Cecil Clarence Mullen: Enthusiastic commentator, historian and statistician of brass and military bands

Front Cover, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection


There has always been an ecosphere of activity surrounding brass bands, then and now ranging from retail to journalism and people who take a general interest in day-to-day activities.  This level of interest varies among people, and especially in the bands of old, there was an amount of engagement in these ensembles.  One only has to read past newspapers as a measure of this engagement.  Most readers of this blog know I dwell in the Trove archive to find information for these posts; it is through these newspaper articles that the life and atmosphere of these bands can be fully appreciated.

This post is different from previous posts where the focus is not on bands per se, but on a bands person who described himself as very involved in the brass band movement, Cecil Clarence Mullen.  I am very thankful to have been gifted one of his rare booklets, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  He wrote another article on the history of Victorian bands in 1965 for The Victorian Historical Magazine.  However, there is more to explore in his writing, including some of the opinions on the band movement and the work he did as a brass band statistician.

Mullen had a role to play documenting the band history of Victoria and it is unfortunate that his work is not really well known.  We will see where Mullen’s work was at its most valuable, but also where some of his work could be questioned – this post will be taking a subjective view of some of his writing and opinions.  It must be recognised that at the time, Mullen did not have the information resources at his disposal like we do now.  However, what he did do was make an effort to record and compile results in a way that was unique.

C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):

It was difficult to build a full picture of Mullen’s life as some resources were not comprehensive.  Through the research of State records (Public Records Office Victoria and Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria), it is found that he was born in 1895 and initially lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.  For much of his further life, he lived in the nearby suburb of Abbotsford and was still residing in that suburb when he died in 1983 at the age of 88 (Mullen, 1983).  As for employment, it is listed in some records that he worked as a Clerk at the Argus newspaper and various other local newspapers (Ruddell, 2010)

Mullen’s amateur interests were extensive and varied including music, sports, local history and it seems youth and education as well (Ruddell, 2010).  He was complimented on his work with local youth groups of which he made every effort to prepare youth for further work and education (“Richmond Boys’ Club,” 1932).  It is through further research in the Trove archive that we see a fuller picture of Mullen’s mindset as he was an avid contributor of letters to the newspapers.  He wrote on all sorts of topics; youth, education, transport, parks, library opening hours, manners at the opera, sports, politics, etc (Mullen, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952a).  The articles displayed below are only a tiny sample of his letter output.

Argus, 17/12/1937, p. 10
Age, 10/07/1940, p. 6
Herald, 18/12/1947, p. 15
Argus, 03/01/1952, p. 6

Regarding his letter writing, it seems he did not write to the papers on one of his favourite topics, brass bands, except for one instance when he requested photos of the Kalgoorlie brass bands for his brass band history collection (Mullen, 1951a).  It is also in this letter that we see that Mullen has described himself as a “statistician and historian of brass and military bands” (Mullen, 1951a).

Kalgoorlie Miner, 13/01/1951, p. 2

This post will not dwell on Mullen’s interests in other subjects however they do provide some clues as to how Mullen went about doing things, and what his personal attitudes were like.  He gives the impression of being an egalitarian person and was a firm advocate for youth groups (Mullen, 1952b).  He did not like some of the aspects of competition, taking aim through one of his letters at “the selfish competition of mankind, instead of the co-operation of mankind” (Mullen, 1940).  In another one of the newspaper letters he advocates for the abolition of school sports, and in his booklet, he advocates for the abolition of grades in band contests (Mullen, 1937, 1951b).  In saying so, Mullen still supported the aims of the Royal South Street Society band competition sections and sponsored trophies for “Best Drummer” in 1958, another trophy in 1959, and a trophy in 1964 for “Bandmaster showing Best Deportment” (Royal South Street Society, 1958, 1959, 1964).   As for his historical work, we will examine his band history research in the next sections, however, it should be noted that there is an amount of conjecture over the accuracy of his sports history writing and statistics (Hay, 2010).

An enthusiastic commentator is probably an apt description of Mullen given his penchant for writing on all manner of subjects.  His band history work is what provides the most interest (for this post) and we will see a person who clearly enjoyed his statistics.

