Canberra is a unique city as it was fully planned and designed wholly to house the seat of Federal Government in Australia. By Australian standards, it is also a very young city having only been in existence just over a century. It stands to reason that any artistic groups that are located in Canberra are also very young.
As it is with the Canberra City Band…
Having visited Canberra recently, I did some thinking about the other bands that most likely existed in towns around Canberra, and then it was a matter of finding them. After visiting local libraries, it surprised me that there is not more history on these groups. However, some historical snippets clearly exist. It is a matter of putting them all into place.
The purpose of this post is not to redo the history of the Canberra City Band as there is already an excellent history of the band, Mr. Chifley’s Baby: The Canberra City Band written by William Hoffman OAM and John Sharpe. Rather, this post will provide an overall view of banding in this area of New South Wales and the ACT with the aim of showing the development of the Canberra City Band in context. Around Canberra in the local towns and regional centers, there were a number of brass bands, so the cultural knowledge of brass banding was already in place when the building of Canberra commenced. Interestingly, only some of the other bands seem to have the longevity that the Canberra City Band now holds – perhaps this is a benefit of starting at a later date…?
The Southern Tablelands:
Within this region, as can be seen by the map below, there is the typical layout of country Australia with regional centers, rural towns, and other localities. And then there is Canberra, the seat of the Federal Government and a city in its own right. Quite a few of these towns are famous having gained their reputations for being railway towns, centers of Shires, being near stunning natural geography, or sitting on transport routes and rivers. Nowadays with the main highways bypassing these towns, they are still famous for historical architecture, arts, museums…the list goes on. The railways had their part to play with many towns located on the Main South railway from Sydney – Melbourne via Goulburn and Yass. Or they were located on the line from Goulburn to Bombala that went via Bungendore and Queanbeyan. The only working part of this line is now from Goulburn – Canberra (Gee, 2017). With this proximity to transport, people traveled, and news spread. As populations grew, so did the services and with these settlements came local brass bands.
To place a geographical boundary on this post, the focus stretches from the tiny locality of Nimmitabel in the south to Goulburn and Yass in the north and from Braidwood in the east with Canberra roughly in the center.
The bands start up:
Unfortunately, there are no definitive dates on when some of the band started but we can have a general idea when searching the Trove archive. What is evident, and interesting, is that many local bands appear to have started in the late 1800s. In local papers we see little items about performances and meetings – this gives a general clue. In 1887, the Goulburn Evening Penny Post reports on the second performance of the Gunning Town Band where they marched through town to their band room at the railway station (“GUNNING.,” 1887). The correspondent also notes that any future performances of the band “will tend to greatly relieve the dull monotony of things in general” (“GUNNING.,” 1887). Also in 1887, the first pictures of local town bands start to appear as shown below by this early photo of the Yass Town Band.
A report from 1890 in the Goulburn Herald newspaper makes mention of a Goulburn Model Brass Band however no less than six years later a new brass band is formed called the Goulburn District Brass Band (“Goulburn Model Brass Band.,” 1890; “NEW BAND.,” 1896). This new Goulburn band, and another band called the Our Boys Band were noted for playing Christmas Carols around town a years later (“Goulburn Brass Bands.,” 1897). Further south in the town of Queanbeyan, a Goulburn musician by the name of Harry White was reported to be wanting to start a brass band in the town in 1892 (“Brass Band for Queanbeyan.,” 1892). Evidently, when musicians travelled, their services were sought after and in some cases their reputations preceded them.
Coming into the new century there are a few more reports of activities of other local bands. We see there has been a social event to aid the Queanbeyan Fire Brigade Band in 1902 and in 1904 the Bungendore Brass band has been out and about (“BUNGENDORE,” 1904; “Social.,” 1902). 1904 was obviously a good year for bands as a correspondent reported on the creation of a Nimitybelle District Brass Band (“NIMITYBELLE DISTRICT BRASS BAND.,” 1904). The town of Nimmitabel (as it is now known) lies to the south of Cooma on the road to Bombala and although the band was not very big, it obviously elicited a sense of town pride. The picture below shows the Nimitybelle District Brass Band in 1910. Of interest is an article from 1904 reporting on efforts to hold a band contest in Goulburn with the endorsement of the NSW Band Association (“BAND AND MUSICAL CONTESTS.,” 1904). From reading the article we can see that it was going to be a very proper contest with test pieces, a set march, and monetary prizes.
The bands of the region acted as formally as possible as these rules from the Bungendore Brass Band tell us (“BUNGENDORE BAND RULES.,” 1912). However, it seems that something had happened to the nearby Queanbeyan Band as they had to hold a meeting to try to get it restarted in 1914 (“QUEANBEYAN BRASS BAND RESUSCITATED.,” 1914). This meeting had a successful outcome regarding the reformation of the Queanbeyan Brass Band and as can be read, a new bandmaster was appointed, and old instruments and musicians called back into rehearsals.
In 1913 the construction of Canberra commenced which meant that towns on the railway line became very busy places handling the transhipment of materials and workers (Gee, 2017; Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). And while the other brass bands in many little towns and regional centres had already established themselves, Canberra’s band was about to get started.
