A pastime with a purpose: band music in our institutions and the fourth prison band in the world.

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Band. ca. 1890. (source: State Library Victoria: cr001189)

Please note: This blog post has drawn upon information from photographic and print resources whereby the names of managers and deceased persons from former orphanages, secure health institutions, and penal institutions may have been mentioned.  Also, there are depictions of the recreational activities of such institutions described in this blog post. 


…undoubtedly music had a fundamental relationship to humanity.  It softened and soothed the hardness and harshness of life.

(Hotson in “Sunday Night Meeting AT THE SOCIALIST HALL,” 1920)

If there is one aspect of our band movement that has stood the test of time it is a willingness to play for all and encourage participation in music making.  One might say it goes with the territory.  However, our bands are special groups, and at times, they have performed for people who are in life situations where they are separated from general society.  It was judged at the time, rightly or wrongly, that this was necessitated, but it is not for this post to comment on the why.  It is the purpose of this post to highlight where band music has made a difference to the lives of the people within various institutions.

Let us turn back time to the early 1900s where we will find that the description, function, and language of these institutions is very different to what we know now.  It was not uncommon to read early newspapers and reports which mention Prisons and Orphanages, but also Lunatic Asylums, Benevolent Asylums, and Colonies.  It was also not uncommon in the newspapers to label anyone who was resident at these institutes as inmates – even hospitals.  The language of this post will draw upon the language of the time with its early usage and naming conventions, even if we are uncomfortable with this language in our own time.

Music had a role to play in such institutes, not only for listening but also for making and participating.  In the early 1900s, much thinking was being given to the humane way in which the people in the institutes could be treated and kept occupied, and music was a key activity.  We can view this as early forms of music therapy and there were some very forward-thinking people who made sure that music, partly through bands, became a staple part of the institutional routines.

At the start of this post is an early photograph of the (R.V.I.B.) Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Brass Band from approximately 1890 which clearly displays how a meaningful activity such as a band was accessible.  This post will firstly show how bands made a difference through performances as many different institutions invited bands to come and play for their residents.  The next sections will highlight bands that were set up in institutes such as Orphanages, special institutes, and prisons.  This post will not be able to cover all forms of music making.  However, it will show how pervasive our band music was and how music was a pastime with a purpose.

Listening to music:

The institutions:

Several bands including the State Public Service Band, the Essendon and Moonee Ponds Salvation Army Band, and several other concert parties have kindly given concerts during this year.  These entertainments are very much appreciated and do much towards relieving the monotony of the patients’ lives. 

(Adey in Victoria. Lunacy Department, 1927b, p. 19)

There was no shortage of thanks given to bands for the work they did in these years, this mention by Mr. John K. Adey, then Medical Superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane, Sunbury being just one of them.  Aside from the two bands that are mentioned above, several other bands gave their services to the various Victorian Lunacy Department institutions including the Victorian Police Band, the Northcote Band (who visited the Hospital for the Insane, Ararat in 1925), the Beechworth Town Band, and the Essendon City Band (Victoria. Lunacy Department, 1914, 1927a, 1928).

Victorian Public Service Military Band. Herald, 06/06/1940, p. 7

This is just one series of examples noting bands visiting asylums, but why were they there? Firstly, these asylums were not pleasant places to be in, and too often we dwell on the negativity surrounding them, articles in the modern media being a prime example of focusing of the negativity of old asylums (Kamm, 2018; Pike, 2015).  This perception of negativity is a holdover from the early part of last century where the public knew very little about what went on inside these asylums because they were, essentially isolated. As Ann Hardy (2019) notes in her blog post about perceptions and lost voices of the asylum,

Asylums were considered as having unsuitable management, and not providing adequate care, and being isolated only fuelled negative ideas about them and further pushed institutions and inmates out of societies view. 

(Hardy, 2019)

Research by Dolly MacKinnon, however, shows that some social practices permeated the operations of asylums.  In a journal article about musical concerts in Queensland asylums, she wrote,

The insane were kept out of the public eye, yet the social and cultural values and practices of the times provided the filter through which appropriate musical recreation and employment were determined.” 

(MacKinnon, 2000, p. 43)

In a later article she challenges the perceptions of the asylum.

Stereotypical views of asylums or mental hospitals do not conjure up images of recreation and entertainment, but rather places of isolation, gendered confinement, and boredom.  Yet within the surviving Australian institutional records (from 1860 to 1945) it is clear that medical and lay staff, patients, and volunteers went to great lengths to provide entertainment and recreation of asylum inmates.

(MacKinnon, 2009, p. 128)

She further writes that,

…between the 1860s and circa 1945 the provision of recreation for Australian psychiatric inmates came from three main sources; paid professional groups, volunteers (from both inside and outside the asylum), and the asylum band.  Asylums made continuous and strenuous efforts to include the community in many of these activities.  Those that did volunteer were publicly thanked in their efforts by the medical staff.


Recreation was one of the few asylum activities that attempted, albeit in a highly regulated way, to encourage patients to respond and interact in appropriate ways in a social, physical, as well as an emotional sense.” 

(MacKinnon, 2009, p. 134 & 145)

The presence and performances of bands in these kinds of institutions was very important to the well-being of patients and staff.

The bands:

Herald, 05/02/1917, p. 6

It was not uncommon for bands of this time to go and support these institutions either through their playing at the institution or by raising money through other means.  We can see this through articles published in the newspapers of the day and the reports that were submitted to the government of the day.  An article published in an August 1904 issue of the Daily Telegraph newspaper from Sydney tells us that the Newtown Brass Band played at the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane and there were a number of visitors in the grounds to listen to them  – although one the inmates escaped during the performance.  (“ESCAPE FROM A LUNATIC ASYLUM.,” 1904).  The Oakleigh Brass Band from Melbourne were quite active in this area of performance and the Talbot Colony for Epileptics and the Cheltenham Benevolent Asylum were two of the beneficiaries of their visits (“ASYLUM INMATES ENTERTAINED,” 1917; “Talbot Colony for Epileptics,” 1914).

Daily Telegraph, 15/08/1904, p. 7

General Hospitals also hosted performances of brass bands as they sought to bring some music and entertainment before their patients and staff.  The Lakes Creek Brass Band (pictured below) was booked to play at the Rockhampton General Hospital at various times during 1914 (“THE LAKE’S CHEEK BRASS BAND.,” 1914).  Likewise, the Darwin Brass Band paid a surprise visit to the Darwin Hospital to play a selection of music at Christmas time, a performance that was very much appreciated by the audience and communicated to the band by the Matron in charge (“XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL.,” 1920).

The Lakes Creek Brass Band, 1909. (source: IBEW)

As well as boasting their own significant music program which once included a brass band, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind also hosted performances by various musical groups.  The employees of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board generously gave their time to provide some entertainment for the Institute and part of this entertainment included items played by the Malvern Tramways Band (“TRAMWAYS ENTERTAIN BLIND FOLK.,” 1925).  Likewise, in later years, the bands of the Victoria Police (pipe and brass) also gave their time to play for the R.V.I.B. (“Police help for Blind Institute,” 1947).