C. C. Mullen: Historian of Brass & Military Bands:

There is no doubt, through reading his works, that Mullen was an enthusiastic advocate, documenter and historian of brass and military bands.   Both his main works on the subject, his booklet and his later article attest to this.  This section will review his booklet first, then his article from 1965.

1951: “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”:

The first impression that is given about the booklet is that he clearly wrote this booklet as an outlet for his interest in brass bands and musicians. The aim of this booklet, as Mullen notes in the preface, was to publish

…for the first time in the history of brass bands in this country, a condensed history of bands and players who have taken part in most important annual band competitions in Australasia – that of South Street, Ballarat, Victoria. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)

With this aim, he achieved his goal and the book contains the names of musicians, the bands they were associated with, and which instruments they played.  Below is small except from one of the lists which makes up many of the pages of this booklet.:

Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

In the preface, Mullen outlines his life in the brass band movement.  In summary he:

  • was a pupil of Edward Code,
  • apparently knew all the famous bandmasters of the day,
  • was embedded in the administration of the early Victorian Bands’ Association, and later the Victorian Bands’ League,
  • was a contributor of articles to all the famous band magazines (Mullen, 1951b).

He notes that the famous Bandmaster Edward Code was a great influence on his early life and that he felt honoured as a former pupil to have published this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Interestingly, both Edward Code and Mullen are buried in the same cemetery in Melbourne, the Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in Melbourne’s north – although 65 years apart.

Mullen was not afraid of expressing his opinions on bands and the administration of bands.  On page four of his booklet is a one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands to the community, with a paragraph (below) on his thoughts of bands in schools (Mullen, 1951b).  A previous post has touched on the historical discrepancies with the starting of school bands in Victoria and Mullen adds his own discrepancy when he declares “I had the first band in Victoria composed of schoolboys” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).  When reading this paragraph, it brings to mind a piece of writing in one of the old brass band magazines where the writer had some choice words for the headmasters of the day about not starting bands (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929).  Perhaps it was Mullen himself who wrote the article in this 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, but we may never know for sure.

Excerpt from p. 4, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

In finishing his one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands, Mullen laments that the State and National controlling bodies have not done enough to promote bands.  He states,

It is up to our band controlling bodies and the Australian Band Council to take this matter up seriously and see that more cannot be done to keep the importance of brass bands before the people of Australia. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).

The main aim of this booklet, as mentioned, was to document the prize-winning brass band musicians and bands who had participated in the South Street competitions over a number of years.  Two pages of the booklet are devoted to a poem Mullen wrote on South Street.  Another section of the book was written by a contributor, “Baton” who wrote a history of the band sections at South Street (Baton, 1951).  This contribution is comprehensive and valuable and adds to the existing histories of the band sections at South Street.

Mullen also wrote other small sections in the starting pages and ending pages of the booklet, where, we still see that he is using the booklet to express his own opinions – which is understandable.  Some section headings in the starting pages are telling;

  • “Test Selections need revising” (he felt that operatic works instead of technical works made better test pieces),
  • “Band grading should be abolished” (he felt the grading system had outgrown its usefulness)
  • “Bad drumming of class marches” (Apparently Bandmasters were not teaching or paying attention to the drummers about learning their parts properly) (Mullen, 1951b, pp. 6-8)

In the later pages of the booklet, Mullen provides some useful historical information on the South Street competitions, South Street judges, how Britain developed band music in Australia,  the Quickstep section and the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (Mullen, 1951b).  Still, he is wanting to express his opinions in these pages and makes comment on how “Grand Opera assists bandsmen” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 61).  Mullen, as we’ve seen, is also a great advocate for the young and has used a section to advocate for young band conductors.  Also, in another section, while he congratulates young soloists for participating in South Street, he also took aim at their onstage deportment – Mullen obviously did not like young soloists who sat down while playing and he gave a serve to bandmasters “who encourage this sort of thing” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62).

