In part one of this post, we saw stories of the development, running and challenges of bands together with a look at the longevity of one conductor. However, as we know, the stories of early brass bands are linked together and with the bands of the Central West, they were very united in association and ideals. In part two of this post, this will be explored further through the creation of the earliest band association in New South Wales and the competitions that were held in various towns.
The Western Band Association:
Like many band associations around Australia, the Western Band Association was formed out of mutual collegiality and location. The early brass bands of the N.S.W. Central West started what is regarded as the earliest band association in New South Wales and over time, and through various iterations, one of the strongest associations that attracted bands from near and far to various events. The towns of the Central West also benefitted from this association as they were keen to host competitions. There was no shortage of events for bands to attend and this post will detail some of them.
We first see a mention of an association in 1893 with the creation of the Western District Brass Band Union. This Union was established by “Messrs, John Meagher, A. Gartrell, and John Appleby” and the first bands associated with this Union were “District (Bathurst), Independent (Bathurst)” and bands from the towns of “Orange, Wellington, Blayney, Lithgow, and Hartley Vale” (“Local and General.,” 1893; “Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893). The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal article explained what the Union was hoping to achieve,
The object of the Union is to promote friendly discourse between the different companies by meeting at least once a year in each town represented, and holding contests, comparing notes, and otherwise advancing the cause of music.”(“Local and General.,” 1893)
On a side note, the Band Association of New South Wales formed in 1895 of which they are the oldest State band association in Australia (Greaves, 1996). It is unclear whether the Western Band Association recognised or affiliated with B.A.N.S.W. at this early stage.
Geographically, the reach of the Western Band Association extended well-past the Central West region. We see in an article published in the Western Herald newspaper that the town of Bourke in far north-west of N.S.W. had its own branch of the WBA and in 1896 was given permission to hold a band contest – this was not going to be the first time a band from Bourke participated in the activities of the WBA (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1896).
During the early 1900s, there is little to indicate if there was any activity from the WBA, no doubt the later war years intervened. However, in 1925 we see another burst of activity, first through accounts of a meeting in Bathurst and then a meeting a month later in Orange. In October 1925, a meeting was held at the headquarters of the Bathurst District Band and presided over by Mr Sam Lewins (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925). The meeting involved members of the bands located in Bathurst and Orange, but their resolve and ambition were mostly united. The article that was published in the Bathurst Times proclaimed under the main headline; “An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands” which seemed to be an initial aim of this preliminary meeting as well as the usual planning on competitions in various towns (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).
One cannot be sure if these bandsmen who met in Bathurst experienced some déjà vu, because what they were discussing, and indeed the whole concept of a Western Band Association had all been done before. It was written in the article,
The chairman, in explaining the conference, said that the primary object was the formation of an association having as its purpose the fostering of band music and the promoting of yearly contests. Before him on the table were the minutes of a meeting held in Bathurst for a similar purpose just 32 years ago. From the gathering in 1893 came the Western Band Association, the first Band Association in New South Wales.
The old rules governing the former body were still intact in the minute book. In the event of another association being formed these rules could well be adopted, as he did not think they could be improved upon.(“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)
Letters regarding this project were read out from bands located in “Coonamble, Blayney, Orange, Dubbo and Nyngan” and with this in mind, the meeting resolved to start the Western Band Association on the 1st of January 1926. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).
One delegate, a Mr Harrington from Orange was thinking of a bigger association and he “put in a strong plea that the title of the organisation should be altered to read “The Country Band Association of N.S.W.”” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925). His reasoning was that bands from Cootamundra, Albury, and other towns to the north could join – however the other delegates did not support this suggestion so it was subsequently dropped (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).
The relationship with the State Association was part of these discussions as they were officially the body to be dealing with, despite some misgivings from the delegates in Bathurst. An interesting exchange ensued between the delegates themselves with some choice language,
Mr. Johnson wished to be informed whether the association should affiliate with the head Sydney body.
The chairman : Well if we do we are not going to give them £1 for every band.
Mr. Johnson : We should absolutely shun them and keep to the western district: country players get no benefits from the Sydney Association.
Mr. Lewins : The trouble is a western band might want to play in Sydney at some time, and if we were not affiliated the head body might not allow it to compete.
