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

The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Introduction:

If there is one longstanding event that has been synonymous with bands, it would have to be the South Street competitions.  There have been whole generations of bands people who have made the journey to Ballarat to participate in competition, and when the bands sections were introduced, they were extremely popular with the crowds.  Such is the reputation of South Street that the first band contest in 1900 attracted two bands from other colonies.

Remembering that this was Australia in 1900.  The separate colonies had contingents over in South Africa for the Boer War, cities and towns were much smaller, transport networks consisted of railways, ships and mostly dirt roads.  Yet brass bands thrived where they were established due to otherwise limited entertainment.  Ballarat at the time was lucky to have three!

While the story of this first South Street contest will focus primarily on the bands and results, there were some other stories to come out of this event and newspaper articles of the day reported on all sorts of angles – reactions from townspeople, travel, and even the voices of local Churches contributed opinion.  Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.

What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands travelling to the South Street event and carrying on the history of the bands people before us.  Many of the most famous brass band composers, adjudicators, conductors, musicians, and bands from around Australia are associated with South Street in some way. Their legacy will not be forgotten.

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Metal button showing the Geelong Town Band c1900 (HistoryInPhotos)

The beginning of South Street:

  The South Street events were famous even before the band sections were added to the program.  The origins of the competitions can be traced back to 1879 when eight young men, none over the age of seventeen decided to form a debating society (Blackman, 1966).  The society was very successful in gaining members and funds, and were eventually able to own their own building (Blackman, 1966).  However it wasn’t until 1891 when the first debating competition was held, and from this first event, subsequent competitions were held and other sections were added (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

In terms of music, the early Society started holding Monday night concerts in 1893 where many songs were sung and they audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966).  In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year were held in Her Majesty’s Theatre for the first time (a venue bands people know very well) and in 1897 the first choral competitions were held (Blackman, 1966).  A year later solo singing was added as a section and with these new sections, the time period for the competitions was extended and three venues across Ballarat were used (Blackman, 1966).  In 1899 Alfred Hall brought into use as a dedicated venue because of large and appreciative crowds (Royal South Street Society, 1979).  And in 1900, the first brass band sections were introduced into the program with immediate success (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

South Street Society adds bands to the program:

There was nothing new about having brass bands in Ballarat as they were popular for ceremonial and recreational music.  Indeed, as Royal South Street Society (1979) has noted:

By the 1870’s, bands were features of the Ballarat scene.  However, it was the German combination known as Baulch’s Band which first brightened the local processions and played at important functions.  Then came Apps Soldiers’ Hill Band, and a couple of other minor combinations.

Interest slackened in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the century the musical reputation depended on the famous Prout’s Band and the City of Ballarat Band.  Later the Ballarat Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Home Bands had brief periods in the limelight (pp. 6-7).

With this in mind, the progression of the South Street Society was to add brass band and brass solo sections to the programme of events with sections to be held on Friday the 5th of October and Saturday the 6th of October (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  The competition was divided into four sections; the first part of a Selection Contest and a Solo Cornet contest to be held on the Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on the Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on the Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b).  All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall.  Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996).  In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).

Ballarat welcomes the bands:

Well, not entirely.

It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place.  Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War.  The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event.  The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.

A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith.  He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).

Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic.  Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:

On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels.  Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two.  Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).

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Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

It seems Ballarat had no shortcomings in accommodating and promoting the band competition, not only for the bands, but for the people themselves. The enthusiasm was palpable, and Ballarat was festive.  As mentioned, huge crowds flocked to the City Oval to watch them march and play.  And just to make sure people arrived in Ballarat and enjoyed themselves, The Herald reported on October 5th, 1900 that, “A public holiday has been proclaimed and is being generally received.  Excursion trains have been run for thirty or forty miles round, and these are being well patronised” (“HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT.,” 1900).

The Bands:

Of course, the competition would not have been a competition without the bands themselves.  The nine bands that took part were – Ballarat Militia Band (3rd Battalion), Bathurst District Brass Band, Bulch’s Model Brass Band, Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band, Geelong Town Band, Hopetoun Brass Band, Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), The Lord Nelson Mine Band & Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band.  Three of the bands were based in Ballarat which gave them a distinct home town advantage, and home town rivalry.  Two were from interstate while one came from Geelong, one from St. Arnaud and two from the Bendigo area.  It made for a full competition for the times.  In addition, there were two solo contests which attracted entrants from the aforementioned bands including a Cornet player by the name of John. F. Code from the Albert Park Band (more commonly known as Code’s Melbourne Band) (Royal South Street Society, 2018c).

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Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 04/10/1900, p. 3

It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received.  An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.

The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands were enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise given to the Bathurst District Brass Band.  Bathurst travelled the furthest distance to arrive at the competition and as noted by Greaves (1996)

Bathurst District Band, the only entrant from New South Wales, and a runner up in the quickstep contest, found themselves to be quite popular in Ballarat and they were asked to return the following year.  Their conductor Sam Lewins, had to decline because of the expense and distance involved but suggested that the society contact the Newcastle City Band a much better combination, he assured them, than the Bathurst Band (p. 29).

Bathurst Band also won praise for participating in the services at the City Oval on October 7th with other bands that had participated in the competition (the same service that was criticised by the Church).  A letter was sent by J. W. Nedwell and W. D. Hill, the Honorary Secretaries of the Soldiers’ Statue Fund to the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper, published on October 22nd where they thanked Bathurst Band and the other bands for their performances (Nedwell & Hill, 1900).

Unfortunately, a boundless rumour took hold after the competition about the conduct of the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band.  Said the opening of an article in The Bendigo Independent newspaper on the 19th of October:

We were informed that it has been rumoured in certain quarters, especially in Eaglehawk that the Eaglehawk Brass Band while in Ballarat last week competing for the band prizes, were guilty of conduct which incapacitated them from winning the prize.  One allegation was that they found Ballarat ale so enticing as to imagine that it had been specially brewed for them. (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

The article goes on to say that the rumours were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanour and behaviour of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of competition.  A Colonel Williams of the 3rd Battalion was quoted as saying in the article:

…he observed the men of the Eaglehawk Band on several occasions, and he heard nothing but praise for them all the time, and whoever started the slander ought to be “ducked” in a horse trough.  The people of Eaglehawk, he says, should feel very pleased with the behaviour of their bandsmen on their visit to Ballarat (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

It appears that there was no instance when the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band was inebriated while competing, or in any other occasion.  The headline of the article is unfortunate and misleading.

