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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

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

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

(Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mullen, 1965, p. 46)

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

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

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

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

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

(Mullen, 1965, p. 47)

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

C. C. Mullen: Statistician:

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)

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

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

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

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

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

(Quickstep, 1921)

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

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

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

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921)

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

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

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

Argus, 10/08/1921, p. 7

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

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

(“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922)

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

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

(“BAND CONTROL,” 1922)

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

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

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

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

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

(Hellinger, 1923)

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

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

(“A BANDS DISPUTE.,” 1923)

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

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

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

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

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924)

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

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

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

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

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

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“Bands League,” 1931)

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

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

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

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

19330705_TheAge_VBA-Future
The Age, 5/07/1933, pg. 14

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

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

Conclusion:

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

References:

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