In the opinion of Mr. Harrington it would be unwise to fall out with the head body. “At the same time,” he went on, “we could be equally as strong as the N.S.W. Association. In fact, it is not so very powerful as it is; you could drive a horse and cart through some of its constitutions. We should place ourselves in a position not to dictate to this body, but to agree with it if possible.”.(“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)
The November meeting of the W.B.A. went ahead in Orange, and we have an account published in the Nepean Times newspaper as a representative from the Penrith Band attended the meeting. While the W.B.A. had decided to confine itself to “districts along the Western Line and branches”, it also decided not to progress “no further east than Penrith township” which is why delegates from Penrith attended this meeting (“Western Band Association,” 1925). The meeting also had delegates attend from bands in “Bathurst, Portland, Grenfell, Orange, Millthorpe and Penrith, numbering about 23” and correspondence was read out from other Western District bands that wanted to join (“Western Band Association,” 1925). If the WBA did extend to Penrith, then geographically it encompassed the Blue Mountains as well. A measure of just how parochial the WBA was about the bandsmen in their region is detailed in the last paragraph of the article,
The object of the Association is to form a working bureau for the purpose of keeping country players in the country instead of allowing them to drift to the City. The assistance of business people and employing organisations is to the sought in this matter.(“Western Band Association,” 1925)
In February 1926 a tiny article published in the Lithgow Mercury tells us that the W.B.A. has been reformed and will hold its first contest in Bathurst with a number of bands wanting to participate (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1926).
In 1932 we see yet another iteration of the W.B.A. through accounts of a meeting in Wellington. Through this account published in the Wellington Times, we see a whole range of thoughts from enthusiasm for a new Association to bordering on cynicism – relationships with Sydney being part of the discussions (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932). Generally, the delegates felt that they could form an Association that would be a branch of the N.S.W. Association. Although a Mr C. Brown from Dubbo had some misgivings by noting,
Something was certainly needed, as no country Band had yet received any benefit from the head association in Sydney.(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)
Further comments on this matter were provided by other delegates regarding the role and independence of this association,
Mr. Appleby (Bathurst) thought an Association should be formed independent of Sydney, as they need no expect any support from that quarter.
The contest adjudicator (Mr. F. H. Philpott) was also much in favour of running an association independent of Sydney. Even the suburban centres, realizing the increased benefits, were endeavouring to form associations of their own.(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)
These sentiments mirror the ones made in Bathurst in 1925.
The delegates resolved that the headquarters should be in Wellington, but the formation of the Association was also met with pragmatic caution by the delegates from Orange,
Mr. W. Eyles (Orange) reiterated the necessity for an Association of some kind. They owed it to the younger members. It was their bounden duty to give them contest experience.
Mr. Howie (Orange) hoped that the matter would not start on a wave of enthusiasm, and then die a natural death. Everybody would have to get behind the movement.(“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)
Perhaps Mr. Howie was prophetic when he spoke about enthusiasm for an association only to have it die off. No less than three years later, the WBA did exactly that and in 1935 a decision was made to wind the association up with remaining funds being distributed to member bands (“Western Band Association,” 1935).
Post Second World War in 1946, we see the Western Band Group again being reformed. Except on this occasion, it was being sponsored by the N.S.W. Band Association as they were also supporting similar groups in Newcastle and Wollongong. A meeting was held in Bathurst and was attended by delegates from “Cowra, Lithgow, Portland, Katoomba, Blayney and Bathurst” with other bands indicating that they would join (“WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED,” 1946). This group evidently decided to move some of its focus away from contest and instead started coordinating Band Sunday events in various towns which were well attended by bands and townspeople (“WESTERN BAND GROUP,” 1947). Unlike previous iterations of the W.B.A., this new group appears to have been stronger and much better organised as they were still in existence in 1964 – the Bourke Shire Band were special guests at a contest in Wellington attended by five other bands (“Bourke Shire Band,” 1964).
What we have seen here is a perfect example of how enthusiasm comes in waves and there is no doubting that the various bands in these iterations of the Western Band Association meant well but were probably hamstrung at various stages. No doubt some social conditions and events beyond their control were influences. However, the fact that there is a long story behind these movements is remarkable.
Towns and contests:
One activity that this region became famous for was the quality, friendliness and hospitality of their band competitions which were held in various towns. So much so that some contests were written up in the major band newspapers as being the ones to attend. This part of the post will highlight some of them, and as with everything band related in this region, the competitions started in very early years.
In 1894 we first find a record of a contest held at Orange under the auspicious of the Western Band Association. Held in conjunction with the fire brigade sports, this was reputedly the first contest held by the Association. The contest appears to have been well-attended as it involved bands from the towns of Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow, Peak Hill, Wellington, Blayney, Stuart Town and Bourke with the bands competing in either first class or second class grades (“ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS,” 1894).
Five years later, the town of Bathurst was the focus of attention as W.B.A. and the Bathurst Progress Association combined efforts and held an Intercolonial Band Contest which attracted numerous bands comprising of 360 musicians in total – the picture at the head of this post is testament to this! This contest attracted bands from as far away as Wellington, New Zealand (of which their unfortunate loss of points is detailed in another post), and Code’s Melbourne Band from Victoria (pictured above). The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser listed all the bands that participated:
…Wellington Garrison, New South Wales Lancers, Bathurst District, Code’s (Melbourne), Lithgow Model, Armidale City, Hillgrove, Newtown, Bathurst City, Lismore, Nymagee District, Warren Town, Hibernian (Sydney) and Cobar United.(“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899)
By all accounts the Bathurst contest was a huge success with the townsfolk, the Singer Company and the bands all enjoying themselves. The band from Hillgrove, which boasted the six McMahon brothers, won the “Australian Championship” with Code’s achieving second place and Newtown third while the Quickstep section was won by Code’s with Hillgrove gaining second place (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899).