In 1900, travel around the Nation cannot have been easy or cheap, so just getting to Ballarat was an achievement in itself.  The early railways were a lifeline which enabled bands and spectators to descend on Ballarat.  The Bathurst band were probably over travelling and trains when they finally arrived back home.

The competition:

The results of the competition were widely published in the newspapers of the day.  Indeed, many newspapers relied heavily on telegraphs direct from Ballarat and these were published a day or two after the competitions were held.  An article published in The Ballarat Star on Monday October 8th was particularly detailed as all adjudications were shown (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900).  The three adjudicators were; “Ernest Wood, T. E. Bulch…and Captain Tom Riley” (Pattie, 2010, p. 13).  Bulch was an adjudicator however his former band was one of the competitors.  Thanks to the excellent resources of the Royal South Street Society results database, we can see how the bands and soloists fared on each day and the final results of the Aggregate.  The full lists of results located on the can be found via the links below – the Lord Nelson Mine Band (St. Arnaud) won the contest for this year:

As can be read in the cited article from The Ballarat Star, October 8th, criticisms were mixed about the playing of the bands.  Given that these were early days of Australian bands, with instruments that were not the quality they are now, the playing can only be imagined.  Greaves (1996) writes that “…with the exception of the winning combination, “untunefulness”, according to the judges’ reports, was a common fault in the playing of all the competitors.” (p. 29).  The selection of music was the norm of the day with many bands playing arrangements of Operas for their selections and early marches for the Quickstep.

After the competition there was undoubtedly some comment on the music and playing of certain bands that came from the competitors themselves.  The conductor of the Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), Mr George Harrison, was effusive in his comments by giving praise to some bands but criticising his own band.  In some respects, he was also biting the hands that fed him! In an article published in the Launceston Daily Telegraph on October 11th, Mr Harrison conceded that yes, “undoubtedly the best bands won” although he questioned the amateur status of the “St. Arnaud (Lord Nelson mine) band” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  However, when reminiscing on the playing of his own band he went on to say,

Of the Second Battalion, I have only to say that they deceived me in saying they could play their parts in the quickstep without the music, and which is verified by the judge’s remarks, vis., that the music was wrongly interpreted.  Outside the music they could have got but few points for their general appearance, the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms being severely condemned by the military judge (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).

Not much comment is made on the solo Cornet and Euphonium competitions aside to note that they took place – the newspaper articles of the day merely listed the results.  Although Mr George Harrison, commenting on the Cornet contest said that. “The contest was most farcical, not a single competitor giving an acceptable performance of the test piece.” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  Duly noted, however the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.

One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing and early benchmark in competition for subsequent years to follow.  Perhaps the early conductors saw this as a learning experience but there is no doubt that rivalry was entrenched in the early bands, despite there being a level of comradery as well.

Conclusion:

It would have been an amazing experience to step back in time and view this first competition.  No doubt that we would have been astounded by the crowds and festive atmosphere, the bands, the playing and the whole spectacle.  For a first contest it was a huge success with everyone in Ballarat, and beyond, making it a success.  Giving that it was billed as ‘The Intercolonial Band Contest’, it probably didn’t live up to its full potential given that only two interstate bands played. Yet it set the scene for future competitions and the reputation spread.  It is a credit to these early organisers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.

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A later photo of the South Street Band contest on the City Oval. Date and bands unknown (IBEW)

References:

7343: Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat [Online photograph]. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot7343.jpg

BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY : Protest by a Presbytery. (1900, 03 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188644789

A BAND THAT FAILED : Groundless rumors contradicted. (1900, 19 October). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181024463

Blackman, L. A. (1966). A history of the Royal South Street Society of Ballarat. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 37, 5-21.

THE CONTEST. (1900, 08 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206978024

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

HistoryInPhotos. (1900, 13 March 2009). 3350805372 Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [image]. flickr. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3350805372

HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT : The Band Competition : To-day’s Doings. (1900, 05 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241475579

THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST : Return of the Second Battalion Band. (1900, 11 October). Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153769022

Musicus. (1902, 08 November). BALLARAT COMPETITIONS: October 29. Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), p. 36. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396

Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.

Royal South Street Society. (2018a). Brass Band Contest (First part of Selection Contest). Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018b). Brass Band Contest (Second part of Selection Contest) / Brass Band Contest – Aggregate. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018c). Cornet Solo (with piano accompaniment) – “My Old Kentucky Home”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (2018d). Euphonium Solos (with Piano Accopaniment) – “The Pilgrim of Love”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

Smith, G. H. (1900, 04 October). THE BAND CONTESTS : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206977765

THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Features of the demonstration. (1900, 05 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206975326

To-Day’s Telegrams : THE BATHURST BAND IN MELBOURNE. (1900, 04 October). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63874689

International band tours of the early 1900’s: bringing music to Australia

Introduction:

It is a massive undertaking to take any musical group on tour which stands true even today.  But let’s examine these undertakings from another time.  When we look back at the grand tours of brass and military bands in the early 1900’s, we can only marvel at the schedules they set for themselves, the places they visited, and the effect they had on local populations.  Australians it seemed had an insatiable appetite for viewing the best in the business and visiting bands were not disappointed when they toured here.

Visiting bands did not come all the way to Australia just to return home again.  Often, Australia was just one stop in a round the world tour.  From reading the Trove archive we can see that the movements of the bands in foreign countries was eagerly reported on because Australians knew they were next to see them.  And when the bands did arrive in Australia, each concert was widely advertised.

This was a great age of Australian and World banding.  It must have been quite a sight too when each band was alighting from ships and trains which were eagerly awaited on by an adoring crowd.  Parades of massed bands, dinners, receptions, concerts, photographs, articles and other events all greeted visiting bands when they stepped upon our shores. Thankfully our libraries hold some ephemera and newspaper articles from those tours, so we can imagine just what it would have been like.