Of course, the band movement in Australia was not alone in the way they provided music for these institutions.  The band movement in Aotearoa New Zealand was similarly engaged in doing the same kinds of performances.  For example, in the Te Waipounamu South Island city of Christchurch, on the Sunday before Christmas each year all the bands in the city would turn out to perform at various institutions and hospitals (“BANDS’ VISITING DAY,” 1938).

Press, 19/12/1939, p. 13

And as mentioned, the bands turned out for charitable events to aid in the care of the infirm.  In one instance, the newly-formed Richmond Boys’ Band was featured in an article published by the Richmond Guardian newspaper when they assisted at an event to provide support for the Blind Soldiers’ Fund (“Richmond Boys’ Brass Band,” 1918).

The work of the Salvation Army bands should also be noted as they were also very active in this area of performance. Below is a photo of a Salvation Army Band visiting the Peel Island Lazaret which was a facility to house Queensland sufferers of Leprosy.

Salvation Army Brass Band visiting Peel Island Lazaret (Qld.) during 1920s. (source: State Library of Queensland: 74802)

There was no doubt that the bands were busy in this area of performance, and full credit to the work that they did. 


Postcard: St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band. Champions of Australia, 1906 (source: Jeremy de Korte Collection)

While the workings of the Lunatic Asylums were virtually unknown to the public at the time, the same could not be said for other institutions such as the Blind Institutes and the Orphanages.  And both mentioned types of institutions promoted their musical activities to the extent that the bands attached to them had excellent reputations.  The musicians that both programs produced were very good and in Victoria for example, while some former R.V.I.B. musicians did display their talents outside the Institute, the Orphanages were better known for producing some of Australia’s finest brass musicians.  This section will briefly examine the music-making at both forms of institutions.

The Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind:

Lantern Slide: Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Orchestra, 1900. (source: Museum Victoria Collections: MM 95962)

Music-making at the R.V.I.B. was an activity that was immersed in the daily routines of the students, and this involved singing, piano, organ, a string orchestra, and a brass band.  A first mention of a brass band at the R.V.I.B. is made in an article published by The Age newspaper as far back as 1874 where they played “The Standard Bearer March with excellent precision and time” (“DEAF AND DUMB INSTITUTE AND BLIND ASYLUM.,” 1874).

It appears that the Institute’s musicians were sent out to tour and raise funds as soon as they could do so.  Judith Buckrich, in her book on the history of the R.V.I.B, details some of the tours of the musicians, and even in the earlier years, the touring was quite extensive.  From an Institution that started in 1866, to have musical groups sent to various places in Victoria by 1877 was a remarkable achievement.

The Asylum’s musicians and singers were often on the road.  In 1877, the choir gave concerts in Taradale, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Eaglehawk, Echuca, Maryborough, Chinaman’s Flat, Stawell, Ararat, Beaufort, Learmonth and Ballarat.  The band performed in Emerald Hill, Eltham, Dandenong, Footscray, Berwick and other places.  They earned £827 for the Asylum.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 36)

Reflecting on music-making at the Institute as a whole, some writers asserted that the musicians at the R.V.I.B were performing at a higher standard than amateurs. A writer under the pseudonym of ‘Assistant Needlewoman’ wrote an expansive article for the Argus newspaper in June 1886 in which she meticulously detailed the workings of the Institute (Assistant Needlewoman, 1886).  She offered this considered opinion of the musical skills of the students.

While the musical world of Melbourne is divided as to whether there shall be a chair of music, a conservatoire, or whether, as would be best, we should be content for the present with a grand orchestra, the material for which is almost ready to hand, the claims of this well-known and deserving institutions are entirely overlooked.  With one conscientious and painstaking music teacher, upon whom is laid the Herculean task of giving instruction in piano, organ, and solo-singing, the pupils of the Blind Asylum have already done enough to show that they are worthy of the best professional training to be had.

(Assistant Needlewoman, 1886)

The article by ‘Assistant Needlewoman’ correlates with the history detailed by Buckrich as in 1888, there are some detailed accounts of how many students are involved in music-making.

Members of the choir and band numbered twenty-nine, and some students were members of both.  Eighteen students were being taught the piano and two, the organ.  Many concerts have been given during the year and this activity had earned the institution the tidy sum of £480 after expenses.  It seems that the choir and band now enjoyed free travel on the railways.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 50)

Four years after the article penned by ‘Assistant Needlewoman’, a writer with the pseudonym of ‘Benvolio’ visited the R.V.I.B. and was most impressed with what he saw during his visit – “All will agree that the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind is one of the most humane establishments in the colony…” (Benvolio, 1890).  He wrote an article for the Illustrated Sydney News newspaper which was just as detailed as the article written by four years earlier.  Benvolio’s remarks on the music program provide us with some additional insight.

…in most cases, they find outside employment, either at their trades or in teaching music, for which most of them display a wonderful aptitude, one of the former pupils being a very successful teacher in one of the suburbs, and at present bandmaster of the Asylum, which boasts a very efficient brass band and string band, besides a senior and junior choir, and several very capable solo vocalists and pianists, to say nothing of the more advanced pupils referred to, whose performances on the organ are astonishing.

(Benvolio, 1890)

As mentioned, musical groups such as the choir and string orchestra frequently went on tour and we can see that in some Victorian and Tasmanian towns, the visits were precluded by letters in the local newspapers explaining the charitable situation of the Institute (Hogarth, 1897; Winkelman, 1897).  The R.V.I.B. was always in need of funds and “one sources of funding that remained reliable was the concerts given by its various bands, orchestras and choirs.” (Buckrich, 2004, p. 58).  While the R.V.I.B. groups were in the towns, they were assisted by many of the town’s folk – and the local bands.  In two instances, the Ulverston Brass Band and the Rutherglen Brass Band were thanked for their help (Hogarth, 1900; “Victorian Institute for the Blind.,” 1893).

In the early 1890s we can see that the list of engagements for the band was not so much in towns and tours, but for specific events.  The “Royal Agricultural Society Annual Show”, “Roman Catholic Bazzaar, Albert Park”, “Miss Turner Grammar School Sports”, and the “Caulfield Grammar School Sports” are just some of the engagements the band performed at during 1892 (Buckrich, 2004, pp. 58-59).

The work of the R.V.I.B. was expanded during the First World War to help returned soldiers who had become vision impaired and blind, and the choir and band “gave several concerts at the Base Hospital, as well as the Soldiers’ Lounge in St Kilda, to assist the Red Cross with funds” (Buckrich, 2004, p. 82).  It is unclear as to the official status of the band in future years after the early 1900s.  However, the music department is still an integral part of the Institute.

Seventy-three students received instruction in music during 1922 – mainly in pianoforte, violin. Class and solo singing, flute, cornet and other band instruments, harmony, counterpoint, and the art of teaching.

