Providing historical context: “thirty” in the life of a band

Introduction:

My favourite period of band life in Australia is between 1900-1950 and the posts on this blog reflect this.  It is a time of rapid development of bands in this country and tied in with major historical events (Wars, a pandemic and the Great Depression), the life of bands was certainly eventful.  It was also a time of great musical achievement in the band scene with many fine bands coming to the fore, competitions gaining national prominence, and individual band members becoming household names.

It would be fair to say that bands create their own history, and we can see early bands come to life again through articles and newspaper reports.  Such is the passage of time; the early bands inform the life of their contemporary iterations.  Modern-day bands can and do look back and wonder.  Yet the modern-day bands celebrate achievement and mark their own yearly history the same way their forebears did.  Each annual general meeting is a testament to this!

The theme of this blog post is around the number thirty.  Forgive the slight indulgence, this also marks the thirtieth blog post of “Band Blasts from the Past”.  The early bands were probably very pleased they had reached a thirty.  It is not just a number, it is the number of members, age of a band, and even a part of local history.

Thirty members:

What is a band without members? Not much.  So, it is no surprise that the bands of old made mention of the numbers of members who had signed up to bands, attended annual general meetings, or played in concerts.  It is worthwhile to read of such numbers as they tell us how the band was travelling over time.  Of course, bands at this time consisted of all manner of numbers from the very small to the very big, but generally based on the ideal of twenty-eight brass musicians and a couple of percussionists – thirty members (not including the band master) (Myers, 2000).

The Herald, 22/08/1913, p. 7

“New Caulfield Brass Band” was the headline of a tiny article that was published in the Herald newspaper on the 22nd of August 1913.  Whoever was starting this new band was proud to say that “Thirty men gave in their names as willing to join” (“New Caulfield Brass Band.,” 1913).  Whether that same thirty continued on this path is another matter.  

Forming boys and school bands was sometimes more successful and the young band members were very enthusiastic. The East State School in Toowoomba, Queensland was one such school that formed a band, an idea which grew to fruition thanks to a committee of teachers, parents and the conductor of the local Toowoomba Musical Union, a Mr. T. Slatyer (“EAST STATE SCHOOL,” 1933).  Thirty boys were part of the initial brass band.  Likewise, a boy’s brass band was proposed in the town of Mooroopna near Shepparton, Victoria.  At the initial meeting, thirty applications were received and those proposing this new band were encouraging but urged some caution.

Mr. N. L. McKean told the boys who attended that patience and hard practice would be needed for success.  His remarks were supported by Mr. P. Harrington, and the bandmaster (Mr. McCaskill) urged the boys to consider the matter very carefully

(“MOOROOPNA NEWS,” 1936)
Postcard showing the Australian Imperial Band in Sydney, 1924 (Source: Jeremy de Korte Collection)

Backtracking slightly in time, the Australian Imperial Band was formed in 1924 with the grand intention of travelling around Australia, and then to England to compete against the best of British brass bands.  We know from a previous post what happened to the tour as the band never made it to England due to lack of funds (de Korte, 2019).  However, newspaper articles, such as this one published in the Sunraysia Daily newspaper in January 1924, proudly proclaimed that thirty of Australia’s leading bandsmen were “To be Chosen from All States for Wembley” and that there were “Engagements Assured” (“AUSTRALIAN BRASS BAND,” 1924).  

Daily Advertiser, 27/10/1924, p. 2

In October 1924, thirty performers of the Wagga Wagga Brass Band provided a varied recital to an enthusiastic crowd in one of the town parks (“WAGGA BRASS BAND.,” 1924).  The local Daily Advertiser newspaper duly published an account of the evening and even listed all the pieces that were played (as can be seen in the article above).  

Ulverstone Municipal Band, 1948 (Source: IBEW)

Down south in Tasmania, a letter writer with the band-like pseudonym of “Tenor Horn” wrote to the Northern Standard newspaper to proudly proclaim that the thirty members of the Ulverstone Brass Band were “progressing well” under a new bandmaster (Tenor Horn, 1922).  Further north, in 1929 the Windsor Municipal Band of Queensland was also the subject of an article reporting on their progress.

Since the appointment of Mr. P. E. Lindsay as conductor of the Windsor Municipal Band six months ago, the band has made rapid strides.  What was once an ordinary brass band of 11 players has now risen to the number of 30.  A notable aspect is the new silver-plated instruments that have taken the place of the old brass ones, something like £250 having been spent on equipment.

(“Rapid Progress.,” 1929)

Sometimes, it was not all about how many members signed up to a band, attended a meeting or played at a concert although these are useful numbers.  At times it was also about providing for a band and in 1948 we can see that the Echuca Brass Band did exactly that when they ordered 30 new uniforms costing £400 (“New Uniforms for Echuca Brass Band,” 1948).

The Age, 28/10/1948, p. 3

First Intermission: Thirty shillings:

There is no doubt that some people were passionate about their local band.  Not just passionate but parochial and sometimes felt that they were well-qualified to express their opinions (no matter if it was welcomed or not).  And so, a very long letter by a contributor under the pseudonym of “Interested Citizen” was published in the Wellington Times newspaper in June 1922.  The subject of his letter was a special meeting held by the local Wellington Municipal Band, a band located in the New South Wales Central West, regarding the current state of the band (Interested Citizen, 1922).  In this letter of which a part will be quoted, he levels an amount of criticism however one aspect is the amount of pay given to the conductor.

However, I was indeed pleased to see that an attempt has been made to rally the band and send it along on a properly managed basis.  It is an undeniable fact that of late the band has been going from bad to worse and in all probability would soon have dwindled into oblivion.  But as I have stated an attempt has been made to stem the tide of destruction though in my opinion that attempt is doomed and will fall far short of its mark unless the committee acts promptly and in a business-like manner.  First of all, I noticed that the bandmaster’s salary has been reduced from £2 to £1/10 per week.  This is undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction, as it is ridiculous to expect any man who is not a resident of the town to apply for the position at thirty shillings per week and no guarantee of employment.

