Australian bands, gramophones and wireless: adapting to new technology

19290722_Argus_Wireless-Broadcast
Argus, 22/07/1929, pg. 18

Introduction:

The Old Town Band
(Written for “The Land”)

The band was the life of the old town
The zest of its great events
When the great Pooh-Bah himself came down,
Or the prize merinos brought renown
Or the circus raised its tents.

There was music in the trombone
A martial note in the drum
And the boom of the bass was on its own
In the days before the gramophone
Ere the wireless craze had come.

Those were the day when the township band
Filled a place in pioneer life:
Cheered the struggle with virgin land
And gave the old battlers a helping hand
When droughts or plagues were rife.

Today the baton is laid aside
And the bandsmen rest in their graves:
They played their way o’er the great divide,
And are bandsmen now on the other side
In paradisian naves

And o’er the earth in tones forlorn
The saxophone raises its call.
The engines start their shrieks at dawn
The gramophone laughs the band to scorn,
And the wireless mocks them all.
(Excerpts from “The Old Town Band”, James, 1929)

So wrote Mr. A. A. James in 1929 for The Land newspaper in response to an article published in the Riverine Grazier which lamented the fact that the town of Hay in Southern New South Wales had lost its town band.  His prose was published in several other country newspapers at the time, as many town bands faced the same challenges.  Mr James singles out the gramophones and wireless as contributing factors, but was he right in suggesting so?  Was this new technology which proliferated during the early 1900s detrimental to our bands? It depends on the perception of the history at the time.  And thankfully, there is much history to examine.

In this post, the effects of new broadcasting technology on Australian bands will be looked at.  The early 1900s were a period of rapid technological change and our bands were nominally affected by these changes.  Throughout this early time period from 1900 – 1950, and Mr James’s poem sits roughly in the middle, a new life of music and entertainment was brought into the homes of Australians – enthusiastically so.  With this adoption of gramophones and wireless sets came the start of commentary and opinions from citizens which were written up in the newspapers.  Radio program notes published in newspapers became essential reading.

Through this all we find the relationships between audience and bands being rapidly changed.  Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of Mr James’s poem – he identified that people were more enamoured with sounds coming out of a box of wires than live instruments and musicians.  Both sides of this issue will be explored as some bands took advantage of the radio and found new audiences, while other bands could not compete.

Early transmissions:

Live performance was very much the norm of Australian brass bands in the early 1900s and engagement with audience was centred around this type of performing.   As well as this, the popularity of brass bands was obvious through their music and the crowds that they attracted.  Reports of 70,000 people cramming the streets of Melbourne to see the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band in a parade and 20,000-30,000 people watching the South Street marching sections were not uncommon (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907; Greaves, 1996).  Later in the 1920s there are stories about 5,000 people attending community song nights in local gardens, as was the case at Central Park in Malvern where the Malvern Tramways performed every week (Young, 1923).

In amongst the many accounts on live performances are a couple of unique stories.  In an earlier post regarding bands on Australian islands, the remarkable story of a performance by the Kingscote Brass Band (Kangaroo Island) was highlighted.  On the 20th of November 1906, the band performed a lunchtime concert which was transmitted via telephone to lighthouses at either end of Kangaroo Island – one seventy miles to the West of Kingscote and the other thirty miles to the East (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).  According to the article in the Register, the concert was “very much appreciated” by both lighthouse keepers (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).

However, this was not the first brass band concert broadcast via telephone in Australia.  According to an article published in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, this took place in the preceding century, although the exact date is unclear.

A band conducted by Mr Edward Brown was practising at the old fire brigade station […] when the late Messrs Harry Batchelor and W. Pummell, compositors of the “Morning Bulletin” suggested that the playing be put “over the phone”.  Mr Rosenads, then in charge of the Rockhampton Telephone Exchange, agreed to the proposal.  There was a function at the School of Arts that night and the band was heard there “by quite a few who took turns at the earphone”.  Later the band was playing outside the Oddfellows Hall in Denham Street and by means of a “link-up” was heard at Mount Morgan.  “And very well, too” said Mr Brown. (“Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century,” 1945)

No doubt transmitting a performance via telephone would have seemed innovative and inventive, especially in these early times.  However, these were extremely rare and were not substitutes for live performances, they were mainly done out of opportunity – a way to see whether it could be done.  The major changes that were taking place were the recordings of bands on gramophone records, and the beginnings of radio broadcasts.

The band movement is cautious:

In Australia, the pace of change from predominantly live music to a mix of live music, recorded music and broadcast music took place within the space of a couple of decades.  There were many commentators at the time who saw fit to try to warn of a decline of community bands and one or two had their voices repeated through many regional newspapers.  One of them was a Mr Will Lewis formerly of the Toowoomba Municipal Band who expressed a pessimistic attitude:

He was of the opinion that the day of the amateur brass band was waning, and gave as a reason the fact that the gramophone, by which one could hear the world’s greatest bands and orchestras – jazz and otherwise, was creating serious inroads upon the brass band, and further, that the advent of the radio was also having much to do with the decline of brass band popularity.  Even band contests were becoming less popular every year – at least with the general public – and the wireless and the gramophone were the two disturbing elements.  Bandsmen, naturally, would be the last persons to recognize this serious fact.” (““DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”,” 1927)

Some might consider Mr Lewis to be alarmist, he could not predict the future, but he was commentating on the present.  For the brass bands it was a time of upheaval and some of them were rightfully concerned.  It could be said that many bands went defunct at this time due to the technological change however it is hard to document this at this time of writing.

The worry of band people was not helped by this small snippet of news in 1930 about the Royal Melbourne Show dropping the brass bands in favour of recorded music being played through loud speakers – and saving £140.00 (“MELBOURNE SHOW.,” 1930).

19300409_Brisbane-Courier_Melb-Show
Brisbane Courier, 09/04/1930, pg. 24

In 1938 a passionate call to old times was made by the Committee of the Sunshine Brass Band, based in western Melbourne.  While the crux of the article published in the Sunshine Advocate was to solicit funds and support, they also lamented the fact that times had changed, and that local brass bands were victims of change.  Below are some excerpts from the article:

Most old-established customs and usages have felt the influence of modern times, and not the least of these are district brass bands, which have had to fight against canned music retailed hourly over the wireless.  Gramophone recordings of the world’s best bands are sandwiched in between talks and appeals to buy somebody’s pills to improve health.

[…]

The older generation was a music loving people.  The possession of a piano was a hall-mark of respectability, and the education of the children was not considered complete unless music was included in the curriculum.

[…]

To hear a local band in the gardens on a Sunday afternoon and a warm evening were events that were looked forward to by the older generation.  They were delightful times, and people held communion with one another to the strains of pleasant and beautiful music, which acted as a tonic to their nervous system.

The Sunshine band committee realises that a return to the customs of other days is due, and propose to play near the railway station on warm Sunday evenings. (“Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support,” 1938)

This article was interesting in its sentiment and information.  We have here a brass band from the Melbourne environs trying to bring back former times through playing quality live music in a local place.  By this time however, music broadcasts were well and truly accepted so their words might have struck some memories amongst parts of the population. They were telling it as they saw it.

A similar sentiment to Mr. Lewis and Mr. James was also expressed in 1938 in an article published in the Sydney Mail by a contributor with the initials of W. P. T.  This article was more of a reminiscence of times gone by and he mentions several brass bands.  The opening of his article reads:

The brass band of the small country towns plays a very important part in the social life of the country, although such bands are not nearly as common as they were before the days of radio. (W. P. T., 1938).

It is an interesting observation to make and clearly some connection had been made in the minds of people that radios were somewhat to blame for the demise of smaller bands.

The other side to these views is that a number of bands had begun exploring what the new technology could do for them from the very beginning.

The band movement adapts:

In 1996, noted band historian Jack Greaves assisted in the compilation of a number of old recordings into a two-CD set titled “The Great Bands of Australia” (Greaves, 1996).  This CD set is remarkable not only for the breadth of recorded music from full band works, to marches, to solo items but also for the range of famous Australian bands.  From reading a catalogue entry of this work (linked), we can see that the recordings date back to 1912.  Some of the music can still be heard thanks to the work of the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA).  Below is a link to one recording which is on the NFSA website:

The Newcastle Steelworks Band (1924) playing the “Honest Toil March” by William Rimmer

The gramophone meant that people could acquire recordings of music groups and play them in their own homes at a time of their choosing.  They did not have to go out to concerts or community events, or the band competitions.  It was one cause of alarm for the band movement, but some bands obviously saw fit to record their work and bring their playing to new audiences.  Recordings by many of the top bands of the day still exist and enthusiasts have made digital copies of old recordings.

Aside from the gramophone, the utilisation of the radio probably brought about the greatest change to society and to the band movement.  Referred to early as the wireless, Australia followed developments out of America and the United Kingdom and set up its own network of stations.  It is in the early 1920s when this was happening.

19230800_Box-Hill-Band_Radio-Studio
Newspaper unknown at the time of writing (Source: Box Hill Historical Society)

The year is 1923 and in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill the first transmission of a live brass band over the wireless took place on the 1st of August (Elsum, 1924).  The picture above is reputed to be the Box Hill Brass Band sitting in the home of Mr H. Beattie, a wireless enthusiast who resided in Box Hill.  However, in some newspapers the band that participated in the first transmission was named as the Nunawading District Brass Band (“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923).  This conjecture can be easily explained as Nunawading and Box Hill are near neighbouring suburbs and the then Parish of Nunawading encompassed Box Hill.  (The Box Hill Historical Society shares my confusion as the newspapers were not forthcoming as to the true identity of the band that was actually broadcast (Harris, 2020)).  Despite the confusion in the newspapers, the fact remains that a brass band of the local area had their music transmitted via wireless.

This first transmission was actually a modulation test and the band was heard over all of Melbourne, parts of Victoria, and even interstate!  Much of the article published in the local Reporter newspaper listed the locations where the transmission was heard and the praise that was given:

For the next few days letters arrived from all points of the compass congratulating Mr Beattie and the Band, and expressing appreciation also of a speech by Cr. W. Young.  From Footscray to Armadale, from Sandringham to Camberwell, Essendon, Hawksburn, and wherever else in the metropolitan district, receiving stations listened in, the unanimous opinion expressed that it “was the best music ever heard by wireless”.  Wonthaggi sent a tribute, and the amateurs of Ararat wrote “Encore, we want more”, while far away Terang announced that the enthusiastic listeners in there were delighted.  The most interesting letter came from Strathfield, Sydney, 592 miles from the spot the Band played, stating that a number of visitors sat around a three-valve set with a loud speaker, and heard the performance from start to finish, announcing the strength and modulation to be perfect, and stating that after the Band had concluded with the National Anthem, local transmitters around Sydney could be heard enthusiastically discussing the test. (“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923)

An achievement indeed!  Although this achievement had to be defended.  In early 1924, the Vice-President of the Nunawading District Brass Band, a Mr. W. M. R. Elsum wrote a letter to the Argus newspaper disputing that the Newcastle Steelworks Band was the first full band to have broadcasted a concert via wireless (Elsum, 1924).

Once people in Australia realised that music of this nature could be transmitted successfully, there was no stopping the progress – it is to say, in colloquial terms, the horse had well and truly bolted!  Radio stations and transmitters were set up all over the country and within years, much of the population could listen to a variety of programs (““Listening In”,” 1923).  The Queensland Government for example, started setting up a State based broadcasting service in 1925 (“STATE RADIO.,” 1925).  In New South Wales, innovation in programming was highlighted with the organising of a Radio Eisteddfod by the New South Wales Broadcasting Company which involved a section for brass bands (“RADIO EISTEDDFOD.,” 1928).  Although, the articles of the day were not clear as to who competed and if brass bands made it to the finals.

For the brass bands, radio stations seized upon them as a ready-made musical item and for some of the bands it led to new popularity – some, because radio stations were tending to use the same top-quality brass bands over and over again.  Additionally, as explored in a previous post, in 1930 the A.B.C. Military Band was established (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  Initially conducted by Harry Shugg, it was further strengthened in 1933 and quickly became a stalwart of A.B.C. radio programming alongside the brass bands (“A BRASS BAND RECITAL.,” 1940; “Radio Programmes,” 1939).