(Buckrich, 2004, p. 95)

The Orphanages:

The Largs Bay Orphanage Band. The Chronicle, 11/11/1922, p. 29

Admittedly, there is so much material on the exploits of the many Orphanage bands that they warrant a whole post just to unravel the fine work they did with their bands.  And unfortunately, this post will gloss over most of the achievements of these groups.  However, they do fit into this context of this post as the bands were set up to provide a musical activity to the routines of Orphanage boys and girls.  The newspaper photo above of the Largs Bay Orphanage Band shows an Orphanage band that was unique in Australia as all the band members were female – this band was also mentioned in a previous post (de Korte, 2018).

Orphanage bands in Australia were a copy of practices in England where the teaching of music in boys’ institutions was commonplace (Sheldon, 2009).  There was, however, a major difference to the outcomes of this musical education between the two countries.  Boys who were trained as musicians in English institutions readily found themselves recruited into the bands of the British Army and Navy (Sheldon, 2009).  Whereas the musicians that graduated from the Orphanage bands in Australia found themselves positions in the wider band movement.   Sheldon (2009) identified some benefits to music education in British institutions which were applicable to Australian Orphanages.

The evidence from the boys’ letters shows that they valued the intrinsic benefits of belonging to the band and learning an instrument.  For some poor boys, musical education offered a relief from the rigours of institutional care in circumstances where there were few pleasures on offer.

(p. 747)

We know that Orphanage bands in Australia have had a long and distinguished history, as well as enviable reputations.  The St. Augustine’s Band from Geelong is probably the most famous of them all, and it is mentioned that by 1898 they were already putting the call out for a new set of instruments (“ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND.,” 1898).  St. Augustine’s went on to win many competitions at South Street in Ballarat and toured extensively – in one instance, in 1906 they won the A Grade Championships at South Street (Royal South Street Society, 1906).  The band at St. Vincent’s de Paul in Melbourne was no less famous than their counterpart in Geelong and in 1921 they gained the services of Mr. Leslie Hoffman, a graduate of the St. Augustine’s Band, as their conductor (“St. Vincent’s Bandmaster,” 1921).  The Minton Boys’ Home Band in Frankston gained the services of another champion Geelong bandsman, Mr. Harry Shugg, when he became their instructor in 1928 (“BOYS’ BAND.,” 1928; Davies, 2005).  In Ballarat the boys at St. Joseph’s Orphanage Band were conducted by the very famous Frank Wright (pictured below) (St Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924, 1924).

Frankston and Somerville Standard, 20/04/1928, p. 4
St. Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924. (source: Victorian Collections: Federation University Historical Collection: 11049)

With so much talent from the Australian band movement involved in the music education areas of the Orphanages, it is no wonder that the bands did as well as they did.  As well as being an activity to occupy the minds of the Orphanage boys and girls, it also gave them a sense of purpose and achievement.

Westmead Orphanage Boys’ Band. Southern Cross, 30/10/1936, p. 10

The fourth prison band in the world:

The clock in the prison tower strikes the hour of midday. The prison brass band – a dozen trained prisoners – has fallen in on the grass plot in the central quadrangle.  At a signal from the official in charge it bursts into an inspiring rendition of Off to Glory march.  There may be dilletante criticism of the music’s aesthetic quality.  There can be no doubt of its volume and its lilting spirit.

(“A NEW PENTRIDGE.,” 1923)

Pentridge Prison really needs no introduction as an institution as innumerable stories have sprung from its bluestone walls.  It was not a place that immediately springs to mind as a place for music-making. Yet that is exactly what happened in the early 1920s.  Pentridge Prison became the institution that hosted the fourth prison band in the world.

Up until the early 1920s, Pentridge Prison was operated like many other prisons in Victoria under the governance of the Penal and Gaols Department.  Reports on the on Victorian prisons from this time were not very informative and focused mainly on statistics – the reports of 1922 and 1923 being prime examples (Penal and Gaols Department, 1923, 1924).  Conditions for the Victorian prisoners were hardly humane as prisons “had been designed to ensure prisoner separation” (Paterson, 1997, p. 134).  However, as Paterson (1997) and Wilson (2014) identified in their respective research papers into the history of Victoria’s prison system, it is in the early 1920s when the Penal and Gaol Department, and Pentridge Prison, underwent a series of reforms.  The key to these reforms was prisoner education and music-making was a strong part of this.

Efforts by people such as Mr. Gibson Young, an eminent Melbourne musician with strong managerial skills and an association with the brass band movement, sought to bring music into Pentridge through community singing.  In 1921 he had the full intention of running community singing in the gaols. 

Now that the Music Week organisation has been placed on a more or less permanent basis, my executive committee is anxious to do all in its power to bring the good tidings of music into every department of civic life, and realises that no better opportunity for upliftment exists than among the prisoners in our gaols.

(Young, 1921)

While community singing was useful as an ad hoc form of recreation and a break in the prison routine, The new governor of the Pentridge in 1922, Major Walter Condor, had bigger ideas and he wanted to form a brass band.  His plans were outlined at the of the Tattersalls Club in Melbourne where he was trying to solicit donations for three pianos at Pentridge (“PIANO FOR PENTRIDGE,” 1922).  Major Condor, having previously overseen the A.I.F. camp at Langwarrin, had very firm ideas about making Pentridge a much more humane place for the prisoners and introducing educational reforms.

To the strains of “home, Sweet Home,” Victorian criminals may yet be welcomed back to the prisons after new convictions.  The provision of music for prisoners is one of the ideals of the governor of Pentridge Major Condor, and he hopes for much from such an experiment in the reclamation of the State’s “Bad Hats.”


Major Condor said that one of the most humanising things was work, and next to that was music.


Ten days later, Major Condor gained further support for a brass band at a conference of the National Federation at Ballarat where some delegates thought it was a very good idea.  A Dr. Booth thought his “idea was a good one” and that “It was essential that the prisoners should not only have plenty of work to do, but the mind should be occupied after working hours.” (“A PRISONERS’ BAND.,” 1922).  And so, the brass band at Pentridge was created.

At first it was conducted by Mr. Gibson Young, and he had obviously used his contacts in the brass band movement to get the instruments and music that were needed – the Coburg Brass Band and Malvern Tramways Band were two bands that are mentioned as having donated these items (Cremona, 1923).  Mr. Young, who was associated with the Malvern Tramways Band, had apparently “remarked that Major Condor might try to inveigle members of the Malvern Tramways Band into Pentridge to strengthen the personal of his band” (Cremona, 1923).  One wonders what Mr. Harry Shugg, then conductor of the MTB, might have thought of this remark (if he knew about it).

An article published in The Herald newspaper in February 1923 gives us some insight into the way music has begun to transform life at Pentridge.

There are already 15 men in the band.  Some of them have had experience in regimental bands, some of have been connected with various bands that are not known in Pentridge.  Others have just “taken to music” as the best means of whiling away the time until they can know again outside of the walls.