This post will highlight some of the visiting band tours and will see that some bands had vast reputations which preceded them. However, the famous bands were not the only groups to visit.  This post will not cover all tours or bands.  Undoubtedly there might have been other bands that visited that are buried in time (more stories to uncover).  However, for the bands that did visit, their tours last in memories, and even in some of the local bands that were beneficiaries of the expertise of visiting bandsmen.  There are some fascinating stories that surround these tours.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band travels around the world, twice:

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Early 1900’s Postcard showing the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (from the National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection)

The reputation of this unique brass band is well-deserved. Besses o’ the’ Barn Band from the Manchester area, England is one of the oldest brass bands in the world and has been an ensemble of excellence since its establishment in 1818 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018a).  So it was with a great deal of excitement the world over (and from the band itself) when Besses commenced its first world tour in 1906 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  This first tour took them to “North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  For each performance they attracted vast audiences and it is written in their history that their visit to Melbourne was most notable with no less than “twenty-two of Australia’s finest brass bands” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b) preceding them in a parade along Collins St.  This must have been quite the spectacle and sound!  Before they arrived in Melbourne they had been in Sydney and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in 1907 gave an enthusiastic review of their performances (“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND,” 1907).  In July 1907 the Argus newspaper published an article which gives us an amount of detail about the parade and the massed bands that led it:

Immediately they alighted from the Sydney express the visiting bandsmen stepped across the platform into the railway yard and as they did twenty-two bands, under the conductorship of Mr. E. T. Code, commenced to play an inspiring march.  Each man in those twenty-two bands contributed his full share to the volume of sound the like of which has rarely been heard in Melbourne. […] A procession was formed and heralded by the twenty-two local bands, the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band were drive up Collins Street in two drags.  The street was crowded with citizens whose curiosity had prompted them to see the famous bandsmen at first opportunity.

[…]

The bands which took part in the ceremony of welcome were as follows: St Kilda City, Prahran City, Code’s Melbourne Band, South Richmond Citizens, Collingwood Citizens’, Richmond City, Malvern City, Williamstown Premier, Footscray City, Stender’s, Doncaster, South Melbourne City, Brighton City, Brunswick City, Warneeke’s, Bootmakers, Camberwell, Box Hill, Fitzroy Military, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy Citizen’s, Kyneton City, St Vincent de Paul Orphanage, St. Arnaud, Castlemaine, Maryborough, and Ballarat bands were also represented. (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907)

Regarding the huge crowds, an 1907 article in the Quiz newspaper from Adelaide which reported on the progress of the Besses tour thus far, noted that 70,000 people lined the parade route in Melbourne, which is a staggering amount of people for this kind of event (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).  Such was the popularity and reputation of this ensemble.

However, Besses did not finish touring after this first monumental effort.  Not one year after they had arrived back in England, the band embarked on another world tour (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND,” 1909).  As noted in their band history (2018b), “Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band) which was a very long time for bandsmen to be away from home. Needless to say, Besses had not lost any popularity on their next world tour and again drew large crowds whenever they went.

Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to a bandsmen staying on in one city, and another bandsmen joining them on their tour.  In a previous post we can read the story of Besses Lead Cornetist William Ryder who absconded from the tour in Melbourne and joined the Wests Theatre Company before becoming the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018; Stonnington City Brass, 2018).  This being done, it appears that Besses invited one of our most famous bandsmen, Percy Code to join them on the rest of the tour (Bradish, 1929; Gibbney, 1981).  The conductor of Besses during this world tour was Mr Christopher Smith and after the tour ended he was secured by the Adelaide Tramways Band for his services in 1911 (Seymour, 1994).

There is no doubt that Besses left their mark on Australian banding and were adored by audiences.  Certainly, in the succeeding years, many fine Australian bands dominated the landscape and as we saw some ex-Besses musicians now called Australia home.  Besses was one of the first bands to include Australia in their tour, but they were not the last.  Next to tour was the famous Sousa Band from the USA!

Sousa heads South:

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A postcard that was issued to honour the visit of the Sousa Band to Australia (from the National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection)

The band of John Phillip Sousa was no less famous than the Besses band, although much bigger with sixty musicians and some additional soloists in their touring party.  They toured Australia and New Zealand from May 12th to August 23rd 1911 and like the Besses band generated huge excitement wherever they went (Lovrien, 2012).  In fact, the excitement had started brewing before they had even arrived with newspapers reporting expected arrival dates and schedules (“SOUSA’S BAND.,” 1911).  As with the Besses tour that had just finished, the Sousa band was feted with ceremony, functions, awards, parades and large audiences – upon arriving in Sydney there was a grand parade featuring twenty NSW brass bands (“SOUSA AND HIS BAND,” 1911).

Inevitably, given the timing of the Sousa tour to the previous Besses tour, questions were asked as to which the finer band was.  In an article from May 1911, the World’s News newspaper sought to answer this question from a reader (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  The article reported on the differences between both bands and diplomatically opens the article by declaring that: “Comparisons are odious in connection with bands, as well as with politics” (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  However, it came down to the fact that one was a brass band as opposed to a military-style band and one band was much bigger than the other.  Musically, they were both very fine ensembles.

The Sousa band was a very different ensemble and they enthralled Australian audiences.  However, there is no real indication that the Sousa band had an influence on Australian bandsmen, and if they did, it was not reported.  One could assume the reason was that Australian bands, which were mostly brass at the time, were very much tied to the band tradition of England, not the USA.

From Australia, the Sousa Band travelled to New Zealand where they again delighted audiences and received rave reviews (White, 2018).  And after this swing through the Southern Hemisphere, they returned to the mainland USA via a visit to Hawaii (Lovrien, 2012).

The Sousa tour, despite the amount of places that they visited and the largeness of the audiences, did not generate a huge financial windfall and it was very expensive to take the band around the world (Lovrien, 2012).  However, in 1913 a court case was heard regarding the profits from the Australian leg of the Sousa tour.  From the brief flurry of newspaper articles that were written at the time, it appears that a series of contracts was entered into by the promoter of the tour, Mr Branscombe with a Mr Quinlan, and later a Mr Singer over £30,000 in profits (“SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA,” 1913).  It is interesting that this case was heard two years after the tour had finished, and that these profits were not intended for the Sousa band itself.