(Interested Citizen, 1922)

One can see the train of thought in this letter and also see that it is well-meaning.  Why wouldn’t a local citizen write a seemingly logical letter like this?  The thinking is sound; to build a better band you need the best person to do the job of bandmaster and the band will not attract this person to the town on a lower pay.  After expressing opinions about which conductor in the town might be best qualified, “Interested Citizen” then writes:

I contend that the citizens of Wellington have had quite enough of low grade music and the time is now opportune for something practical to be done.  If Wellington could pay its bandmaster £2 per week in the past, why not pay it in the future.  If we cannot afford £2 for a capable man much less can we afford £1/10 for an incapable man.  Wellington wants good music and we all realise that a first class man cannot be procured for a low grade pay.  Therefore, I say. Keep up the standard, offer a salary that will induce talented musicians to apply and by doing so you will have taken the first step toward making a band that Wellington may well feel proud of.

(Interested Citizen, 1922)

Definitely opinionated, and he does have a valid point over the thirty-shilling difference in pay.

Thirty Years:

Armidale City Band, date unknown (Source: IBEW)

There are some curious aspects to reporting on a bands annual general meeting in various early newspapers.  Some of them report everything verbatim.  Others report what is needed and leave out parts.  One of these was an article published in March 1927 by The Armidale Chronicle newspaper on the annual general meeting of the Armidale City Band.  “Thirty Years Old” proclaims the headline, yet that is the only mention of age in the entire article (“Thirty Years Old.,” 1927).  There is no doubt the band has done well for themselves in the preceding year.  Membership has been solid, the band has appeared in numerous engagements, they are financially stable and possess a good set of instruments (“Thirty Years Old.,” 1927).  Surely the paper would have made more mention of the bands age, but apparently not.  At least though we have an indication in 1927 of how old the band actually is!

More meaningful is the various biographical entries on the famous bandsman, conductor and composer, Alexander Frame Lithgow.  Originally from Scotland, Alex Lithgow spent much of his early life in New Zealand before moving to Tasmania where he conducted various bands in the Launceston area (Firth & Glover, 1986; Rimon, 2006).  Lithgow “dominated Tasmanian band life for thirty years” (Rimon, 2006).  Although, given his fame through his playing and compositions (especially the quick march “Invercargill), it could be argued that he dominated parts of Australian band life, if not parts of global band life as well (Firth & Glover, 1986; Glover, 2006; Rimon, 2006).

In October 1953 the Glen Innes Examiner newspaper published a worthwhile history of the Glen Innes Municipal Band with much of the information provided at the time by band member Mr. Andy Morton (“Municipal Band Has Outstanding Record,” 1953).  This band, which by 1953 had reached an “unbroken sequence of 75 years”, boasted of many fine band members and conductors over time (“Municipal Band Has Outstanding Record,” 1953).  One aspect of this history that stood out was how dedicated conductors were to this band.

Numerous others, also, were got their original training through the local band went on to do big things in music in Australia and elsewhere.

“For the last thirty years the band has been carried on by a bandmaster without pay.” Mr. Morton said.

“The present conductor, Mr. Eric Keating, is doing a wonderful job.”

“He is giving up one night a week for teaching beginners and general practices also take up a lot of his time.”

“Also, the band gives programmes in the park and at the hospital, and is always ready to perform at any function where a brass band is needed in the ceremony.”

(“Municipal Band Has Outstanding Record,” 1953)

Thirty years of commitment, of playing and dedication to community and band is a special milestone that needs to be celebrated.

Second Intermission: Thirty minutes:

Postcard: A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg, 1930 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

As we saw in a previous post, the advent of gramophones and broadcasting led to a profound change in how Australians listened to and consumed music (de Korte, 2020).  And with this new found listening came the inevitable letters to newspapers regarding how much or how little band music was being played over the wireless (de Korte, 2020).  The Australian Broadcasting Commission (A.B.C.) bore the brunt of the letters as they were the major broadcasters of band music at the time– the organisation even had their own A.B.C. Military Band (de Korte, 2018). 

With this in mind, in February 1940 a Mr. J. Grills sent a letter to The ABC Weekly newspaper.

I would like to hear more brass and military band music, and less of the tin-can jazz tripe.  Thirty minutes is not long enough for band programmes.  I would like to hear at least an hour’s session.  Wouldn’t it be possible for The ABC Weekly to publish voting coupons for, say, three months with the features divided up into Classical Music, Talks, Jazz and so on.  The programme compilers would then get an idea of what the listeners really prefer.

(Grills, 1940)

There is no doubting that band music was popular at the time, and certainly the A.B.C. Military Band was played at very regular times over the wireless (“NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS,” 1941).  Nevertheless, this letter from Mr. Grills was probably one of many sent to the A.B.C. on the same subject.  It is but one of many opinions expressed during this time regarding bands and the wireless and certainly people had their musical tastes.  Given the time Mr. Grills wrote this letter, it was in the early years of the Second World War and music from bands was inspiring to many (“NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS,” 1941).

Thirty Years Ago:

We are all familiar with local newspapers of today publishing articles from many years ago to highlight local history as it is a fascination that has not dwindled over time.  Unsurprisingly, we can find the same kinds of articles in early newspapers where they republished articles from previous editions that are decades old.  Perhaps there was also a nostalgic interest in times past during these early years.  Luckily, we can also find snippets of news regarding the local brass bands in these local history articles.