 (“PRISON DE LUXE,” 1923)

By April 1923, the work that was taking place at Pentridge was noticed by the Chief Secretary, a Mr. Baird who was most impressed with what he saw in the music-making and the effect it had on prisoners (“IMPROVEMENTS AT PENTRIDGE,” 1923).  And some months later, Pentridge was a prison that was well on the way to reformation, all under the watch of Major Condor (“A NEW PENTRIDGE.,” 1923).  Mr. Gibson Young, the bandmaster of the prison band and conductor of the community singing, left his position (and Australia) in September 1923 and was presented with a gold-mounted baton by the band (“GAOL MUSIC,” 1923).  

Mirror, 22/09/1923, p. 2

Major Condor left the prison in November 1923 to try a new career radio broadcasting (Thomas, 2006).  While he had only been governor at Pentridge for eighteen months, he had overseen substantial reforms that benefited the prisoner population and facilities.  

He gave the prisoners more healthful surroundings, brightened their quarters, permitted slight decorations of the cells, and with a colour scheme has banished gloom from the long corridors.  He gave them a brass band, Saturday and Sunday concerts, taught them games, improved their methods of working at trades by installing electric machinery in the shops, and increased their self-respect.

 (“MR. CONDER.,” 1923)
Herald, 06/02/1926, p. 17

On a slightly humorous note, a letter was published in the Labor Call newspaper apparently from a prisoner at Pentridge.  In this letter, he provides his ‘opinion’ on the band.

Our brass (very brass) band keeps a fellow from getting the “blues,” except when they play “Home, sweet home.” We are going to petition against the tune, as it only applies to the “Gov.” himself – he has a good home here.” 

(No. —, 1924)

The band at Pentridge prison kept going from strength to strength at from these early years and were noted by all that saw them perform.  They were, or course, part of a bigger picture of reform at the prison, and Pentridge was no longer seen as a dull institution (“AN HOUR IN PRISON.,” 1927).  The band had established themselves quite a bit over the subsequent years, to the extent that the Governor of Pentridge at the time, Mr. J. Brown, thought that the prisoners at Pentridge led all other prisoners in Australia in their musical abilities – he wanted them to go up in musical competition with the prisoners at Goulburn prison.  (“GAOL MUSIC DERBY,” 1935).

Literally there is music in the air at Pentridge every day.  An accomplished brass band of 26 instruments, led by Warder George Williams, plays marches and waltzes as the gangs go to and from their labours at the lunch hour.


On a side note, when researching this post, this author learned that the Cornet used by Warder George Williams was donated to the Coburg Historical Society in 1978. 

Herald, 17/01/1938, p. 11

The Pentridge Brass Band lost the services of bandmaster Warder Williams in 1938 when he moved to Geelong to become an attendance officer for the Education Department (“FAREWELL TO PRISON BAND CONDUCTOR,” 1938).  Depending on which source is accessed, he was the conductor of the band for seven to ten years.  Evidently, the band was still in operation in the early 1950s as they were mentioned in an article published by The Herald newspaper about the new prison brass band which had been established in the Ballarat Gaol (“HARMONY IN GAOL,” 1951).  In 1954, the State Government spent £1,000 for a whole new set of instruments for the Pentridge Brass Band (“News of the Day,” 1954).

Herald, 12/11/1951, p. 5

It is unclear what happened to the Pentridge Prison Brass Band after the 1950s due to a scarcity of available records, and unfortunately, this author was unable to locate a picture of the band.  However, it is evident that the band had a very positive effect on the prisoners and staff, and that it fitted into the reforms that swept over the Victorian prison system.  


There were many different types of music-making in these institutions, some which was kept hidden and others that were very much out in the open.  However, whatever the type of institution, the singular aim was to improve the mind with wholesome activities.  Music was the perfect activity, and bands were the outcome.  This was music therapy at its best.


Assistant Needlewoman. (1886, 26 June). AMONG THE BLIND: THE VICTORIAN ASYLUM AND SCHOOL. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6099966

ASYLUM INMATES ENTERTAINED. (1917, 05 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242459034

BANDS’ VISITING DAY. (1938, 19 December). Press,13. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19381219.2.115

Benvolio. (1890, 02 August). MELBOURNE INSTITUTIONS: THE VICTORIAN ASYLUM AND SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND. Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1881 – 1894), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63615405

BOYS’ BAND. (1928, 20 April 1928). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74994629

Buckrich, J. R. (2004). Lighthouse on the boulevard : a history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, 1866-2004. Australian Scholarly Publishing. 

CONCERT BY WESTMEAD ORPHANAGE BOYS’ BAND. (1936, 30 October). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167081032

Conder, W. T. (1926, 06 February). One Year of Broadcasting. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244058874

Cremona. (1923, 02 April). MUSIC AND MUSICIANS : CURRENT GOSSIP. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243801873

Davies, S. A. (2005). One thousand white onions : a history of caring for children from 1865. Menzies. 

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 22 April). Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/04/22/early-female-brass-bands-in-australia-they-were-rare-but-they-made-their-mark/

DEAF AND DUMB INSTITUTE AND BLIND ASYLUM. (1874, 18 December). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201534539

ESCAPE FROM A LUNATIC ASYLUM. (1904, 15 August). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236885955

FAREWELL TO PRISON BAND CONDUCTOR. (1938, 17 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244947562

GAOL MUSIC. (1923, 22 September). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77760324

GAOL MUSIC DERBY. (1935, 20 June). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182259204

Group of men wearing band uniforms and holding their brass instruments, R.V.I.B. [picture]. (1890). [negative : glass 16.3 x 21.4 cm. (full plate)]. [cr001189]. State Library Victoria, RVIB collection of glass negatives. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/32332

Hardy, A. (2019). “Islands of the Insane” – our records, perceptions and the lost voices from the ‘asylum’. Hunter Living Histories : University of Newcastle. https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2019/10/16/islands-insane/

HARMONY IN GAOL. (1951, 12 November). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247850691

Hogarth, J. T. (1897, 05 April). ROYAL VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210364264

Hogarth, J. T. (1900, 22 May). ROYAL VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND : To the Editor. Rutherglen Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser (Vic. : 1886 – 1957), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article268489459

AN HOUR IN PRISON : VISIT TO PENTRIDGE. : Where Gloom is Dispelled. (1927, 14 December). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96058047

IMPROVEMENTS AT PENTRIDGE : FOURTH PRISON BAND IN WORLD. (1923, 23 April). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213810752

Kamm, R. (2018, 28 February). Life inside Victoria’s 19th-Century ‘Lunatic’ asylums. Vice Media Group. Retrieved 13 September 2020 from https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/vbpqwj/life-inside-victorias-19th-century-lunatic-asylums

THE LAKE’S CHEEK BRASS BAND. (1914, 27 February). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article53319792

Lake’s Creek Brass Band, Rockhampton. (1909). [Photograph]. [phot20842]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures – Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

MacKinnon, D. (2000). ‘A captive audience:’ Musical concerts in Queensland mental instituions c.1870-c.1930. Context: A Journal of Music Reseach, Spring(19), 43-56. https://cpb-ap-se2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.unimelb.edu.au/dist/6/184/files/2017/01/19-5-A-captive-audience-172c2wo.pdf

MacKinnon, D. (2009). Divine Service, Music, Sport, and Recreation as Medicinal in Australian Asylums 1860s-1945. Health and History, 11(1), 128-148. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20534507

