  Two were from interstate while one came from Geelong, one from St. Arnaud and two from the Bendigo area.  It made for a full competition for the times.  In addition, there were two solo contests which attracted entrants from the aforementioned bands including a Cornet player by the name of John. F. Code from the Albert Park Band (more commonly known as Code’s Melbourne Band) (Royal South Street Society, 2018c).

19001004_Bathurst-Free-Press_BathurstBB-Telegram
Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 04/10/1900, p. 3

It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received.  An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.

The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands was enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise that was given to the Bathurst District Brass Band.  Bathurst traveled the furthest distance to arrive at the competition and as noted by Greaves (1996)

Bathurst District Band, the only entrant from New South Wales, and a runner up in the quickstep contest, found themselves to be quite popular in Ballarat and they were asked to return the following year.  Their conductor Sam Lewins, had to decline because of the expense and distance involved but suggested that the society contact the Newcastle City Band a much better combination, he assured them, than the Bathurst Band (p. 29).

Bathurst Band also won praise for participating in the services at the City Oval on October 7th with other bands that had participated in the competition (the same service that was criticized by the Church).  A letter was sent by J. W. Nedwell and W. D. Hill, the Honorary Secretaries of the Soldiers’ Statue Fund to the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper, published on October 22nd where they thanked Bathurst Band and the other bands for their performances (Nedwell & Hill, 1900).

Unfortunately, a boundless rumor took hold after the competition about the conduct of the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band.  Said the opening of an article in The Bendigo Independent newspaper on the 19th of October:

We were informed that it has been rumoured in certain quarters, especially in Eaglehawk that the Eaglehawk Brass Band while in Ballarat last week competing for the band prizes, were guilty of conduct which incapacitated them from winning the prize.  One allegation was that they found Ballarat ale so enticing as to imagine that it had been specially brewed for them. (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

The article goes on to say that the rumors were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanor and behavior of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of the competition.  A Colonel Williams of the 3rd Battalion was quoted as saying in the article:

…he observed the men of the Eaglehawk Band on several occasions, and he heard nothing but praise for them all the time, and whoever started the slander ought to be “ducked” in a horse trough.  The people of Eaglehawk, he says, should feel very pleased with the behaviour of their bandsmen on their visit to Ballarat (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

It appears that there was no instance when the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band was inebriated while competing or on any other occasion.  The headline of the article is unfortunate and misleading.

In 1900, travel around the Nation cannot have been easy or cheap, so just getting to Ballarat was an achievement in itself.  The early railways were a lifeline which enabled bands and spectators to descend on Ballarat.  The Bathurst band were probably over traveling and trains when they finally arrived back home.

The competition:

The results of the competition were widely published in the newspapers of the day.  Indeed, many newspapers relied heavily on telegraphs direct from Ballarat and these were published a day or two after the competitions were held.  An article published in The Ballarat Star on Monday, October 8th was particularly detailed as all adjudications were shown (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900).  The three adjudicators were; “Ernest Wood, T. E. Bulch…and Captain Tom Riley” (Pattie, 2010, p. 13).  Bulch was an adjudicator however his former band was one of the competitors.  Thanks to the excellent resources of the Royal South Street Society results database, we can see how the bands and soloists fared on each day and the final results of the Aggregate.  The full lists of results located on the can be found via the links below – the Lord Nelson Mine Band (St. Arnaud) won the contest for this year:

As can be read in the cited article from The Ballarat Star, October 8th, criticisms were mixed about the playing of the bands.  Given that these were early days of Australian bands, with instruments that were not the quality they are now, the playing can only be imagined.  Greaves (1996) writes that “…with the exception of the winning combination, “untunefulness”, according to the judges’ reports, was a common fault in the playing of all the competitors.” (p. 29).  The selection of music was the norm of the day with many bands playing arrangements of Operas for their selections and early marches for the Quickstep.

After the competition, there was undoubtedly some comment on the music and playing of certain bands that came from the competitors themselves.  The conductor of the Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), Mr. George Harrison, was effusive in his comments by giving praise to some bands but criticizing his own band.  In some respects, he was also biting the hands that fed him! In an article published in the Launceston Daily Telegraph on October 11th, Mr. Harrison conceded that yes, “undoubtedly the best bands won” although he questioned the amateur status of the “St. Arnaud (Lord Nelson mine) band” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  However, when reminiscing on the playing of his own band he went on to say,

Of the Second Battalion, I have only to say that they deceived me in saying they could play their parts in the quickstep without the music, and which is verified by the judge’s remarks, vis., that the music was wrongly interpreted.  Outside the music they could have got but few points for their general appearance, the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms being severely condemned by the military judge (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).

Not much comment is made on the solo Cornet and Euphonium competitions aside to note that they took place – the newspaper articles of the day merely listed the results.  Although Mr. George Harrison, commenting on the Cornet contest said that. “The contest was most farcical, not a single competitor giving an acceptable performance of the test piece.” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  Duly noted, however, the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.

One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing an early benchmark in competition for subsequent years to follow.  Perhaps the early conductors saw this as a learning experience but there is no doubt that rivalry was entrenched in the early bands, despite there being a level of comradery as well.

Conclusion:

It would have been an amazing experience to step back in time and view this first competition.  No doubt that we would have been astounded by the crowds and festive atmosphere, the bands, the playing and the whole spectacle.  For a first contest, it was a huge success with everyone in Ballarat, and beyond, making it a success.  Giving that it was billed as ‘The Intercolonial Band Contest’, it probably didn’t live up to its full potential given that only two interstate bands played. Yet it set the scene for future competitions and the reputation spread.  It is a credit to these early organizers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.

00000000_Ballarat_Band-Contest-Oval
A later photo of the South Street Band contest on the City Oval. Date and bands unknown (Source: IBEW)

References:

7343: Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat [Online photograph]. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot7343.jpg

BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY : Protest by a Presbytery. (1900, 03 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188644789

A BAND THAT FAILED : Groundless rumors contradicted. (1900, 19 October). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181024463

Blackman, L. A. (1966). A history of the Royal South Street Society of Ballarat. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 37, 5-21.

THE CONTEST. (1900, 08 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206978024

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

HistoryInPhotos. (1900, 13 March 2009). 3350805372 Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [image]. flickr. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3350805372

HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT : The Band Competition : To-day’s Doings. (1900, 05 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241475579

THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST : Return of the Second Battalion Band. (1900, 11 October). Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153769022

Musicus. (1902, 08 November). BALLARAT COMPETITIONS: October 29. Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), p. 36. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396

Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.

Royal South Street Society. (2018a). Brass Band Contest (First part of Selection Contest). Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018b). Brass Band Contest (Second part of Selection Contest) / Brass Band Contest – Aggregate. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018c). Cornet Solo (with piano accompaniment) – “My Old Kentucky Home”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (2018d). Euphonium Solos (with Piano Accopaniment) – “The Pilgrim of Love”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

Smith, G. H. (1900, 04 October). THE BAND CONTESTS : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206977765

THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Features of the demonstration. (1900, 05 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206975326

To-Day’s Telegrams : THE BATHURST BAND IN MELBOURNE. (1900, 04 October). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63874689