Bythell (2000), writing on the band tours and exchanges between countries during this time says that “…the logistics and high costs or international tours and exchanges made them exceptional” (p. 229).  Certainly, it was noted in the New Zealand article on the Sousa visit that the tour (through Aus. & NZ) was costing “over £2,000 per week” (White, 2018).  Given the logistics of moving a sixty-piece band plus soloists around the Australia and New Zealand, this figure is hardly surprising.

Despite this, the Sousa tour appears to have been a success for the band and audiences as Sousa was a renowned conductor and composer.  The time frame between this tour and the previous Besses tour had not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Australian public in wanting to see these kinds of entertainments.  The Sousa band did not disappoint.

The visit of a Belgian Band during the First World War:

The Besses and Sousa bands were undoubtedly famous, but that did not stop other promoters searching for bands that might tour, which is exactly what happened during the early stages of the First World War.  In 1915, a band from Belgium visited the country and apparently went on tour through Australia and New Zealand. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).  A paragraph in a Leader newspaper article from May 1915 provides some detail on this band, but the band had no name – they were simply known as the Belgian Band:

A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia.  The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).

The reaction of the Australian press to this visit was understandable.  A number of articles expressed admiration that the musicians had actually left Belgium, while also expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Belgian people under German occupation.  An example of this kind of article was from the Daily News in Perth (“THE BELGIAN BAND.,” 1915).  Notwithstanding the circumstances of this visit, the band drew the interest of an Australian public and received good reviews for their performances (“Visit of Belgian Band,” 1915).  In an act of decency, the band promoters donated all profits to “…the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers Fund” (“BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA.,” 1915).

First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:

After the war, visits from overseas bands resumed quite early on with a visit from the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown”.  This band was brought to Australia by J. and N. Tait, the same promoters who engaged the Belgian Band in 1915 (“RENOWN BAND.,” 1920).  The Royal Marines actually visited twice; their first visit was in 1920 and they followed up with another visit in 1927.  The concerts of 1920 received some very favourable reviews with one article printed in the Argus praising the sound and playing of this ensemble, and making a comparison of conducting styles with the great Sousa (“Concert by Renown Band.,” 1920).  On the second tour, a concert in Melbourne was presented as a massed bands concert in combination with the “Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial  Band” and the “Victorian Railways Military Band” with the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Appeal Fund being the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).

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The front cover of the concert program for the 8th May, 1927 concert featuring the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown” and two local bands. (from the Victorian Bands’ League archival collection)

In 1934 the Band of the Grenadier Guards visited Melbourne as part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations, with a subsequent tour of Australia as well.  There was some initial confusion as to which Guards band was going to visit the with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Welsh Guards being mentioned in some press (“GUARDS’ BAND VISIT.,” 1933).  It seems there was also some objection to the tour on the part of the Musicians’ Union. A letter to The Herald in September 1933 berated the Union for their stance with the writer stating that “Their visit will be education and beneficial to our unemployed musicians.” (Musician, 1933).  A visit to Australia by a band of this calibre was beneficial to all who witnessed them (not just unemployed musicians).  The band made a special appearance at the South Street competition of 1934 with a concert presented to an appreciative audience which included the Duke of Gloucester who was also visiting Australia (“South-street Band Contests.,” 1934).

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Page 6 of the 1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest program showing the events of the day, including the concert from the visiting Grenadier Guards Band. (from the Victorian Bands’ League archival collection)

These two British military bands were highly regarded, and it appears that their tours were more genuine with concerts in combination with Australian ensembles and presenting inspirational performances.  There was no comparison with the previous tours of Besses and Sousa as these were again, very different groups.  However, Australians were no less enthusiastic about the visits of these bands and made them feel very welcome.

Conclusion:

What we have seen here is only a small sample of the bands that visited Australia within a shorter time frame.  Each group was very different, yet they elicited an amount of excitement from the Australian audiences, bandsmen and public authorities.  Yes, they were expensive undertakings.  But musically they were invaluable.  This truly was a great age of banding.

References:

145695597 Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band [postcard]. (1910). David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597

145704095 Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [1] [postcard]. (1907). David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145704095/view

THE BELGIAN BAND. (1915, 24 May). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81173645

BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA. (1915, 20 June). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120796314

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1909, 04 November). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145853191

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018a). History of Besses: A Glorious Past. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018b). History of Besses: From Whitefield to Wellington. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses?showall=&start=1

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND. (1907, 15 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14867586

Bradish, C. R. (1929, 05 September). Prominent Personalities : PERCY CODE | CONDUCTOR OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA. Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146712994

Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Concert by Renown Band. (1920, 04 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1708206

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Blog Post Retrieved from https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

FOR MAYOR’S FUND: Renown Band Concert. (1927, 06 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243915027

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

GUARDS’ BAND VISIT: Centenary Tour Almost Certain. (1933, 10 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205104515

Lovrien, D. (2012, 13 June). The Sousa Band 1910-11 World Tour. Blog post Retrieved from http://sousamusic.com/sousa-band-1910-11-world-tour/

MUSIC. (1915, 15 May). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918), p. 35. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91368715

Musician. (1933, 11 September). GUARDS’ BAND VISIT. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243423748

RENOWN BAND. (1920, 05 July). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62924146

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10.

SOUSA AND HIS BAND. (1911, 14 May). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120777076

SOUSA’S BAND. (1911, 09 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10877792

SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA: Question of profits: Writ for £7926. (1913, 01 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196234795

Sousa’s Band: An interesting question asked by readers. (1911, 13 May). World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), p. 18. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128266800

South-street Band Contests. (1934, 02 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205082990

Stonnington City Brass. (2018). History of Stonnington City Brass. Stonnington City Brass. Retrieved from https://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/history.html

Visit of Belgian Band: An enjoyable concert. (1915, 10 August). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121995771

White, T. (2018, 13 July). Memory Lane: A famous musician brings his band to town. stuff.co.nz: Manawatu Standard. Retrieved from https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/lifestyle/105412732/memory-lane-a-famous-musician-brings-his-band-to-town

 

Affiliation and location: The Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League.

Introduction:

Although the history and reputation of Victorian banding lies partly with individual bands, the history of the associations that they formed shows Victorian banding in a different light.  This post is focused on a time period of 1901 to 1933, where, during the development of the various associations and leagues lies a somewhat rancorous battle for the heart and soul of Victorian bands of which was covered in the newspapers of the day and laid out in detail.

