Legitimate quirks of instrumentation: The inclusion of woodwinds in brass bands

Malvern Town Military Band, approx. 1900. (Source: IBEW)


Cornets, Flugel Horns, Tenor Horns, Baritones, Euphoniums, Trombones, Tubas and Percussion.  This standard of instrumentation for a brass band has been in place for a good number of years.  Yet before this standard was settled upon, there was an amount of time where the range of instruments was less distinguishable, or available.  The brass band as we know it today is the result of years of evolution with the result being a largely homogenous sound across the ranges.  Composers and arrangers also moved with the time and we can see this in the sheet music.

This post will touch on one of the quirks of instrumentation in earlier brass bands, the use of woodwinds such as Clarinets and Saxophones, and even the odd Piccolo.  For the best part of forty years, some Australian brass bands included woodwind musicians amongst their personnel and allowances were made at some competitions, including the famous South Street.  This did not mean that there was widespread usage or acceptance of woodwinds in the brass bands.  However, there is evidence that some bands used them right up into the 1920s.

Tied into this is the naming of bands.  With the inclusion of woodwinds, some bands were still nominally called brass bands, but others were more inventive with names.  Some bands were sitting on the border of being brass or military in their instrumentation, as we can see with the photo of the Malvern Town Military Band above.

Nowadays the distinction between brass, military and symphonic bands (concert bands) is much clearer cut.  The earlier times was when the boundaries were pushed.

Names and Instrumentation:

A brass band usually means that it is wholly comprised of brass instruments, and then when it included Clarinets, Saxophones and Piccolos it was still called a brass band.  Such was the discrepancy in the names of early bands, a discrepancy that would cause confusion in the minds of modern musicians – today, names of bands generally indicate what kind of instrumentation they include.

The inclusion of Clarinets in a brass band was one of those holdovers from English brass bands.  Arnold Myers (2000), writing in a chapter titled Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands, explains that,

Often clarinets were used in what were otherwise all-brass groups, a usage which continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, though not in major contests from the 1870s.  The presence of clarinets did not alter the essential nature of the brass band: they replaced one or more Bb cornets, or were used to provide brightness in the upper register in the role usually played by the soprano cornet. (p. 156)

In Australia, trends of instrumentation in brass bands tended to start and end much later than in the UK.  We know that brass bands held a prominent part in many towns, communities and industries across Australia.  We also know that various military bands, bands comprised of a more substantial variety of woodwind instruments, brass and percussion, had been a part of musical life since the early days of the colony.  Although, at times, they needed special explanation, as shown in an article published in the Geelong Advertiser in 1911 (Blakiston, 1911).  Mason (2013) in his thesis, tells us that “military bands provided music military and state functions, as well as performing for the general public and servicing as a source of musicians for cities’ orchestras and other ensembles.” (p. 81).  In their own way, the military bands have their own important history.  The early military bands served as a precursor to the many Defence Force Bands, school concert bands, community concert bands and symphonic bands that fill the musical landscape today (Mason, 2013).

Aside from the number of woodwinds, some commentators attempted to call out the brass bands which included clarinets for trying to be something they were not.  One interesting article was published in the Bairnsdale (Vic.) based Every Week newspaper in May 1918.  Titled “Clarinets in the Brass Band”, the writer used the premise that just because some brass bands included Clarinets (or other woodwinds) in their instrumentation, did not automatically make them a military band – and that they should not attempt to play military band music or arrangements.

Bands which have few clarionets or even bands which have a goodly number of clarionets, but no other reed instruments, make a big mistake when they consider themselves “military bands” and aim to play military band arrangements.  They are really brass bands plus clarionets – a thing very far removed from a military band.(“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918)

Excusing the seemingly blunt language, the writer was correct.  Brass bands that included Clarinets and Saxophones in their line-up were still nominally brass bands, they were not military bands.  Still, the naming of bands is interesting in itself.  Below is a picture of the North Hobart Concert Band taken in 1917.  We can see in the picture that four of the members have Clarinets and one member a Soprano Saxophone.  They also include all of the instruments that comprise a brass band.  If we were to apply the modern name and meaning of a concert band, we would assume it to have a full section of woodwinds.  However, in these early days, this was not the case.  On a side note, we can see that the Bandmaster is one of the members holding a Clarinet.  The Bandmaster in this photo, a Mr. A. W. Caddie, was appointed Bandmaster of the North Hobart Concert Band in 1916 after leading the Zeehan Military Band for a number of years (“NORTH HOBART BAND.,” 1916).  Mr. Caddie was a Clarionetist of some renown and won the Clarionet section at the Royal South Street brass solo competitions in 1912 (Trombone, 1912).

