Bands on Australian islands: unique challenges in unique environments

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Kangaroo Island (South Australia):

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

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

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

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

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

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

There you go, we have been told!

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

King Island (Tasmania):

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

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

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

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

Phillip Island (Victoria):

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

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Examiner, 30/08/1947. pg. 3

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

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

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

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

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Herald, 09/07/1934, pg. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Island and Thursday Island (Queensland):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peel Island (Queensland) and Norfolk Island:

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark

Introduction:

If one were to read various articles or histories of brass bands or view photos from a period from 1900-1950’s, they would notice an almost total lack of material relating to women playing brass instruments.  This is not to say that women were not involved in brass banding with the many women’s’ auxiliaries supporting bands.  However, when women did play brass instruments it was reported very differently to male brass bands.  It did not help matters that some articles from newspapers were patronising in tone and that female brass bands, when they were formed, were treated as a novelty – until they started playing!

It was a different time, and in the period from 1900 to the 1950’s society was in almost constant upheaval with two world wars and the Great Depression to contend with.  However, people craved things that were familiar to them so in some cases where male brass bands were not available, a female brass band was formed.  The Salvation Army was at the forefront of female brass bands but even their bands were treated as a novelty.  What is evident from research is that there were pockets where female brass bands were welcomed, but in other quarters attitudes were hard to shake.

This is an aspect of Australian band history that is probably not well known, however, it is important to recognize the fact that while female brass bands were rare, they certainly made their mark and paved the way for more females to join bands in the latter half of the last century.  The story here will cover some of the more notable female brass bands that were formed, and some personalities.  Yes, there was some underlying sexism, and this will be touched on – we wonder at these attitudes today.  These historical pictures and articles tell an amazing story of life and from this we can see the achievements of female band musicians.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no definitive list of female brass bands in Australia. However, due to the rarity of female brass bands, others have attempted to create a listing and the list by Gavin Holman has included the more notable Australian female bands (Holman, 2018).  Hopefully in the near future a more substantial list will be produced.

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Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band, 1933

Enter the Salvation Army:

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Daily Telegraph, 1905, p. 8

The Salvation Army have always been well-known for the quality and musical standard of their brass bands, and this reputation has stretched back for many decades.  So it was near the start of the 1900’s that the Salvation Army, having run male brass bands for many years, started a female brass band and it is from this decision that the Daily Telegraph publishes an article in 1905 with a patronising headline (“AN AMAZON BRASS BAND.,” 1905).  This is but one early example where the formation of a female brass band is treated as a novelty, despite being formed by the Salvation Army.  As can be read in the article, part of it focuses on the uniforms the members will be wearing, but nothing on the women playing instruments.

This band is taken on tour and is used as a demonstration band in various towns and cities.  On the 8thof February, 1906 the Barrier Miner newspaper covers the visit of the “Austral Brass Band” to town and the article is a perfect display of attitude giving way to admiration (“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  As the reporter has written,

Some curiosity has been aroused by the advent in Broken Hill of a ladies’ brass band having for its name “The Austral” and being comprised of 21 lady performers dressed in Salvation Army costume.  As these bandswomen took the tram to the southern suburb last night, many observers speculated on what their bright faces must suffer when puffed up at the end of a bass instrument or when trying to sustain a long passage on the cornet.

From the opening number is was easy to see that the Austral Band is one that is worth listening to.  The bandswomen do not stand when rendering a selection, but are seated in four rows, and seem to exert themselves no more than is absolutely necessary.  The effect of the music in the piano passages is much sweeter and less masculine than a men’s band, while the forte portions of the selections are surprising in their volume of sound.  The attention to time and harmony which was evinced in last night’s performance discloses the long training which the Austral Band must have been through under a good master.”
(“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906).

Very much an article of two halves and the language is varied.  Unfortunately, the perception that females should not be playing brass instruments due to the aesthetics of playing is one that is published occasionally, as will be seen in a later article.