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1930 Postcard of the A.B.C. Military Band in a studio, conducted by Mr Harry Shugg. (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide noted that “Brass band concerts have been remarkably popular” and one of the brass bands that station 5CL presented was “Holden’s Silver Band” (“5CL FEATURES,” 1930).  A highlight in Victoria of station 3LO’s programming was the “State Schools’ Brass Band contest, which was won by Wonthaggi.”  (Armadale came second and Princess Hill was third with Northcote awarded an honourable mention) – a contest which was adjudicated by the famous Percy Code (“RADIO SHOW.,” 1930).

Of course, like the concerts mentioned earlier in the post that were broadcast via telephone, there were other broadcasts that could be classed as novelty events.  In November 1932, thirty members of the Young Australia League band were taken up in the “Southern Cross” aircraft flown by Charles Kingsford-Smith where they were to “broadcast music at a height of 5000ft” (“MUSIC IN THE AIR,” 1932).

Now that radio broadcasting was fully entrenched and brass bands were a seemingly popular item, there were times when radio through it would be in the best interest of the band movement to have their events transmitted to the world.  The Victorian Centenary celebrations of 1934 were a case in point.  The Herald newspaper took aim at the Victorian Bands’ League for not being ambitious enough with their proposed event:

From the point of view of broadcasting, it is regrettable that the Victorian Bands’ League does not see its way to conduct at the Centenary celebration its proposed international brass band championship.  This would have been an event of exceptional interest, extending to distant peoples who know little of Australia and its progress.  More than that, good band music will be an influence joyous and vital.  If an international contest cannot be arranged it should be possible to provide an Imperial one. (“Broadcasting And Brass Bands,” 1933)

Through better technology and transmission, Australia was also exposed to performances from around the world.   Perhaps one of the more unusual concerts that was received was in 1935 when the Imperial Ethiopian Brass Band was heard via short-wave radio in Brisbane (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  The transmission was reported to have been heard with “remarkable clarity” (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  Over in Western Australia, the Kalgoorlie Brass Band conducted by Mr. Ted McMahon made history in 1937 when it was broadcast and relayed nationally through stations 6GF, 6WF and 6WA as part of a program to highlight local artists (“Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast,” 1937).

These formative years of radio shaped the way Australians heard and digested music.  Clearly the brass bands were a useful addition to radio programs, and they presented some quality music.  Obviously, some bands, namely country bands, had been left out of this success.  What were the feelings of the listeners?

Too many bands or not enough bands?:

As mentioned, the first wireless transmission of a brass band took place in 1923 so another part of this story is the opinions of listeners, and there were many opinions.  Most accounts were diplomatic about the popularity of brass bands, but some listeners and commentators asked whether there were too many bands, or could the broadcasters play more bands.  Opinions were divided; Australians clearly had their choices.

As early as 1925 letters were seen in newspapers criticising the musical choices of radio stations.  Some of the language was blunt as this letter signed by “Condensor” and published in the Herald shows:

Sir,  – We quite agree with your correspondent “Radio” who complains of the number of brass bands broadcast from 3LG.  Night after night we have to put our phones down, sick and tired of brass.  Surely one night a week is enough to satisfy anyone. (Condensor, 1925)

Interestingly we also see opinions from commentators.  A Mr Robert McCall, writing for the Australian Women’s Weekly column, “Music Radio” asks a question at the head of one his columns, “Band Music On the Air Will it be Overdone?” (McCall, 1933).  He asked the question because of a decision by the A.B.C.:

Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission overdoing band programmes?  Next week there will be bands on the air on six nights – one night the popular brass ensemble from the Malvern Tramways and on five the newly-formed A.B.C. Military Band. (McCall, 1933)

He went on to write:

Bands, both brass and military, always have been popular in Australia and the commission will find a vast and most receptive audience for its several months season by the band conducted by Captain Adkins from Kneller Hall.

[…]

The bands’ programmes are sure to stimulate the already widespread interest in band work, but I feel that their greatest service should lie in lifting the usual band repertoire out of the ruck of the commonplace.  It is about time that such hardy perennials as “Zampa,” “Poet and Peasant,” “Light Cavalry,” and those ill-sounding selections from grand and light operas were given a rest.

[…]

At the same time it should not be forgotten that in recent years some of the most important composers of the day have been seized with the possibilities of bands.  Men such as Holst and Elgar have written compositions specially for them.  Nor are these works complex and unlistenable.

Band music gives pleasure to thousands.  It can still do so, and yet be artistic and original. (McCall, 1933)

McCall provides an interesting opinion.  It seems he was not against the idea of bands being programmed six nights in a row.  Rather, he was taking the view of a music critic and expressing concern that the usual repertoire played by bands per se was not palatable to the ordinary listener.

To counter some of the detractors, there were always people who liked the regularity of brass and military bands on the radio.  The target of their letter writing was the radio stations themselves and certain listeners scolded the A.B.C. in particular for altering the programming of regular band programs (Breynard, 1934; Mounsey, 1939).  One of the stronger responses came from Mr J. L. C. White, then Secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League of which his words were quoted in an article published in The Argus newspaper in March 1951:

Victoria’s 3,500 registered brass bandsmen and their fans were receiving no encouragement from the A.B.C. or commercial broadcasting stations, Mr. J. L. C. white said yesterday.

[…]

He was commenting on a letter to The Argus pointing out that packed houses for the Black Watch band had proved that good bands were still popular.

The letter asked why radio listeners were not given more band music.

Mr. White said: “A poll would show that 90% of radio listeners enjoy band music.”

“More bands than ever are being formed now, and their music is as popular as ever.” (“He wants more band music broadcast,” 1951)

It is of course some months after this article was published that the A.B.C. Military Band was made redundant in October 1951 (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

After these formative times, the status quo of brass bands had changed.  Live performances continued, but radio and recording also occupied the bands.  Some bands found a new market by producing small recordings of marches for use in schools and marching groups of with three such recordings are cited with details of the recordings linked here (Malvern Municipal Band, 1958, 1970; Preston Municipal Brass Band, 1956).

Conclusion:

In the course of these years it is possible to follow divergent streams of opinion.  Firstly, there were the bands who were concerned by the impact of new technology and were worried about the erosion of their traditional ways of doing things.  Then there were the bands that embraced recording and broadcasting.  And of course, the second divergent opinion was evident regarding the content of radio programs and programming.  It was not exactly win-win situations for everyone.  Strength of feeling in the band movement was strong.

It is doubtful to see whether the same debate would take place nowadays regarding new technology.  There was a time past in the early days of the internet when community bands could not see the use of a website or email.  It would seem that history keeps repeating itself whenever there is a new technological development.

To finish this post, it would be remiss not to end with another old recording.  Here is a YouTube with the Newcastle Steelworks Band of 1924 playing the piece “Zelda” by Percy Code with famous Cornetist Arthur Stender as the soloist (Vintage Sounds & Code, 2019).

References:

5CL FEATURES : Brass Band Concert. (1930, 23 August). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30503444

A.B.C. Band’s Farewell. (1951, 15 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205334832

A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg. (1930?). Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League [Postcard : L13.8cm – W8.8cm]. Retrieved from https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b39988221ea6d0008c461a6

Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century. (1945, 16 October). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56391096

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

A BRASS BAND RECITAL. (1940, 28 May). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234489582

Breynard, S. (1934, 10 August). RADIO SERVICES : Brass Band Music : To the Editor, Letter to Editor. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 24. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74106904

Broadcasting And Brass Bands. (1933, 21 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243056460

Condensor. (1925, 27 August). TOO MUCH BRASS. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243624609

“DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”. (1927, 14 September). Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1904 – 1932), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233826047

Elsum, W. M. H. (1924, 23 February). BROADCASTING BY WIRELESS : To the Editor of the Argus, Letter to Editor. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1934742

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

Harris, H. (2020, 22 July). [Re: Brass band 1st radio broadcast].

He wants more band music broadcast. (1951, 13 March). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23036508

IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND : Heard by Short Wave Wireless. (1935, 29 November). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35923328

James, A. A. (1929, 25 January). The Old Town Band : (Written for “The Land”). Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117237132

Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast. (1937, 16 July). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87578534

“Listening In” : The Wonders of Wireless. (1923, 04 September). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72734927

Malvern Municipal Band. (1958). On One Fine Day [Vinyl, LP, 10”]. Melbourne, Victoria: W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. .

Malvern Municipal Band. (1970). On Marching with Malvern [Vinyl, LP, Album]. Melbourne, Victoria: W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd.

McCall, R. (1933, 23 December). MUSIC RADIO : Band Music on the Air : Will it be Overdone? Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51189093

MELBOURNE SHOW : Brass Bands to be Superseded. (1930, 09 April). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 24. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21518117

MILITARY BAND AT 3LO. (1930, 29 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4214065

Mounsey, T. B. (1939, 20 December). Brass Band Broadcasting, Letter. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205593992

MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA. (1906, 21 November). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56693536

MUSIC IN THE AIR : Y.A.L. Band at 5000ft. Will Broadcast. (1932, 19 November). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230575146

NUNAWADING BRASS BAND : Unique Wireless Demonstration. (1923, 10 August). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1925), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257201010

Preston Municipal Brass Band. (1956). On Under the Baton [Vinyl, LP, 10”, Album]. Thornbury, Victoria: Cyril Stevens Recording Studios.

RADIO EISTEDDFOD. (1928, 05 October). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234464548

Radio Programmes : A.B.C. Highlights for Next Week : Brass Band Recitals. (1939, 03 February). Nambucca and Bellinger News (NSW : 1911 – 1945), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214648292

RADIO SHOW : Schools’ Band Competition. (1930, 25 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202468625

STATE RADIO : World Range : Erecting the Station. (1925, 21 January). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61570872

Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support : Committee’s Plan to Stimulate Interest. (1938, 21 January). Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75199111

Vintage Sounds, & Code, P. (2019). Australian Newcastle Steelworks Band – Zelda (Percy Code) (1924). Vintage Sounds [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fn8VgZK9Yc

W. P. T. (1938, 28 December). Brass Bands of the Bush. Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166525297

WIRELESS BROADCASTING : New Service Begins. (1929, 22 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 18. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4023301

Young, G. (1923). The Malvern Tramways Band : An Appreciation. In Community singing : St. Kilda Esplanade every Wednesday evening : words of songs & program (pp. 24). Malvern, Vic.: Malvern Tramways Band.

 

Australian society and brass bands: The Pneumonic Influenza pandemic of 1919

19190624_AIF_VAD-Band_phot16531
Bandys Picnic June 24th 1919. Photo was taken at an Australian camp in England. (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

Early in 1918 it began to be whispered that a new plague, the first pandemic scourge of the present world war, had made such inroads upon the German military machine, as well upon the “home front” behind, that the Western offensive had to be postponed until the worst of it was over.  The end of the third week in March saw this point reached, and the onslaught began. (Hirshberg, 1919)

So wrote M.D. Leonard Keene Hirshberg in an article for the Australasian newspaper in March 1919.  The years of 1918, 1919 and 1920 were tumultuous times for society with the end of the First World War, the return of service men and women to homelands, and this horrific pandemic.  This influenza touched every corner of the globe and has been noted in medical and social history.

This post will be about some of the local responses to the pandemic and the effect it had on the nations brass bands as they were nominally affected by what was going on around them.  There were a number of ways the bands were affected, some through loss of members, others through loss of rehearsal spaces and performances, and other bands sought to keep up morale by continuing as best they could under the circumstances.  Pandemic rules and responses from national, state and local government meant that the bands had to adapt to an ever-changing situation.

Some might consider that there are parallels between this time and ours with many of our community bands in enforced recess.  However, as they were back then, the bands were resilient enough to survive and continue to make music.  I personally give my respect to all Australian bands and band members who are in recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic – this post is dedicated to you all.