The year is 1932 and The Shoalhaven Telegraph newspaper was one that reprinted (rewrote) an article from February 1902.  In this article we find all manner of news from 1902 including this small snippet:

Fancy Nowra having to secure a band from Kiama!  Why don’t Shoalhaven people take steps to revive the town band?

(“Thirty Years Ago.,” 1933)

In the early 1900s, town bands came and went depending on circumstance, so it is no wonder that the town of Shoalhaven resented the fact that a band from Kiama was booked for an engagement instead.

In a similar style The Wooroora Producer newspaper from South Australia republished an article from a previous iteration of their newspaper, The Central Advocate.  Their article was from 1903 where a plan was put in place to resurrect a band called the Balaklava Brass Band with instruments be sourced from the previous Federal Band (“Thirty Years Ago.,” 1933).  The article from 1903 had a charming headline of “The Dead to be Raised” (“Thirty Years Ago.,” 1933).

A year later in 1934 we can find an interesting article published in The Catholic Press newspaper regarding events held thirty years earlier.  In this reminiscing from 1904, the article makes mention of the Queanbeyan Brass Band playing at the local railway station to farewell a Priest who was about to take up duties at a Church in Sydney (“Do You Remember?,” 1934).  Apparently the band played “Auld Lang Syne” with “heartfelt sympathy” (“Do You Remember?,” 1934).

A bit further north and in 1939, the Kyogle Examiner newspaper published articles from the same newspaper in 1909. Within this article (from 1909), we can see that the Kyogle Brass Band had held one of their regular meetings where correspondence was discussed and a vacancy on the committee was filled (“KYOGLE THIRTY YEARS AGO,” 1939).  And in 1945, the Nurmurkah Leader newspaper published extracts from their “Leader File” where we find that in 1915, “an effort is being made to resuscitate the Nathalia Brass Band” (“What Hapened Thirty Years Ago,” 1945).  

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate, 8/6/1946, p. 5

In another nod to local history, an excellent article was penned in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate by a Mr Leo Butler in June 1946.  This article is a bit different to those mentioned above as it is not a republished extract from thirty years earlier.  However, Mr Butler gives us a bit of history on the Mereweather Brass Band which was started in 1916 – and the article included cartoons of band events (Butler, 1946).  It is a very entertaining and well-written read. 

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate, 8/6/1946, p. 5

Conclusion:

Thirty members, thirty years, thirty years ago and some other thirties for good measure!  The bands of the time may not have realised the history they were making when they made mention of these numbers in various iterations.  And we cannot forget that the contribution of local newspapers when they republished articles from times past.  All of this provides a historical context which is centred around a certain number.  

References:

Armidale City Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot12333]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

AUSTRALIAN BRASS BAND : To be Chosen from All States for Wembley : ENGAGEMENTS ASSURED. (1924, 10 January). Sunraysia Daily (Mildura, Vic. : 1920 – 1926), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article258428082

A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg. (1930). [Postcard : L13.8cm – W8.8cm]. [0016]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b39988221ea6d0008c461a6

Butler, L. (1946, 08 June). Band Began With “Grasp Of An English Hand”. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140620196

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 12 July). The A.B.C. Military Band: an ensemble of the times. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/07/12/the-a-b-c-military-band-an-ensemble-of-the-times/

de Korte, J. D. (2019, 24 March). Names and status: the rare National and State bands. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2019/03/24/names-and-status-the-rare-national-and-state-bands/

de Korte, J. D. (2020, 03 August). Australian bands, gramophones and wireless: adapting to new technology. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2020/08/03/australian-bands-gramophones-and-wireless-adapting-to-new-technology/

Do You Remember? : Thirty Years Ago. (1934, 10 May). Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), 21. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104379129

EAST STATE SCHOOL : BRASS BAND FORMED : Thirty Boys to be Trained : INSTRUMENTS PURCHASED. (1933, 06 October). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254347346

Firth, J. F., & Glover, M. (1986). Lithgow, Alexander Frame (1870-1929). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 22 March 2019, from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lithgow-alexander-frame-7206

Glover, M. (2006). Alexander Lithgow. In the companion to Tasmanian History. Retrieved 23 October 2020, from https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/L/Lithgow%20A.htm

Grills, J. (1940). More brass bands [Letter]. The ABC Weekly, 2(7), 6. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1267490986/view?partId=nla.obj-1267582001

Interested Citizen. (1922, 26 June). THE MUNICIPAL BAND : (To the Editor). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137405659

KYOGLE THIRTY YEARS AGO : From the “Kyogle Examiner,” March 20m 1909. (1939, 21 March). Kyogle Examiner (NSW : 1912; 1914 – 1915; 1917 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235563996

Minton Witts Studios. (1924). Australian Imperial Band in Sydney (Conducted by: Mr W. M. Partington) [Postcard]. Minton Witts Studios, Sydney, N.S.W.

MOOROOPNA NEWS : BOYS’ BAND FOR MOOROOPNA : Thirty Applications. (1936, 12 October). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168153212

Municipal Band Has Outstanding Record. (1953, 21 October 1953). Glen Innes Examiner (NSW : 1908 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184214126

Myers, A. (2000). Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 155-186). Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press. 

NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS. (1941, 27 January). Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175188421

New Caulfield Brass Band. (1913, 22 August 1913). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241545000

New Uniforms for Echuca Brass Band. (1948, 28 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205671119

Rapid Progress : WINDSOR MUNICIPAL BAND : THIRTY PLAYERS : SILVER-PLATED INSTRUMENTS. (1929, 03 May). Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld. : 1922 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76875405

Rimon, W. (2006). Bands. In the companion to Tasmanian History. Retrieved 23 October 2020, from https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/B/Bands.htm

Tenor Horn. (1922, 19 July). ULVERSTONE BRASS BAND : (To the Editor). Northern Standard (Ulverstone, Tas. : 1921 – 1923), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232742518

Thirty Years Ago : (Rewritten from “Shoalhaven Telegraph,” February 12th, 1902). (1932, 17 February). Shoalhaven Telegraph (NSW : 1881 – 1937), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135240081

Thirty Years Ago : The Dead to be Raised. (1933, 23 March). Wooroora Producer (Balaklava, SA : 1909 – 1940), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207142017

Thirty Years Old : ARMIDALE CITY BAND : HOLDS ANNUAL MEETING. (1927, 26 March). Armidale Chronicle (NSW : 1894 – 1929), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188070309

Ulverstone Municipal Band. (1948). [Photograph]. [phot12550]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot12550.jpg

WAGGA BRASS BAND. (1924, 27 October). Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143343712

What Hapened Thirty Years Ago : Extracts from “Leader” File – May 7, 1915. (1945, 07 May). Numurkah Leader (Vic. : 1895 – 1948), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186468909

Brass bands and Christmas cheer: compliments of the season

19310000_Beechworth-School-Band_Xmas
Beechworth School Band. Xmas 1931 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

Introduction:

Bands and Christmas.  There are probably not too many bands people out there who have not participated in several Christmas engagements and will probably do many more in the future. They are one of the staples in the band calendar alongside the usual parades, concerts, ANZAC commemorations, community events, etc.  It is a time where bands can get out and about and present the music of the season to their communities.

Let us go back to times past in the period from 1900-1950 where bands were the entertainment and very much embedded in their local communities.  There are lots of little stories out there.  This post will highlight some of the different stories from around Australia involving bands at Christmas time and no doubt some readers will get a sense of déjà vu.  The times may have changed but the engagements have not!

Gifts and platitudes, carols, charity, concerts and competitions, townsfolk and tourists, and bands and band people.  The compliments of the season from yesteryear.

The days before Christmas:

Christmas Eve and Day are of course the focus of all festivities, however, in the days leading up to Christmas, brass bands were always part of the events.  For some bands, it was an achievement to even get this far, especially in the early years when they battled fluctuating membership and commitment.

In December 1905, the McPhail and Peak Hill District Band, located in the New South Wales Central West was one band that getting ready for some Christmas events.  The band intended on following through on time-honoured tradition of playing Christmas carols to the local town as the brass bands did back in England (Etheridge, 2017; “McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905).  In an article published in the Peak Hill Express newspaper, we see a band confident that it would play in the right spirit for the season,

The Band intends, with their many friends, to follow up the old time-honoured custom of playing and singing during Xmas.

[…]

During the week our programme will be mapped out and advertised in next issue of the Express.  Mr. J. S. Christophers assures the writer that the Band, as the old Band on 1903, are of the right mettle, and will not shirk any duty that they may be called upon to perform for the cause of charity.  With a useful lamp, their present needs will be met, and during Xmas week a big effort will be put forth with that end in view. 

(“McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905)

Christmas Eve:

Aside from Christmas Day itself, we can see that lots of bands were out and about on Christmas Eve, often at late hours, to add to the festivities of the night…or to entertain late-night shoppers.  A variety of events took place on Christmas Eve in those early years and there are lots of little stories to hear about.  Thankfully, some articles were more detailed than others and we can see what the bands played, where they played and how the public responded.

When reading the old articles, it was evident that sometimes it was not about the band per se, but about the Christmas festivals themselves of which the local band took part.  However, when bands did get a mention in the local papers, their efforts were very much appreciated as they helped to give atmosphere to the festivities.  In the year of 1912, we find that the whole area surrounding Alexandra and Yea, Victoria is attracting a number of tourists who have taken the opportunity to relax in various towns and go fishing in the Goulburn River (“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913).  The local newspaper reported on the various events in early January and the Alexandra Fire Brigade Band received praise for their playing in the street,

A new and pleasing departure in the Christmas Eve celebrations this year was the appearance of the Fire Brigade Brass Band in the street.  As soon as they could get together, for some of the members detained in the stores till after 11pm, the crowd gathered around them.  From 11 o’clock till midnight the band rendered the following programme :-

Quick march, Ringwood, by J. Sandegren
Valsette, Nada (T. E. Bulch)
Euphonium solo, Asleep in the Deep (W. Petrie)
Schottische, Daphne (Wright and Round)
Selection, Welsh Songs (G. A. Frost)
Quick march, Torchlight Parade (T. E. Bulch)
Cornet solo, Alice, Where Art Thou (J. Ascher)
Fantasia, Christmas Greetings (T. L. mHellings)

Carols after 12pm – Hark the Herald Angels Sing ; Christians Awake ; Sandon ; Adeste Fidelis ; Arizona ; Home Sweet Home ; National Anthem.

The effect was very pleasing, and gave a good finish to a very festive night.

(“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913)

Some towns were doing it harder than others around Christmas time and in the towns of the Shepparton area of Victoria in 1915 they were afflicted by drought.  But in the spirit of the Christmas season, the townsfolk seemed to forget their hardship and came together to celebrate the season.  It is in the town of Rushworth that we find the local brass band has come out to play,

On the closing of the business places at Rushworth the members of the local brass band assembled at the rotunda and, under Bandmaster Williams, rendered a capital programme of music appropriate to the occasion.  Then, later they divided into two parties and set out on their respective rounds of carolling.  The financial result (£22 odd) was excellent, and again was previous records well maintained.”

(“THE XMAS SEASON.,” 1915)

Likewise, on Christmas Eve in the Victorian township of Coleraine, the streets were full of people, shopkeepers were keeping up a good trade, and the music was provided by the Coleraine Brass band of which the local newspaper diplomatically noted was “showing distinct improvement” (“Coleraine Albion,” 1915).