Canberra City Band:
It was not until 1925 that we first see a report outlining the formation of a brass band in Canberra with a set of instruments donated by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne (“CANBERRA’S FIRST BRASS BAND.,” 1925). The reason for forming a band was mainly out of concern for the welfare of the workers, and to give them something to do in their down time (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). Indeed, as Hoffman OAM & Sharpe write of the first musicians,
The strength of the brass band movement throughout Australia at that time meant there was no difficulty in finding sufficient players of reasonable competence among the workmen in the city. Rehearsals were held in the Acton Community Hall.(Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013, p. 3)
In a sense, the reasoning for forming a band is not at all different from the many industry bands that have been created for the benefit of workers. Some months after the first article was written, the Canberra Community News published an article on the progress of the new band.
The Band has commenced practice, and residents at Acton, it is understood, live only for Monday and Wednesday evenings, when Bandmaster McGuiness knocks the Band into shape with a view to its first public appearance, which is fixed for an early date. Mac. is indeed zealous in the Band rooms, and is so intensely interested that it requires all the persuasive powers of Bob Ellis and others to inveigle him into the ‘bus at the end of the evening. Transportation to and from practices organised by the Commission is working satisfactorily. It is some undertaking to assemble 20 bandsmen from the scattered suburbs of the City.(“CANBERRA BRASS BAND,” 1925)
It should be noted that in the early days of Canberra, the Federal Commission ran buses to and from various activities so that residents and workers could travel easily (Ling, 2013).
A year later in 1926 the Canberra City Band gained a committee of management to steer the band and it’s written that the band has already presented a number of performances (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926). However, as can be seen in the article, the band had just appointed its second Bandmaster in just its second year of operation (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926). It should be noted that in the band’s first eleven years of operation before it went into recess in 1937, the band went through six Bandmasters (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).
Unlike many of the other brass bands around the region, of which the history is harder to find, the Canberra City Band came out of recess in 1947 with William Hoffman OAM as its conductor, of whom conducted the band until 1976 (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). The Canberra City Band survives to this day as a highly successful ensemble.
The development of the Canberra City Band could be described as fortunate timing or circumstance. Either way, the city Commissioners recognised that there was a place for a band in Canberra and took advantage of the fact that a culture of brass bands was well-established in many other parts of Australia. As well as this there was the wider development of brass bands in the towns around Canberra in the preceding years which no doubt helped contribute to the development of musicians and conductors. History will tell that the region had a strong banding culture and it is through the early photos and articles that we can see the musical and community life of the region as it once was.
BAND AND MUSICAL CONTESTS. (1904, 17 October). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100544725
Brass Band for Queanbeyan. (1892, 12 December). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103402040
BUNGENDORE. (1904, 14 June). Age (Queanbeyan, NSW : 1904 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31097058
BUNGENDORE BAND RULES. (1912, 21 May). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1907 – 1915), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31394162
CANBERRA BRASS BAND. (1925, 14 October). Canberra Community News (ACT : 1925 – 1927), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66061273
CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER. (1926, 28 October). Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1208213
CANBERRA’S FIRST BRASS BAND. (1925, 20 August). Federal Capital Pioneer (Canberra, ACT : 1924 – 1926), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36247355
First Bungendore Brass Band. (1904). [Photograph]. . http://www.canberrahistory.org.au/detail.asp?rID=14872
Gee, S. (2017, 24 July). Why does the Sydney-Canberra train stop in Kingston and not the CBD? ABC News. Retrieved 30 June 2018 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/curious-canberra/2017-07-24/why-does-the-sydney-canberra-train-stop-in-kingston-not-civic/8714866?nw=0&r=HtmlFragment
Goulburn Brass Bands. (1897, 30 December). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104556444
Goulburn Model Brass Band. (1890, 24 April). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102829043
GUNNING. (1887, 15 October). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98470399
Hoffmann OAM, W. L., & Sharpe, J. (2013). Mr Chifley’s baby : the Canberra City Band. Canberra City Band, Inc.
Joe Lyon, drummer, Canberra City Band, 1926-1937. (n.d.). [Photograph]. . Collingridge, Canberra, A.C.T. http://www.canberrahistory.org.au/detail.asp?rID=13842
Ling, T. (2013). Commonwealth Government records about the Australian Capital Territory (Vol. 25) [Research Guide]. National Archives of Australia. https://www.naa.gov.au/help-your-research/research-guides/government-records-about-australian-capital-territory
NEW BAND. (1896, 23 September). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article101115900
NIMITYBELLE DISTRICT BRASS BAND. (1904, 08 August). Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser (NSW : 1862 – 1931), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129104564
Nimitybelle District Brass Band. 1910. (1910). [Photograph]. . Monaro Pioneers. http://www.monaropioneers.com/nimmitabel/musicians/district-brass.htm
Portrait of Braidwood Brass Band. (1914). [1 negative : b&w ; 9.4 x 12 cm.]. [nla.obj-13702166]. National Library of Australia. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-137072166
QUEANBEYAN BRASS BAND RESUSCITATED. (1914, 06 January). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1907 – 1915), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31400300
Social : In aid of the Queanbeyan Fire Brigade Brass Band. (1902, 07 June). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 – 1904), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31092324
Yass Town Band, 1887. (1887). [1 negative : b&w ; 9.4 x 12 cm.]. [nla.obj-140366586]. National Library of Australia, Whitehurst Yass photograph collection. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-140366586