In one of the final sections of the booklet titled “High Cost of Running Brass Bands” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62), we read that he is trying to advocate for more monetary support for the brass band movement.  He levels criticism at various entities such as the Federal Government on tariffs on musical instruments, the State Government on the money being spent on the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Australian Band Council for not talking to governments on behalf of brass bands (Mullen, 1951b).  Mullen takes a singularly myopic viewpoint, well-meaning, but possibly futile.  Of course, this is all in relation to his support for young musicians and their access to instruments and the expense of obtaining such instruments.  He laments that,

Unfortunately Australia is so “sports minded” that it is a much easier proposition to conduct a boy’s cricket or football team than to form a junior band and give youngsters the chance of a musical education or at least a musical mind. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

Meaning, that if all things were ideal in Mullen’s viewpoint, money would be better spent on the brass band movement.

Would it not be a good investment for the future education of this country for our Governments to spend something on band music in order to help Australia to have a cultured mind – something she lacks at present. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

In this section about the monetary challenges faced by brass bands and lack of support, Mullen has managed to draw in his other points of interest in sports, politics/government and education of youth!

In finishing a review of Mullen’s written paragraphs and opinions in this booklet, it is as has been mentioned; he used this booklet to express is many opinions, ideas and advocacy. His writing was well-meaning, but one wonders how much effect it had on the powers that be?  I personally feel that the lists of bandsmen, instruments and bands provide much more historical interest and meaning in this booklet.

1965: “Brass Bands have played a prominent part in the History of Victoria”:

In 1965, fourteen years later after publishing his booklet, Mullen published another article in The Victorian Historical Magazine with the above title.  Mullen is aged 70 in 1965 and his wealth of historical knowledge about the brass band movement is evident in this article.  The richness of historical information about bands, conductors, adjudicators, the South Street competitions and Victorian musical life can be fully appreciated here – possibly more so than his previous booklet which contained a limited range of historical writing (Mullen, 1951b, 1965).

Mullen provides an amount of context in this article.  To build the narrative, he starts off with the large and then brings focus.  In the opening paragraphs, this means tracing brass instruments from biblical times to the development of bands in England and then to Victoria with a focus on immigration (Mullen, 1965).  In this article, Mullen also draws in some historical information about Victorian bands and events, and he has quoted large parts of various band magazines.  For example, the next section after the introduction is about bands playing at the Eureka Rebellion of which he used information from “The Australian Bandsman.  26th October 1923” (Mullen, 1965, p. 31).  This section on the Eureka Rebellion is useful as it focuses on the band history of Ballarat – which became home to the famous Royal South Street band competitions.

Progressing through the article, we can see that Mullen provides lots of detail throughout various sections while continuing his historical narrative.  When reading, there is an impressive list of bands, bandsmen, competitions and little stories to be discovered.  He has written a section on the “Famous Band Families” such as “James Scarff, Samuel Lewins and Thomas E. Bulch” and the “Codes” – brothers “Edward, John, Alfred and William” and sons of Edward, “Percy” and brother “Samuel” (Mullen, 1965, pp. 36-39).  The South Street band competitions were a subject that had a special interest to Mullen and he devoted another whole section to them, again, listing memorable bands, bandsmen and adjudicators (Mullen, 1965).

In the later writing of this article, there were some notable historical events that Mullen mentions such as the early tours of Besses o’ the’ Barn Band and the Sousa Band, the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League, the impact of the World Wars on local bands, radio broadcasting and in the band world, the activities of the ABC Military Band (Mullen, 1965).  The final section of the article gives praise to the Victorian brass bands for maintaining a high standard of playing, although Mullen attributes this to,

…bandmasters setting a fine example in teaching young players a love for classical works of the of the great composers relating to Grand Opera, Ballet, Symphonies, Oratorio, Sacred and Religious works, and good songs that have been set to music. (Mullen, 1965, p. 46)

In other words, music that was not originally written for brass bands.