The “Spanish” Influenza:

For want of a more accurate name this modern plague, the like of which has not been experienced by humanity for 400 years, has commonly been called Spanish influenza.  Yet it did not originate in Spain, nor was it exactly the grippe or influenza of other days. (Hirshberg, 1919)

To provide some context, a little history of the influenza must be explored.  Hirshberg was right, the influenza did not originate in Spain.  It was given this name as the then King of Spain was one of the more high-profile sufferers of this pandemic (he survived) (McQueen, 1976).  Most accounts tell of a milder influenza originating in the USA and American troops bringing this form over to Europe in 1918, which then mutated and rapidly spread around the world (McQueen, 1976).  This “Spanish” Influenza is reputed to have killed more than 50 million people around the globe (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Australia must face the fact that the scourge which has taken so heavy a toll from the rest of the world has invaded her own frontiers. (“Influenza,” 1919)

Australian troops that were demobilizing and convalescing in Britain were hard hit, as were troopships (McQueen, 1976).  Australia was forewarned and enacted various quarantine measures in late 1918.  Despite this, the influenza did arrive in Australia with returning troops and “40 per cent of the population fell ill and around 15,000 died.” (National Museum Australia, 2020).  While countries such as New Zealand and South Africa sustained heavy loses, Australia appears to have got off lightly in comparison.  What made this influenza so dangerous was that it was indiscriminate and affected age groups beyond the usual sufferers of influenza with young adults being particularly affected (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Victoria has today been declared an ‘infected’ state on account of the presence of pneumonic influenza which appears to be spreading fairly rapidly (Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 104)

The first case of this influenza in Australia was recorded in January 1919 in Melbourne (National Museum Australia, 2020).  Around Australia, Federal cooperation was fragmented and States closed their borders, set up quarantine stations, camps and emergency hospitals, and imposed social restrictions (McQueen, 1976).  Times of infection varied depending on location and travel.  While much of Eastern Australia faced the influenza from early 1919, the first case did not appear in Perth until June1919 (National Museum Australia, 2020).  By the end of 1919, this influenza pandemic had largely abated (National Museum Australia, 2020).

The bands are affected:

19180000_St-Arnaud_Soldiers-Parade_3361762672_o
Band leading a Returned Soliders march at St Arnaud in 1918 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

Society is the big picture; brass bands are a microcosm of society.  And as mentioned in the opening of this post, brass bands were affected in a number of ways.  To start with we can look to New Zealand which suffered through the influenza pandemic at a slightly earlier time frame than Australia, and their brass bands were similarly affected.  In November 1918, a Mr Cyril Warin died at the Auxiliary Hospital in Warkworth, aged 19.  He was noted as being “very musical, and was a member of the local brass band” (“Mr. Cyril Carson Warin,” 1918).  A champion drummer of New Zealand and member of the Masterton Brass Band, Mr John Page died in December 1918 (The Referee Special, 1918).  However, in more positive news for one NZ brass band, the Kaitangata Brass Band “obtained permission from the Health authorities to resume their musical practices, which were suspended during the epidemic” (“Kaitangata News,” 1918).

19190214_Newcastle-Herald_Boolaroo-BB-Function
Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 14/02/1919, pg. 5

In Australia, local bands started experiencing the impacts soon after the first cases of the influenza appeared.  The Boolaroo Brass Band was to have held a sports carnival in aid of the band in February, only to have it cancelled – this was a decision of their committee (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  However, the Boolaroo Brass Band did participate in the welcoming home of a local soldier from France in this week of February (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  Further south in Tasmania, the Stanley Brass Band found itself without a rehearsal room as their building at the showgrounds was taken over by the council for a hospital (“Local and General.,” 1919).  All was not completely lost as the local council arranged for the band to rehearse in the local school (“Local and General.,” 1919).

The Ipswich Brass Band had the distinct misfortune to be south of the Queensland border in New South Wales when the State border was closed.  They were interred with many other Queenslanders in a temporary quarantine station set up on the Tenterfield showgrounds.  However, they put their time to good use presented some impromptu concerts to entertain the other internees (“INFLUENZA.,” 1919).

An interesting discussion took place amongst the Richmond City Council (Melbourne, Vic.) in March 1919 over the activities of two of the local bands and proximity to the local hospital, which was no doubt treating influenza patients.  Initially, the council had declined an application from the Richmond Juvenile Brass Band for the use of the City Reserve, similar to an application, which was also declined, made two weeks earlier by the Richmond City Band (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The reason for both applications being declined by council was the “assembling of a large number of persons” (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The second part of this issue was the proximity of the local hospital to the reserve, and the city band room.  One councillor argued that patients “would be disturbed by the band performance” while another councillor took the position that the sounds of the band would be appreciated (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The refusal of applications for use of the reserve was upheld by the council.

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Dapto Brass Band (date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

In April 1919, the activities of one local band was disrupted with the Dapto Brass Band being the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances.  It must be noted that safety was important however, the loss of a function to aid the band (as detailed in the article below), would have hurt the band financially (“SAFETY FIRST,” 1919).

19190419_Sun_Dapto-BB_Flu-Scare
Sun, 15/04/1919, pg. 5

Sadly, the bands, as in society, felt the loss of their members due to the influenza.  In May 1919 the President of the Stawell Brass Band, a Mr David John Thomas, passed away due to influenza (“STAWELL.,” 1919).  The obituary tells of a man that was embedded in his community and participated in a wide variety of activities.  Likewise, the passing of Mr. R. L. Tulloch of Morwell from influenza was also keenly felt by the town.  He was only 26, a father of three young children, a fit gentleman who also participated in a range of activities including being a member of the Morwell Brass Band (“Influenza Victim.,” 1919).

19190510_Ballarat-Star_Stawell-Obiturary
Ballarat Star, 10/05/1919, pg. 6

Influenza very prevalent in Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale though mostly in a mild form. (Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 127)

For other bands, the times were tough as detailed in some reports presented at Annual General Meetings.  The Taree Civilian Band, while surviving through enforced recess, found itself without a bandmaster as he had taken up an appointment as bandmaster of the Port Kembla Brass Band (they soon appointed a new bandmaster) (“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919).  In the AGM report, the secretary Mr. F. W. Barnett also makes mention of the effects of the influenza where he noted,

Owing to the unfortunate outbreak of influenza the band has been in enforced recess for the last couple of months, but notwithstanding this Mr Drake was able to get a scratch band together for the Peace Day celebrations on July 19.  The band has now resumed regular practice and will be before the public in the near future. (“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919).

The Franklin Brass Band had faced similar difficulties throughout this time period and said as much in their annual general meeting report.  This meeting, which was the first since they reformed after a five-year recess, told of the difficulties brought on by the great war and the influenza epidemic (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).  To the band’s credit, the retiring secretary of the band had worked hard to reduce the debt from five years ago despite the “stressing times” (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).

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Franklin Brass Band (Date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

With life gradually returning to normal by the end of 1919, the effects of the epidemic were still being felt and in early 1920 we find little stories of bands being called upon to provide their services.  In the tiny town of Westonia, located halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie, the local band was called upon to help commemorate “the unveiling of two tablets over the graves of W. Lockie and Vic Fuhrman (victims of the recent influenza epidemic)” (“‘LEST WE FORGET.’,” 1920).   Both men had returned from active service in the First World War.

Conclusion:

It has been interesting documenting some of the little band stories from 1919 as there were a variety of ways in which bands reacted to the rapidly changing circumstances.  At times the circumstances were beyond their control, however, this did not stop them trying to carry on their operations as normal.  If there is anything to be learnt from 1919 is that bands, for the most part, survived and thrived.

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Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler, 1919 leading a parade of returning servicemen. (Source: IBEW)

References:

Band leading a Returned Soldiers march at St Arnaud in 1918. (1918). flickr: HistoryInPhotos [Photograph]. Retreived from https://www.flickr.com/photos/historyinphotos/3361762672/in/album-72157613028413958/

Bandy’s Picnic June 24th 1919 : The best of the 300 Sisters, V.A.D.’s, Patients were shy. (1919). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

BOOLAROO. (1919, 14 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139644485

City Reserve Not Available for Band Performances — Would Music be Soothing to Sufferers in Hospital? (1919, 01 March). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1907 – 1920), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article255877197

Dapto Brass Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

FRANKLIN BRASS BAND. (1919, 09 December). Huon Times (Franklin, Tas. : 1910 – 1933), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140944253

Franklin Brass Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

Frost, L. (2012). Bandsman Vosti’s Diaries : war and peace in Essendon, 1917-1920. Essendon: Lenore Frost.

Hirshberg, L. K. (1919, 29 March). “SPANISH” INFLUENZA. Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 32. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140221010

Influenza. (1919, 28 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15822176

INFLUENZA : Seven Deaths To-day : Another Victim in Sydney – Case from Argyllshire. (1919, 12 February 1919). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176303325

Influenza Victim. (1919, 01 August). Morwell Advertiser (Morwell, Vic. : 1888 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65922832

Kaitangata News. (1918, 13 December). Clutha Leader, p. 3. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL19181213.2.7

‘LEST WE FORGET.’ : Unveiling Ceremony by the R.S.A. (1920, 07 February 1920). Westonian (WA : 1915 – 1920), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212529404

Local and General : Bandroom Wanted. (1919, 19 February). Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162263034

McQueen, H. (1976). The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19. In J. I. Roe (Ed.), Social policy in Australia : some perspectives, 1901-1975 (pp. 131-147). Stanmore, N.S.W.: Cassell Australia.

Mr. Cyril Carson Warin. (1918, 27 November). Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, p. 5. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ROTWKG19181127.2.14.6

National Museum Australia. (2020). 1919: Influenza pandemic reaches Australia. Defining Moments: Influenza Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/influenza-pandemic

Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler. (1919). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

SAFETY FIRST : Scare Spoils Social. (1919, 15 April). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221450689

STAWELL : Obituary. (1919, 10 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212640834

Taree Civilian Band. (1919, 02 August). Northern Champion (Taree, NSW : 1913 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157096567

The Referee Special. (1918, 18 December). INFLUENZA : Heavy Losses Sustained in Sport and Stage. Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 – 1939), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120312959

 

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

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A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, pg. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
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Herald, 14/08/1920, pg. 16

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

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

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

1920 – VBL 1922 – VBA 1927 – VBA 1933 – VBL
P. Code J. Booth-Gore P. Code J. Bowden
P. Jones L. Hoffman F. C. Johnston J. Booth-Gore
H. R. Shugg F. C. Johnston P. Jones F. C. Johnston
P. Jones R. McCaskill A. H. Paxton
H. Niven H. R. Shugg H. R. Shugg
H. R. Shugg

(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)

19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, pg. 17

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

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

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.” (“BURNIE.,” 1927)

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

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about. (Mullen, 1951, p. 6)

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Herald, 11/09/1920, pg. 14

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

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

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

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

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909. (p. 7)

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

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

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

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

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

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

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

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

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

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

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

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

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

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support. (Delegate, 1932)

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

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive… (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

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

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows… (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

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

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

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

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

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in. (Hambleton, 1914)

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

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music. (Jackson, 1914)

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

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

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations. (“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)

19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, pg. 16

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drummers and drums: perceptions of percussion in early Australian bands

19280000_Concord-Citizens_phot16030
Concord Citizens’ Band 1928 (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Drumming:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The drums are always noted on these occasions!

Drums:

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

19150000_Kew-Brass-Band-Tas_2016.0088a
Kew City Band 1915?. (Source: Victorian Collections: Kew Historical Society Inc.)

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

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

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

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

19140214_Goulburn-Penny-Post_Drummer
Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 14/02/1914, p. 2

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

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

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

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

Drummers:

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

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

19121214_Malvern-Standard_Brassey-Allen-Scott
Malvern Standard, 14/12/1912, p. 4

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

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

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Herald, 17/09/1921, p. 5
19410218_Horsham-Times_Warracknabeal-Female-Drums
Horsham Times, 18/02/1941, p. 2

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

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

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p53-54-BD
Excerpts from pp. 53-54, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Noted Bass Drummers. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p54-56-SD
Excerpts from pp. 54-56, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Side Drummers and Kettle Drums. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brass bands and Christmas cheer: compliments of the season

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Beechworth School Band. Xmas 1931 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

Introduction:

Bands and Christmas.  There are probably not too many bands people out there who have not participated in several Christmas engagements and will probably do many more in the future. They are one of the staples in the band calendar alongside the usual parades, concerts, ANZAC commemorations, community events, etc.  It is a time where bands can get out and about and present the music of the season to their communities.