The focus of this post is the history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (VBA) and the eventual formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (VBL) in 1931.  Tied into this is the history of various early geographical groupings of bands and the eventual move to form much larger associations.  However, with association came division and as will be shown the seeds of division started much earlier than 1931.  This is a tale of Victorian banding that is probably not well known to most Victorian bands people.

My curiosity has been growing over time as I wondered why there were no records that existed prior to 1931.  I knew that the headquarters of the VBA had been in Ballarat, yet whatever records that may have existed were not provided to the VBL.  When researching for this post the reasons became very obvious – they were two entirely separate organisations that wanted little to do with each other.  The VBL had basically started from scratch.

The research for this article has been informed by involved searching through the Trove archive with the aim of building a chronology of articles and events.  With this searching has come some little revelations as to the state of banding that Victoria had in the early 1900’s. This history is important to the banding community as it highlights what once was, and what has survived.

1900 – 1920: The VBA

19010902_BallaratStar_BGDBA
1901, The Ballarat Star, pg. 6

 The first seeds of a State association were sown in 1901 when delegates from Geelong and Ballarat brass bands decided to form a “Ballarat and Geelong District Band Association” with the rules of the new association to be presented to a conference of bands at the next South Street competition (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1901).  Here we have an association that had been set up based on a small geography, but most importantly developed ties to the South Street competitions which became increasingly important to the band community (Royal South Street Society, 2016).  It should be noted that there was already a Geelong Band Association in existence, although this small association broke up after 1908 (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In 1907 it becomes obvious that the VBA is expanding as they had a meeting in Bendigo where discussion took place about lobbying the council to let them use a reserve to hold a band competition with the aim of attracting bands from across Australia (“BANDS ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This is one of the earliest reports of the VBA promoting competitions in regional areas.

Within other geographical regions, distinct band associations started around the same time although not all of them affiliated with the newly formed VBA.  In the Melbourne area, a new association called the “Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association” (MMBA) was formed in 1906 (or 1907) by twenty-five bands (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This new association formed their own rules and constitution with the encouragement of the VBA, of which a representative attended the meeting.  It isn’t until a meeting in 1908 that the MMBA discusses aligning with the VBA and a committee of five is set up to investigate this (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In contrast, a new Gippsland Band Association (GBA) started in 1908 and emphatically ruled out associating with the association in Ballarat (“GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  It should be noted that while Gippsland bands did eventually join with State band associations, the GBA was still going in 1947 and possibly longer (“Gippsland Bands’ Association,” 1947).

Despite the seemingly good running of the association there are some indications that some bands wanted the headquarters moved from Ballarat for various reasons.  In 1917, a letter was sent to the Bendigo Citizens’ Band by the Metropolitan Bands Association proposing a shift of the next meeting of the VBA to Melbourne.  This letter was read out at a meeting of the Bendigo Citizens’ Band and the responses were detailed by the Bendigo Independent newspaper in an article:

Correspondence from the Metropolitan Band Association was read, requesting the bands’ support in having the meeting of the Victorian Band Association held in the metropolis instead of at Ballarat.  Several members spoke in favour of the Victorian Bands’ Association meeting being continued in Ballarat, as it was only another move to have everything of any importance held in the metropolis.  The secretary (Mr. E. K. Varcoe) in commenting on the matter, said it clearly showed that centralisation was at the back of the suggestion, and Melbourne desired everything in Melbourne with the exception of the mice plague… (“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

Obviously, there were a few choice words used at this meeting (by 1917 standards)!

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1917, Warrnambool Standard, pg. 3

The letter was countersigned by representatives of the Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Brunswick, Malvern and St Kilda brass bands and it was sent to all country bands affiliated with the VBA at the time.  The Bendigo Citizens’ Band did end up sending a representative to a meeting in Melbourne.  Subsequently, in a vote on the matter at a later VBA meeting, the motion to move the VBA headquarters to Melbourne was defeated 23 to 6 (“BANDS’ ASSOCIATION.,” 1917).

1920 – 1929: Division

In 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the VBA in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the VBA in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the VBA as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924).  The opening paragraphs of this article, and the subsequent reporting highlight some inherent division and perhaps an early reason of why the VBL came into existence seven years later.

A proposal from a number of Metropolitan bands that they should be allowed to form a branch of the Victorian Band Association in Melbourne, which came before the association at its meeting last night, was viewed with suspicion by many of the delegates, who saw in it an attempt to shift the centre of government to the metropolis. The subject was debated at considerable length.

The president (Mr E. Ballhausen) reported that Messrs Frank Johnson (Collingwood bandmaster), Ben J. Warr and Hanson had waited on the executive of the association, with a view to having steps taken to form a branch of the association in Melbourne.  The secretary read letters in support of this request from the Kingsville-Yarraville, Footscray, Coburg, Prahran City, Hawthorn City, Turner’s Brunswick, Collingwood, St. Vincent de Paul, Brunswick City, St Kilda City, Newport Workshops, Malvern Tramways and Richmond District Bands. It was suggested by a committee of the bands interested that the branch should be known as the Metropolitan branch of the Victorian Band Association, the branch to consist of all bands within a radius of 25 miles of the G.P.O., Melbourne affiliated with the V.B.A.; the branch to have power to conduct all association business of the branch  according to the constitution and rules of the association.                                                (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

The list of bands in the article that wanted change represented a number of the Melbourne based bands at the time and during the intense discussions detailed in this article they mention a “Metropolitan League” that they are up against – a league which could be assumed to represent all the other brass bands in Melbourne (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924).  Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicions of the metropolitan bands’ intentions.  A Mr Hewett of the Soldiers’ Band was quoted as saying,

…the move was only the thin edge of the wedge to shift the headquarters of the association to Melbourne.  Some of the bands concerned were sympathetic with the Metropolitan Band League.  (“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

As can be seen in these early years, there were attempts to move the headquarters of banding from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these attempts were thwarted, mainly by the country bands who were affiliated with the VBA.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition.  However, the politics were always an undercurrent.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metro bands, of which are mostly A grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the VBA.  Perhaps the VBA was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the coming of the 1930’s.

