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

The old Orange City Band Hall (Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, 19/10/2019)


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.  A number of 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: Internet Bandsmen’s Everthing Within)

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. (“OLD MEMORIES NEVER DIE,” 1945)

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, in order 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. (“HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1912)

Collie Brass Band, winners of B Grade Championship, 1921 (Courtesy of the 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. (Courtesy of the 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. (“MILLICENT BRASS BAND.,” 1928)

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 have to 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 in particular 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. (“FOUNDRY BAND-ROOM.,” 1894).

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.

Advocate, 06/04/1912, pg. 22. This buildng 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) Northbook House Stables. Now home to Stonnington City Brass (formerly Malvern Tramways Band). (Photo taken by Jeremy de Korte, 27/07/2013)

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).

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

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).

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. (Courtesy of the 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 in their own right.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band rehearsing in a quarry, 1906. (Source: Internet Bandsmen’s Everything Within)


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]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot19034.jpg

de Korte, J. D. (2013). Northbrook Stables, South entrance [Photograph].

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, 19 October). Old Orange City Band Hall, 1888 [Photograph].

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]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot6408.jpg

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. 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)]. [MILLICENT: A view of the Millicent brass band, taken on Sunday April 13th, 1913.]. 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]. 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. (2011). Space vs. Place [Wiki Page]. About Geography. 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 [Photograph]. [1 negative : acetate, black and white ; 3 x 4 cm.]. State Library of Western Australia, One day in Collie. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3507727

Brass bands of the New South Wales Central West: Part 1: Bands for every town

Orange District Band, 1928. (Image courtesy Central West Libraries)


Nearly every small town in New South Wales can speak of their own band, and why should a town with the population of Condobolin be so far behind the time? (Band Enthusiast, 1902)

This question was asked in a letter to the Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder newspaper in January 1902.  The person who wrote the letter under a pseudonym, “Band Enthusiast” asked a worthy question as to why his town had not caught up with the times and started their own band.  Condobolin is a town located in the Central West region of New South Wales and at this time, they were lagging behind other towns in the region.  By the time 1902 has ticked around, some towns in the Central West have already had bands for the best part of a decade.  Condobolin was feeling left out and wanted a band to boost civic pride and give townsfolk something else to do.

There is always a bigger picture and if we were to examine layers of history, patterns of immigration and the development of towns, agriculture and industry, we would find that the bands of the Central West were very much products of their location and people – and there were many of them!  For the purposes of this post, the focus will be on a large regional block of New South Wales; Lithgow and Bathurst in the east, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo in the west, Mudgee, Galong Wellington & Tottenham in the north and Oberon, Blaney, Cowra, Grenfell and Forbes in the south with many localities big and small in between.  It is just over 400km from Lithgow to Lake Cargelligo and from North to South around 200km.  As you can see from the brief list of towns, there are some famous places, some of which are etched into Australian psyche and history. The middle line of Central West can be drawn through the towns of Lithgow, Bathurst, Orange, Parkes and Condobolin.  Below this introduction is a Google map of this area.

For the sake of brevity with reading and writing, this blog topic in two parts.  Part 1 focuses on a little history of the N.S.W. Central West and stories of the individual bands.  Part 2 focuses on the various iterations of the Western Band Association and regional competitions.  Given that there were twenty-eight bands that have existed in the Central West, this provides us with a rich history of music-making.  Much like a previous post on the bands surrounding Canberra, this post is a result of a visit to Orange in October 2019 where various resources were accessed thanks to the assistance of the excellent librarians at Orange Library.  They pointed out several features of their own town related to brass bands and I was naturally curious about the other bands in the region.  The Trove archive has also provided an amount of information.

One might say the development of bands in this region is very typical when compared to other parts of Australia, and to some extents this is correct.  Well-might every town in the Central West have a band or want a band.  They were community groups to be proud of.