Mullen was ever fond of lists (which will be evident further in this post), and in this final section he has listed a number of notable brass band conductors, in addition to others previously named in his article such as “Harry Shugg” (Geelong Harbour Trust, Malvern Tramways & City of Ballarat) (Mullen, 1965, pp. 11, 43).  (The list below has been ordered into a bulleted list which is different from how it is presented in the article):

(Mullen, 1965, pp. 9-11, 47)

If there is one criticism of this article it is the way that Mullen has finished it, there is no real conclusion.  It just…ends.  Mullen leaves the article hanging by making mention of the most recent overseas visit of an international military band (prior to the publication of this article) in 1965).  The final paragraph reads:

The most recent visit of an overseas musical combination to Victoria was that of Her Majesty’s Scots Guards, under Captain James Howe, in March 1964, when it played at the Moomba Carnival in Melbourne. (Mullen, 1965, p. 47)

It is admirable that Mullen wrote an article such as this given that lack of historical writing on the band movement in Victoria as a whole.  What this article does do is create many links between bands, bandsmen and historical context, which is no doubt due to Mullen’s interests in these subject areas.  We should thank Mullen; despite this article being written fifty-five years ago to this date, it is still relevant and serves as a useful guide to much of the band movement history in Victoria.

C. C. Mullen: Statistician:

Returning to Mullen’s publication on brass bands, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), we will see what can be considered to be the real historical value of this booklet, the lists of names and bands.  Mullen was meticulous in the way he compiled his lists.  No doubt he had access to the names and competition wins through his work at the newspapers, but to compile the lists covering fifty-one years is quite remarkable.  All of the bandsmen and bands can be cross-referenced with the Royal South Street results database (Mullen, 1951b; Royal South Street Society, 2020).

A small excerpt of one of the lists has been displayed earlier in this post.  The way Mullen has compiled these lists is quite logical.  He has started with all the conductors and then listed all the prize winners for every instrument of a brass band.  Interestingly, although South Street never held any solo competitions for Side or Bass Drummers, Mullen lists the bandsmen he considers notable on these instruments.  In the closing pages of the statistics, he lists all of the bands from every State and New Zealand that have participated in South Street over the time frame of this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Below are samples of some of the lists, and they are fairly self-explanatory.

Excerpt from p. 19, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bass (G) Trombone”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
Pages 63-64, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bands which have competed at South Street Competitions 1900-1951”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

As we can see above, Mullen clearly had an eye for statistical detail.  No doubt he felt he was doing the band movement service by publishing all of this, and to some extent he was.  This is the only booklet of its kind to emerge from this era.  Nowadays we can access all of these results through the South Street results database and find names in the Trove archive.  Mullen did not have these electronic means, and even though the lists do not include the competition scores and rankings of bandsmen, the lists are still very informative.  Another reason to thank Mullen for his work.


Mullen has made a great contribution to the history of the band movement in Victoria through his own personal interest, dedication, and knowledge.  In the absence of any other work of this nature, both his booklet and later article provide an overall picture of the band movement.  Yes, his opinions were controversial when viewed in a new light.  However, I feel he meant well, and I also feel that Mullen’s work on the history of the band movement needs to be more widely known.


Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.

THE EDITOR’S BATON: Bringing up the boy to the band. (1929). The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, XXV(2), 1 & 3.

Hay, R. (2010). Cec Mullen, Tom Willis and the search for early Geelong football. The Yorker, Spring(42), 3-5.

Mullen, C. C. (1937, 17 December). Sport in Schools. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

Mullen, C. C. (1940, 16 July). Voluntary Service. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204409992

Mullen, C. C. (1946, 08 January). NORTHERN TRAMWAY ROUTES. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22221100

Mullen, C. C. (1947, 18 December). School Holidays. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243844022

Mullen, C. C. (1951a, 13 January). Goldfields Brass Bands : To the Editor. Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256809482

Mullen, C. C. (1951b). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.

Mullen, C. C. (1952a, 03 January). LETTERS (in a nutshell) : Too old. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23155399

Mullen, C. C. (1952, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204978021

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.

Mullen, C. C. (1983, 01 January). This is the last will and testament of me…. Will and Testament. Wills and Probates, (919/613, VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189122433

Royal South Street Society. (1958, 25 October). 1958-10-25 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1958-10-25-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1959, 23 October). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1964, 24 October). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2020). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

Ruddell, T. (2010). Introducing Cec Mullen: pioneer sports historian. The Yorker, Spring(42), 2.