1930 – 1935: The VBL

 The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with the formation of the VBL and the demise of the VBA.  The South Street Society had worked closely with the VBA for many years, and in the early years of the VBA other State band associations had affiliated with the VBA (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the VBA would become as the VBL came into its own.

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1930, The Age, pg. 11

In 1930 the VBA was still holding a regular pattern of meetings in Ballarat attended by
delegates from across the State.  An article published in The Age makes mention of a proposal to divide the banding community into districts administered by the VBA (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next VBA State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

Just over a year later in April 1931, news broke of a new organisation to be formed called the Victorian Bands’ League.  This new league was to be formed by a number of metropolitan bands who were agitating to have a headquarters of banding in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting listing all the metropolitan bands who were initially involved:

At a meeting attended by representatives of 28 metropolitan bands last night, it is decided that a new organisation to be known as the Victorian Bands’ League should be formed.  Delegates from Collingwood Citizens, Malvern Tramways, Brunswick City, Coburg City, Prahran City, Richmond City, Footscray City, Essendon Citizens, Heidelberg Municipal, Mentone Citizens, Fitzroy Municipal, Jolimont Workshops, St Kilda City, Kew District, Northcote Citizens, Williamstown City, Sunshine District, Caulfield District, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Ringwood bands stated that those bands would join the new league.  Delegates from the Hawthorn City, Kingsville and Yarraville, St. Vincent de Paul’s, Oakleigh City, Kensington, Preston City, Returned Soldiers and Reservoir bands state that the subject would be discussed officially by the committees.  It is understood however that within the next few days these bands will signify their intention to associate themselves with the new league.   (“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

A subsequent meeting of the VBA in May 1931 acknowledged the formation of the new league, but was buoyed by the support of band associations from Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1931).  The official decision of this VBA meeting was to treat the new league with “indifference” (“INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE,” 1931).

The VBL, in a proactive move, sent its officers into country areas to meet with district bands.  In June they headed to the Goulburn Valley region and met with representatives from the Shepparton, Kyabram and other bands and in July travelled to Bendigo to attend a conference of Bendigo bands (“NEW BAND LEAGUE.,” 1931; “VICTORIAN BANDS,” 1931).  The VBL had simple, but effective messages for these country networks; that the VBA wasn’t functioning properly for Victorian banding and the VBL wanted to set up district associations and competitions.  The result of these meetings was that the Goulburn Valley bands were enthused by the new league and apparently bands attending the Bendigo conference promised that they would affiliate with the VBL.

In August, the VBL had its first substantial endorsement when the South Australian Band Association (SABA) broke away from its affiliation with the VBA and decided to endorse the VBL (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, SABA had apparently indicated that it still supported the VBA.

It was in September that the VBL showed off its strength when it organised a massed bands event to be held at the MCG.  The Sporting Globe newspaper enthusiastically reported on this event, shown by these extracts from the article:

Under the auspices of the newly-formed Victorian Bands’ League, a concert will be given at the Melbourne Cricket Ground tomorrow by 30 massed bands, which will march through the city, starting at 2.15.

An interesting feature will be the presence of bands from Mildura, Warracknabeal, Warrnambool, Yallourn, Trafalgar and Korumburra, which are paying their own travelling expenses to Melbourne.

Not for many years has such a gathering of bandsmen been held in Melbourne.  More than 700 bandsmen will take part in the recital of which a Fox Movie-Tone film will be taken.  (“Bands League,” 1931)

In October the VBL gained the affiliation of the South Street Society who were going to resume band competitions in 1932 under the auspices of the VBL (“VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE.,” 1931).

Obviously the VBL had very proactive since it was formed in April and such expansion and activity had not gone unnoticed by the VBA, which had initially shown indifference to the VBL.  At a Ballarat conference called by the VBA in November and attended by representatives of fourteen bands, consideration was given to the developments of the new league, however the VBA still didn’t consider it to be a real threat to its survival (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).  A final resolution of the meeting was “to wait upon the mayor and councillors of Ballarat and the South street society with the object of bringing about unity in the band movement, the governing centre to be in Ballarat” (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).

Coming into 1932 with the VBL firmly entrenched in the banding world and the VBA fighting for survival, there has been no slowing in the activities of the VBL.  In January the VBL staged another massed bands event at the MCG.  This event was reported on by a newspaper from Tasmania of which praised the VBL for its initiative, and lambasted the VBA for “failing to co-operate new League” (“Victorian Bands,” 1932).   The VBA in the meantime continued to hold meetings of its remaining affiliated bands and tried to emphasise that their best interests did not lie in the VBL with its perceived “centralisation movement” (“COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE.,” 1932).  By August the VBA had lost the affiliation of the two Ballarat bands which were forced to affiliate with the VBL due to the South Street Society band competition being run by the VBL (“SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

In 1933 we see the last meetings, and demise of the VBA with reports noting the affiliation of most other State band organisations with the VBL (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  At a final meeting in July 1933, the VBA reports that it “will shortly consider its future policy” and that “since April, the association has not received any registrations of bands” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1933).  After these articles, there are no other reports on the activities of the VBA with reports on banding activities focused on the VBL.

19330705_TheAge_VBA-Future
1933, The Age, pg. 14

Conclusion:

 Such was the state of banding over a period of just over 30 years.  This wasn’t just a story on the VBA and the VBL, it was a story on the loyalties of the banding movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands in driving change had an effect on unity, but it also brought some unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the VBA did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There’s probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.