MR. CONDER : CONTROL OF PENTRIDGE GAOL : FAREWELL BY PRISONERS. (1923, 07 November). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93506230

MUSIC AID TO RECRUITING. (1940, 06 June). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243225676

A NEW PENTRIDGE. (1923, 02 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203628053

News of the Day. (1954, 11 December). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205727521

No. —. (1924, 24 December). LIFE IN GAOL. Labor Call (Melbourne, Vic. : 1906 – 1953), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article250083988

Paterson, W. C. (1997). Victoria’s prison policy 1851-1992: from hulks to unit management (Publication Number 21156) [PhD, University of Tasmania – School of Government]. Hobart, Tasmania. https://eprints.utas.edu.au/21156/

Penal and Gaols Department. (1923). Penal Establishments, Gaols, and Reformatory Prisons : Report and Statistical Tables for the year 1922 [Parliamentary Report](No. 25. – [1s] – 16851). Parliament of Victoria. https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1923-24No25.pdf

Penal and Gaols Department. (1924). Penal Establishments, Gaols, and Reformatory Prisons : Report and Statistical Tables for the year 1923 [Parliamentary Report](No. 26 — [9D.] — 15596). Parliament of Victoria. https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1924No26.pdf

PIANO FOR PENTRIDGE : PRISON CHIEF WANTS BAND ALSO. (1922, 05 September). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102724367

Pike, B. (2015, 03 March). Sydney’s shameful asylums: The silent houses of pain where inmates were chained and sadists regned. The Daily Telegraph. https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sydneys-shameful-asylums-the-silent-houses-of-pain-where-inmates-were-chained-and-sadists-reigned/news-story/b4205dc9a17e8ee0763711d93d720d04

Police help for Blind Institute. (1947, 13 September). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22507332

PRISON DE LUXE : PENTRIDGE MADE PLEASANT : Band Music, Electric Light. (1923, 27 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243791944

A PRISONERS’ BAND. (1922, 15 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903; 1916 – 1926), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213217073

Richmond Boys’ Brass Band to Make Debut at Racecourse Carnival for Blind Soldiers—Amazing Growth of Notable Movement that will Bring Fame to This District. (1918, 12 January). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811136

Royal South Street Society. (1906). 1906-11-04 Band Contests : Held at the City Oval Royal South Street Society Results Database. https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-11-04-band-contests

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. (1900). Lantern Slide – School Orchestra, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, circa 1900 [Lantern Slide, Standard (3¼ in. x 3¼ in.), Black & White]. [MM 95962]. Museum Victoria Collections, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Collection. https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/1390549 

Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s. (2007). [copy print : b&w]. [74802]. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680

Sheldon, N. (2009). The musical careers of the poor: the role of music as a vocational training for boys in British care institutions 1870–1918. History of Education, 38(6), 747-759. https://doi.org/10.1080/00467600903305590

St Joseph’s Orphanage Brass Band, 1924. (1924). [Photograph]. [11049]. Federation University Australia Historical Collection, Victorian Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/502db00e2162ef0f4c4ac157

ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND. (1898, 01 March). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150368016

St. Augustine’s Orphanage Band : Champions of Australia. (1907). [Postcard]. Geelong, Victoria. 

St. Vincent’s Bandmaster : Mr. Hoffman Returns to Melbourne. (1921, 13 January). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171054534 

Sunday Night Meeting AT THE SOCIALIST HALL : MUSICAL DEMONSTRATION : LECTURETTE BY MISS KATHLEEN HOTSON : PENTRIDGE JAIL METHODS CONDEMNED. (1920, 18 November). Socialist (Melbourne, Vic. : 1906 – 1923), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article240692618

Talbot Colony for Epileptics : Visit by Oakleigh Brass Band. (1914, 24 January). Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88807177

Thomas, A. (2006). Conder, Walter Tasman (1888-1974) [published first in hardcopy 1981]. In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 27 October 2022, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/conder-walter-tasman-5747

TRAMWAYS ENTERTAIN BLIND FOLK. (1925, 29 May). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165137965

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1914). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1913 [Parliamentary Report](25). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25004/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1927a). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1925 [Parliamentary Report](11). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25149/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1927b). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1926 [Parliamentary Report](37). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:25005/one

Victoria. Lunacy Department. (1928). Hospitals for the insane : report of the Inspector-General of the Insane for the year ended 31st December 1927 [Parliamentary Report](41). Parliament of Victoria. https://pov.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_GB/parl_paper/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:28338/one

Victorian Institute for the Blind. (1893, 27 January). Coastal News and North Western Advertiser (Ulverstone, Tas. : 1890 – 1893), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216216052

Wilson, R. (2014). Joseph Akeroyd: rediscovering a prison reformer (Publication Number 9921863848301341) [PhD, RMIT University – School of Management – College of Business]. Melbourne, Victoria. https://researchrepository.rmit.edu.au/esploro/outputs/doctoral/Joseph-Akeroyd-rediscovering-a-prison-reformer/9921863848301341

Winkelman, H. G. A. (1897, 25 November). THE VICTORIAN INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND—VISIT OF THE BAND AND CHOIR. Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86326868

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

Young, G. (1921, 25 November). Pentridge Music. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242631362

YOUNG MUSICIANS. (1922, 11 November). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 29. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87519427

A room to call their own: the space and place for bands

The old Orange City Band Hall (Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, October 2019)


There is no doubting that bands need material items to help them function as a band, as they do now.  And so, a previous post was written regarding instruments, sheet music and uniforms and how bands obtained such items .  Perhaps it was remiss of that post not to mention band rooms as an added essential item.  However, when researching for this current post, that omission is now justified – there is lots of historical writing on band rooms!

For the early bands, finding a room to practice in was no easy task.  We shall see that some of them were housed in stables, auction rooms, schools, rotundas, and most were subject to the whims and mercies of their local councils.  Several bands had to solicit funds from the general public for a variety of items, rooms included.  For some bands, they were able to build their own band room.  Bands that were attached to an industry were lucky enough to have rooms provided for them.

There is a similarity in the stories from across Australia when it came to bands and their rooms.  No doubt the bands themselves would have shared some of the stories when they met at events and competitions.  Bands, while competitive, are also collegial.

It is regarding band rooms that we see bands being innovative and inventive.  For the early bands, finding their own place and space was an achievement. Here are some of the stories.

Space, place, and memory:

Before this post delves into the practical stories on band rooms, it is important to explore the meaning of a band room to a community, to bands and to people.  The concept of space and place helps to explain this meaning – it is what is termed, “humanistic geography”; “A place can be seen as space that has meaning” (Selten & van der Zandt, 2011).  However, the concept of space and place should not be seen as entirely geographical.  There is social meaning as well.  It is people who provide meaning to a place and within places communities are made.