Let us go back to times past in the period from 1900-1950 where bands were the entertainment and very much embedded in their local communities.  There are lots of little stories out there.  This post will highlight some of the different stories from around Australia involving bands at Christmas time and no doubt some readers will get a sense of déjà vu.  The times may have changed but the engagements have not!

Gifts and platitudes, carols, charity, concerts and competitions, townsfolk and tourists, and bands and band people.  The compliments of the season from yesteryear.

The days before Christmas:

Christmas Eve and Day are of course the focus of all festivities, however, in the days leading up to Christmas, brass bands were always part of the events.  For some bands, it was an achievement to even get this far, especially in the early years when they battled fluctuating membership and commitment.

In December 1905, the McPhail and Peak Hill District Band, located in the New South Wales Central West was one band that getting ready for some Christmas events.  The band intended on following through on time-honoured tradition of playing Christmas carols to the local town as the brass bands did back in England (Etheridge, 2017; “McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905).  As written in the Peak Hill Express newspaper, we see a band confident that it would play in the right spirit for the season,

The Band intends, with their many friends, to follow up the old time-honoured custom of playing and singing during Xmas.

[…]

During the week our programme will be mapped out and advertised in next issue of the Express.  Mr. J. S. Christophers assures the writer that the Band, as the old Band on 1903, are of the right mettle, and will not shirk any duty that they may be called upon to perform for the cause of charity.  With a useful lamp, their present needs will be met, and during Xmas week a big effort will be put forth with that end in view.  (“McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905)

Christmas Eve:

Aside from Christmas Day itself, we can see that lots of bands were out and about on Christmas Eve, often at late hours, to add to the festivities of the night…or to entertain late-night shoppers!  A variety of events took place on Christmas Eve in those early years and there are lots of little stories to hear about.  Thankfully, some articles were more detailed than others and we can see what the bands played, where they played and how the public responded.

When reading the old articles, it was evident that sometimes it was not about the band per se, but about the Christmas festivals themselves of which the local band took part.  However, when bands did get a mention in the local papers, their efforts were very much appreciated as they helped to give atmosphere to the festivities.  In the year of 1912, we find that the whole area surrounding Alexandra and Yea, Victoria is attracting a number of tourists who have taken the opportunity to relax in various towns and go fishing in the Goulburn River (“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913).  The local newspaper reported on the various events in early January and the Alexandra Fire Brigade Band received praise for their playing in the street,

A new and pleasing departure in the Christmas Eve celebrations this year was the appearance of the Fire Brigade Brass Band in the street.  As soon as they could get together, for some of the members detained in the stores till after 11pm, the crowd gathered around them.  From 11 o’clock till midnight the band rendered the following programme :-

Quick march, Ringwood, by J. Sandegren
Valsette, Nada (T. E. Bulch)
Euphonium solo, Asleep in the Deep (W. Petrie)
Schottische, Daphne (Wright and Round)
Selection, Welsh Songs (G. A. Frost)
Quick march, Torchlight Parade (T. E. Bulch)
Cornet solo, Alice, Where Art Thou (J. Ascher)
Fantasia, Christmas Greetings (T. L. mHellings)

Carols after 12pm – Hark the Herald Angels Sing ; Christians Awake ; Sandon ; Adeste Fidelis ; Arizona ; Home Sweet Home ; National Anthem.

The effect was very pleasing, and gave a good finish to a very festive night. (“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913)

Some towns were doing it harder than others around Christmas time in the towns of the Shepparton area of Victoria in 1915 they were afflicted by drought.  But in the spirit of the Christmas season, the townsfolk seemed to forget their hardship and came together to celebrate the season.  It is in the town of Rushworth that we find the local brass band has come out to play,

On the closing of the business places at Rushworth the members of the local brass band assembled at the rotunda and, under Bandmaster Williams, rendered a capital programme of music appropriate to the occasion.  Then, later they divided into two parties and set out on their respective rounds of carolling.  The financial result (£22 odd) was excellent, and again was previous records well maintained.” (“THE XMAS SEASON.,” 1915)

Likewise, on Christmas Eve in the Victorian township of Coleraine, the streets were full of people, shopkeepers were keeping up a good trade, and the music was provided by the Coleraine Brass band of which the local newspaper diplomatically noted was “showing distinct improvement” (“Coleraine Albion,” 1915).

Brass bands have always been altruistic in Australia and were ready to assist for the sake of charity.  They were also ready to provide good cheer to those in need and in Darwin at Christmas Eve 1920, the Darwin Brass Band went and played at the Darwin Hospital,

On Christmas Eve the Darwin Brass Band under Bandmaster W. Nuttall, paid a surprise visit and rendered a very fine selection of cheery music, which the aged and sick thoroughly enjoyed.  The Matron, in a few well-chosen words on behalf o the staff and patients, thanked them for their kindness and they departed for the town with mutual good wishes and greetings from all sides.” (“XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL.,” 1920)

19201218_Pioneer_Yorktown-BB-Xmas-Eve
Pioneer, 18/12/1920, p. 3

Far south of Darwin in the South Australian township of Yorketown located on the Yorke Peninsula, the local brass band had announced it was going to present a program of music in the street of town (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920).  As we can see in the article published in the Pioneer newspaper, their Christmas Eve program was quite long with one session of playing from “8p.m. until 9.30p.m.” and then “At 11pm the Band will visit various residences and render Christmas Carols.” (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920).  This was also supposed to be a beneficial exercise for the band as well; they were taking up a collection for new instruments!

19340103_Evening-News_Springsure-BB-Debut
Evening News, 03/01/1934, p. 5

Then we have performances from bands on Christmas Even where the performance was their first-ever performance!  In an article published in the Rockhampton Evening News January 1934, we find that the Springsure Brass Band held their first public outing on the night of Christmas Eve, 1933 (“SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT,” 1934).  Springsure is a township located inland from Rockhampton and Gladstone and we can in the article a fair degree of pride in this new band.  Full congratulation was given to the musicians on the progress made in their playing.

In 1946 the Port Fairy Brass Band went out and about playing Christmas carols around town on Christmas Eve and earned praise wherever they played (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946).  This was no less remarkable given the year when they played – one year after World War Two ended – and this was noted by the Mayor in the article,

The Mayor said he was pleased to welcome to his house, one of the best institutions in the town.  What surprised him was that in spite of the war, and the number of members who enlisted, the band seemed to be as strong as ever.  He did not know exactly the reason of their success, unless, it was the strong personality of their bandmaster.” (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946)

Christmas Day and Night:

It was an early start for one band on Christmas Day, evidently, it was a very committed ensemble!  So much so that on Christmas Day 1922 in the New South Wales South-West Slopes town of Tumut, the brass band was up and about at 4.30 in the morning,

On Xmas morning at 4.30 the Tumut Brass Band conveyed in Messrs Barker and Son’s motor bus, did a tour, commencing in the main street, and visiting every portion of the town and suburbs where there was any population, completing their self-imposed and laudable undertaking at 8.30.  The music supplied by them was of a particularly enjoyable nature, and Mr Pitcher (bandmaster) and his body of performers numbering about 20 deserve the highest of congratulations for the treat afforded by them” (“Christmas,” 1922).

While the Tumut Brass Band were out and about in the morning, we can see some bands presented pleasing programs on Christmas night.  The Clare Brass Band was to present a program of old English carols at 8.15pm on Christmas night and it was expected there was going to be a large audience, as there had been the night before when a local choir sang at the local rotunda (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA.,” 1932).

Then there are the very big Christmas events of which Adelaide staged one on Christmas night in 1935.  Presented in by The Mail newspaper and involving the South Australian Choral Association and the S.A. Bands’ Association, this appeared to be a massive musical undertaking by including a massed choir and a massed brass band.  After many months of rehearsal, this event was to be presented at the Wayville Showgrounds and it is one of the early times where an event like this was conceived of in Australia (““Music in the Air” On Xmas Night,” 1935).

On Christmas Night in 1949, the Bathurst District Band was to present a very big concert involving thirty-five of their band members from both the senior band and their Boys’ Band (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949).  The program of music for this concert was going to include the obligatory carols and a number of other items.  The band was hoping that an attendance record would be broken (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949).

Boxing Day:

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Wandiligong Brass Band (Source: IBEW)

Not to be left out of the Christmas festivities were the bands that were part of events on Boxing Day.  In an article published by the Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness, it was reported that the “Bright Xmas Carnival” was the place to be on Boxing Day in 1917,

From early morning buggies and coaches brought big crowds into town, and the special train from Wangaratta was splendidly patronised and also conveyed quite a number of horses and competitors, assuring the social and financial success of the meeting.” (“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917)

The Wandiligong Brass Band was not forgotten and was said to have given “a fine programme of music both on the ground and before the performance at night” (“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917).

Gifts and giving:

When researching for this post, it was also evident that band-related gifts and platitudes were exchanged of which here are two examples (there were probably more).  On the 16th December 1921 the conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, Mr Harry Shugg gave a postcard picturing his prize-winning band to a Mr W. Boina with a short message wishing him the “Compliments of the Season” and as can be seen on the back of the postcard below, in brackets, “(Winners South St 1921)” (Muntz Studio, 1921).  No doubt Harry Shugg was very pleased with his band – and rightly so!

19211216_Malvern-Tramways-Band_Postcard
Postcard, Malvern Tramways Band, 1921 (front) (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19211216_Malvern-Tramways-Band_Postcard-Back
Postcard, Malvern Tramways Band, 1921. Handwriting by Mr Harry Shugg (back) (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

For Christmas 1927, the members of the Cleve Brass Band gave their conductor, Mr W. Gillings, an aneroid barometer “suitably inscribed” as a gift in thanks for all the work he had done for the band (“Cleve Brass Band.,” 1928).  This was a wonderful token of appreciation and one which the conductor would no doubt have treasured.

Thinking of home at Christmas time:

We know that music can invoke all kinds of emotions and at Christmas time this feeling is no less poignant.  There were some who were away from their hometowns at Christmas in faraway places.  Published in the Carcoar Chronicle on Friday 19th of February 1915 was a letter from a local man, Mr Jack (John) Collyer who had enlisted in the Australian Expeditionary Forces and was then stationed in Egypt.  While he wrote extensively of his Christmas Day experiences in the Army camp, he made special mention of a brass band who reminded him of home,

I woke at 5 a.m. to hear splendid music, a brass band playing Xmas carols, a hundred yards away from my tent.  Talk about thrill – it was glorious.  I lay awake listening to the grand strains of ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,’ and others and my mind wandered to Mudgee” (“XMAS IN EGYPT.,” 1915)

Conclusion:

Music is synonymous at Christmas time and as we have seen, the many brass bands were in their element by eliciting town pride and enlivening the festivities.  These little stories were some of many, there were too many to list such is the activity of Australian bands at this time of year.  As I said at the beginning of the post, the times may have changed but the engagements have not!

I’d like to thank all the people who have read posts from Band Blasts From the Past over the past year and I hope you have found the posts informative.  I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas and I hope the coming year, and decade, is a safe, healthy and prosperous one. 