The Central West:

To provide some context to the bands in this region, it is important to appreciate the history of the region as a whole.  Early settlers travelled various locations, mainly to farm sheep on the vast plains although some towns were originally settlements to house convicts (Blainey, 2001; Kass, 2003).  The main impetus to population growth was the discovery of various minerals across the region namely gold, copper, shale, limestone and coal and most of the miners originated from Wales and Cornwall (Kass, 2003; Payton, 2005).  With greater migration came town services and recreation as well as transport links – roads and railways.  Kass (2003) wrote of the migration, “These new people left their mark.  Sometimes, particular ethnic practices of skills affected the area” (p. 16).

Naturally, some towns grew bigger than others due to their location on major transport routes, the success of the mines or agriculture.  Some towns like Hill End dwindled due to the exhaustion of mines (“Hill End,” 2004; Hodge, 2013).  Others, like Bathurst, were regional centres in their own right – Bathurst, in particular, is one of the first towns established after the crossing of the Blue Mountains (Blainey, 2001).  European influences on some towns are obvious.  Below are some pictures of two bandstands in Orange located in parks at either end of the town centre.

Robertson Park Bandstand, Orange (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)
Cook Park Bandstand, Orange (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)

The history of this region is fascinating, and it is through the development of these industries and towns that gives rise to brass bands, an amount of which are still in existence.  These famous towns are historic in their own right.  The bands themselves developed reputations that extended far beyond this region.

British Influences:

If we consider that the main immigration of the time was from Britain where brass bands had already taken hold in certain areas, it stands to reason the ethnic practices that Kass mentions would include certain kinds of music-making.  Bythell (2000) tells us that this was no accident,

The successful transplantation of the brass band to the colonies in the late nineteenth century should not surprise us, given the importance of ordinary, wage-earning immigrants from Britain in building-up Australasia’s population and developing its communities and institutions.  The contribution of British-born bandsmen to Australian banding is particularly noticeable in mining areas whose counterparts in ‘the Old Country’ were major centres of the movement. (p. 227).

More specifically and related to the regional area, Payton (2005) states that “Brass bands were popular among the Cornish at Hill End, Bathurst and elsewhere…” (p. 234).  The link between mining and brass bands cannot be understated, and the names of some of the early bands reflected this origin.  This was very much a transplanting of culture and the Central West became blessed with a number of brass bands.

Where bands were formed:

Parkes Town Band (Source: IBEW)

In most of the major towns, they could boast one band although some had two or three.  In the smaller towns, they could claim one band.  As is the case with some of these activities, some bands folded or merged.  In 1908 for example, the Parkes Brass Band merged with the nearby Parkesborough Brass Band to become a single entity (“Parkes Brass Band.,” 1908).  Below is a table showing a list of locations where brass bands were mentioned, most of which were in existence in the early 1900s.  Today a number of bands remain in the major towns and these are highlighted by links – interestingly, some of the bands that exist today in this region are now concert bands.  The source of the table data was from various newspaper articles found in the Trove archive:

Bathurst Bimbi Blayney Canowindra
Condobolin Cowra Cudal Cumnock
Eugowra Forbes Grenfell Gulgong
Hartley Vale Hill End Kandos Lithgow
Millthorpe Molong Mudgee Oberon
Orange Parkes Peak Hill Portland
Stuart Town Tullibigeal Wellington Yeoval

There was no doubting the enthusiasm, civic pride and motives of the early townsfolk when it came to starting brass bands.  However, it was not only townsfolk who started bands.  Robert Bartlett (2018) wrote in his book Orange and District: A History in Pictures. 2 that “…a volunteer band attached to the Volunteer Military Corps in Orange was established about 1874” and that “The Orange Town Band was formed in the late 1880s” (p. 48).  Here, this is an example of two bands that had existed in the town in relatively early times.  The Orange Town Band was afflicted with a few stops and starts in its early years, however, it still exists to this day (Bartlett, 2018).