Brass bands have always been altruistic in Australia and were ready to assist for the sake of charity.  They were also ready to provide good cheer to those in need and in Darwin at Christmas Eve 1920, the Darwin Brass Band went and played at the Darwin Hospital,

On Christmas Eve the Darwin Brass Band under Bandmaster W. Nuttall, paid a surprise visit and rendered a very fine selection of cheery music, which the aged and sick thoroughly enjoyed.  The Matron, in a few well-chosen words on behalf o the staff and patients, thanked them for their kindness and they departed for the town with mutual good wishes and greetings from all sides.

(“XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL.,” 1920)

Far south of Darwin in the South Australian township of Yorketown located on the Yorke Peninsula, the local brass band had announced it was going to present a program of music in the street of town (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920).  As we can see in the article published in the Pioneer newspaper, their Christmas Eve program was quite long with one session of playing from “8p.m. until 9.30p.m.” and then “At 11pm the Band will visit various residences and render Christmas Carols.” (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920).  This was also supposed to be a beneficial exercise for the band as well; they were taking up a collection for new instruments.

The Pioneer, 18/12/1920, p. 3

Then we have performances from bands on Christmas Even where the performance was their first-ever performance!  In an article published in the Rockhampton Evening News January 1934, we find that the Springsure Brass Band held their first public outing on the night of Christmas Eve, 1933 (“SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT,” 1934).  Springsure is a township located inland from Rockhampton and Gladstone and we can in the article a fair degree of pride in this new band.  Full congratulation was given to the musicians on the progress made in their playing.

The Evening News, 3/01/1934, p. 5

In 1946 the Port Fairy Brass Band went out and about playing Christmas carols around town on Christmas Eve and earned praise wherever they played (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946).  This was no less remarkable given the year when they played – one year after World War Two ended – and this was noted by the Mayor in the article,

The Mayor said he was pleased to welcome to his house, one of the best institutions in the town.  What surprised him was that in spite of the war, and the number of members who enlisted, the band seemed to be as strong as ever.  He did not know exactly the reason of their success, unless, it was the strong personality of their bandmaster.

(“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946)

Christmas Day and Night:

It was an early start for one band on Christmas Day, evidently, it was a very committed ensemble!  So much so that on Christmas Day 1922 in the New South Wales South-West Slopes town of Tumut, the brass band was up and about at 4.30 in the morning,

On Xmas morning at 4.30 the Tumut Brass Band conveyed in Messrs Barker and Son’s motor bus, did a tour, commencing in the main street, and visiting every portion of the town and suburbs where there was any population, completing their self-imposed and laudable undertaking at 8.30.  The music supplied by them was of a particularly enjoyable nature, and Mr Pitcher (bandmaster) and his body of performers numbering about 20 deserve the highest of congratulations for the treat afforded by them.

(“Christmas,” 1922)

While the Tumut Brass Band were out and about in the morning, we can see some bands presented pleasing programs on Christmas night.  The Clare Brass Band was to present a program of old English carols at 8.15pm on Christmas night and it was expected there was going to be a large audience, as there had been the night before when a local choir sang at the local rotunda (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA.,” 1932).

Then there are the very big Christmas events of which Adelaide staged one on Christmas night in 1935.  Presented in by The Mail newspaper and involving the South Australian Choral Association and the S.A. Bands’ Association, this appeared to be a massive musical undertaking by including a massed choir and a massed brass band.  After many months of rehearsal, this event was to be presented at the Wayville Showgrounds and it is one of the early times where an event like this was conceived of in Australia (““Music in the Air” On Xmas Night,” 1935).

On Christmas Night in 1949, the Bathurst District Band was to present a very big concert involving thirty-five of their band members from both the senior band and their Boys’ Band (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949).  The program of music for this concert was going to include the obligatory carols and a number of other items.  The band was hoping that an attendance record would be broken (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949).

Boxing Day:

00000000_Wandiligong-BB_phot13253
Wandiligong Brass Band (Source: IBEW)

Not to be left out of the Christmas festivities were the bands that were part of events on Boxing Day.  In an article published by the Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness newspaper, it was reported that the “Bright Xmas Carnival” was the place to be on Boxing Day in 1917,

From early morning buggies and coaches brought big crowds into town, and the special train from Wangaratta was splendidly patronised and also conveyed quite a number of horses and competitors, assuring the social and financial success of the meeting.

(“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917)

The Wandiligong Brass Band was not forgotten and was said to have given “a fine programme of music both on the ground and before the performance at night” (“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917).

Gifts and giving:

When researching for this post, it was also evident that band-related gifts and platitudes were exchanged of which here are two examples (there were probably more).  On the 16th December 1921 the conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, Mr Harry Shugg gave a postcard picturing his prize-winning band to a Mr W. Boina with a short message wishing him the “Compliments of the Season” and as can be seen on the back of the postcard below, in brackets, “(Winners South St 1921)” (Muntz Studio, 1921).  No doubt Harry Shugg was very pleased with his band – and rightly so.

19211216_Malvern-Tramways-Band_Postcard
Postcard, Malvern Tramways Band, 1921 (front) (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19211216_Malvern-Tramways-Band_Postcard-Back
Postcard, Malvern Tramways Band, 1921. Handwriting by Mr Harry Shugg (back) (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

For Christmas 1927, the members of the Cleve Brass Band gave their conductor, Mr W. Gillings, an aneroid barometer “suitably inscribed” as a gift in thanks for all the work he had done for the band (“Cleve Brass Band.,” 1928).  This was a wonderful token of appreciation and one which the conductor would no doubt have treasured.