Jeremy de Korte (22/12/2019)

References:

Bright Xmas Carnival. (1917, 04 January). Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138709194

Christmas. (1922, 29 December). Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW : 1864 – 1867; 1899 – 1950), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139029474

Christmas and New Year’s Eves : The Tourists. (1913, 03 January). Alexandra and Yea Standard and Yarck, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (Vic. : 1908 – 1949), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61188518

CHRISTMAS CAROLS. (1946, 28 December). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88009047

CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA : Clare Brass Band to Play Old English Carols on Xmas Night. (1932, 23 December). Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97616336

CHRISTMAS EVE : Band concert at Yorketown. (1920, 18 December). Pioneer (Yorketown, SA : 1898 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199107675

Cleve Brass Band. (1928, 13 January). Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune (Cowell, SA : 1910 – 1950), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219285198

Coleraine Albion. (1915, 30 December). Coleraine Albion and Western Advertiser (Vic. : 1902; 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119606385

Etheridge, S. (2017, 03 December). Reflections on Brass Bands and Christmas Carols: A Continuation of Victorian ‘Banding’ Traditions. Blog post Retrieved from https://bandsupper.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/reflections-on-brass-bands-and-christmas-carols-a-continuation-of-victorian-banding-tradition/

HistoryInPhotos. (1931). Beechworth School Band. Xmas. 1931. flickr [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3295771357

McPhail and Peak Hill District Band. (1905, 15 December). Peak Hill Express (NSW : 1902 – 1952), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107246068

Muntz Studio. (1921). Malvern Tramways Band, 1921. Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League [Postcard : L12.5cm – W8.2cm]. Retreived from https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b1ccc9521ea69132c023cd5

“Music in the Air” On Xmas Night : Big Wayville Festival. (1935, 14 December). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55719008

SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT : Big Event of Xmas. (1934, 03 January). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201260331

Wandiligong Brass Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13253.jpg

XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL. (1920, 28 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3303945

XMAS BAND RECITAL. (1949, 23 December). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161655263

XMAS IN EGYPT : Some Interesting News. (1915, 19 February). Carcoar Chronicle (NSW : 1878 – 1943), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103560632

THE XMAS SEASON. (1915, 01 January). Murchison Advertiser and Murchison, Toolamba, Mooroopna and Dargalong Express (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130086316

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

19060000_Broken-Hill-Band_Kalgoorlie
Broken Hill City Band 1906 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

Introduction:

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

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

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

The early bands of Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie:

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

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

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

1906: The South Street Competition, Ballarat:

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

(Vic.) Ararat Model (B Grade)
(Vic.) City of Ballarat (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Bairnsdale Municipal (A & B Grades)
(NSW) Broken Hill City Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Collingwood Citizens’ Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Daylesford Citizens (B Grade)
(Vic.) Eaglehawk Borough (B Grade)
(WA) Kalgoorlie and Goldfields Infantry and Regimental Band (A Grade)
(Vic.) Maldon Miners (B Grade (Withdrew from A Grade))
(Vic.) Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) Richmond City Band (A & B Grades)
(Vic.) St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band (A Grade)
(Tas.) Ulverstone Rangers (A & B Grades)
(Mullen, 1951; “No title,” 1906; Royal South Street Society, 1906c)

19050000_Goldfields-Regimntal_008561d
Goldfields Infantry Regimental Band 1905 (Source: State Library of Western Australia: Government Photographer Collection: 008561D)

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

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

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

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

That this band respectfully declines to enter or compete at any band contest unless a practical brass band conductor, or conductors, be appointed as judge, the definition of ‘practical’ being an approved registered conductor, who has piloted bands to victory in large contests, and that copies of this resolution be forwarded to all secretaries of all registered bands in Victoria asking them to adopt the same, and forward on to secretary of Victorian Band Association, Ballarat” (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).

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

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

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

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

Permit me and the members of the Broken Hill City Band to offer you and the talented members of your Kalgoorlie Band our sincerest sympathy in the position in which an utterly outrageous adjudication has placed you at this Ballarat contest.  It is the consensus of opinion amongst all whom we have met, and are disinterestedly capable of giving a sound musical judgement, that your rendering of the test and choice, especially the latter, was a real musical treat, and that the judge, in awarding such an absurdly low number of points, insulted the musical intelligence of hundreds, who, I am sure, are infinitely more capable of giving a fair judgement than he did.  Allow me once more to offer you our sincere sympathy, and we hope that this perverted judgement will not prevent us from hearing your magnificent band many times again here.” (“KALGOORLIE BRASS BAND.,” 1906).

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

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

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

1911: The Kalgoorlie Eisteddfod:

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

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

The Broken Hill men got off the Karoola at Albany, and special carriages were provided for both the Barrier and Albany men through to the goldfields.  At Northam the carriages were shunted off, and later attached to the express, so that there was no confusion caused in regard to transhipping baggage, etc.  The Albany men gave a concert at Northam while waiting for the express, and realised a fair profit.” (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

…and remarking on uniforms,

The green and gold uniforms of the players from Broken Hill are particularly effective, and in mufti they wear green hat bands and gold lettering; also badges of green and gold. The Albany attire is of blue, with red facings and badges of the same colours.” (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911).

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

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

P. Pfitzner, conductor
W. May, professional cornet
H. Mitchell, solo cornet
A. Hendy, solo cornet
J. Shannon, repiano cornet
S, Phillips, flugel horn
E. Holland, second cornet
H. Halse, third cornet
W. Keays, soprano cornet
E. W. Barwick, solo horn
R. Rawle, second horn
John Richards, first horn
W. Partington, baritone
O. Hannett, baritone
D. Hopkins, euphonium
R. Ramsay, euphonium
C. Thomas, trombone
Stan Phillips, trombone
J. Martin, bass trombone
J. Bartley, BBb bass
W. Head, BBb bass
O. Berriman, Eb bass
S. Goldring, Eb bass
C. Kumm, bass drum
R. Gummow, side drum
M. Williams, side drum
Mr. J. Doherty, is the drum major, Mr. J. Mitchell is the manager, and Mr. W. W. Barwick the secretary. (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDOFOD,” 1911)

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

…he appreciated the kindness that had been shown them, especially by the energetic committee and secretary, who had secured free railway passes for them, otherwise Broken Hill Band could hardly have taken the trip.” (“KALGOORLIE EISTEDDFOD,” 1911)

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

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

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

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

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

The visiting bandsmen, however, express their intense appreciation of the kindness and courtesy extended to them on all hands.  The Chamber of Mines, the School of Mines, the brewery manager, the Race Club, secretaries, the manager of the power house, and others did their best to make the Albany and Broken Hill men enjoy themselves. (“Kalgoorlie Band Contests.,” 1911)

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frost, G., Malam, K., Williams, L., & Malarz, A. (2014). The evolution of Australian towns (Research Report 136). Retrieved from https://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2014/report_136.aspx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poetry of brass bands

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):

19201023_Herald_Bandsmens-Gossip
Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

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

A WELCOME

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

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

“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.
(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)

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

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

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

19510000_Mullen
Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection

BACK TO SOUTH STREET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.
(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)

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

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

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

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

DUNGOG BRASS BAND

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

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

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

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

Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.
(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)

…and something from me:

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Introduction:

In comparison to the first part of this series of posts, the Australian bands were not quite as proactive as crossing the Tasman as their New Zealand counterparts.  This being said, when the Australian bands did go to New Zealand, they tended to do very well in competition and performances gained rave reviews.  This part of the post will detail the trips that four Australian bands made to New Zealand between 1900-1940.

1907: Newcastle City Band – Christchurch International Exhibition Contest:

19070213_New-Zealand-Mail_Newcastle-Picture
1907, Newcastle City Band visiting New Zealand. New Zealand Mail, 13/02/1907 (Source: PapersPast)

It took a little bit longer for Australian bands to start reciprocal visits to New Zealand and in 1907 the then champion Newcastle City Band traveled to Christchurch via Wellington to participate in the International Exhibition Contest (“NEWCASTLE CITY BAND.,” 1907).  By all accounts, this was a huge event with no less than twenty-nine bands participating (Newcomb, 1980).  Also in attendance at the Exhibition was the world-famous Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band from England who performed to great acclaim (Newcomb, 1980).  Code’s Melbourne band was also intending to take part in the event however they did not end up going due to some of their bandsmen being unable to take time off work (Trombone, 1907).

 The Newcastle Band achieved a very credible third placing against some top-ranking New Zealand bands and some of their soloists also achieved good placings (“BAND CONTEST,” 1907).  However, soon after the contest finished, questions were being asked over the judging with Newcastle and others feeling that Newcastle should have been placed higher.  In an article published in the Wanganui Herald, a Mr. Edgar Nicholas from Ballarat who was visiting was asked about the adjudicating at the contest by Lieutenant Bentley, formerly of England.  Mr. Nicholas said in his interview that,

I have been at all the band contests in Ballarat, where the principal bands in Australia compete.  We had had Messrs Ord-Hume, Wade, and Beard from England, but, speaking generally, Mr. Bentley has given equal satisfaction in Ballarat with these gentlemen”. (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907)

Speaking pragmatically in the interview, Mr. Nicholas noted that an adjudicator sometimes fails to please everyone given that Mr. Bentley had to judge 30 bands.  Also, as Mr. Nicholas suggests, some bands may not have been at their best given the late hours that some of them competed (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).  Mr. Nicholas kept drawing comparisons with the Ballarat South St. Eisteddfod, the first being that that in the case of large sections, Ballarat employed up to three judges and that in Australia there were separate gradings which, at the time, were not used in New Zealand (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).

One Newcastle bandmember was quite firm in his comments which were published in a Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate article by saying,

When our band-master tells us we played well I am satisfied.  He tells us often enough when we don’t play well; but we never played better than in the competition.” (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Aside from this issue over the placings, most accounts note that the Newcastle City Band had an enjoyable trip and were welcomed in various locations.  On the ship home, they played for an appreciative audience and were welcomed home with a civic reception (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Band: Own Choice: Test: Total:
Wanganui Garrison 158 147 305
Kaikorai Brass 158 145 303
Newcastle City (Aust.) 156 146 302

(Source of table data: (Newcomb, 1980, pg. 40)

1923: Redfern Municipal Band – South Island Brass Band Association Contest, Dunedin:

Some sixteen years after the first Australian band traveled to New Zealand, it took until 1923 for the next Australian band to arrive.  The Redfern Municipal Band, conducted by Mr. W. Partington, was a formidable band at the time and they undertook a short tour through the South Island of New Zealand on their way from Wellington to Dunedin.  Upon arriving in Wellington, along with a contingent of N.S.W. Bowlers, they were given a large civic reception by the Mayor (“BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN,” 1923).  The arrival of Redfern had generated an amount of excitement throughout New Zealand, suffice to say that their conductor Mr. W. Partington had conducted one of their own champion bands, The Wanganui Garrison Band for a while (“ENTERPRISING BAND,” 1923; Newcomb, 1980) – the band from Redfern was not unknown in New Zealand.

Redfern Municipal was ultimately triumphant in Dunedin by winning the A Grade section and Aggregate.  This was no easy feat given that a number of New Zealand’s A grade bands were in the section, including Mr. Partington’s former band, Wanganui.  Newcomb (1980) wrote of Redfern and the A Grade contest,

In Dunedin, it competed against seven of New Zealand’s top A grade bands.  After a week of intensive rehearsal in the “Edinburgh of the South” Redfern was rewarded for its painstaking efforts when it took out the A grade title 12 points ahead of Invercargill’s Hiberian Band. The 1st Canterbury Mounted Regiment Band was third.

The talking point of the contest was the poor performance of the Wanganui Garrison Band, under Mr. J. Crichton.  The veteran Wanganui conductor’s ambition was to thrash the Redferners…” (p. 44)

Of course the triumph was noted in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, and rightly so, it was a great win for the Redfern band (“BAND CONTEST,” 1923; “REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, the backstory of the two conductors was intriguing and written up as part of an article published by the NZ Truth newspaper:

There is an interesting story (perhaps) behind the crossing of the Redferners.  Bandmaster Partington was over here for a while, and had charge of the Wanganui Band.  Within a very short period of training under his baton he made champions of them, winning the N.Z. honors last year.  Then there arose a controversy between Partington, of Aussieland and Jim Crichton, of Wanganui, the ex-bootshopman who knocked off trade to become a musician, undergoing a special course of study in London for the purpose of pursuing his brass-bound hobby.  He told P. that if he (C.) had the Woolston Band under his baton for a month he could beat anything that P. could bring against it.  There was such a heated argument that it was leading to something like a £1000 wager.  But P. left for Aussieland again, and took charge of the Redferners.  Now the question is: Did he bring the Sydneysiders over to compete against anything that Jim Crichton had under his wing? Well, Jim took the Wanganui cracks down to Dunedin to play against their old leader – and Wanganui was nowhere in the final! (“Brass Bands and Bandsmen,” 1923).