It is interesting to see how local newspapers reported on proposals to start bands or reported on bands already in existence.  For example, a correspondent writing for the Peak Hill Express in August 1902 says of the newly formed Yeoval band,

One would scarcely think of hard times and drought at the small township of Yeoval, since the local Brass Band has commenced practice.  The Bandmaster, (Mr. Kennerson) came yesterday from Eugowra to give his pupils their first lesson.  I am afraid (although I should be very sorry to dishearten our amateurs), that some time will lapse before the Yeoval Brass Band will appear in a contest or even turn out a few professional players” (“YEOVAL.,” 1902)

The optimism is admirable given that Yeoval was a small township located inland from the main road linking the major towns of Molong and Wellington.

Expressions of enthusiasm for staring a brass band in the town of Cudal, located on a road from Orange to Forbes was all very well.  But this enthusiasm was tempered by a pragmatic question over instruments, as written in an article from March 1902 in the Leader newspaper,

Cudal boys intend on starting a brass band.  Why not?  Mr. Walter Carter, who has been considerable time in the band at Wellington, and who is settling in town, will act as instructor and also conductor.  The trouble is, where are the instruments coming from?  Perhaps some person who is interested will push the thing ahead.” (“CUDAL.,” 1902)

This is, of course, another aspect of starting a brass band, finding the right people to actually start them and instruct pupils!  In the town of Cumnock, located near the towns of Yeoval and Molong, they found a person willing to start a band.  A local and popular factor manager, Mr R. E. Higgins pushed an effort to start a band and it seems he was successful (“CUMNOCK.,” 1904).  The Cumnock Brass Band was still in existence in 1927 (“CUMNOCK.,” 1927).

The township of Kandos, located south-east of Mudgee, provides an interesting example of how to start a band properly.  Aside from the fact that got started much later than other towns, an article published in the Lithgow Mercury in March 1918 tells us much.  It seems their town band was going to be supported financially by the N.S.W. Cement Co., so all they really needed from potential musicians was “determination and enthusiasm” (“KANDOS.,” 1918).  And they really wanted a band for the town,

As a town band is a means of pleasurable entertainment, a welcome relaxation from the workers’ daily round and common task that appeals more than any other, the committee confidently look to the citizens of our model township for aid and support, financial and other ways.  Meanwhile, a goodly number of names of intending members with more or less experience has been booked, and quite an encouraging number of names of intending pupils have likewise been handed in.” (“KANDOS.,” 1918)

Nine years later we find that the Kandos Town Band is thriving.  In the September 26th issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, an article about the happenings of brass bands in New South Wales is published and there is a small paragraph on the Kandos Town Band:

Kandos Town Band has emerged from its winter seclusion and rendered a fine programme on Sunday, September 11 under the baton of Bandmaster Julius.  The band has always had strong financial support and its efforts are always appreciated.” (“New South Wales,” 1927, p. 23)

Then, of course, are the times when bands have, for whatever reason, gone into recess and then reformed.  Such was the case of the Oberon Brass Band in 1936 when a tiny article published in the Sydney Morning Herald makes mention of the reformation of this band (“OBERON BAND RE-FORMED.,” 1936).

The old Orange City Band Hall (Photo taken in October 2019 by Jeremy de Korte)

Some of the brass bands mentioned above were located in smaller towns and faced challenges that did not really affect bands in bigger locations, though that did not stop these towns trying to start them.  We know that bands in some of the bigger centres of “Bathurst, Wellington, Orange, Blaney, and Lithgow” were in existence by the early 1890s (“Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893).  The Orange City Band, as we can see above in the photo, was lucky enough to have its own band hall.   The band in the tiny town of Yeoval might have had aspirations of entering competitions but for the bands in bigger towns with more resources, this was a reality.  It was seen in an earlier post how the Bathurst District Brass Band travelled all the way to Ballarat to compete in the first South Street band sections in 1900 and gained high praise for their playing (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900; Nedwell & Hill, 1900; “To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  For many other bands in this region, travel to neighbouring towns or to Sydney for competitions became routine, no doubt helped by the early railways.  The nature of competing and competitions for these bigger bands will be examined in Part 2 of this blog post.