Thinking of home at Christmas time:

We know that music can invoke all kinds of emotions and at Christmas time this feeling is no less poignant.  There were some who were away from their hometowns at Christmas in faraway places.  Published in the Carcoar Chronicle on Friday 19th of February 1915 was a letter from a local man, Mr Jack (John) Collyer who had enlisted in the Australian Expeditionary Forces and was then stationed in Egypt.  While he wrote extensively of his Christmas Day experiences in the Army camp, he made special mention of a brass band who reminded him of home,

I woke at 5 a.m. to hear splendid music, a brass band playing Xmas carols, a hundred yards away from my tent.  Talk about thrill – it was glorious.  I lay awake listening to the grand strains of ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,’ and others and my mind wandered to Mudgee”

(“XMAS IN EGYPT.,” 1915)

Conclusion:

Music is synonymous at Christmas time and as we have seen, the many brass bands were in their element by eliciting town pride and enlivening the festivities.  These little stories were some of many, there were too many to list such is the activity of Australian bands at this time of year.  As I said at the beginning of the post, the times may have changed but the engagements have not!

I’d like to thank all the people who have read posts from Band Blasts From the Past over the past year and I hope you have found the posts informative.  I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas and I hope the coming year, and decade, is a safe, healthy and prosperous one. 

Jeremy de Korte (22/12/2019)

References:

BrightBright Xmas Carnival. (1917, 04 January). Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138709194

Christmas. (1922, 29 December). Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW : 1864 – 1867; 1899 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139029474

Christmas and New Year’s Eves : The Tourists. (1913, 03 January). Alexandra and Yea Standard and Yarck, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (Vic. : 1908 – 1949), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61188518

CHRISTMAS CAROLS. (1946, 28 December). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88009047

CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA : Clare Brass Band to Play Old English Carols on Xmas Night. (1932, 23 December). Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97616336

CHRISTMAS EVE : Band concert at Yorketown. (1920, 18 December). Pioneer (Yorketown, SA : 1898 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199107675

Cleve Brass Band. (1928, 13 January). Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune (Cowell, SA : 1910 – 1950), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219285198

Coleraine Albion. (1915, 30 December). Coleraine Albion and Western Advertiser (Vic. : 1902; 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119606385

HistoryInPhotos. (2009, 21 February). The School Band at Beechworth, Vic, in 1931 [Photograph]. flickr. Retrieved 11 November 2019 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3295771357

McPhail and Peak Hill District Band. (1905, 15 December). Peak Hill Express (NSW : 1902 – 1952), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107246068

Muntz Studio. (1921). Malvern Tramways Band, 1921 [Postcard : L12.5cm – W8.2cm]. Victorian Bands’ League, Victoria Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b1ccc9521ea69132c023cd5

“Music in the Air” On Xmas Night : Big Wayville Festival. (1935, 14 December). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55719008

SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT : Big Event of Xmas. (1934, 03 January). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201260331

Wandiligong Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot13253]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL. (1920, 28 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3303945

XMAS BAND RECITAL. (1949, 23 December). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161655263

XMAS IN EGYPT : Some Interesting News. (1915, 19 February). Carcoar Chronicle (NSW : 1878 – 1943), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103560632

THE XMAS SEASON. (1915, 01 January). Murchison Advertiser and Murchison, Toolamba, Mooroopna and Dargalong Express (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130086316

The politics of affiliation: Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League

19380000-19370000_VBL-Officials_pg50
Source: The Bandsman’s Year Book and Official Programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. 1938, pg. 50

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 period from 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 general history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) from 1901-1933 and the official formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (V.B.L.) 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 the Victorian band movment 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 V.B.A. had been in Ballarat, yet whatever records that may have existed were not provided to the V.B.L.  When researching for this post the reasons became obvious – they were two entirely separate organisations that wanted little to do with each other.

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 revelations as to the Victorian band movement in the 1900s. This history is important to the band community as it highlights what once was, and how the administrations operated.

1900 – 1920: The V.B.A. and other associations:

The first seeds of a State association were sown in 1901 when delegates from Geelong and Ballarat brass bands decide 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 V.B.A. 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 V.B.A. 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 V.B.A. In the Melbourne area, a new association called the “Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association” (M.M.B.A.) 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 V.B.A., of which a representative attended the meeting.  It is not until a meeting in 1908 that the M.M.B.A. discusses aligning with the V.B.A. and a committee of five is set up to investigate this (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In contrast, a new Gippsland Band Association (G.B.A.) 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 G.B.A. 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 V.B.A. 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).

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 V.B.A. 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 V.B.A. meeting, the motion to move the V.B.A. headquarters to Melbourne was defeated 23 to 6 (“BANDS’ ASSOCIATION.,” 1917). 

Warrnambool Standard, 22/11/1917. p. 3

1920 – 1929: Division – the first V.B.L.:  

If the V.B.A. felt that issues of division from the late 1910s had been placated, the early 1920s showed them otherwise.  The Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association was still in existence and were running their own contests, within the oversight of the V.B.A.  In February 1920 they held a series of contests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in conjunction with the R.S.S.I.L.A., Vic. Branch with entries received from 30 bands – one highlight was a challenge contest between the Hawthorn City Band and the Collingwood Citizens’ Band (“METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST.,” 1920).

Over the next few years however, the V.B.A. found itself dealing with a rival Victorian band association, the Victorian Bands’ League which was formed by a grouping of disgruntled metropolitan bands and apparently some country bands.  At a meeting held on the 23rd of May 1921, the new chair of the (first) V.B.L., a Mr. H. G. Johnson stated that,

…one of the objects of the new league was the control of band contests, also the fostering of a better feeling among bands and bandsmen. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)

…and further in this article we see some further reasoning as to why representatives of these bands had met.

Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the affairs of bands and band contests were at presented being controlled by the Victorian Bands’ Association in Ballarat.  Band matters generally could be better managed by having headquarters of the controlling body in Melbourne. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)
Herald, 23/04/1921, p. 17

One of the main driving forces behind the new V.B.L. was an official of the M.M.B.A, Mr George S. Tucker.  Formerly associated with the Malvern Town Band and the St. Kilda City Brass Band under conductor Mr. F. C. Johnston, he mainly focused on administrative work (Quickstep, 1921).  A weekly column in the Herald newspaper from April 1921 penned by “Quickstep” provides an outline of his band career, but it is the opening paragraph that really introduces Mr. Tucker.