North Hobart Concert Band, 1917 (Source: IBEW)

Through this short discussion on instrumentation and naming, it is established that Clarinets and Saxophones existed in brass bands for a number of years and were accepted as such.  It was up to the music publishers to cater for them as well.

Sheet music:

The other side of including limited woodwinds in brass bands is of course the sheet music.  Brass bands that included limited woodwinds may not have had the instrumentation to play arrangements of military music, but they were able to play brass band music with added Clarinet parts – of which the writer of the article in Every Week pointed out (“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918).  Given that the instruments in brass bands are predominantly keyed in Bb or Eb, it was easy enough to create parts for Clarinets and Saxophones as well.  Piccolos used in bands in those days were mostly keyed in Db or Eb which was different.  Parts were included with some editions of music, but this was not always the case.  It is easier to make a comparison between Clarinet and Cornet parts.

Below are two parts of the 1904 march “South Street” by Hall King (edited by T. E. Bulch).  Here we can see clearly that the Clarinet part neatly doubles the Solo Cornet, in parts up the octave (King, 1904a, 1904b).  The range of the Clarinet obviously makes this easy to do, and musically this would make sense. These Clarinet parts would be taken up by an Eb Soprano Cornet in todays brass bands.

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Most of the brass band music that was printed in these times originated from large publishing houses in the form of journals, the parts above being published by Suttons Proprietary Limited.  Here we see that this particular journal of brass band music included parts for Reeds, so obviously Clarinets, and possibly Saxophones, were catered for.  Suttons was not the only Australian music publishing company that included parts for Clarinets in their journals of music.  The two march cards below of the marches “Artillery” by Alex Lithgow and “Newtown” by T. E. Bulch were published by Allans & Co. (Bulch, 1901; Lithgow, n.d.).

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Obviously, the publishing companies found there was a market for Clarinet, Saxophone and Piccolo parts and composers would have been encouraged to include these parts in their compositions – although, given the similarities in keys, maybe this was up to arrangers.  After having some discussion with Dr. Richard Mason on this topic, extra money for publishers and composers to produce Clarinet parts was assumed (Mason, 2020).  Possibly the real reasons cannot be found, however, the production of specific music to cater for extra instruments added some legitimacy to woodwinds being included in brass bands.

Brass bands with woodwinds:

Wunghu Brass Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

As mentioned in the opening of this post, Clarinets and other woodwinds were part of brass bands in Australia for around forty years.  We can find some evidence of this from early newspaper articles.  It is claimed that Saxophones were added to brass bands in Australia as early as 1890, although, as mentioned in the linked article, this was a matter of conjecture (“The Saxophone,” 1934).  Other bands were more forthcoming over what they had in their band.  In August 1893, an article regarding the early history of the Dandenong Brass Band was published in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal. It seems that when the Dandenong Brass Band was formed in 1885, it comprised of ten members; three Cornets, two Piccolos, two Tenors, one Baritone and one Clarionet (using this unique spelling) (“DANDENONG BRASS BAND.,” 1893).  Likewise, in 1899, a public meeting was held in Tallangatta with the aim of (re)forming a brass band.  Several participants in the meeting spoke in support, one of them was a Mr A. J. Fortescue,

…speaking as a member, observed that the old band had died through want of proper management and lack of public interest.  If formed on proper lines, with a good committee, he thought a band would prosper there.  There were sufficient of the old brass instruments on hand for a start, but there would be some repairs needed.  There would be wanted a piccolo and two drums.  In reply to a question from the chairman, he stated that with a sum of £20 they could make a fairly good start. (“BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA.,” 1899)

In January 1904 the Linton Brass Band held their annual general meeting, and they were another brass band that boasted a piccolo in their instrumentation.