Challenges laid bare:

Grenfell Town & District Band, ANZAC Day 1923 (Source: IBEW)

Operating a band was not an easy task.  And the early newspapers show numerous instances of where the local band put out a call for help.  Most of the assistance was to be in the form of small concerts or other events that would provide funds for a band.  In September 1900, a tiny article published in the Wellington Times newspaper asks the townspeople of Stuart Town to support their band,

At a public meeting held at Stuart Town on the 17th instant (Mr. A. G. Coleman in the chair) it was decided to hold a concert and social at Boehme’s Hall, on November 9, for the purpose of putting the funds of the Stuart Town brass band on a sound financial basis.  Tickets for the concert will be 2s and s, and for the social 3s and 2s.  Mr. Howard Warn is the hon. Sec.” (“The Stuart Town Band.,” 1900)

Then there was the distinct challenge of gaining and retaining members of the band which was either overcome…or not. The McPhail and Peak Hill District Band was one ensemble that managed to turn things around with an effective recruitment campaign.  Through an article published in the Peak Hill Express from December 1905, we see why there was a loss of initial membership and how they are progressing,

For some time past McPhail and Peak Hill District Band has not been heard so frequently as in the past, for the reason that the members being miners, were mostly out of the district.  As a result, the Band has had to recruit, and this being done, with some £30 worth of instruments, the Band is on the up grade again, and during the coming year will be heard to advantage.  The members have some really fine instruments, and everything points to a bright future.” (“McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905)

One can sense the inherent frustration of a Mr W. H. Gray, committee member of the Grenfell Town Band through a supplementary report published in the Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser in August 1931 regarding some issues surrounding his band.  Firstly, Mr Gray has tried to justify the music library and choices of music for performances by stating,

In the first place the library referred to is an extremely important factor in the make-up of the band, and comprises all the music as used by them, and the same as in a reading library, there are good, band and indifferent pieces, and it requires a great deal of time to look through a quantity of music and make a selection of numbers that will be interesting to players to practice, and which will also please the majority of the listening public. […] Of course, there are numbers that will be uninteresting to the musically uneducated, but if we were to confine ourselves to the class of music that would appeal to that that type of listener we would get nowhere.  And so it is necessary to have an assortment that will appeal to the highbrow as well as the lowbrow, if I may be permitted to use that term.” (Gray in “TOWN BAND,” 1931)

Mr. Gray went on to making other forthright comments in his report of which are quoted here;

Most of them think the instrument has only to be blown into and it will play itself”


A lot of programmes could be much improved if I could get fuller rehearsals.  A lot to poor and bad spots in a performance are caused by members who only come along to rehearsal occasionally, and are not entirely familiar with the programme, and are not competent enough to read at sight, make mistakes which disconcert the rest of the players.”


In a small town like this there is not the same chance or privilege to get a better combination, as there is only a certain percentage or average of all who take up the study of music who ever amount to much, and distance from other places are a bar to attracting other players here.”


I would now like to appeal to the public for support.  We have to be continually adding to our library, instruments have to be kept in repair, and band room rent and lighting to be paid.  The bandsmen give a great deal of their time.  Of course it is looked upon as a recreation, but it is not always so, as duties often interfere with other plans, so that a band call is sometimes a sacrifice to the men.  […] You will now see it takes a certain definite amount of money to run a band, also a certain amount of sacrifice on behalf of the bandsmen, and as I hope the band gives a lot of pleasure to people that in the future better monetary support will be given that will enable us to continue and improve on the work already done.” (Gray in “TOWN BAND,” 1931)

This particular article was as informative as it was fascinating.  We see here a committee member who has outlined a number of frustrations yet still asks the public for support, as well as asking his bandsmen to give a greater effort.  The challenge of being in a smaller town without ready access to a pool of musicians and other resources is not unique.  To have laid it all out in a local newspaper to this extent is certainly brave – one wonders the comments he received from his bandsmen who might have read this!