The foremost figure in the band world at present moment is George S. Tucker, the hon. secretary of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association.  A firm and fearless official, a keen debater, and an acknowledged authority on contesting and administrative matters, he has held office for a record term.  Melbourne is recognized as a centre of advanced thought in regard to band politics, and the formation of a new controlling body to be knowns as the Victorian Band League is now receiving attention of the bands.  Mr Tucker has been entrusted with the organisation of this new venture. 

(Quickstep, 1921)

Perhaps the new league was a little overzealous in the way it announced itself.  It is all very well stating that a meeting had been attended by several bands, but it might have helped if the new V.B.L. had sought assurances from the bands themselves that they would be affiliating with the new body.  This was revealed at a meeting of the V.B.A. held in June 1921.  

A letter was received from the St. Kilda Band Association stating that at a meeting of delegates from several bands in Melbourne in May it was decided to form a new league, and it was opined that this would prove to be a very successful body.  It was stated that the Geelong and Coburg bands had agreed to join.

A delegate stated that as far as Geelong and Coburg bands were concerned both had notified their intention of sticking to the V.B.A.  The Malvern Band – which band had a delegate at the meeting – said that he was surprised to find himself elected to the league without authority.  They were also sticking to the V.B.A.

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921)

As well as this, State associations were nominally affiliated with each other and almost as soon as the new league was announced in May, the Band Association of N.S.W. and the South Australian Band Association wrote to the V.B.A. expressing their continued affiliation and refusal to recognize the new V.B.L. (“NEW BAND AUTHORITY,” 1921).  Letters were also received from the Tasmanian Band Association and West Australian Band Association, although W.A.B.A. asked for further information and expressed an opinion that “there was no need for a second body” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921).

Sunraysia Daily, 17/05/1921, p. 4

Nevertheless, the fledging V.B.L. was not to be put off and in early August they announced that they would be holding a massed bands event for a hospital charity at the Exhibition Oval involving 250 bandsmen (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).  Bands were given permission to march from Prince’s Bridge and the Collingwood Band was to march from Collingwood.  The massed band was conducted by Mr. F. C. Johnston who was titled as “the Victorian Band League conductor” (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).

Argus, 10/08/1921, p. 7

Early in 1922 we can see that the new V.B.L. is holding meetings at a favourite haunt in the form of a café located at the corner of Swanston Street & Queen’s Walk.  At a meeting in January, plans were put in place for another “massed bands display on February 12, in aid of the Homeopathic Hospital”. (“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922).  Furthermore, it also appears that some bands were reluctant to join the new League, probably because South Street regarded the V.B.A. as the governing body. This statement from the meeting is telling.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band is now affiliated and it is to be hoped that other “A” grade bands will follow. 

(“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922)

A meeting of the associations took place in June 1922 when a delegation from the V.B.L., including Mr. Tucker, travelled to Ballarat to meet with the V.B.A. to see if a workable solution to governing and/or amalgamation could be found.  The opening paragraph of an article published by the Ballarat Star newspaper provided some background, of which an excerpt is below.

The V.B.L. was originally the Metropolitan Band Association, but enlarged its title and scope in the hope of getting control of brass bands in Victoria.  Evidently this ambition has not been realised, as last night the V.B.L. came with a humble request for authority under the V.B.A. constitution to perform certain local functions while subject to the authority and endorsement of the V.B.A.

(“BAND CONTROL,” 1922)

It is clear in this long article that relations between the V.B.A. and the M.M.B.A. had not been as good as they could be with Mr. H. A. Farrell, President of the V.B.L. calling the bickering between the two associations, at times, “childish” (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  This article reported in detail the proceedings of this meeting, and for the sake of brevity, will not be fully covered in this post.  The discussion was amicable, but the differences were not fully resolved. The main issue was how to manage any confusion between the two associations regarding the running of contests and player registrations (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  The V.B.A. promised to take this request to a full meeting of the Executive where the answer came in August – the V.B.A. rejected the proposal of admitting the V.B.L. into some form of relationship (“BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES,” 1922).

The Herald, 23/08/1922, p. 6

Whatever relationship the two associations had, soured considerably in 1923 when the V.B.L. held a contest in South Melbourne over Easter.  Eight bands took part in this contest, these being; “South Richmond, South Melbourne, Nunawading, Preston, Moorabbin, Deep Rock, Caulfield District, and Socialists.” (“EASTER BAND CONTESTS,” 1923).  Action from the V.B.A. was swift and punitive in the form of disqualifications and fines.  Two bands, Preston Citizens’ Band and the Socialist Party Band were fined £5/5/ and “their bandmasters, conductors, and players be disqualified for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).  Additionally, Mr. James Scarff (Adjudicator) who was registered with the Malvern Tramways Band and Mr. Ivan Hutchinson (Official) of the Footscray Municipal Band were also fined “and disqualified from membership of any associated band for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).

This action by the V.B.A. obviously did not sit well with the V.B.L. or any of the bands that participated in this contest and a few days later Mr. Henry Hellinger, Bandmaster and Conductor of the Preston Citizens’ Band wrote a scathing letter to the Herald newspaper regarding this punitive action by the V.B.A. – he was not impressed as shown by the middle paragraph of his letter.

In the first place, both of these bands are members of the Victorian Band League, and as such, the interference in their private business by any other association becomes a piece of intolerant impertinence.  The Victorian Band League, in organising this contest, open only to members of the Band League, have done something that the so-called Victorian Band Association has never done during its existence.  Furthermore, the V.B.A. has never organised a contest.  Its headquarters are in a country centre, and it can never be a great success, as the bands connected with it have no direct representation no matter what part of the State the band hails from. 