The band has a stock consisting of one big drum, one side drum, three B flat cornets, two B flat Euphoniums, one E flat bass, one E flat piccolo. (“LINTON BRASS BAND,” 1904)

These were brass bands in their early years.  Yet twenty years later, as can be seen in the list of musicians in the Wagga Wagga Concert Band (below), a Clarinet was part of the ensemble (“WAGGA CONCERT BAND.,” 1921).  And in 1926 the Gnowangerup District Brass Band from Western Australia was proud to announce that they had added a new Clarionet to the band (“Gnowangerup District Brass Band.,” 1926).

Young Witness, 03/03/1921, pg. 2

There are of course numerous other examples of woodwind instruments appearing in early brass bands of which the above mentioned are a small number of instances.


When in competition, the woodwinds of brass bands were mostly treated the same as any other brass instrument, and they also received the same criticism as well.  There are some examples of woodwinds being mentioned in competition, although this was mainly related to Clarinets and Saxophones.  Even the famous Royal South Street competitions had sections for Clarinets and at times Saxophones over the course of a decade.

The year is 1899 and in September, Northcott’s Bendigo City Brass Band, conducted by Mr. O. Flight, had travelled to Echuca to take part in a small regional competition adjudicated by the famous Mr. E. Code.  The article here details the adjudication of their program and at one point both the Clarinet and Piccolo were mentioned:

Largo – Clarionet and cornets not in tune ; cornet has good taste ; accompaniments too loud ; cornet not clean at bar 17 ; piccolo a little out of tune at bars 18 and 19 ; bass too loud at bar 20. (“NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND.,” 1899)

Regarding South Street, they added another layer of legitimacy by having sections specifically for woodwinds included in the brass solo competitions.  As can be seen in the lists of entries (which can be acccessed from the links), the Clarinet & Saxophone sections attracted musicians from all over Australia.  Below is a list of competitions held over ten years (with some gaps), with the woodwind instruments that were included each year:

(Royal South Street Society, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916)

Unfortunately, there are some gaps in the list due to lack of data however, it is known that a brass solo competition was held in 1912 which included a Clarionet section (Trombone, 1912).

As well as the records from Royal South Street, we also have articles in newspapers that provide the adjudication of Clarinettists.  This article published in the Ballarat Star (below) in October 1915 is a prime example of an adjudication.  The adjudicator of this section was the famous Albert Wade (“SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1915).

Ballarat Star, 22/10/1915, pg. 6

What of the Saxophonists?  It is seen in the Royal South Street lists that Saxophones were only able to compete in sections for four years.  However, other opportunities for them to integrate with bands were limited to military bands.  That does not mean they were completely forgotten.  In a forward thinking move, Saxophones were provided their own section in a “novelty” event at the Interstate Band Contest in Perth, February 1931 (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931).  The reasoning was understandable at the time.

Hitherto the saxophone has not been considered to be a true brass band instrument, and therefore ineligible for registration under the W.A. Band Association contest rules.  The contest committee, however, obtained permission from the association to include the competition in its program, and fourteen entries have been received.  There are a number of capable executants among the entrants, and as the choice of the solo is left to the competitor, a varied range of saxophone music may be reasonably anticipated. (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931)

The recognition by competition societies that woodwinds had a place in their own sections was well-meaning and forward thinking.  It goes to show that while they were brass band centric, all instruments of the brass band were included, even if they were not strictly brass.


Brisbane Concert Band, 1910 (Source: IBEW)

The thought of woodwinds in brass bands would probably raise the eyebrows of many brass band purists. Yet, like many other stories of the brass band world, it is one that is worth exploring, if only for the novelty.  One wonders how these early brass bands would have sounded with limited woodwinds playing similar parts.  The history and sheet music tell us that woodwinds existed in brass bands.  As do some of the pictures, like the Brisbane Concert Band above.


Blakiston, C. (1911, 22 April). A MILITARY BAND : How it is made up. Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149205289

BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA. (1899, 18 February). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199465362

Bulch, T. E. (1901). “Newtown” (2nd Clarionet Bb) : (Dedicated to Thos. Mellor Esq. Bandmaster). [March Card]. Melbourne, Victoria: Allans & Co.

CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND. (1918, 09 May). Every Week (Bairnsdale, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153439388

Colouhoun, J. (1900). Malvern Town Military Band. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

DANDENONG BRASS BAND. (1893, 02 August). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1877 – 1920; 1926 – 1927), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70015776

Gnowangerup District Brass Band. (1926, 10 July). Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette (WA : 1915 – 1944), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158909246

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (1st Clarionet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (Solo Cornet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

LINTON BRASS BAND. (1904, 13 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210140838

Lithgow, A. F. (n.d.). “Artillery” (2nd Clarionet). [March Card]. Melbourne, Victoria: Allans & Co.

Mason, R. W. (2013). The clarinet and its protagonists in the Australian New Music milieu from 1972 to 2007. (Doctor of Philosophy Thesis). Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Faculty of VCA & MCM, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/11343/38294 Available from Minerva Access (38294)

Mason, R. W. (2020, 14 June) Phone call with Dr Richard Mason regarding the use of Clarinets in brass bands/Interviewer: J. D. de Korte.

Myers, A. (2000). Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 155-186). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

NORTH HOBART BAND : New Bandmaster Welcomed. (1916, 05 September). Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191143234

North Hobart Concert Band. (1917). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND : Conductor – Mr O. Flight. (1899, 22 September). Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW : 1869 – 1954; 1998 – 2002), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115017023

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 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. (1907, 22 October). 1907-10-22 Brass Section. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1907-10-22-brass-section

Royal South Street Society. (1908, 20 October). 1908-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-20-brass-solo-contests

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

Royal South Street Society. (1911, 24 October). 1911-10-24 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1911-10-24-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1914, 20 October). 1914-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1914-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1915, 21 October). 1915-10-21 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1915-10-21-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1916, 30 October). 1916-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1916-10-30-brass-solo-contests

The Saxophone : Who Brought it to Australia. (1934, 06 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218832762

SAXOPHONE COMPETITION : Interstate Band Contest. (1931, 02 January). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83492508

SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Brass Section Continued : Mr A. Wade, Adjudicator : Clarionet Solo. (1915, 22 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154562484

Trombone. (1912, 29 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189103747

WAGGA CONCERT BAND. (1921, 03 March). Young Witness (NSW : 1915 – 1923), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113606153

Wunghnu Brass Band. (1906). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm


Brass bands of the New South Wales Central West: Part 2: Association and competition

The Start of the Massed Bands. (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

Part two:

In part one of this post, we saw stories of the development, running and challenges of bands together with a look at the longevity of one particular conductor.  However, as we know, the stories of early brass bands are linked together and with the bands of the Central West, they were very united in association and ideals.  In part two of this post, this will be explored further through the creation of the earliest band association in New South Wales and the competitions that were held in various towns.

The Western Band Association:

Like many band associations around Australia, the Western Band Association was formed out of mutual collegiality and location.  The early brass bands of the N.S.W. Central West started what is regarded as the earliest band association in New South Wales and over time, and through various iterations, one of the strongest associations that attracted bands from near and far to various events.  The towns of the Central West also benefitted from this association as they were keen to host competitions.  There was no shortage of events for bands to attend and this post will detail some of them.

We first see a mention of an association in 1893 with the creation of the Western District Brass Band Union.  This Union was established by “Messrs, John Meagher, A. Gartrell, and John Appleby” and the first bands associated with this Union were “District (Bathurst), Independent (Bathurst)” and bands from the towns of “Orange, Wellington, Blayney, Lithgow, and Hartley Vale”  (“Local and General.,” 1893; “Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893).  The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal article explained what the Union was hoping to achieve,

The object of the Union is to promote friendly discourse between the different companies by meeting at least once a year in each town represented, and holding contests, comparing notes, and otherwise advancing the cause of music.” (“Local and General.,” 1893)

On a side note, the Band Association of New South Wales formed in 1895 of which they are the oldest State band association in Australia (Greaves, 1996).  It is unclear whether the Western Band Association recognised or affiliated with B.A.N.S.W. at this early stage.

Geographically, the reach of the Western Band Association extended well-past the Central West region.  We see in an article published in the Western Herald that the town of Bourke in far north-west of N.S.W. had its own branch of the WBA and in 1896 was given permission to hold a band contest – this was not going to be the first time a band from Bourke participated in the activities of the WBA (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1896).