Conductors and bandsmen:

Bathurst Town Band (Source: IBEW)

It has been mentioned at times in this post certain names of people who were influences on their local bands.  Again, this is nothing new when compared to other bands in Australia – this was a time of the journeyman band member who frequently changed towns and bands.  To keep up retention for any length of time was a major challenge.  Yet there were some remarkable stories of longevity and the lengths towns went to honour their brass band people.

The year is 1920 and, in an article, published in January of that year in the Bathurst Times, news breaks of a possible transfer of the conductor of the Bathurst District Band, a Mr Samuel Lewins, to somewhere else in N.S.W. because of employment.  This was a conductor who had been at the helm of the band for a considerable length of time,

Mr. Verbrugghen, the conductor of the State Orchestra, has been telling the public that he success of the orchestra is due to its conductor.  By the same line of reasoning the success of the Bathurst District Band is due to its bandmaster.  Is proof wanted?  It can be found in the fact that during the thirty-three years the band has been going it has had hundreds of members, but only one conductor.” (“BRASS BANDS,” 1920)

Rightly, or wrongly, there were fears the band would collapse if the conductor left the band,

Now there is a rift looming.  Bathurst is likely to lose Mr. Lewins, and in losing him the city is in danger of losing the District Band as we now know it.

This is how maters stand.  Mr. Lewins is an officer in the Railway service.  He is reaching the retiring age, and when that time comes (as will be in about two years), he proposes to remove to Sydney or some other centre.  Is Bathurst going to allow him to go without making an effort to keep him?


What will Bathurst do?  Will it get busy during the two years yet to go, and arrange to keep the District Band and its conductor, or will it sit down and allow matters to drift?  Two years is not a long time.  Some towns have been trying for a dozen years to get a man with the brass band knowledge of Mr. Lewins and with equal worth as a citizen, but have failed.  Bathurst has the musician man and the citizen, and should see that he is kept here.” (“BRASS BANDS,” 1920)

The story of Mr Lewins at the helm of the Bathurst District Band does not end here.  In 1926 we find that he is still conducting and as a measure of appreciation, the townsfolk honour Mr Lewins with a plaque as a testimonial to his now forty years as conductor of the band (“THE LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL,” 1926; “MR. S. LEWINS’ TESTIMONIAL,” 1925).  Mr Lewins kept conducting the band for another twelve years until 1938.  In 1936 he was further honoured for conducting the band for fifty years with the erecting of commemorative gates at Machattie Park (“LEWINS COMMEMORATIVE GATES,” 1936).  In 1938, having achieved the record as the “oldest bandmaster in the Commonwealth”, is suffering from ill health and has had to retire from leading the Bathurst District Band – by all accounts, this is an astonishing record (“MR. S. LEWINS,” 1938).  Two years after his retirement at the age of 78, Mr Lewins passes away with tributes flowing from band people all around Australia (“MR. SAMUEL LEWINS,” 1940).  For a brief time afterwards, the band is conducted by one of his sons and soon after Mr Harold Walmsley takes over as conductor of this band and the Bathurst Boys’ Band (“BATHURST AND ITS BANDS,” 1941).

Samuel Lewins was but one of many remarkable musicians that have called the Central West their home and the legacy of these musicians lives on.  One must recognize that every musician made a contribution to their bands, and in some cases to Australia as euphonium player and conductor of the Orange Town Band, Herbert Rockliff did in the AIF (Orange City Council, 2015).  To my knowledge, not one band conductor has come close to the Lewins record yet.

Bands of the Central West:

To reiterate a point, the development and running of bands in the Central West were no less compared to other bands around Australia.  In fact, it was fairly typical – challenges were commonplace.  However, to have so many bands in the one region did bring out the best of bandsmen and they did their best to keep bands operating.  Perhaps circumstance was unkind to some of them – they were tied to their towns and if the towns dwindled the bands folded.  But for the most part, at least in some of the bigger towns, their legacy lives on.

Peak Hill Band, 1911 (Source: IBEW)

Part 2: Association and competition ->


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