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Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band, 1906

Around the States, but mainly in South Australia:

The formation of female brass bands was not consistent across Australia and it is evident that in some States the idea of female brass bands was not supported.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note where they formed (and which bands they were).  Holman (2018) has listed these bands as having existed in the time period from 1900-1950:

New South Wales:

  • Silver City Ladies’ Brass Band (Founded in 1940)
  • Sydney Ladies Brass Band (1930-1945)

Queensland:

  • Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band (Active in 1940)

South Australia:

  • Burra Cheer-up Girls Brass Band (Founded in Nov. 1915)
  • Clare Girls’ Band (Active 1914 – 1918)
  • Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band (Active from 1921)
  • Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band (Active from 1919)

(pp. 71-73)

As can be seen by this list, South Australia had an amount of female brass bands during this time and as Holman has written that this was mainly due to bandsmen enlisting in the armed services for WWI, and the women stepped forward to form bands (Holman, 2018).  Certainly this was the case for the bands from the towns of Burra and Clare (Sara, 2014).  The Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in 1919 and built themselves up over many years (“A LADIES’ BRASS BAND.,” 1919).  The Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band is interesting as it was obviously formed in the same manner as other orphanage band, although by looking at the photo in their article they included woodwinds as well (“WEEK’S PICTURES,” 1923).  The playing from this orphanage band was well regarded and appreciated (“THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL.,” 1922).  The photos below attest to the presentation and demeanour of these ensembles.

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Courier-Mail, 1934, p. 10

Both New South Wales and Queensland had female bands, but these were formed much
later than the bands in South Australia, although obviously the Salvation Army female band is an exception.  The Silver City Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in Broken Hill in 1940 and the Brisbane Ladies band was formed around the same time (“Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City,” 1940; Holman, 2018).  On a side note, it is the idea of a female band forming in Brisbane that brought out another bout of sexist (and instrumentalist?) behaviour in the media with the publication of a letter in a local newspaper in 1934 (“That Ladies’ Band,” 1934).  As can be seen by the article, the language says it all and mirrors that of the writing from 1906 – old attitudes don’t seem to go away.  In later years, as mentioned in a previous blog post, a girls’ brass band was started at Balranald High School and a picture of them is in this article from 1949 (“GIRLS and a BRASS BAND,” 1949).

The story of the Sydney Ladies’ Brass band will be brought up later in this post as it has a special story which is interlinked with a story from Victoria.

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Clare Girls’ Band, 1914
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Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band, 1940
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Silver City ladies’ Band, 1940

Female bands in Victoria?:

Victoria has long been regarded as a centre of bands however when it came to female bands there was a distinct lack of progression.  Through research it appears that the first real proposal for starting a female brass band appeared in 1937, which is late compared to South Australia (“LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED,” 1937).  One could perhaps view this as a battle against bandsmen conservatism.  However, in amongst this came the remarkable story of Hilda Tansey who eventually became Australia’s first recognised female band conductor (Bound for Australia, 2014).

The cited blog post outlines much of Hilda’s life in brass banding. In summary, Hilda learnt brass from her father and travelled with her father around Victoria (Bound for Australia, 2014).  Her father (who was a noted bandsman in his own right) eventually became the bandmaster of the Traralgon Brass Band and it is here were we first see a picture of Hilda with her Tenor Horn sitting in amongst the other band members (see below) (Bound for Australia, 2014).  This was obviously an extreme rarity in Victorian banding to have a young female playing brass in a proper brass band.  Yet soon after this photo was taken, Hilda is listed as a member of the Traralgon brass quartet that contested the South Street competition in 1917 (“Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions.,” 1917).  Hilda’s career in bands progressed from this time.

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Traralgon Brass Band, 1915?

The Sydney Ladies’ Band:

The Sydney Ladies’ band deserves special mention for being the most well-known of all female brass bands in Australia, and even more so after Hilda was appointed conductor in 1934 (Bound for Australia, 2014; Holman, 2018).  Again, much has been written about the Sydney Ladies’ Band by Holman and the Bound for Australia blog post, so this is a summary of the life of the band.  The band was formed in 1930 but had early financial difficulties however Hilda and other ladies took it over in 1934 and had the debt repaid through member contributions, paid engagements and social functions (Holman, 2018).