References:

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1901, 02 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207506823

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1902, 02 September). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28243339

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1904, 21 September). Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210537933

BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 16 July). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148551800

BAND CONFERENCE: The Victorian Association: Its Future Discussed. (1931, 09 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203727703

BAND UNITY MOVE: States Link With Victorian League. (1933, 29 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243112744

BANDS ASSOCIATION. (1907, 09 May). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226707129

Bands League: Big Concert Tomorrow. (1931, 26 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182546316

BANDS’ ASSOCIATION. (1917, 22 November). Warrnambool Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73972158

BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND: Headquarters of Band Association. (1917, 07 August). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219852652

CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS: The Rival Organisations. (1931, 13 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203035478

COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE. (1932, 15 January). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72597114

GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 26 March). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85231381

Gippsland Bands’ Association. (1947, 27 November). Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63262669

INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE. (1931, 19 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242780150

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1907, 12 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1918), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92814950

MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1908, 15 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197340110

METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL. (1924, 17 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214259035

NEW BAND LEAGUE: Support at Bendigo. (1931, 20 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4383879

Royal South Street Society. (2016). Our Disciplines. Royal South Street Society: 125+ years of pure performance gold. Retrieved from http://125.royalsouthstreet.com.au/disciplines/

SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST: Two Ballarat Bands Join Victorian League. (1932, 16 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203800235

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1931, 19 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205850303

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1933, 05 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204377301

VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE: New Organisation Proposed. (1931, 11 April). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4378405

Victorian Bands: A Great Demonstration. (1932, 09 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218850147

VICTORIAN BANDS: New League’s Activities. (1931, 29 June). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186773875

VICTORIAN BANDS: Proposed State Districts. (1930, 18 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202255339

VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE. (1931, 06 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4430001

 

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Former brass bands of the City of Yarra: A brief history.

Introduction:

Around the City of Yarra are dotted many reminders of bygone days.  Given the history of the area, this is perhaps not surprising.  However, when looking at some buildings sets the mind to wondering if they were ever used and by whom.  This is the case with the many bandstands in public gardens in the City of Yarra.  Logic would dictate that if a bandstand had been built, then there must have been a band to play on it.  Delving into various histories and newspaper articles of the area would indicate that this was the case; that there were once brass bands located in the various suburbs.  Yet they are not here now and there is little physical evidence to indicate they existed aside from written articles and other histories.

For just over fifty years the brass bands served the suburbs of the City of Yarra and this post will provide a brief history of bands located in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond.  They existed in a time when there was little recorded or broadcast music and the local population went and saw their bands play on a regular basis.  As one Collingwood resident remembers,

They used to have a bandstand there in the Darling Gardens.  They’ve since built a new one of the same design.  They used to have bands there every Sunday and we would sit in the Gardens.  Sometimes the Salvos, sometimes the municipal band. (Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council, 1994, p. 38)

The bands were engaged with their communities and were always out and about performing, marching and competing.  They were also at the behest of their Local Councils who at times supported the bands, but at other times tried to influence other outcomes.  As will be seen, other external factors also had affected the running of the bands. However, the fact the bands existed is exciting enough and their stories deserve to be heard.

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Marching contest in Ballarat. Date and bands unknown.

The Collingwood Citizens’ Band:

Out of the three main bands that once existed in the City of Yarra area the Collingwood Citizens’ Band is the most renowned due to its many successes in Australian and local band championships (Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This success was mainly due to the prowess of the band under their famous conductor, Mr Francis Charles Johnston who was known as “Massa” Johnston for most of his conducting career (Rasmussen, 2005).

We first hear of a band in Collingwood with an article from 1901 which outlined the professions of bandsmen outside of the banding lives (this article also included a band that had Fitzroy in its name) (“SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND.,” 1901).  The band mentioned in the article is the Collingwood Imperial Band and it isn’t until 1904 where a series of public meetings were held with the aim of forming a new citizens band.  From the articles of the time, the Collingwood Imperial Band agreed to merge with the new Citizens’ Band and thus the Collingwood Citizens’ Band was officially born (“COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS BAND,” 1904).  The Collingwood Council, which facilitated the meetings, also wanted to form a juvenile band however it is not clear whether this band was ever started.

19110000_Collingwood_Citizens-Band
The Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band. Possibly in 1911

It isn’t until an article published in 1915 by the Bendigo Independent that the Collingwood Citizens’ Band competition successes up until this date are listed (“THE COLLINGWOOD BAND.,” 1915).  Here we see a band that has been crowned champion band many times over, mainly from participating in the Royal South Street events.  The cups and shield evident in the photo certainly reflect this.  This competition success continued for many years and decades, no doubt helped by the influence of conductor Massa Johnston, who also conducted many other bands at the time to competition success (Rasmussen, 2005).

Collingwood Citizens’ Band had a fine reputation.  They used to practice every Sunday morning at Collingwood Football ground.  We could hear them quite clearly.  They had tremendous volume.  They sometimes used to march. (Collingwood History Committee et al., 1994, p. 38)

There are numerous articles dating from the 1930’s and 1940’s which shows the band performing in many concerts, parades and other events.  They also competed in competitions interstate and around Victoria, and because of their reputation, they were invited guests and other band events.  The Royal South Street Society didn’t run a band contest every year so Collingwood participated in other events.  In the early 1950’s their conductor Massa Johnston passed away and the band played at his funeral (“Tribute to Bandsman,” 1954).  This perhaps sounded a death knell for the Collingwood Citizens’ Band and it is not long after this date that we see no more articles about their activities.  It is unclear as to which year the band officially ended.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band were a remarkably stable ensemble for their time, especially when compared to neighbouring bands.  They had an enviable contesting record and were the pride of the municipality. Their history is well noted, and it is hoped that we might see some of the physical artefacts come to light.

The Fitzroy Bands:

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Sportsman, 8th April, 1885, pg. 4

Of the three bands that were located in the City of Yarra area, the Fitzroy bands were probably the most unstable and it is sometimes hard to tell where one ensemble ended and another one began!  We first see mention of a band in Fitzroy in 1885 where there is an article detailing the results of an intra-band sports day (“CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND.,” 1885).  As mentioned in the history of the Collingwood band, another article details the professions of bandsmen although this article makes mention of the Sim’s Fitzroy Military Band – perhaps this was a private ensemble, but this is the first and only mention of this particular band.  In 1906 a letter is written to the editor of the Fitzroy City Press advocating a new ensemble that is hoped will emulate the success of the neighbouring Collingwood brass band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND,” 1906).  Certainly in the coming years the Fitzroy Citizens’ Band did taste competition success, and in 1915 competed against the bands of Collingwood and Richmond in several sections (Royal South Street Society, 2017).