Brass bands of the New South Wales Central West: Part 2: Association and competition

The Start of the Massed Bands. (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

Part two:

In part one of this post, we saw stories of the development, running and challenges of bands together with a look at the longevity of one particular conductor.  However, as we know, the stories of early brass bands are linked together and with the bands of the Central West, they were very united in association and ideals.  In part two of this post, this will be explored further through the creation of the earliest band association in New South Wales and the competitions that were held in various towns.

The Western Band Association:

Like many band associations around Australia, the Western Band Association was formed out of mutual collegiality and location.  The early brass bands of the N.S.W. Central West started what is regarded as the earliest band association in New South Wales and over time, and through various iterations, one of the strongest associations that attracted bands from near and far to various events.  The towns of the Central West also benefitted from this association as they were keen to host competitions.  There was no shortage of events for bands to attend and this post will detail some of them.

We first see a mention of an association in 1893 with the creation of the Western District Brass Band Union.  This Union was established by “Messrs, John Meagher, A. Gartrell, and John Appleby” and the first bands associated with this Union were “District (Bathurst), Independent (Bathurst)” and bands from the towns of “Orange, Wellington, Blayney, Lithgow, and Hartley Vale”  (“Local and General.,” 1893; “Western Brass Band Union.,” 1893).  The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal article explained what the Union was hoping to achieve,

The object of the Union is to promote friendly discourse between the different companies by meeting at least once a year in each town represented, and holding contests, comparing notes, and otherwise advancing the cause of music.” (“Local and General.,” 1893)

On a side note, the Band Association of New South Wales formed in 1895 of which they are the oldest State band association in Australia (Greaves, 1996).  It is unclear whether the Western Band Association recognised or affiliated with B.A.N.S.W. at this early stage.

Geographically, the reach of the Western Band Association extended well-past the Central West region.  We see in an article published in the Western Herald that the town of Bourke in far north-west of N.S.W. had its own branch of the WBA and in 1896 was given permission to hold a band contest – this was not going to be the first time a band from Bourke participated in the activities of the WBA (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1896).

During the early 1900s, there is little to indicate if there was any activity from the WBA, no doubt the later war years intervened. However, in 1925 we see another burst of activity, first through accounts of a meeting in Bathurst and then a meeting a month later in Orange.  In October 1925, a meeting was held at the headquarters of the Bathurst District Band and presided over by Mr Sam Lewins (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  The meeting involved members of the bands located in Bathurst and Orange, but their resolve and ambition were mostly united.  The article that was published in the Bathurst Times proclaimed under the main headline; “An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands” which seemed to be an initial aim of this preliminary meeting as well as the usual planning on competitions in various towns (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One cannot be sure if these bandsmen who met in Bathurst experienced some déjà vu, because what they were discussing, and indeed the whole concept of a Western Band Association had all been done before.  It was written in the article,

The chairman, in explaining the conference, said that the primary object was the formation of an association having as its purpose the fostering of band music and the promoting of yearly contests.  Before him on the table were the minutes of a meeting held in Bathurst for a similar purpose just 32 years ago.  From the gathering in 1893 came the Western Band Association, the first Band Association in New South Wales.

The old rules governing the former body were still intact in the minute book.  In the event of another association being formed these rules could well be adopted, as he did not think they could be improved upon.” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

Letters regarding this project were read out from bands located in “Coonamble, Blayney, Orange, Dubbo and Nyngan” and with this in mind, the meeting resolved to start the Western Band Association on the 1st of January 1926. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

One delegate, a Mr Harrington from Orange was thinking of a bigger association and he “put in a strong plea that the title of the organisation should be altered to read “The Country Band Association of N.S.W.”” (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).  His reasoning was that bands from Cootamundra, Albury and other towns to the north could join – however the other delegates did not support this suggestion so it was subsequently dropped (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925).