The band was quite busy in Sydney and participated in numerous parades and other events (Bound for Australia, 2014).  In 1936 the band broke even more ground by becoming the first female brass band to enter the City of Sydney Interstate Band Contest in the Open D Grade section against eight male brass bands (“WOMEN’S BAND,” 1936).   During the years of WW2 the band was involved in entertaining troops at various camps, however, later in the war years “the R.S.L. refused to let the band march on ANZAC Day 1945, and this was a contributing factor to the members’ decision to disband.” (Holman, 2018, p. 73).  As for Hilda Tansey, she kept up with her brass band activities and is seen in a picture from the 1960’s playing with the Randwick District Town Band (Bound for Australia, 2015).

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Sydney Ladies’ Band, 1934

Conclusion:

Against some odds there were female brass bands in Australia and these bands, for the brief time they were in existence, made their mark and gained favourable reputations.  It is unfortunate these bands did not survive; however, it is shown that their legacy lives on.  Who is to say if they were ahead of their time as some bands were started out of a social necessity, whereas other bands were started as recreation and training for women and girls.

We can look back at those times and wonder what it was like and thankfully there are the articles and photos that allow us to do that.  We can also look back and wonder at the attitudes and language from some quarters where they felt that women should not play brass instruments due to aesthetics! Nevertheless, where there was a will, there was a way as Hilda Tansey clearly demonstrated with the Sydney Ladies’ Band.

I hope that the history of female brass bands becomes better known in Australia instead of the patchwork of little histories.  In amongst all the other histories of banding in this country, this is one of the special stories.

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Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band, 1918

References:

AN AMAZON BRASS BAND. (1905, 16 August). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237688608

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

Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions. (1917, 11 December). Gippsland Farmers’ Journal (Traralgon, Vic. : 1893 – 1896; 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88813153

Bound for Australia. (2014, November 29). Hilda and the Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band. Blog post Retrieved from https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/1779/

Bound for Australia. (2015, January 31). Dockside with the Randwick District Town Band. Blog post Retrieved from https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/dockside-with-the-randwick-district-town-band/

THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL. (1922, 20 January). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167027361

Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band [photo: 15733]. (1940). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot15753.jpg

Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band [photo: 6239]. (1918). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16239.jpg

Clare Girls’ Band [photo: 3428]. (1914). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot3428.jpg

Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City. (1940, 08 March). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48343327

GIRLS and a BRASS BAND. (1949, 17 December). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22799163

Holman, G. (2018, April). Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries. Acadmia.edu. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/36360090/Women_and_Brass_the_female_brass_bands_of_the_19th_and_20th_centuries

LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED. (1937, 27 February). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), p. 30. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223891110

A LADIES’ BRASS BAND: Formed at Streaky Bay. (1919, 31 May). West Coast Sentinel (Streaky Bay, SA : 1912 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168197030

Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band [photo: 1877]. (1906). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot1877.jpg

Sara, S. (2014, April 25). Burra Cheer-Up Ladies Band: Keeping the music alive during war’s dark days. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-25/burra-cheer-up-ladies-band/5404654?pfmredir=sm

Silver City Ladies’ Band [photo: 9302]. (1940). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

Sydney Ladies’ Band [photo: H2009.32/8]. (1934, October 6). State Library of Victoria. Retrieved from http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336537

Talbot, O. M. (1933). Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band [photo: PRG 155/2/1]. State Library of South Australia. Retrieved from https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/PRG+1555/2/1

That Ladies’ Band. (1934, 07 March). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1177047

Traralgon Brass Band [photo: 6409]. (1915?). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot6409.jpg

WEEK’S PICTURES——IN AND AROUND THE CITY. (1923, 17 March). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), p. 26. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63776526

WOMEN’S BAND: In Interstate Contest. (1936, 18 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17222570

 

William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band

19150000_William-Ryder_front Mr William Ryder is mentioned in the Stonnington City Brass centenary book, “Bold as Brass”, yet is mentioned as a mere footnote in a long line of conductors of the band.  He probably would have passed attention even further had it not been for a donation of photos to the band.  These photos were not only remarkable for their condition, but for the portion of history of Stonnington City Brass they have now filled in.  Discovering the story of Mr Ryder has been very rewarding, and has reinforced old ties with one of the most famous brass bands in the world, the Manchester based Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Some particulars of Williams Ryder’s life are unknown but we do know that he was born and raised in England.  He apparently started out learning the Violin but switched to the Cornet soon after.  By all accounts he became a very gifted musician and was tutored by the great William Rimmer, a very famous conductor of the time.  Mr Ryder even played in the company of royalty on one occasion.