When returning to Australia, there was a snippet of thought that the Redfern Band might head to England to compete (“REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, this evidently did not eventuate.  Their conductor, Mr. Partington, went on to other activities and formed a representative band that travelled Australia with the aim of heading to England.  But as detailed in a previous post, that tour ended up running out of money upon arrival in Perth.

1925: Malvern Tramways Band – New Zealand National Band Championship, Auckland:

19250305_Auckland-Weekly-News_MalvernTB_
Malvern Tramways Band, Auckland. Auckland Weekly News, 02/03/1925, p. 46. (Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections: AWNS-19250305-46-1)

Just two years later, another crack Australian band made the trip to New Zealand to compete.  The Malvern Tramways Band was renowned throughout Australia as one of the elite bands of the Commonwealth having won numerous competitions by this time.  So much so that the Malvern Band, like many others, tried to get to England however they too were unable to raise sufficient funds.  To compensate, they did arrive in New Zealand early in 1925 to commence a six-week tour culminating in the championships in Auckland (“Malvern Tramways Band,” 1925d).

The reputation of Malvern preceded them to New Zealand and all manner of hospitality was afforded for the band including, special observation cars on trains, reduced rail fares and free travel on New Zealand trams! (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925b).  They sailed from Melbourne to Invercargill and from there travelled up to Auckland giving concerts in all the major towns on the way (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925a).  By late February they had reached Auckland and commenced competing in the band sections and solo sections.  In competition, the Malvern Tramways band was formidable and they won just about every section except for the Quickstep where they achieved third place (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925b; “MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST,” 1925).  Newcomb (1980) wrote of the contest:

After many years of bickering, common sense prevailed when the North and South Island associations joined forces to stage the 1925 national contest in Auckland.

It was made doubly interesting by the presence of the Malvern Tramways Band from Australia under the conductorship of Mr. Harry Shugg.

New Zealand’s top A grade bands proved no match for the highly fancied Australian combination which won both tests, the hymn and the championship aggregate. (p. 45).

After this astounding success in New Zealand, the Malvern Tramways Band sailed for Sydney where they performed their competition repertoire in concert to rave reviews (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925c).  Traveling back to Melbourne, the success of their New Zealand venture was written up a couple of months later by the local Prahran Telegraph newspaper (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925a).

1936: Cairns Citizens’ Band – New Zealand National Band Championships, New Plymouth:

19351123_Evening-Post_Cairns-Band
Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band. Evening Post, 23/11/1935. (Source: PapersPast)

In October 1935, the Cairns Post newspaper published the news that the Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band would compete at the 1936 New Zealand Band Championships in New Plymouth (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).  Conducted by James Crompton, a person that was not unfamiliar to the New Zealand brass bands, the band was nominally the first band from Queensland to compete in New Zealand and the first from Australian Military Forces (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).

The Cairns Citizens’ Band won the New Zealand Championship that year, although they did not win the Test selection.  However, their aggregate points were enough that they could win the championship (“Cairns Band.,” 1936; Newcomb, 1980).  The New Zealand press was also impressed by the standards set in New Plymouth and an article published in the Evening Post newspaper praised the marching – the Cairns Citizens’ Band achieved 2nd place in the marching section (“GOOD MARCHING,” 1936).

Conclusion:

There was a similarity of experiences for bands crossing to either side of the Tasman; with civic receptions, a very interested and informed public and commentary from the newspapers.  The excitement generated by viewing a visiting band was also interesting to note – and there were plenty of other articles that were written about bands (but too many to list in these posts)!  It was interesting to note just how close the Australian and New Zealand brass band movements were in terms of standards and rules, so much so that any band crossing the Tasman could expect near similar conditions of competition.  The best bands of each country could match the other and in the spirit of competition, this was plain to see.

It is the collegial nature of band movements that enabled these visits to happen and to this day, the friendly rivalries remain, and visits continue to take place.  Kudos to the bands that made these early trips as they set a foundation for other bands to build on.

<- Part One – New Zealand Bands in Australia

References:

Auckland Weekly News. (1925). AUSTRALIAN BAND’S SWEEPING SUCCESS : MALVERN TRAMWYS (MELBOURNE), WINNERS OF ALL THE A GRADE SHIELDS AND THE McLED CUP. Auckland Council – Te Kaunhera o Tâmaki Makaurau : Auckland Libraries – Ngā Pātaka Kōrero o Tâmaki Makaurau : Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections [Digital Image AWNS-19250305-46-1]. Retreived 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-19250305-46-1%22: Auckland Weekly News.

AUSTRALIAN BAND FOR NEW ZEALAND CONTEST. (1935, 23 November). Illustrated. Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19351123.2.26.1

BAND CONTEST : Redfern Win The Aggregate : Wellington Watersiders Third. (1923, 24 February). Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230224.2.68

BAND CONTEST : Winners of Competitions. (1907, 16 February). New Zealand Times (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19070216.2.61

BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN. (1923, 08 February). Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230208.2.25

Brass Bands and Bandsmen. (1923, 03 March). NZ Truth (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230303.2.2.4

Cairns Band : Wins Championship. (1936, 02 March). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172909750

THE CITY BAND. (1907, 27 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136605589

ENTERPRISING BAND : Sydney Competition Band Likely to Visit Wanganui. (1923, 12 January). Hawera & Normanby Star (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HNS19230112.2.17

GOOD MARCHING : Port Nicholson Band : Recent National Contest. (1936, 09 March). Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19360309.2.25

THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST. (1907, 15 February). Wanganui Herald (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WH19070215.2.32

MAKING HISTORY : Band For New Zeaand : Cairns to Cross Tasman. (1935, 02 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41708070

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925a, 20 February). New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19250220.2.132

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925b, 20 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243874312

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925c, 10 March). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16207234

Malvern Tramways Band : Leaves for New Zealand. (1925d, 13 February). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165132427

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Recent New Zealand Tour. Success in Competitions. (1925a, 22 May). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165141099

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Wins Championship of New Zealand. (1925b, 06 March). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165137387

MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST. (1925, 27 February). Evening Post (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19250227.2.83.1

New Zealand International Exhibition. (1907, 12 February). Advertisement. Star (N.Z.), p. 3. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19070212.2.57.2

The Newcastle (N.S.W.) City Brass Band; Champion Band of Australia, At Present Visiting New Zealand. (1907, 13 February). New Zealand Mail. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZMAIL19070213.2.235.6

NEWCASTLE CITY BAND : Going to New Zealand. (1907, 29 January). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136608558

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.

REDFERN BAND : New Zealand Triumph. (1923, 09 March). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118834570

Trombone. (1907, 09 February). The Exhibition : The Band Contests. Lyttelton Times (N.Z.). Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT19070209.2.71

 

Names and status: the rare National and State bands

19240000_Perth_Aust-Imp-Band_phot13310
The Australian Imperial Band, 1924. (Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Introduction:

For the most part, the naming of bands is fairly logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however, there were a number of exceptions  – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, a similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways.  This gave the bands identity and a purpose.  Where two bands existed in the same area, there was undoubtedly some disagreements, although not generally over naming but over status and prestige…and performances!  If a band was given an Australian or State name, that lifted their reputations almost immediately, yes?  Possibly, but there were other factors involved.

The focus of this post is to explore a level up from the local bands where we delve into the rare State and National bands.  Granted, there were not many of them.  In fact, in the time period that is being focused on in this post, these types of bands were thin on the ground.  In a previous post, the life of the ABC Military Band was explored, a unique ensemble in its own right and one that included bandsmen from all over Australia.  This was a representative band but different from the more common brass bands in that it included woodwind and percussion.  In this post, we will highlight brass bands.

Admittedly, there was some difficulty finding material on these rare bands due to their short periods of existence.  That being said, there were other bands in Australia aside from the more notable ones and mention will be made of them.  We will also see how a certain State band raised the ire of the governing body of its home State.

There is no doubt that being part of a National or State band was one that bandsmen aspired, and for the National bands, the best bandsmen were picked for a proposed or grand world tour.  The one State band that was set up did so in unusual circumstances and the naming of them as a State band brought them much recognition and pride.  With this in mind, National and State bands did exist and although they were sporadic and formed mainly for tours, they developed reputations in their own right and gave more bandsmen another musical outlet.

Early attempts:

State and National bands were mainly set up by organizations that had the resources to undertake such ventures.  Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places were sometimes very vast, and it was not easy to move people anywhere. Yet in the first instance, we can see that the Salvation Army pulled this off in 1898 with the formation of a Federal Band.  An article which was published in the South Australian Register on the 14th of February 1898 is very informative and details the formation of the band and the tour it had undertaken thus far:

There is now in Adelaide an interesting band of clever musicians picked from the ranks of the Salvation Army.  It is styled “the Salvation Army Federal Band” and has twenty-five playing members, exclusive of Major Taylor (Victoria), who is their director.  The bandmaster is Ensign Cater (New Zealand), who takes up an instrument.  Counting in Major Taylor, the seven colonies of Australia are represented in the following order: – Victoria, eight; South Australia, five; Western Australia; four; New South Wales, three; New Zealand, three; Queensland, two; Tasmania, one; total, twenty-six. (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898)

The Salvation Army had begun planning for this band twelve months in advance, with the aim of the band being “the kind of which should tour the colonies and encourage the members of the Army, and by producing music of a high order raise funds for the work in the different parts of Australasia” (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  By the time the band had reached Adelaide it had already toured from Melbourne to Western Australia, back to South Australia and from there had been to the Yorke Peninsula and Broken Hill (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  According to another article published in The Advertiser, the Federal Band was a very fine combination of musicians and presented a wonderful concert (“SALVATION ARMY.,” 1898).  As it is ever thus with Salvation Army bands.

19080401_SMH_Com-Brass-Band_Newtown
Sydney Morning Herald, 01/04/1908, pg. 8

In 1908 a tiny article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which the title is misleading. As you can see in the article (pictured), there is no “Commonwealth Brass Band” that has been formed.  Rather, it is a proposal to secure the services of the Newtown Brass Band to perform at the Anglo-French Exhibition (“COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND.,” 1908).  By all accounts, the Newtown Brass Band was very famous having won numerous competitions by this time and could have probably served as the Australian band at the exhibition (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  However, the Prime Minister apparently rejected this proposal for reasons unknown.

The Australian Imperial Band:

19240109_Morning-Bullletin_Aust-Imp-Band
Morning Bulletin, 09/01/1924, pg. 8

In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993).  However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr. W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924).  Mr. Partington is mentioned in some references –  he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 (Pattie, 2010).  However, he is not really noted amongst some of the more famous bandsmen of this time.  That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organizational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924).  Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.

1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands.  Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  Other bands wanted to emulate this success and the newly formed AIB was no exception. Hindsight can tell us that this was a noble ideal, and certainly, the AIB tried to raise money over the months of their tour to fund this aim.  We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:

In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests. (“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)

However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling.  One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out.  Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band traveling to England.

19240809_Mirror_Aust-Imp-Band-Money
Mirror, 09/08/1924, pg. 1 (“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”, 1924)

The length of time this band was in existence was short however they managed to get themselves together and go on a grand tour of Australia, to some very favorable reviews.  There is not much mention of the personnel of the band but given there were many quality bandsmen in the country at the time, finding gifted musicians was probably not a problem.

At least they tried.

The Australian Commonwealth Band:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5293
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)
19250929_Daily-Mail_Aust-Sil-Band-Form
Daily Mail, 29/09/1925, pg. 10

Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925).  Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).

The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name is etched in history.  We see in the various photos and ephemera included in this post that they were a very smart looking ensemble and that they had a distinctly Australian look with slouch hats.