During the early 1900s, there is little to indicate if there was any activity from the WBA, no doubt the later war years intervened. However, in 1925 we see another burst of activity, first through accounts of a meeting in Bathurst and then a meeting a month later in Orange.  In October 1925, a meeting was held at the headquarters of the Bathurst District Band and presided over by Mr Sam Lewins (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  The meeting involved members of the bands located in Bathurst and Orange, but their resolve and ambition were mostly united.  The article that was published in the Bathurst Times proclaimed under the main headline; “An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands” which seemed to be an initial aim of this preliminary meeting as well as the usual planning on competitions in various towns (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One cannot be sure if these bandsmen who met in Bathurst experienced some déjà vu, because what they were discussing, and indeed the whole concept of a Western Band Association had all been done before.  It was written in the article,

The chairman, in explaining the conference, said that the primary object was the formation of an association having as its purpose the fostering of band music and the promoting of yearly contests.  Before him on the table were the minutes of a meeting held in Bathurst for a similar purpose just 32 years ago.  From the gathering in 1893 came the Western Band Association, the first Band Association in New South Wales.

The old rules governing the former body were still intact in the minute book.  In the event of another association being formed these rules could well be adopted, as he did not think they could be improved upon.” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

Letters regarding this project were read out from bands located in “Coonamble, Blayney, Orange, Dubbo and Nyngan” and with this in mind, the meeting resolved to start the Western Band Association on the 1st of January 1926. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One delegate, a Mr Harrington from Orange was thinking of a bigger association and he “put in a strong plea that the title of the organisation should be altered to read “The Country Band Association of N.S.W.”” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  His reasoning was that bands from Cootamundra, Albury and other towns to the north could join – however the other delegates did not support this suggestion so it was subsequently dropped (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

The relationship with the State Association was part of these discussions as they were officially the body to be dealing with, despite some misgivings from the delegates in Bathurst.  An interesting exchange ensued between the delegates themselves with some choice language,

Mr. Johnson wished to be informed whether the association should affiliate with the head Sydney body.

The chairman : Well if we do we are not going to give them £1 for every band.

Mr. Johnson : We should absolutely shun them and keep to the western district: country players get no benefits from the Sydney Association.

Mr. Lewins : The trouble is a western band might want to play in Sydney at some time, and if we were not affiliated the head body might not allow it to compete.

In the opinion of Mr. Harrington it would be unwise to fall out with the head body.  “At the same time,” he went on, “we could be equally as strong as the N.S.W. Association.  In fact, it is not so very powerful as it is; you could drive a horse and cart through some of its constitutions.  We should place ourselves in a position not to dictate to this body, but to agree with it if possible.”. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

The November meeting of the WBA went ahead in Orange and we have an account published in the Nepean Times as a representative from the Penrith Band attended the meeting.  While the WBA had decided to confine itself to “districts along the Western Line and branches”, it also decided not to progress “no further east than Penrith township” which is why delegates from Penrith attended this meeting (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  The meeting also had delegates attend from bands in “Bathurst, Portland, Grenfell, Orange, Millthorpe and Penrith, numbering about 23” and correspondence was read out from other Western District bands that wanted to join (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  If the WBA did extend to Penrith, then geographically it encompassed the Blue Mountains as well.  A measure of just how parochial the WBA was about the bandsmen in their region is detailed in the last paragraph of the article,

The object of the Association is to form a working bureau for the purpose of keeping country players in the country instead of allowing them to drift to the City.  The assistance of business people and employing organisations is to the sought in this matter.” (“Western Band Association,” 1925)

In February 1926 a tiny article published in the Lithgow Mercury tells us that the WBA has been reformed and will hold its first contest in Bathurst with a number of bands wanting to participate (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1926).

Lithgow Mercury, 22/02/1926, p. 1

Coming into 1932 we see yet another iteration of the WBA through accounts of a meeting in Wellington.  Through this account published in the Wellington Times, we see a whole range of thoughts from enthusiasm for a new Association to bordering on cynicism – relationships with Sydney being part of the discussions (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932).  Generally, the delegates felt that they could form an Association that would be a branch of the N.S.W. Association.  Although a Mr C. Brown from Dubbo had some misgivings by noting,

Something was certainly needed, as no country Band had yet received any benefit from the head association in Sydney” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Further comments on this matter were provided by other delegates regarding the role and independence of this association,

Mr. Appleby (Bathurst) thought an Association should be formed independent of Sydney, as they need no expect any support from that quarter.