For a local band, having their own room was of great importance, they needed places to practice.  And having their own room gave them a sense of connectedness to the local community.  As Mackay (2005) writes in his article, “…connection to place is vital to our sense of identity – both personal and communal.” (Mackay, 2005).  To be able to inform a local community that their band was rehearsing in a certain place also gave the band a sense of local identity.  Rooms were a place to call home, where band members could rehearse and were also part of a band’s history.  A room was a source of pride:

The powerful sense of that place – the look of it, the feel of it, the smell of it – will stir all kind of emotions in you, positive and negative, not accessible via mere memory.

(Mackay, 2005)
Jerilderie Town Band, date unknown. (Source: IBEW)

For some bands people, the room gave them a sense of connectedness with the local community and their fellow band members.  Often, all it takes is a mention of the room to trigger a strong memory.  Mr H. A. McVittie, former bandmaster of the Jerilderie Town Band mentions reading a paragraph published in the Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser newspaper in April 1945 about the destruction of the old band hall by fire (“Jerilderie Shire Council,” 1945).  For Mr. McVittie, this act triggered very strong memories, not only for the band room, but for himself and his fellow band members.  The article published in May 1945 opens:

Mr. H. A. McVittie, writing from Collarenebri, where he conducts the Collarenebri “Gazette,” has had memories of his old home town awakened by a paragraph which appeared in a recent issue of this paper, in which the destruction by fire of the old band room in Eastern Park was recorded.  Says Mac:-

I was given some sort of a pulsation the other day when the “Herald” arrived and I read of the destruction of the old band room in the Eastern Park.  IF there was one place more than another that held for me many happy recollections of my old home town it was the old bandroom.  If I remember correctly it was built there by the one-time Jerilderie Municipal Council and placed at the disposal of the Jerilderie Town Band as a practice room.

(“The Old Bandroom,” 1945)

The remainder of the article is devoted to Mr. McVittie’s memories big and small, and it is wonderful to read these stories.  In the finishing paragraph, he wrote this poignant observation:

Well old towners, I must close down on this somewhat hurried and disjointed sketch.  But I feel that you will excuse me for just a passing memory of the old room that gave to me so many pleasant hours.

(“The Old Bandroom,” 1945)

This is just one example of a strong connection to place that a bands person has.  For Mr. McVittie however, the story does not end with the initial article in May as two months later, he writes to the Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser newspaper again.  One memory triggered many others, and old Jerilderie band people wrote to Mr. McVittie in Collarenebri and detailed their own connections with the band, the room and Jerilderie.

My memories of the old band room, which were recently published in the “Herald,” seem to have stirred the embers of the past and rekindled interest in the good old days – the days when we were young.  Letters have come to me from the most unexpected quarters in which the writers touch on some old Jerilderie theme or other, prompted by my references to the old band room, sketchy and incomplete as they were.


It would be fair to say that other bands people share similar recollections of their rooms and the social and musical connections that they made while associated with that place.  However, to allow this connectedness to develop, bands had to have their rooms…


South Melbourne City Band Grand Opening of Band Room & Rotunda, 01/02/1925 – march card backing. (Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Building a band room was an option open to many bands – once they had found a suitable site and had raised the funds.  This was a task that was undertaken only by the most committed ensembles as a reliance on their own labour and the goodwill of subscribers was taxing.  Nevertheless, for the most part, it became achievable, and the bands always had a sense of pride when they had a room they had built themselves.

Dealing with local councils and building regulations was the most difficult part as the Warragul Brass Band found in 1906.  They wanted to build a band room on a site that was currently being used by the local tennis and croquet clubs (“WARRAGUL BAND.,” 1906).  Unfortunately, the request was refused due to the incumbency of the said clubs at the site and the council wanting to build a new depot.  However, for the South Melbourne City Band, they had much more success with building a band room and a rotunda in 1925, as the march card backing above indicates.  They built their rotunda with labour provided by the bandsmen and friends for a total cost of £300 and held a grand opening and concert (“Albert Park Improvements.,” 1925).  This rotunda has unfortunately become a victim of change and is no longer in the park.

Then there was the fundraising aspect which either worked or did not work.  It is evident that communities were largely generous when the cause was right and the appeals from local bands were worthwhile.  The Hills Central Brass Band located in Adelaide was one group that laid out the reasons for their fundraising quite clearly in a 1912 article published in the Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser newspaper.  They held a concert to help with their building fund and implored the local community to help them:

It has been decided to hold a concert and social in the Mount Barker Institute on August 20 in aid of the Hills Central Brass Band building fund.  This is a most deserving institution and it is hoped that the public will recognise its usefulness and generosity by lending their patronage to this entertainment.  In all cases of distress and in many public festivities the band has volunteered assistance in the past and the least the public can do in return is to support it.

Collie Brass Band, winners of B Grade Championship, 1921 (Source: State Library of Western Australia: BA579/138)

Coming into 1918 we find that the Collie Brass Band from Perth was trying to secure land for a band room, and many supportive platitudes were written about the band by the colloquial writer ‘Bandsman’ in the local Collie Mail newspaper, and from this there was council support:

Some of the members are now playing in the leading Australian Military Bands in England and France and messages are continually coming through saying that they are keeping in form for the old band.  What would they say if on their return, they found the old band defunct?  It was within an ace of being so last winter solely through the lack of suitable practice room.

The Collie Council has realised the necessity and have promised to find a suitable block of land, knowing that a Band room will be an asset to the town and will always belong to the citizens as do the instruments and all other property of the band.

(Bandsman, 1918)

Some years later in 1926, the Katanning Brass Band from Western Australia found itself wanting to build their own room and they also called for public support.  In an innovative move, the Katanning Brass Band formed a committee out of representatives from many other community organisations to guide the fundraising and building of a new band room (“Katanning Brass Band.,” 1926).  They were ultimately successful in this strategy.  After a year of work, in January 1927 they opened their new band room:

Monday evening last marked quite an epoch in the history of the Katanning Brass Band, the occasion being the opening their own practise room.  A brass band may be regarded as a sort of semi-public institutions and a public utility.


They have been very thankful for the use of the fire station and other buildings loaned to them from time to time, but it has not always been convenient for both parties, and thus many drawbacks have been encountered. Then early last year a brilliant idea emanated from somewhere, a scheme to carry out a gala day.  The bandsmen recognised their own inability to put the matter through, and so they invited the assistance and co-operation of the various sports of the village, the ladies, and in fact all who had the welfare of the band at heart, and a willingness to join in.

(“Katanning Brass Band.,” 1927)
Millicent Brass Band, 13/04/1913. (Source: State Library of South Australia: B+57528)

In South Australia, local citizen, benefactor and Patron of the Millicent Brass Band, a Mr. H. F. L. Holzgrefe, J.P., proudly laid the foundation stone of their new band room (“MILLICENT BRASS BAND.,” 1928).  This had been an important project for the Millicent Brass Band and the significance was not lost on Mr. Holzgrefe who made these remarks after laying the stone:

The foundation stone was inscribed :- “This stone was laid by H. F. L. Holzgrefe, J.P., May 19, 1928.”  After it had been declared “well and truly laid,” Mr. Holzgrefe said the bandsmen had acted wisely in building a room for their own use.  It would tend to keep the members united, and make practising easier in many ways.  A band was a very useful institution, and no community should be without one.