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The North Fitzroy Brass Band, date unknown

Other bands were evident in Fitzroy such as the North Fitzroy Band however it is unclear as to their fate.  Of interest is that in 1911 a public meeting was held where it was decided to ‘help’ form the current Fitzroy City Band into the Fitzroy City Citizens’ Band (“FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND,” 1911).  Hence the confusion over timelines and history when bands reportedly kept changing their names.  In 1925 the Fitzroy City Council, in all its wisdom, accepts the services of the ‘Turners’ Brunswick Band’ and this ensemble become the new ‘Fitzroy Municipal Band’ (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).  Why the council would accept the services of a neighbouring private brass band is unknown, however the consequences are that the existing Fitzroy Citizens’ Band and the new ensemble agree to absorb the members of the rival band, depending on the council decision – the council agreed to the Turner proposal (“SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES.,” 1925).

In 1937 the local council provides money to the Fitzroy Municipal Band for the purchase of new uniforms with the tender for manufacture passed opened to local traders (“New Uniforms for Band.,” 1937).  Over the coming years it is unclear what happens to the Fitzroy Municipal Band although it can be assumed that the Second World War intervened and the band went into recess.  Of interest is that in 1941 there was a meeting held about establishing a boys’ band in Fitzroy, and perhaps a junior choir (“BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY,” 1941).  There is no evidence to suggest this ensemble was ever started. Progressing to 1945 we see that a new Fitzroy Brass Band has been formed and is already doing performances – this new band was formed at the insistence of the local council (“NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS,” 1945). Four years later in 1949 we see possibly the last mention of the Fitzroy Brass band with a photo of their conductor playing the trombone at an event in Elsternwick (“Two Kinds of Band Music,” 1949).  There is no indication of when the Fitzroy Brass Band ceased to be active.

The Richmond Bands:

The story of the Richmond City Band is well-known due to the excellent research undertaken by the Richmond & Burnley Historical Society.  Like the Collingwood Citizens’ Band, the Richmond Band also competed on a regular basis and won many prizes.  While Richmond didn’t last as long as the Collingwood or the Fitzroy bands, the Richmond Band earned a reputation for being a fine ensemble (Langdon, 2014).

19060000_Richmond_City-Band
The Richmond City Band. Photo taken at the 1906 Ballarat Competition.

As with most municipalities there were often many brass bands that were formed, but not many survived.  In 1905, we see the Richmond City Band in “conflict” with the neighbouring, and newly formed South Richmond Band over some event; this required council mediation to resolve (“RIVAL BRASS BANDS.,” 1905).  Coming to 1916 we see the Richmond City Band gaining the use of a new band room which was located behind the Richmond Town Hall (“Richmond City Band,” 1916).  Unlike other neighbouring areas, Richmond was lucky enough to have a boys’ band formed and this band gained success at the South Street competitions (“Richmond Boys’ Band.,” 1918; “Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers.,” 1918; Royal South Street Society, 2017).  This Richmond Boys’ Band also travelled and are noted as having marched in an Armistice Day parade in Nar Nar Goon in 1918 (Heather, 2016).

Sadly, the Richmond City Band fell victim to events outside their control.  In 1926 a fire destroyed their band hall and they lost instruments, uniforms and sheet music (“FIRE AT RICHMOND.,” 1926; Langdon, 2014).  This, and the fact that many band members were being employed in other musical endeavours plus a council wanting four local bands to merge meant that the Richmond City Band days were numbered.  In the 1930’s the band ceased running in its current form (Langdon, 2014).

Conclusion:

If we are to take anything from the stories of these three bands it is that history is fickle and fragmented.  There is much that we don’t know.  The bands were very much part of the society of their time and while the local populace displayed pride in their bands, this often did not extend to local government.  I’m sure that if the bands had survived to this day, as quite a number of Melbourne’s brass bands have done, then they would be thriving with new musical energy.

References:

Allan Studio. (1911?). Collingwood Citizens’ Contest Band [picture: 15975]. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot15975.jpg

BOYS’ BAND FOR FITZROY. (1941, February 18). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205297038

CITY OF FITZROY BRASS BAND. (1885, April 8). Sportsman (Melbourne, Vic. : 1882 – 1904), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229822096

THE COLLINGWOOD BAND. (1915, January 4). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219867088

COLLINGWOOD CITIZENS’ BAND. (1904, February 13). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197229077

Collingwood History Committee, Carringbush Regional Library, & Collingwood Council. (1994). In those days : Collingwood remembered : memories of Collingwood residents / interviewed by the Collingwood History Committee (3rd ed.). Richmond, Vic.: Carringbush Regional Library in association with the City of Collingwood.

FIRE AT RICHMOND. (1926, February 27). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 29. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3736962

FITZROY CITIZENS’ BAND. (1911, July 17). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196208248

FITZROY CITIZENS’ CONTEST BAND. (1906, August 17). Fitzroy City Press (Vic. : 1881 – 1920), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65662507

Heather. (2016, November 8). Celebrating the Armistice at Nar Nar Goon in 1918. Blog post Retrieved from http://caseycardinia1914-1918.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/celebrating-armistice-at-nar-nar-goon.html

The Internet Bandsman’s Everything Within. (n.d.-a). Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat [picture: 7343]. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.co.uk/vinbbp/phot7343.jpg

The Internet Bandsman’s Everything Within. (n.d.-b). North Fitzroy Band, Melbourne [picture: 2121]. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.co.uk/vinbbp/phot2121.jpg

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

New Uniforms for Band. (1937, March 10). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205600050

NEWS FROM THE SUBURBS. (1945, February 15). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206859489

Rasmussen, C. (2005). Johnston, Francis Charles (Massa) (1880-1953). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-francis-charles-massa-13009

Richmond Boys’ Band. (1918, February 23). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93810988

Richmond Boys’ Band Making Fine Progress—May Develop into Military Brass Band with over 100 Performers. (1918, July 6). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811606

Richmond City Band. (1916, October 7). Richmond Australian (Vic. : 1914 – 1916), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119691234

Richmond City Band. Ballarat Compts 1906 [picture: a04257]. (1906). State Library of Victoria. Retrieved from http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab44040

RIVAL BRASS BANDS. (1905, October 24). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199417022

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

SIM’S FITZROY MILITARY BAND. (1901, April 18). Tocsin (Melbourne, Vic. : 1897 – 1906), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197522624

SUBURBAN ACTIVITIES. (1925, June 30). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 17. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2132043

Two Kinds of Band Music. (1949, November 14). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189488717

Tribute to Bandsman. (1954, January 18). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206089857

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.

19180508_Maryborough-Chronicle_William-Ryder
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