The relationship with the State Association was part of these discussions as they were officially the body to be dealing with, despite some misgivings from the delegates in Bathurst.  An interesting exchange ensued between the delegates themselves with some choice language,

Mr. Johnson wished to be informed whether the association should affiliate with the head Sydney body.

The chairman : Well if we do we are not going to give them £1 for every band.

Mr. Johnson : We should absolutely shun them and keep to the western district: country players get no benefits from the Sydney Association.

Mr. Lewins : The trouble is a western band might want to play in Sydney at some time, and if we were not affiliated the head body might not allow it to compete.

In the opinion of Mr. Harrington it would be unwise to fall out with the head body.  “At the same time,” he went on, “we could be equally as strong as the N.S.W. Association.  In fact, it is not so very powerful as it is; you could drive a horse and cart through some of its constitutions.  We should place ourselves in a position not to dictate to this body, but to agree with it if possible.”. (“WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE,” 1925)

The November meeting of the WBA went ahead in Orange and we have an account published in the Nepean Times as a representative from the Penrith Band attended the meeting.  While the WBA had decided to confine itself to “districts along the Western Line and branches”, it also decided not to progress “no further east than Penrith township” which is why delegates from Penrith attended this meeting (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  The meeting also had delegates attend from bands in “Bathurst, Portland, Grenfell, Orange, Millthorpe and Penrith, numbering about 23” and correspondence was read out from other Western District bands that wanted to join (“Western Band Association,” 1925).  If the WBA did extend to Penrith, then geographically it encompassed the Blue Mountains as well.  A measure of just how parochial the WBA was about the bandsmen in their region is detailed in the last paragraph of the article,

The object of the Association is to form a working bureau for the purpose of keeping country players in the country instead of allowing them to drift to the City.  The assistance of business people and employing organisations is to the sought in this matter.” (“Western Band Association,” 1925)

In February 1926 a tiny article published in the Lithgow Mercury tells us that the WBA has been reformed and will hold its first contest in Bathurst with a number of bands wanting to participate (“WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1926).

Lithgow Mercury, 22/02/1926, p. 1

Coming into 1932 we see yet another iteration of the WBA through accounts of a meeting in Wellington.  Through this account published in the Wellington Times, we see a whole range of thoughts from enthusiasm for a new Association to bordering on cynicism – relationships with Sydney being part of the discussions (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932).  Generally, the delegates felt that they could form an Association that would be a branch of the N.S.W. Association.  Although a Mr C. Brown from Dubbo had some misgivings by noting,

Something was certainly needed, as no country Band had yet received any benefit from the head association in Sydney” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Further comments on this matter were provided by other delegates regarding the role and independence of this association,

Mr. Appleby (Bathurst) thought an Association should be formed independent of Sydney, as they need no expect any support from that quarter.


The contest adjudicator (Mr. F. H. Philpott) was also much in favour of running an association independent of Sydney.  Even the suburban centres, realizing the increased benefits, were endeavouring to form associations of their own.” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

It would seem that these sentiments mirror the ones made in Bathurst in 1925.

The delegates resolved that the headquarters should be in Wellington, but the formation of the Association was also met with pragmatic caution by the delegates from Orange,

Mr. W. Eyles (Orange) reiterated the necessity for an Association of some kind.  They owed it to the younger members.  It was their bounden duty to give them contest experience.

Mr. Howie (Orange) hoped that the matter would not start on a wave of enthusiasm, and then die a natural death.  Everybody would have to get behind the movement.” (“MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES.,” 1932)

Perhaps Mr. Howie was prophetic when he spoke about enthusiasm for an association only to have it die off. No less than three years later, the WBA did exactly that and in 1935 a decision was made to wind the association up with remaining funds being distributed to member bands (“Western Band Association,” 1935).

Post Second World War in 1946, we see the Western Band Group again being reformed.  Except on this occasion it was being sponsored by the N.S.W. Band Association as they were also supporting similar groups in Newcastle and Wollongong.  A meeting was held in Bathurst and was attended by delegates from “Cowra, Lithgow, Portland, Katoomba, Blayney and Bathurst” with other bands indicating that they would join (“WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED,” 1946).  This group evidently decided to move some of its focus away from contest and instead started coordinating Band Sunday events in various towns which were well attended by bands and townspeople (“WESTERN BAND GROUP,” 1947).  Unlike previous iterations of the WBA, this new group appears to have been stronger and much better organised as they were still in existence in 1964 – the Bourke Shire Band were special guests at a contest in Wellington attended by five other bands (“Bourke Shire Band,” 1964).