Mr. Tothill warmly thanked Mr. Holzgrefe for his handsome contribution.  He then asked him to accept from the band an inscribed silver trowel as a memento of the occasion.  The president’s remarks were warmly applauded and Mr. Holzgrefe received an ovation when he acknowledged the gift.


It was admirable that some bands around Australia managed to get the funds together and build their own band room.  Unfortunately, it is unclear just how many of these band rooms survive.  However, if the picture of the Orange Brass Band Hall at the start of this post is anything to go by, no doubt, there are some around Australia that may have been repurposed. We only must look for them.


Short of building their own rooms, finding a suitable space was another option and whether the room was provided for bands by generous people or by councils, it was still a place to practice.  Again, there were instances when requests were mulled over as councils were sometimes very officious.

To start with it is worth exploring the experiences of some industry bands.  They were often luckier than most as they were provided with rooms on or near the sites of their industry.  The Thompson’s Foundry Band gained their first room in 1894 on the site of the Thompson’s Foundry in Castlemaine (“FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM.,” 1894).  As reported in the Mount Alexander Mail newspaper:

The opening of the new Foundry band-room erected in Parker-street, was made the occasion of a social last night tendered by the President, Mr David Thompson.  The room, which is a commodious one for practice, is 25ft long, 10ft wide, and 12ft high.  It is nearly painted green, with a dado of chocolate colour.


It was also lucky for the Thompson’s Foundry Band that the head of the foundry was a great supporter of the band.  The Thompson’s Foundry Band still rehearse in a building associated with the foundry.

The Advocate, 06/04/1912, p. 22. This building was added to the property of the nearby tram depot in 1930 and extended.

Likewise, the Malvern Tramways Band started out rehearsing in a room within the tram depot and then in 1930 they moved into old school buildings acquired by the tramways for the recreation of their employees (“BAND NEWS,” 1930).  The building, pictured above when it was De La Salle College, was renovated by the tramways to include two more spaces behind the original hall and was mainly used by various tramway employee clubs such as bands (both brass and harmonica) and sporting groups (Heritage Council Victoria, 1999).  It was soon after, in 1931, that the Malvern Tramways Band moved out of this building and into converted stables owned by the Malvern Council behind Northbook House.

(Former) Northbrook House Stables. Now home to Stonnington City Brass (formerly Malvern Tramways Band). (Photo taken by Jeremy de Korte, July 2013)

As mentioned, the local councils had quite an influence on how bands obtained rooms and as early as 1896 we see that disagreements sometimes arose, as was the instance between the Palmerston Brass Band in Darwin and the District Council.  Published among the many news items on the 4th of December1896, we can see this snippet in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette newspaper:

The collision between the Brass Band and the District Council has, we believe, had the effect of raising the charge for the Town Hall to a fixed figure for all societies and clubs using it.  By and bye, when the Masonic Hall is an established fact, the social public will not need to bother the Council, and the revenue of the Town Hall will decrease rather materially.

(“Notes of the Week.,” 1896)

Four years later we find the Palmerston Brass Band is using a room provided for them by a Mr. H. Dwyer, of which he was thanked in an annual general meeting (“Palmerston Brass Band.,” 1900).

The Hawthorn City Council found the plight of the Hawthorn City Band more favourable.  In May 1909 it was reported in the Richmond Guardian newspaper that “the patronage of the Hawthorn City Council has been bestowed upon the above band, and a room had been provided for the band to practice in.” (“Hawthorn City Band.,” 1909).  In 1918 however, the Daylesford Brass Band, wishing to reform, found themselves in differing circumstances.  The Secretary of the Daylesford Brass Band sent a letter to the local Borough Council asking if the council could provide a room where the band could practice, a perfectly reasonable request.  It seems that at the time, the band instruments and music from a former iteration of the band were stored in the Town Hall Lodgeroom, and “could the council supply the bandmaster with a key?” (access was needed every so often) (“BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED.,” 1918).  Which, unfortunately, touched off a debate within council on why the instruments were in the Town Hall in the first place – not so much the fact that the band wanted a practice room!  However, it also seems that a number of the instrument were in fact owned by the council so they stayed where they were. (“BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED.,” 1918).

Similar stories of councils deciding when and where bands could rehearse make up a large part of stories around rooms.  The Picton Council could find no objection to having the Picton District Brass Band wanting “free use of the supper room on Monday nights for band practice […] providing they pay for the electric light.” (“Picton Brass Band,” 1931).  However, there were other cases when councils could not, or would not help their local bands locate rooms, and a couple of instances in Queensland involving the Warwick City Band and Mackay City Band Association reflect this (“NO LARGER BANDROOM AVAILABLE,” 1945; Scotia, 1941).

Daily Mercury, 27/11/1945, p. 2

There was obviously a delicate balance involved when trying to find rooms and it seems that dealing with councils formed a major part of negotiations, as councils tended to be the judges of where things were put, and they controlled some of the funding.  Nevertheless, for some bands it all paid off and they were able to practice in rooms provided for them.


Portrait of the Nerang & District Brass Band, Queensland, formed in July, 1902. (Source: State Library of Queensland: 3612)

Once rooms were found or built, bands were free enough to use them as they saw fit although by today’s standards, some of the locations were a bit unusual.  We can see little stories in the articles above where bands rehearsed in fire stations and the like.  This section will highlight where some of the bands rehearsed and some of the problems that were encountered.  The Nerang & District Town Band for example started out rehearsing in the stables of the Nerang Nestle Milk Factory which cannot have been a wholly comfortable experience (Gold Coast City Brass Band, 2014).  Down south in Victoria, the Horsham Brass Band and the Oakleigh District Brass Band found themselves in rooms provided for them by generous supporters, until they found something else (“BAND ROOM.,” 1908; “Oakleigh District Brass Band.,” 1918).  The Kempsey Brass Band from N.S.W. were pleased to report that they were in slightly more appropriate quarters as they found space in the local School of Arts (“KEMPSEY BRASS BAND.,” 1921).  Whilst the Frankston Brass Band in the southern reaches of Melbourne managed to gain space in the local Mechanics’ Institute (“Frankston Brass Band,” 1924).  Out west the Narembeen Brass Band rehearsed “in the old Westralian Farmers Buildings” (“Narembeen Brass Band.,” 1937).

However, like any building, band rooms were not immune to the problems faced by any other building in towns and cities and there were some unfortunate incidents.  In February 1925 it was reported by the Blue Mountain Echo newspaper that the Katoomba District Band room had been broken into twice since Christmas (“Band-room Vandalism,” 1925).  While the damage was easily fixed, some instruments had been shifted and sheet music was strewn about.  The local police believed children were the perpetrators (“Band-room Vandalism,” 1925).