The contest adjudicator (Mr. F. H. Philpott) was also much in favour of running an association independent of Sydney.  Even the suburban centres, realizing the increased benefits, were endeavouring to form associations of their own.” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

It would seem that these sentiments mirror the ones made in Bathurst in 1925.

The delegates resolved that the headquarters should be in Wellington, but the formation of the Association was also met with pragmatic caution by the delegates from Orange,

Mr. W. Eyles (Orange) reiterated the necessity for an Association of some kind.  They owed it to the younger members.  It was their bounden duty to give them contest experience.

Mr. Howie (Orange) hoped that the matter would not start on a wave of enthusiasm, and then die a natural death.  Everybody would have to get behind the movement.” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Perhaps Mr. Howie was prophetic when he spoke about enthusiasm for an association only to have it die off. No less than three years later, the WBA did exactly that and in 1935 a decision was made to wind the association up with remaining funds being distributed to member bands (“Western Band Association,” 1935).

Post Second World War in 1946, we see the Western Band Group again being reformed.  Except on this occasion it was being sponsored by the N.S.W. Band Association as they were also supporting similar groups in Newcastle and Wollongong.  A meeting was held in Bathurst and was attended by delegates from “Cowra, Lithgow, Portland, Katoomba, Blayney and Bathurst” with other bands indicating that they would join (“WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED,” 1946).  This group evidently decided to move some of its focus away from contest and instead started coordinating Band Sunday events in various towns which were well attended by bands and townspeople (“WESTERN BAND GROUP,” 1947).  Unlike previous iterations of the WBA, this new group appears to have been stronger and much better organised as they were still in existence in 1964 – the Bourke Shire Band were special guests at a contest in Wellington attended by five other bands (“Bourke Shire Band,” 1964).

Western Herald, 02/08/1964, p. 8

What we have seen here is a perfect example of how enthusiasm comes in waves and there is no doubting that the various bands in these iterations of the Western Band Association meant well but were probably hamstrung at various stages.  No doubt some social conditions and events beyond their control were influences.  However, the fact that there is a long story behind these movements is remarkable.

Towns and contests:

Code’s Melbourne Band, First prize in “Singer March”. Second Prize in Championship. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

One activity that this region became famous for was the quality, friendliness and hospitality of their band competitions which were held in various towns.  So much so that some contests were written up in the major band newspapers as being the ones to attend.  This part of the post will highlight some of them, and as with everything band related in this region, the competitions started in very early years.

In 1894 we first find a record of a contest held at Orange under the auspicious of the Western Band Association.  Held in conjunction with the fire brigade sports, this was reputedly the first contest held by the Association.  The contest appears to have been well-attended as it involved bands from the towns of Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow, Peak Hill, Wellington, Blayney, Stuart Town and Bourke with the bands competing in either first class or second class grades (“ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS,” 1894).

Five years later, the town of Bathurst was the focus of attention as WBA and the Bathurst Progress Association combined efforts and held an Intercolonial Band Contest which attracted numerous bands comprising of 360 musicians in total – the picture at the head of this post is testament to this!  This contest attracted bands from as far away as Wellington, New Zealand (of which their unfortunate loss of points is detailed in another post), and Code’s Melbourne Band from Victoria (pictured above).  The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser listed all the bands that participated:

…Wellington Garrison, New South Wales Lancers, Bathurst District, Code’s (Melbourne), Lithgow Model, Armidale City, Hillgrove, Newtown, Bathurst City, Lismore, Nymagee District, Warren Town, Hibernian (Sydney) and Cobar United” (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899)

By all accounts the Bathurst contest was a huge success with the townsfolk, the Singer Company and the bands all enjoying themselves.  The band from Hillgrove, which boasted the six McMahon brothers,  won the “Australian Championship” with Code’s achieving second place and Newtown third while the Quickstep section was won by Code’s with Hillgrove gaining second place (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899).

It did not seem to matter which town in the region held a contest, bands were quite happy to travel an amount of distance to participate.  The 1919 Parkes Band contest was a perfect example as it attracted bands from the nearby region and one band from Sydney.  An article published in the Orange Leader newspaper listed the six bands that participated: “Royal Naval Brigade (Sydney), Lithgow Town, Orange Model, Forbes Town, Parkes Town and Parkes Peoples’ Band” (“THE PARKES BAND CONTEST.,” 1919).  The contest was held to benefit the Parkes Hospital fund.