Western Herald, 02/08/1964, p. 8

What we have seen here is a perfect example of how enthusiasm comes in waves and there is no doubting that the various bands in these iterations of the Western Band Association meant well but were probably hamstrung at various stages.  No doubt some social conditions and events beyond their control were influences.  However, the fact that there is a long story behind these movements is remarkable.

Towns and contests:

Code’s Melbourne Band, First prize in “Singer March”. Second Prize in Championship. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899, p. 1288

One activity that this region became famous for was the quality, friendliness and hospitality of their band competitions which were held in various towns.  So much so that some contests were written up in the major band newspapers as being the ones to attend.  This part of the post will highlight some of them, and as with everything band related in this region, the competitions started in very early years.

In 1894 we first find a record of a contest held at Orange under the auspicious of the Western Band Association.  Held in conjunction with the fire brigade sports, this was reputedly the first contest held by the Association.  The contest appears to have been well-attended as it involved bands from the towns of Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow, Peak Hill, Wellington, Blayney, Stuart Town and Bourke with the bands competing in either first class or second class grades (“ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS,” 1894).

Five years later, the town of Bathurst was the focus of attention as WBA and the Bathurst Progress Association combined efforts and held an Intercolonial Band Contest which attracted numerous bands comprising of 360 musicians in total – the picture at the head of this post is testament to this!  This contest attracted bands from as far away as Wellington, New Zealand (of which their unfortunate loss of points is detailed in another post), and Code’s Melbourne Band from Victoria (pictured above).  The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser listed all the bands that participated:

…Wellington Garrison, New South Wales Lancers, Bathurst District, Code’s (Melbourne), Lithgow Model, Armidale City, Hillgrove, Newtown, Bathurst City, Lismore, Nymagee District, Warren Town, Hibernian (Sydney) and Cobar United” (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899)

By all accounts the Bathurst contest was a huge success with the townsfolk, the Singer Company and the bands all enjoying themselves.  The band from Hillgrove, which boasted the six McMahon brothers,  won the “Australian Championship” with Code’s achieving second place and Newtown third while the Quickstep section was won by Code’s with Hillgrove gaining second place (“INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST.,” 1899).

It did not seem to matter which town in the region held a contest, bands were quite happy to travel an amount of distance to participate.  The 1919 Parkes Band contest was a perfect example as it attracted bands from the nearby region and one band from Sydney.  An article published in the Orange Leader newspaper listed the six bands that participated: “Royal Naval Brigade (Sydney), Lithgow Town, Orange Model, Forbes Town, Parkes Town and Parkes Peoples’ Band” (“THE PARKES BAND CONTEST.,” 1919).  The contest was held to benefit the Parkes Hospital fund.

There was one town that held a string of successful contests of which attracted a healthy number of bands each year; the town of Millthorpe which lies to the south of Orange on the Main Western railway line.  In the middle of the 1920s, Millthorpe seemed to be the contest to attend and accounts of the contest were written up in the well-regarded Australasian Band and Orchestral News.  Thankfully, through articles published in two editions of ABON we can see which bands participated in the Millthorpe contest over the years:

  • 1924: Orange, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1925: Dubbo, Grenfell, Blayney, Cowra, Millthorpe
  • 1926: Portland, Bathurst City- Model, Cowra, Penrith, Orange, Grenfell, Blayney, Millthorpe
  • 1927: Penrith, Orange, Wellington, Bathurst City-Model
  • 1928: Bathurst City-Model, Orange Town, Millthorpe Town

(“Millthorpe Contest,” 1928, pp. 30-31; “Millthorpe Contests,” 1927, p. 17)

The Millthorpe contests, which were run by a committee, would probably not have happened if a Mr H. H. Power, who was the then bandmaster of the Millthorpe Band had not driven the idea. The contests were always successful as each year they turned a profit.  However, it was also a measure of the contest that bands kept visiting and in 1927 Mr Power was presented with a gold watch in recognition of his services (“Millthorpe Contests,” 1927).