Aside from the way the name of the band continually evolving in the newspapers, this did not discount the fact that it was an extremely fine ensemble made up of the best brass soloists and led by Baile himself.  Certainly, reviews from Australian newspapers as well as those from overseas, gave high praise to the sound of this band likening it to an “organ” or an “orchestra” (“Australian Silver Band,” 1925; “VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).   The newspaper article published by the Todmorden & District News (UK) in 1926 was very informative as to the concert it gave in their area, attended by 5,000 people, and the quality of the soloists, in particular, the Solo Cornet player, Mr Arthur Stender (“VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).  Below is a list of the band members as published in the book, “Legends in Brass : Australian Brass Band Achievers of the 20thCentury”:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5292
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Front row: Len Ryan, Norm Forbes, Alf Cornish, Fred Myers, Vern Beacroft, Albert Baile, Clarrie Collins, Jack Stokes, Tom Bennett, Ossie Forbes
Middle row: Bob Gibson, Joe Clay, Len Atkinson, George Robertson, Stan Ryan, Albert Ovenden, Bill Murphy, Jack Murphy, Harold Hewson
Back row: Archie Moore, Harold Collins, James “Scott” Armour, Arthur Stender, Alfred Paxton, Joe Hardy (Greaves & Earl, 2001, p. 51)

The Australian Commonwealth Band undertook two Australian/World tours, the first from 1925-1926 and the next from 1926-1928.  As in their first tour, they received rave reviews during their second tour, of which an article in New Zealand’s Evening Post from February 1927 provides a brief summary (“COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1927).  This second tour was not all plain sailing.  While the band was traveling around Australia, the Australian Musicians’ Union was up in arms about a boycott of the Commonwealth Band while it was touring America (“COMMONWEALTH BAND,” 1927).  The Union started lobbying for retaliatory action against musicians visiting from overseas.  It is unclear how this action was resolved however it is interesting that despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Band, there was this hiccup while on tour.

19271203_Figaro_Aust-Comm-Band-Farewell
Figaro, 03/12/1927, pg. 1 (THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND, 1927)

The Australian Commonwealth Band was disbanded in Sydney in early 1928 after they had finished their last tour of Australia (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  There is no doubt that this was a truly remarkable ensemble, started from the players of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to become a unique band in its own right. And it certainly boosted the reputation of Australian bands in general.  The legacy of this fine ensemble was felt for years to come.

The Queensland State Band:

19330909_Northern-Herald_QLD-State-Band-Formation
Northern Herald, 09/09/1933, p. 19

In the early 1930s, we see the formation of the one and only State band, the Queensland State Band.  This was formed in unusual, but possibly well-meaning circumstances as the musicians were notionally “unemployed” (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933b).  The other aim of the band was to try to emulate the success of previous tours by the Newcastle Steelworks Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band by touring overseas and competing in England.  Nevertheless, the band formed in September 1933 and included previous members of the Australian Commonwealth Band (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR.,” 1933).

Almost immediately this band raised the ire of the Queensland Band Association (QBA) of which sent an annoyed letter to the Courier Mail published on October 9th, 1933.  In the letter, the QBA Secretary of the time, Mr J. R. Foster made some forceful points about the State band not being “tested for proficiency” under QBA rules, and the fact that the State band was professional yet had excluded some Queenslanders by bringing in bandsmen from Southern States (Foster, 1933).  In addition, apparently, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane had allowed the State band to perform in a park while excluding other Brisbane metropolitan bands (Foster, 1933).  It is fair to say that this letter (and the QBA) failed to have much impact on the operations of this band.

After being brought together, the Queensland State Band commenced a tour of Queensland where they visited many towns and rural centers north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favorable reviews of their playing (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933a).  Indeed, they also inspired many local town bands and schools, and it is noted that they played for a combined total of 20,000 people over the course of the tour (“STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN,” 1933).  After this part of the tour ended, they were supposed to tour through Northern NSW and also raise finances for a trip to England, of which either activity does not appear to have happened.

As mentioned, this is one of the only instances during this time where a State band was formed.  It is unclear why other States did not form their own representative bands.  However, it does indicate that where there is a drive, things will happen even if all the aims are not met.

One more band:

There was only one more band to carry an Australian name during this time period, a band that was very short lived – the ‘Australian Girls’ Brass Band’ which was formed in 1934.  We know how rare female bands were through a previous post, so perhaps this was a tokenistic ensemble.  However, they were formed and presented one concert in Sydney where they were not exactly complimented for playing, but apparently looked very smart in green & gold uniforms (“Australian Girls’ Brass Band,” 1934; “FIRST CONCERT,” 1934).  There is no more record of this band doing anything else beyond this one concert.

Conclusion:

If there is anything showing from the stories of these ensembles it is a distinct similarity between them.  They were all formed basically for the one activity, which was touring.  Except that this aim was obviously dependent on having enough money.  That being said, the Australian Commonwealth Band took things a few steps further by acting on their aims to compete in England and tour around the world, and it was a band that was in existence for the longest time.  Certainly, the fact that the Commonwealth Band undertook two world tours in quick succession is a testament to the organization and prowess of its manager and conductor, no doubt both well-honed from the previous Newcastle tour.

In any case, once again we see that these bands added to the reputation and life of Australian banding and through them, we have seen some interesting histories.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned and no doubt there are further stories to be unearthed.  We do have a unique history of bands in this country and having bands that carried the Australian name or a State name gained for themselves a distinct historical legacy.

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_Soloists_phot5294
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

References:

5292: Australian National Band (World Tour) [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5292.jpg

5293: Australian National Band (World Tour) Concert Position [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5293.jpg

5294: Australian National Band (World Tour) Soloists [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5294.jpg

13310: Australian Imperial Band, Perth [Online photograph]. (1924). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13310.jpg

13640: Australian Commonwealth Band [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13640.jpg

THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND. (1927, 03 December). Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld. : 1901 – 1936), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84901454

AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND. (1926, 02 February). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232244596

Australian Girls’ Brass Band. (1934, 24 January). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166103727

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 09 January). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54107997

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING. (1924, 03 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214257314

AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND. (1925, 29 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218269176

Australian Silver Band. (1925, 27 November). Te Aroha News. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TAN19251127.2.15.1

AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 24 June). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245712884

COMMONWEALTH BAND : Retaliatory Proposals. (1927, 01 November). Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1916 – 1938), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article34420586

COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND. (1908, 01 April). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14917036

COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND : What others think. (1927, 09 February). Evening Star. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19270209.2.93

FIRST CONCERT : Girls’ Band in Gold and Green. (1934, 18 January). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248959700

Foster, J. R. (1933, 09 October). QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : To the Editor. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1128247

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

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.

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Brilliant Conductor. (1933a, 28 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41230080

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Six Months Tour : Trade Propaganda. (1933b, 09 September). Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld. : 1913 – 1939), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150003898

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR. (1933, 29 September). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1124687

SALVATION ARMY : The Federal Band. (1898, 14 February). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35105401

SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION : A Capital Band. (1898, 14 February). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54519628

Sharp, A. M. (1993). Baile, Albert Henry (Bert) (1882-1961). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baile-albert-henry-bert-9402

STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN : Northern Tour Ends : Successful Results. (1933, 30 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181171770

VISIT OF THE AUSTRALIAN BAND : Magnificent playing to big crowds. (1926, 20 August). Todmorden & District News, p. 2. Retrieved from https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001940/19260820/182/0002

“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”. (1924, 09 August). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76437154

Bands on Australian islands: unique challenges in unique environments

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Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932 (Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles.  In addition, this blog post may contain images or descriptions of deceased persons from former secure health facilities in photographs and (digital) newspaper articles.

Introduction:

When we look at the distribution of brass bands in Australia between 1900 – 1950 we can see that they mushroomed everywhere.  Some towns and localities were lucky to have two or three.  Bands merged, split, started and ended, and we know that individual bandsmen were great travelers and had various loyalties.  Given the size of Australia, it can be assumed that geography was an early challenge – it took a long time to get anywhere and obtain the fundamentals for running a band.  Yet the early bands did it and a number of bands survived.

This post is about the brass bands that were located on some of the islands that surround Australia.  In selecting the islands and bands, I took a punt with some and accidentally found some others.  When looking for stories and histories I found that information on these island bands was a bit hit and miss.  In some cases, there were only one or two newspaper articles (that I found) where there was only a mere mention of a band.  Timelines were difficult to establish but we can get a rough guess based on early articles and later articles.  However, the fact that these bands had an existence of sorts only adds to the rich history of bands in this country.

I started this post with a disclaimer.  The reason for this is that two of the bands were located on islands where Aboriginal missions were established, and another band was located on a small island that once housed a facility for isolating people with leprosy.  To delve deeper in the pasts of these missions and this facility uncovered some disturbing facts, as I tried to build a background as to why bands were established in these locations.  All locations had unfortunate pasts which will have to be acknowledged in this post, but we recognize that at the time, bands were created with a similar purpose to those in other locations.

This post will address each location, or groups of locations in turn and we will see that the bands in these places were innovative, dedicated and proud.  We will also see that they were engaged with island life and that being a band on an island had a special meaning.  These bands may not have had the reputation or resources of bigger ensembles, but they did have a certain spirit given to them by their locations.

Kangaroo Island (South Australia):

Kangaroo Island, located off the coast of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia is nominally Australia’s third largest island behind Tasmania and Melville Island (Sealink Travel Group, 2019).  At 155km in length and up to 55km in wide it is big in area but contains only four main settlements, of which Kingscote is the main town (Sealink Travel Group, 2019).  The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association has documented history prior to 1836 however most of the recorded history occurs after this date (Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association, 2019).

We first see mention of a brass band on Kangaroo Island in an article published by The Register in 1906 which makes mention of a concert presented by the Kingscote Brass Band (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).  This concert was in aid of an instrument fund and was basically a social evening and dance. However, the article also makes mention of another performance held during a lunch hour where the band, with some innovation, broadcast their performance by telephone!  As written in the article:

Last Tuesday, during the luncheon hour, through the courtesy of the P.M. here (Mr. Lamprey), the Kingscote Brass Band played selections through the telephone to Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda Lighthouses.  The music was much appreciated by the watchers by the sea at either end of the island.  Cape Borda is 70 miles westerly from Kingscote, and Cape Willoughby is about 30 miles easterly. (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).

To think they did this in 1906 is quite remarkable and inventive!

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Kangaroo Island Courier, 21/12/1907, pg. 3

The activities of the Kingscote Brass Band were mentioned in the local newspaper, The Kangaroo Island Courier in late 1907 where they were noted for wanting to present a program of Christmas Carols and marches on Christmas Eve (“Kingscote Brass Band Items.,” 1907).  This is in addition to their fundraising effort for new instruments.  In the middle of 1908, the said newspaper received a letter from a mainlander who had read an article in Australian Bandsman about the travel of Kingscote Brass Band members (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908).  In his letter he says, “I think the 12-mile man is the bandmaster and he deserves a lot of encouragement for his trouble” and then proceeds to wax lyrically, “…although I don’t suppose he considers it a trouble, as all men who are interested in their particular band never find anything troublesome where the band is concerned.” (“ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS.,” 1908).

There you go, we have been told!

There is a further mention of the Kingscote Brass Band giving a performance in 1921 where they were noted for showing improvement in their playing (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921).  The article mentions that they had been tutored by their former conductor who was visiting the island after a 10-year absence (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921).  Unfortunately, due to limited resources, it is unclear how much longer this band survived. However, it is clear from this brief amount of information that they were appreciated when they performed.

King Island (Tasmania):

King Island is located in the middle of Bass Strait off the northern coast of Tasmania.  It is renowned for its produce although it has never had a big population, there are some well-known localities on the island.  It is also known for the ruggedness of its coastline and there are many instances of shipping coming to grief on the rocks. The main center of population is the town of Currie where they still have a community band.

In terms of early brass bands, King Island is unique as there are two brass bands mentioned as having existed in the early 1900s.  Information on this band also comes from an island newspaper, the King Island News and we first see a mention people wanting for form a band in Currie in 1914 (“King Island.”, 1914).  Although two years later the Currie Brass Band has still not been founded and the money that was initially raised has been donated to wounded King Island soldiers returning from World War 1 (“No title,” 1916).