There was one town that held a string of successful contests of which attracted a healthy number of bands each year; the town of Millthorpe which lies to the south of Orange on the Main Western railway line.  In the middle of the 1920s, Millthorpe seemed to be the contest to attend and accounts of the contest were written up in the well-regarded Australasian Band and Orchestral News.  Thankfully, through articles published in two editions of ABON we can see which bands participated in the Millthorpe contest over the years:

  • 1924: Orange, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1925: Dubbo, Grenfell, Blayney, Cowra, Millthorpe
  • 1926: Portland, Bathurst City- Model, Cowra, Penrith, Orange, Grenfell, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1927: Penrith, Orange, Wellington, Bathurst City-Model
  • 1928: Bathurst City-Model, Orange Town, Millthorpe Town

(“Millthorpe Contest,” 1928, pp. 30-31; “Millthorpe Contests,” 1927, p. 17)

The Millthorpe contests, which were run by a committee, would probably not have happened if a Mr H. H. Power, who was the then bandmaster of the Millthorpe Band had not driven the idea. The contests were always successful as each year they turned a profit.  However, it was also a measure of the contest that bands kept visiting and in 1927 Mr Power was presented with a gold watch in recognition of his services (“Millthorpe Contests,” 1927).

These contests were not the only ones run in the region and through searching the Trove archive we find that other towns also hosted contests – Cowra, Dubbo, Forbes, Grenfell, Mudgee, Portland and Wellington.  The bands were spoiled for choice and they made trips to compete on a regular basis.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, some bands ventured further afield with the Bathurst Band travelling to Ballarat and other bands competing in major competitions in bigger cities.  One can see how proactive the regional bands and towns were in hosting events.

McMahon’s Hillgrove Brass Band, Winner of Championship of Australia and second prize in the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899 p. 1289


While researching for this series of posts I was struck by just how rich and varied the band life was in this region, and also how the towns embraced their bands.  Parochialism aside, we can also see how bands put aside differences to work together, especially when driven by dedicated individuals.  Yes, the bands had to respond to changes in society and industry. However, this did not stop them from achieving and gaining notice for their playing, especially the Bathurst Band after its visit to Ballarat.  The bands were a credit to themselves and to their towns and they made sure this region was noticed for its music making.

<- Part 1: Bands for every town


Beavis Bros. (1899a, 25 November). CODES MELBOURNE BAND, FIRST PRIZE IN “SINGER MARCH,” SECOND PRIZE IN CHAMPIONSHIP. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1288. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899b, 25 November). McMAHON’S HILLGROVE BRASS BAND, WINNER OF CHAMPIONSHIP OF AUSTRALIA AND SECOND PRIZE IN THE “SINGER MARCH.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1289. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899c, 25 November). The Start of the Massed Bands (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1288. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Bourke Shire Band—Guest Band at Western Districts Band Championships, Wellington, on Sunday, August 2nd. (1964, 14 August). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141982006

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

INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST : Photos by Beavis Bros., Bathurst. (1899, 25 November). Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), pp. 1288-1289. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Local and General. (1893, 02 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62183780

MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES : Progressive Movement. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246371

Millthorpe Contest : Bathurst City-Model Victors. (1928). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(5), 30-31.

Millthorpe Contests : Four Successful Years. (1927). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(1), 17.

ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS. (1894, 12 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236121302

THE PARKES BAND CONTEST. (1919, 27 August). Leader (Orange, NSW : 1899 – 1945), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117864597

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1896, 21 March). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104105388

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1926, 22 February). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224588875

Western Band Association : Decides to Disband. (1935, 19 July). Western Age (Dubbo, NSW : 1933 – 1936), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137139773

Western Band Association : Penrith Represented. (1925, 28 November). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 – 1962), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108681480

WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE : An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands. (1925, 19 October). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118043369

WESTERN BAND GROUP. (1947, 05 December). Blue Mountains Advertiser (Katoomba, NSW : 1940 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189918471

WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED. (1946, 05 September). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219610497

Western Brass Band Union. (1893, 02 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156684544