These contests were not the only ones run in the region and through searching the Trove archive we find that other towns also hosted contests – Cowra, Dubbo, Forbes, Grenfell, Mudgee, Portland and Wellington.  The bands were spoiled for choice and they made trips to compete on a regular basis.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, some bands ventured further afield with the Bathurst Band travelling to Ballarat and other bands competing in major competitions in bigger cities.  One can see how proactive the regional bands and towns were in hosting events.

McMahon’s Hillgrove Brass Band, Winner of Championship of Australia and second prize in the “Singer March”. Photo by Beavis Bros., Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/11/1899 p. 1289


While researching for this series of posts I was struck by just how rich and varied the band life was in this region, and also how the towns embraced their bands.  Parochialism aside, we can also see how bands put aside differences to work together, especially when driven by dedicated individuals.  Yes, the bands had to respond to changes in society and industry. However, this did not stop them from achieving and gaining notice for their playing, especially the Bathurst Band after its visit to Ballarat.  The bands were a credit to themselves and to their towns and they made sure this region was noticed for its music making.

<- Part 1: Bands for every town


Beavis Bros. (1899a, 25 November). CODES MELBOURNE BAND, FIRST PRIZE IN “SINGER MARCH,” SECOND PRIZE IN CHAMPIONSHIP. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1288. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899b, 25 November). McMAHON’S HILLGROVE BRASS BAND, WINNER OF CHAMPIONSHIP OF AUSTRALIA AND SECOND PRIZE IN THE “SINGER MARCH.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1289. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Beavis Bros. (1899c, 25 November). The Start of the Massed Bands (360 Bandsmen) from Singer Company’s Premises, Howick-street, Bathurst, playing the “Singer March.”. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 1288. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Bourke Shire Band—Guest Band at Western Districts Band Championships, Wellington, on Sunday, August 2nd. (1964, 14 August). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141982006

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording]. Australia’s heritage in sound. [2 sound discs (CD)]. [Australia]: Sound Heritage Association.

INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST AT BATHURST : Photos by Beavis Bros., Bathurst. (1899, 25 November). Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), pp. 1288-1289. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163699422

Local and General. (1893, 02 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62183780

MEETING OF BAND DELEGATES : Progressive Movement. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246371

Millthorpe Contest : Bathurst City-Model Victors. (1928). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(5), 30-31.

Millthorpe Contests : Four Successful Years. (1927). The Australasian Band and Orchestral News, XXIII(1), 17.

ORANGE BAND CONTEST AND FIRE-MEN’S SPORTS. (1894, 12 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236121302

THE PARKES BAND CONTEST. (1919, 27 August). Leader (Orange, NSW : 1899 – 1945), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117864597

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1896, 21 March). Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104105388

WESTERN BAND ASSOCIATION. (1926, 22 February). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224588875

Western Band Association : Decides to Disband. (1935, 19 July). Western Age (Dubbo, NSW : 1933 – 1936), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137139773

Western Band Association : Penrith Represented. (1925, 28 November). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 – 1962), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108681480

WESTERN BAND CONFERENCE : An Association Formed : Better Music – More Bands. (1925, 19 October). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118043369

WESTERN BAND GROUP. (1947, 05 December). Blue Mountains Advertiser (Katoomba, NSW : 1940 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189918471

WESTERN BAND GROUP FORMED. (1946, 05 September). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219610497

Western Brass Band Union. (1893, 02 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156684544


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Central West:

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

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

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

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

British Influences:

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

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

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

Where bands were formed:

Parkes Town Band (Source: IBEW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges laid bare:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

Conductors and bandsmen:

Bathurst Town Band (Source: IBEW)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Bands of the Central West:

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

Peak Hill Band, 1911 (Source: IBEW)

Part 2: Association and competition ->


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