It did not seem to matter which town in the region held a contest, bands were quite happy to travel an amount of distance to participate. The 1919 Parkes Band contest was a perfect example as it attracted bands from the nearby region and one band from Sydney. An article published in the Orange Leader newspaper listed the six bands that participated: “Royal Naval Brigade (Sydney), Lithgow Town, Orange Model, Forbes Town, Parkes Town and Parkes Peoples’ Band” (“THE PARKES BAND CONTEST.,” 1919). The contest was held to benefit the Parkes Hospital fund.
There was one town that held a string of successful contests of which attracted a healthy number of bands each year; the town of Millthorpe which lies to the south of Orange on the Main Western railway line. In the middle of the 1920s, Millthorpe seemed to be the contest to attend and accounts of the contest were written up in the well-regarded Australasian Band and Orchestral News. Thankfully, through articles published in two editions of ABON we can see which bands participated in the Millthorpe contest over the years:
- 1924: Orange, Blayney, Millthorpe
- 1925: Dubbo, Grenfell, Blayney, Cowra, Millthorpe
- 1926: Portland, Bathurst City- Model, Cowra, Penrith, Orange, Grenfell, Blayney, Millthorpe
- 1927: Penrith, Orange, Wellington, Bathurst City-Model
- 1928: Bathurst City-Model, Orange Town, Millthorpe Town
(“Millthorpe Contest,” 1928, pp. 30-31; “Millthorpe Contests,” 1927, p. 17)
The Millthorpe contests, which were run by a committee, would probably not have happened if a Mr H. H. Power, who was the then bandmaster of the Millthorpe Band had not driven the idea. The contests were always successful as each year they turned a profit. However, it was also a measure of the contest that bands kept visiting and in 1927 Mr Power was presented with a gold watch in recognition of his services (“Millthorpe Contests,” 1927).
These contests were not the only ones run in the region and through searching the Trove archive we find that other towns also hosted contests – Cowra, Dubbo, Forbes, Grenfell, Mudgee, Portland, and Wellington. The bands were spoiled for choice, and they made trips to compete on a regular basis. As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, some bands ventured further afield with the Bathurst Band travelling to Ballarat and other bands competing in major competitions in bigger cities. One can see how proactive the regional bands and towns were in hosting events.
While researching for this series of posts I was struck by just how rich and varied the band life was in this region, and also how the towns embraced their bands. Parochialism aside, we can also see how bands put aside differences to work together, especially when driven by dedicated individuals. Yes, the bands had to respond to changes in society and industry. However, this did not stop them from achieving and gaining notice for their playing, especially the Bathurst Band after its visit to Ballarat. The bands were a credit to themselves and to their towns and they made sure this region was noticed for its music making.
Beavis Bros. (1899a, 25 November). CODES MELBOURNE BAND, FIRST PRIZE IN “SINGER MARCH,” SECOND PRIZE IN CHAMPIONSHIP. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1288. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422
Beavis Bros. (1899b, 25 November). McMAHON’S HILLGROVE BRASS BAND, WINNER OF CHAMPIONSHIP OF AUSTRALIA AND SECOND PRIZE IN THE “SINGER MARCH.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1289. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422
Beavis Bros. (1899c, 25 November). The Start of the Massed Bands (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912),1288. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422
Bourke Shire Band—Guest Band at Western Districts Band Championships, Wellington, on Sunday, August 2nd. (1964, 14 August). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141982006
Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association.
INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST : Photos by Beavis Bros., Bathurst. (1899, 25 November). Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), 1288-1289. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422
Local and General. (1893, 02 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62183780
MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES : Progressive Movement. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246371
Millthorpe Contest : Bathurst City-Model Victors. (1928). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(5), 30-31.
Millthorpe Contests : Four Successful Years. (1927). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(1), 17.
ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS. (1894, 12 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236121302
THE PARKES BAND CONTEST. (1919, 27 August). Leader (Orange, NSW : 1899 – 1945), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117864597
WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1896, 21 March). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104105388
WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1926, 22 February). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224588875
Western Band Association : Decides to Disband. (1935, 19 July). Western Age (Dubbo, NSW : 1933 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137139773
Western Band Association : Penrith Represented. (1925, 28 November). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 – 1962), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108681480
WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE : An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands. (1925, 19 October). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118043369
WESTERN BAND GROUP. (1947, 05 December). Blue Mountains Advertiser (Katoomba, NSW : 1940 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189918471
WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED. (1946, 05 September). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219610497
Western Brass Band Union. (1893, 02 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156684544