(Hellinger, 1923)

The V.B.L. also acted against the V.B.A. in the form of a resolution which was carried in their June meeting.

At the last meeting of the Victorian Band League a resolution was carried as under: – “That in view of the drastic, and also unconstitutional attitude adopted by the Victorian Band Association with regard to bands and officials who took part in our recent contest held at South Melbourne in future no band affiliated with the Victorian Band League will take part or assist in any way any performance, & c., or assist or organised by any band affiliated with the Victorian Band Association.

(“A BANDS DISPUTE.,” 1923)

The animosity displayed by both associations was hardly conductive to the good administration of bands in Victoria.  It might be fair to say that neither association helped themselves here and festering problems did not seem to go away. Early in 1924 it was reported that band secretaries and band members complained that the V.B.A. was not treating competitors at Ballarat and elsewhere fairly and that there was a “movement to reorganise the Victorian Band League.”  – of which a special meeting was called of metropolitan bands (“BANDSMEN’S DISCORD,” 1924).

Later in 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the V.B.A. in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the V.B.A. in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the V.B.A. as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924).  It seems that the bands listed in this move were not affiliated with the first Victorian Bands’ League, but they did express similar issues and complaints.  Now, the V.B.A. was up against the metropolitan bands on two fronts.

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 Johnston (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)

Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicious 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)

Well-might the V.B.A. be annoyed at repeated requests by the metropolitan bands to run themselves and move the headquarters, but the V.B.A. still held sway over the administration of bands in Victoria.  Harking back to the events of 1923, the V.B.A. saw fit to rectify some decisions relating to the South Melbourne contest at their July meeting.

“The following disqualifications were removed and the players given permission to play with bands as follows: – Ivan Hutchinson (Footscray City); F. L. Ellis (Malvern Tramways); Theo. Parrell (Brunswick City).  These three players were formerly members of the Socialist Party Band, which was disqualified for playing at  Victorian Band League contest.”

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924)

As can be seen in these years of the 1920s, there were attempts to move the headquarters of the Victorian Band movement from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these repeated attempts were thwarted by the V.B.A.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition, however none of the associations behaved in an admirable fashion.  The political infighting can only be described as difficult, along with a whole host of other words.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metropolitan bands, of which were mostly “A” grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the V.B.A.  Perhaps the V.B.A. was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the early 1930s.

1930 – 1935: Changeover – the second V.B.L.:

The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with another formation of the V.B.L. and the demise of the V.B.A.  The Royal South Street Society had worked closely with the V.B.A. for many years, and in the early years of the V.B.A. other State band associations had affiliated with the them (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the V.B.A. would become as the latest iteration of the V.B.L. rapidly established itself.

In 1930 the V.B.A. was still holding a regular schedule of meetings in Ballarat attended by delegates representing bands from across the State.  An article published in The Age newspaper makes mention of a proposal to divide the Victorian band movement into districts administered by the V.B.A. (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next V.B.A. State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

The Age, 18/03/1930, p. 11

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 many metropolitan bands who were agitating to have the headquarters of the Victorian band movement in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting and listed all the metropolitan bands who that sent representatives.

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 V.B.A. 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 V.B.A. meeting was to treat the new league with “indifference” (“INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE,” 1931).

The V.B.L., 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 V.B.L. 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 V.B.L. 

In August, the V.B.L .had its first substantial endorsement when S.A.B.A. broke away from its affiliation with the V.B.A. and decided to endorse the V.B.L. (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, S.A.B.A. had apparently indicated that it still supported the V.B.A.

The V.B.L. showed off its strength in September 1931 when it organised a massed bands event held at the M.C.G.  The Sporting Globe newspaper published an article highlighting how this event was to be undertaken.

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

Obviously the VBL had been busy since it was formed in April and such expansion and activity had not gone unnoticed by the V.B.A., of which had initially shown indifference to the VBL.  At a Ballarat conference called by the V.B.A. in November and attended by representatives of fourteen bands, consideration was given to the developments of the new league, however the V.B.A. did not 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 Victorian band movement and the V.B.A. fighting for survival, there was no slowing in the activities of the V.B.L.  In January the V.B.L. staged another massed band event at the M.C.G.  This event was reported on by a newspaper from Tasmania of which praised the V.B.L. for its initiative, and lambasted the V.B.A. for “failing to co-operate new League” (“Victorian Bands,” 1932).   The V.B.A. 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 V.B.L. with its perceived “centralisation movement” (“COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE.,” 1932).  By August the V.B.A. had lost the affiliation of the two Ballarat bands which were forced to affiliate with the V.B.L. 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 V.B.A. with reports noting the affiliation of most other State band organisations with the V.B.L. (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  At a final meeting in July 1933, the V.B.A. 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 V.B.A. with reports on banding activities focused on the V.B.L.

19330705_TheAge_VBA-Future
The Age, 5/07/1933, pg. 14

We can see in this picture of another massed bands’ event published in The Age newspaper, and from a pamphlet published by the VBL just how big these events are.  The V.B.L. had come unto its own. 

The Age, 25/09/1933, p. 13
Pamphlet: Victorian Bands’ League: Massed Bands’ Recital (source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

Conclusion:

Such was the state of the Victorian band movement over a period of just over 30 years.  This was not just a story on the V.B.A. and the V.B.L., it is a story on the loyalties of the band movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands, although questionable at times, eventually brought unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the V.B.A. did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There are probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.

References:

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BAND CONTROL : VICTORIAN LEAGUE MAKES REQUEST : DESIRES AFFILIATION AS LESSER BODY. (1922, 20 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1-2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213033941

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