Much more serious was the threat of fire and two bands in the same year suffered the consequences.  In February 1926, fire consumed the room at the back of the Richmond Town Hall which was being used by the Richmond City Band  and unfortunately all band property was presumed lost, and the room and stock were uninsured (“FIRE AT RICHMOND.,” 1926).  This had a detrimental effect on the band and within four years the band had folded – on a side note, two artefacts survived and are now being held by the Richmond & Burnley Historical Society (Langdon, 2014).  Similarly,  in April 1926, fire broke out in the building used by the City Concert Band in Rockhampton however in this incident, all instruments were saved (“FIRE AT ROCKHAMPTON.,” 1926).

To finish off this section and to backtrack a little bit, we have the case of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and their wanting of space to rehearse.  In early years, as can be seen in the photo at the end of this post, it is rumoured that they used to rehearse in a quarry due to the lack of a room.  There might be some truth to the rumour however they too had to make applications to council for additional places to rehearse, in this case, wanting a park where they could practice their marching – which raised debate on whether this was appropriate on Sunday mornings (“THE SUNDAY QUESTION.,” 1905).


Northern Star, 15/06/1933, pg. 5

Yes, it had to happen every so often of which the early bands did the best they could to adapt.  Although at times, it involved the moving of buildings, as detailed in the article above (“BAND-ROOM REMOVAL,” 1933).  And moving buildings was sometimes a condition set upon bands by local councils, as the Albury Brass Band found out when they wanted to move the old fire station to a new site owned by council (“OLD FIRE STATION AS BANDROOM.,” 1916).


There is obviously much more that could be written about bands finding their own space and place as band room stories are intertwined with the histories of the bands themselves.  Rooms have their own histories.  How often do we see band rooms displaying the history of bands in the form of trophies, photos, shields and other ephemera?  Perhaps it is time we celebrated the rooms.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band rehearsing in a quarry, 1906. (Source: IBEW)


Albert Park Improvements : New Band Stand Opened. (1925, 02 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155554629

BAND NEWS : Malvern Municipal and Tramways Band. (1930, 07 August). Malvern Standard (Vic. : 1906 – 1931), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66452967

BAND PRACTICE ROOM WANTED. (1918, 18 October). Daylesford Advocate, Yandoit, Glenlyon and Eganstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119561430

BAND ROOM. (1908, 16 June). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72810141

BAND-ROOM REMOVAL : Building for Practices. (1933, 15 June). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article94219810

Band-room Vandalism. (1925, 27 February). Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 – 1928), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108852760

Bandsman. (1918, 28 March). THE COLLIE BAND ROOM. Collie Mail (Perth, WA : 1908 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189243021

Collingwood Citizens’ Band rehearsing in a quarry. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot19034]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

de Korte, J. D. (2013). Malvern, Vic. : Northbrook Stables : South side [Photograph]. [IMG_0413]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 08 July). Instruments, sheet music and uniforms: how the bands of old obtained the essentials. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/05/13/instruments-sheet-music-and-uniforms-how-the-bands-of-old-obtained-the-essentials/

de Korte, J. D. (2019). Orange, N.S.W. : Old Orange City Band Hall, 1888 [Photograph]. [IMG_4453]. Jeremy de Korte, Sydney, N.S.W. 

De La Salle Brothers’ Boys’ School, MALVERN : Blessed and Opened by the Archbishop : His Grace on the Education Question : Fair Play for Catholic Schools. (1912, 06 April). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170941033

FIRE AT RICHMOND : Band Hall Destroyed. (1926, 27 February). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155771911

FIRE AT ROCKHAMPTON : City Band Instruments Saved. (1926, 13 April). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21021996

FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM. (1894, 10 October). Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 – 1917), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198243209

Frankston Brass Band : First Practice on Friday, February 18. (1924, 06 February). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73498546

Gold Coast City Brass Band. (2014). History : If it happened on the Gold Coast then the Gold Coast City Brass Band was there to help Celebrate the Occasion. Gold Coast City Brass Band. Retrieved 07 August 2020 from http://www.goldcoastcitybrassband.com/history/

Hawthorn City Band. (1909, 22 May). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1907 – 1920), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257211806

Heritage Council Victoria. (1999, 08 September). Malvern Tram Depot : Coldblo Road Armadale, Stonnington City. Heritage Council Victoria. Retrieved 09 August 2020 from https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2138

HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND. (1912, 19 July). Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147747963

Jerilderie Shire Council. (1945, 19 April). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134629256

Jerilderie Town Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot6408]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Katanning Brass Band : Proposed Band Room. (1926, 13 February). Great Southern Herald (Katanning, WA : 1901 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147654428

Katanning Brass Band : Opening of new practice room. (1927, 24 January). Southern Districts Advocate (Katanning, WA : 1913 – 1936), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209839059

KEMPSEY BRASS BAND. (1921, 30 August). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234195704

Langdon, D. (2014). Brass bands [Newsletter article]. Richmond & Burnley Historical Society Newsletter, 31(5), 2 & 4-6. 

Mackay, H. (2005, 15 October). A sense of place. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/a-sense-of-place-20051015-ge11sy.html

Millicent Brass Band. (1913). [Photograph (b&w print)]. [B+57528]. State Library of South Australia, Millicent Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+57528

MILLICENT BRASS BAND : Successful Building Appeal : A Generous Patron. (1928, 22 May). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77706076

Narembeen Brass Band. (1937, 11 March). Bruce Rock Post and Corrigin and Narembeen Guardian (WA : 1924 – 1948), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211359163

NO LARGER BANDROOM AVAILABLE. (1945, 27 November). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170630099

Notes of the Week. (1896, 04 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3333362

Oakleigh District Brass Band : A Valuable Local Institution. (1918, 16 February). Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88808027

The Old Bandroom : Former Bandmaster in reminiscent mood. (1945, 03 May). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134632025

OLD FIRE STATION AS BANDROOM : Removal and tenure of occupancy. (1916, 16 September). Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times (Albury, NSW : 1903 – 1920), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109967848

OLD MEMORIES NEVER DIE : Further reflections from Collarenebri. (1945, 05 July). Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134633491

Palmerston Brass Band. (1900, 23 February). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4259300

Picton Brass Band : To practice in Town Hall Supper Room. (1931, 14 October). Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112760838

Portrait of Nerang and District Brass Band, Queensland, formed in July, 1902. (1902). [photographic print : black & white]. [3612]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, South Bank Collection. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/143348

Scotia. (1941, 20 May). CORRESPONDENCE : Band Practice Room : (To the Editor). Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189029180

Selten, M., & van der Zandt, F. (2012, 25 October). Space vs. place. About Geography. Retrieved 20 August 2020 from http://geography.ruhosting.nl/geography/index.php?title=Space_vs._place

South Melbourne City Band. (1925). South Melbourne City Band : Grand Opening [March card backing]. South Melbourne City Band, South Melbourne, Victoria. 

THE SUNDAY QUESTION : Band practice at Collingwood. (1905, 29 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198599129

WARRAGUL BAND : Request for Bandroom Site. (1906, 12 June). West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic. : 1898 – 1930), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68669583

Williams, H. W. (1921). Collie Brass Band, winners of B Grade Championship [1 negative : acetate, black and white ; 3 x 4 cm.]. [024861PD]. State Library of Western Australia, Collie Museum collection of photographs. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3507727