In 1918 the King Island News reported on the formation of another brass band, this time in the mining settlement of Grassy which is located on the eastern side of the Island (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918).  Initially called the Grassy Brass Band, this band was actually set up by the mining company for the recreation of employees at the mine and was known as the King Island Tungsten Brass Band (“KING ISLAND.,” 1918).  This band was called for all over the island and in 1919 was noted for its performances of Christmas music in Currie (“No title,” 1919).

Again, this is another instance where some history is incomplete as we don’t know for certain when this band stopped operations.  While the articles are not listed, the King Island Tungsten Brass Band did numerous engagements on the island and were a valued part of the island community.

Phillip Island (Victoria):

Phillip Island is an island that occupies the southern portion of Westernport Bay in Victoria and is well-connected to the rest of the state by road and ferry.  People might know it because of certain penguins however it has had a long history of settlement and there are several towns on the island with the main town being Cowes.

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Examiner, 30/08/1947. pg. 3

It should be no surprise that a brass band formed on Phillip Island in the township of Cowes.  The Phillip Island Brass Band was much more proactive than any other brass bands on Australian islands and were much more well-traveled.  They were even proactive enough to enter the South Street band contests on two occasions and took themselves on an educational trip around Tasmania (Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934; “Visiting Band,” 1947).

A proposal to form the Phillip Island Brass Band is mentioned in an informative article from the Frankston and Somerville Standard on the 30thMay, 1923 (“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923).  They had all the right intentions too, as the article opens with these platitudes:

An effort is being made to form a brass band on Phillip Island.  The advantages of such an institution are many.  Anything that will encourage the practice of music, especially concerted music, is worthy of hearty support, and the metal and moral benefit derived by any young man who gives his mind and time to learning an instrument is great. (“PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND.,” 1923).

The article goes on to note that the promoters of the band were under no illusions as to what they might need in terms of men willing to join the band, instruments, a hall to play in, and a whole host of other items.  The Island Progress Association, as well as the local council, were behind the project and a band was formed.

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Herald, 09/07/1934, pg. 8

As mentioned, the band was quite proactive in the way they did things, even bordering on the unusual.  For example, to help raise funds for a trip to the South Street contests in 1934, a picture of a bandsman helping with the chicory harvest was published in the Herald newspaper (above) – this was apparently a common activity at the time (“COWES BANDMEN HANDLE CHICORY CROP,” 1934).  They did make it to South Street, twice, once in 1932 where they competed in C and D grades and also in 1934 where they only competed in D grade.  The results of their endeavors are listed in the table below:

Year: Competition: Grade: Section: Points: Place
1932 Victorian Band Championships C No 1 Test Piece 124
No 2 Test Piece 120
Quickstep 133
D No 1 Test Piece 120 3rd
No 2 Test Piece 119 3rd
Quickstep 126 3rd
1934 Victorian Band Championships D Selection 277 Equal 3rd
Quickstep 167 4th

(Source of table data: Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934)

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The Age, 08/10/1935, pg. 4

Aside from this, they were well-known and in 1935 they were one of the bands to form a Gippsland Branch of the Victorian Bands’ League with other bands from Warragul, Wonthaggi, Korumburra, Leongatha and Dandenong (“Victorian Bands League.,” 1935).

There seems to have been some disquiet after the band returned from Tasmania in 1947.  In January 1953 the State Governor visited Phillip Island and the visit was written up in an article in The Argus newspaper.  As the article says:

Yesterday was an exciting day for Cowes, Phillip Island.  Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor, paid his first official visit to the island and almost everybody, including the town’s brass band, turned out for the occasion.

Until last week the band had been “in recess for four years,” as one member tactfully put it.  But it acquitted itself well. (“Cowes turned out to meet the Governor,” 1953)

The cause and conclusion of this four-year recess might require further research!

The Trove archive has some limitations as articles fall into copyright from 1955 so we don’t exactly know when the Phillip Island Brass band went defunct.  But they are one of the well-documented bands with further information to be found on the website of the Phillip Island & District Historical Society.

Palm Island and Thursday Island (Queensland):

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The Palm Island Brass Band photographed during the visit of the Home Secretary J. C. Peterson and party in June 1931 (Source: State Library of Queensland)

Palm and Thursday islands are located off the coast of Queensland with Palm Island near the coast at Townsville and Thursday Island in the Torres Strait off the far northern tip of Queensland.  These islands are mentioned because of their unique status as former Indigenous Missions and the fact that both former missions once had brass bands.

This post will not go into the pros and cons of Indigenous missions aside to say that they existed and are part of Australia’s history.  It was a very different time with different attitudes, and we can only assume that the people who once ran these institutions thought they were doing the right thing by Indigenous people.  A brass band was obviously seen as a binding activity and one which other Australians would accept.

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Daily Mercury, 26/09/1927, pg. 7

Unfortunately, the language in local newspapers that mentioned the bands were as one would expect from this time.  There was interest in the island bands and we see in an article from 1926 published in The Northern Miner newspaper that the bandmaster of The Towers Concert Band visited the island to assist the Indigenous conductor and was duly thanked in a letter from the Palm Island Band conductor (“PALM ISLAND BAND,” 1926).  By some accounts, the people of the island appreciated the fact that a brass band, as well as a football team and cricket team, had been set up by the Superintendent of the settlement, and certainly, these were seen as worthwhile activities (Watson, 2005).   In 1927 the football team and brass band visited Townsville and apparently “astonished” the crowd – for both football and music (“FOOTBALL,” 1927).

Slightly differently, the Thursday Island Brass Band once included “white and black players” pre-war but was reformed after the war with just aboriginal musicians (“ISLANDERS’ BRASS BAND,” 1952).   Both bands were clearly still in operation in the 1950’s, but clearly the novelty of having Indigenous bands had not changed, despite this cited article providing additional information (“‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’,” 1953).  In 1954 the Palm Island Brass Band was to be included in a mass-gathering of bands in Townsville to greet Queen Elizabeth (“Townsville Band Festival,” 1954).

We can always judge the attitudes of the time as being unfortunate and the language as patronising.  We also know that there are still bands dotted across the Top End and some very good music programs that are helping to reform a culture of Indigenous community bands (Cray, 2013; Sexton-McGrath, 2014).  In some respects, these former Mission bands as well as other mainland mission bands created a legacy that has given new life to new bands.

Peel Island (Queensland) and Norfolk Island:

We come now to Peel Island and Norfolk Island, both very different places yet both have interesting pasts.

Peel Island is located in Moreton Bay, Brisbane and is a former Quarantine Station.  Yet for many years it housed people forcibly removed from home and family for being contracted with Leprosy.  By all accounts, this was harsh, isolated, unforgiving and primitive place and it accommodated people from all backgrounds and races (Brown, 2018).  The churches were the only organisations to try to bring comfort to the inmates and it is noted in 1928 that one Churchman made an appeal for an Eb Bass for a member of the Peel Island Brass Band (“CHURCH NEWS.,” 1928).

This is the first evidence we have that there was a band of sorts on Peel Island and newspaper articles sporadically reported on the various iterations of the band (“SIDE DRUM WANTED FOR PEEL ISLAND’S BAND,” 1945). Likewise, there are also reports of bands visiting the Island to entertain the inmates  – the picture below is of a Salvation Army band visiting Peel Island in 1920 and in 1939 the Brisbane Juvenile Band was part of a concert party (“Concert At Peel Island,” 1939).

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Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during the 1920s (Source: State Library of Queensland)

Norfolk Island is another place with a very interesting past and the inhabitants are extremely proud of their history (Low, 2012).  Located off the coast of NSW, the inhabitants display a very independent streak, despite their association with Australia.  Which makes it all the more interesting that there is mention of a brass band that once existed on Norfolk Island.  There is not much to indicate the brass band existed apart from rare mentions in Australian newspapers.  We see mentions of a band in 1904, 1905 and 1926 where they are mentioned as being in attendance at official events and for rehearsing every week (Barnes, 1926; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1904; “NORFOLK ISLAND.,” 1905).  It is unclear when the Norfolk Island Band officially started or ended.

Conclusion:

It is quite clear that these early brass bands of our islands had their own unique histories, although one might call them quirks.  While there are many similarities to other bands located on the mainland, the isolation and geography meant they had to be innovative and were also part of their communities.  It is fortunate that we can read about them now and wonder at their existence.  The knowledge that some of them existed in questionable environments is also a wonder but also indicates that they were a sign of the times.

We appreciate that these bands were part of a greater movement and that we can acknowledge the history.

References:

16005: Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932 [Online photograph]. (1932). The Internet Bandsmen: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16005.jpg

‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’. (1953, 19 January). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50564060

Barnes, J. (1926, 11 June). UNDER BLUE SKIES : Life on Norfolk Island : No. 4. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104960531

Brown, A. (2018, 07 July). Queensland’s last leper colony reveals its secrets. Brisbane Times. Retrieved from https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/queensland-s-last-leper-colony-reveals-its-secrets-20180704-p4zpd1.html

CHURCH NEWS. (1928, 29 September). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21343088

Concert At Peel Island. (1939, 26 March). Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98238889

COWES BANDMEN HANDLE CHICORY CROP. (1934, 09 July). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243161356

Cowes turned out to meet the Governor. (1953, 22 January). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23223484

Cray, S. (2013, 14 June). Brass band babies. ABC Open: Posts from all regions. Retrieved from https://open.abc.net.au/posts/brass-band-babies-94ez0gc

ENTHUSIASTIC INSTRUMENTALISTS. (1908, 11 July). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191629848

FOOTBALL : Aboriginal Team. : Defeats Townsville. (1927, 26 September). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173762864

ISLANDERS’ BRASS BAND. (1952, 31 May). Brisbane Telegraph (Qld. : 1948 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216499386

Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association. (2019, 17 January). History. Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/kipaview/history

KING ISLAND : Grassy News. (1918, 21 May). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50981378

“King Island.” “Fat Stock for Victoria.” “Dear Beef for Launceston.”. (1914, 29 May). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217035552

THE KINGSCOTE BAND. (1921, 19 March). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191552031

Kingscote Brass Band Items. (1907, 21 December). Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 – 1951), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191635685

Low, M. K. (2012). Putting down roots : belonging and the politics of settlement on Norfolk Island. (Doctor of Philosophy Thesis), School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia. Retrieved from https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/putting-down-roots-belonging-and-the-politics-of-settlement-on-no Available from University of Western Australia Research Repository (99104027102101)

MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA. (1906, 21 November). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56693536

No title. (1916, 17 March). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212036865

No title. (1919, 08 January). King Island News (Currie, King Island : 1912 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212038832

NORFOLK ISLAND. (1904, 22 March). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19271611

NORFOLK ISLAND : Empire Celebration. (1905, 26 June). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14687675

PALM ISLAND BAND : An interesting letter. (1926, 13 February). Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80657422

PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND. (1923, 30 May). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75954089

Royal South Street Society. (1932, 29 October). 1932-10-29 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1932-10-29-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1934, 3rd November). 1934-11-03 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1934-11-03-brass-band-contests

Sealink Travel Group. (2019). About Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Sealink : Kangaroo Island. Retrieved from https://www.sealink.com.au/about-kangaroo-island/

Sexton-McGrath, K. (2014, 09 November). Yarabah Band Festival: Return of the brass band brings thousands out to Indigenous community. ABC News: Queensland. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-09/yarrabah-band-festival-brass-band-brings-thousands-to-community/5877834

SIDE DRUM WANTED FOR PEEL ISLAND’S BAND. (1945, 27 June). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48954474

Townsville Band Festival. (1954, 09 February). Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81658839

Unidentified. (1920). 436923 Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s [Online Photograph]. State Library of Queensland : OneSearch. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680

Unidentified. (1931, 01 June). 212192480002061 The Palm Island Brass Band photographed during the visit of the Home Secretary J.C. Peterson and party in June 1931. [Online Photograph]. State Library of Queensland : One Search. Retrieved from http://rosettadel.slq.qld.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?change_lng=en&dps_pid=IE200630

Victorian Bands League. (1935, 08 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203851495

Visiting Band. (1947, 30 August). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52603726