We know that William Ryder came to be in Australia when he was included in the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band on their worldwide tour in 1909-1911 as their lead Cornet.  However, his reputation had preceded him and in 1910 he joined the Wests Theatre Company in Melbourne and in 1911 became the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band.  This is only a small tie with the famous Besses band and they were very interested to find out about Mr Ryder’s whereabouts – Besses apparently joke at concerts about the bandsmen who went on tour but never came back!

19090000_Besses-Bandroom

Mr Ryder’s prowess as a musician can’t be discounted.  Like the vast majority of bandsmen, he was active in competition and in 1912 he achieved 2nd place in the Open Bb Cornet section at Royal South Street (Ballarat).  What is more remarkable is that in 1914 he not only won the Open Bb Cornet title but the Open Eb Cornet title as well at South Street in two days of competition!  He also conducted the early Malvern band to several competition wins.

According to an early history of the Stonnington City Brass (Malvern Tramways) compiled by Mr Charles Selling, Mr Ryder left the band in July, 1914.  Mr Snelling wrote that “With the change of Bandmaster, several of our men left us, and another Band was formed in Malvern under Mr Ryder.  This combination was short-lived however.”.  Which, I might add, was a situation not unheard of in these times.  Succeeding Mr Ryder as conductor was Mr McAnally however he only had a short tenure and in early 1915 the great Mr Harry Shugg was appointed.

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Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 8 May, 1918, Page 6

After his stint in Malvern, Mr Ryder travelled to NSW to take up an appointment with the Rozelle District Band, then transferred to the South Sydney Band.  From this point up until the end of the First World War, Mr Ryder was part of the AIF forces as an acting bandmaster.  After the war he proceeded to Queensland and according to articles from the Queensland Times (Ipswich) 1926 and the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 1931, he had been associated with the Maryborough Naval Band, Maryborough City Band, the Rossendale Band, the Ipswich Vice Regal Band and the Rockhampton City Concert Band.  As a Cornet soloist he also kept up his competing thrice wining the New South Wales Championships and wining the Queensland Cornet Championship. The last time he won this championship was in 1936 when he was 54 years of age.  Wherever Mr Ryder went he was warmly welcomed.  A journalist from the Maryborough Chronicle in an article from 1918 even penned an enthusiastic poem to welcome Mr Ryder to the town and the band!

Mr Ryder didn’t slow down in the later years of his life having been appointed to the Gympie Band in the 1930’s and in 1938 he took the band down to Sydney and won the D Grade competition against 16 other bands.  While in Gympie he also established the Gympie Boys’ Band and eventually handed over the reins of this band to his son, William Jnr.  In 1941 he joined the Military forces and conducted a Battalion band and was subsequently posted to New South Wales.  However, in 1942 he returned from New South Wales and entered a Brisbane military hospital where he died at the age of 60.  He was survived by his widow, three sons and three daughters.

19150000_William-Ryder_backMuch of the story of Mr Ryder’s life is anecdotal having come from the resources of the Trove archive and some of the Stonnington City Brass history.  I must acknowledge the active interest that representatives of the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band have in their own history as they were very forthcoming with material regarding Mr Ryder, to which I thank them.

Mr Ryder’s story is but one of many bands people who have played or conducted the Stonnington City Brass.  As I wrote in the opening paragraph, Mr Ryder is a mere footnote in the Stonnington City Band history, however he set a course for the early band and the band continues that legacy.

References:

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

NOTABLE BANDSMAN. (1926, 18 December 1926). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115649816

CITY CONCERT BAND. (1931, 14 January 1931). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54688441

LATE MR. W. RYDER. (1942, 20 May 1942). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115078488

Lawson-Black, P. (2010). Bold as brass : the story of Stonnington City Brass. Toorak, Vic.: Toorak, Vic. : Stonnington City Brass.

Stonnington City Brass. (2011). History of Stonnington City Brass. Stonnington City Brass.  Retrieved from http://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/SCBJoomla/index.php/history