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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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”
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.
For nearly as long as we have had formal brass bands in Australia, we have had band associations. These early groupings were either large or small where affiliated bands worked with each other. Except for perhaps in Victoria where, as we found in a previous post, they experienced some major upheaval just thirty years after the first band association came into being. However, the collegial atmosphere brass bands led to associations that tried to foster common aims and ideals.
One core function of a band association was the formulation of rules of competition and association. It would be fair to say that some of these rules were contentious back then (even as they are sometimes now). This being said, the function of competition rules was to make sure that every competing ensemble was on a level playing field with other bands. There were the odd protests, of course, this goes without saying. Generally, the judgment of State associations held when questioned. However, with all States creating rules of competition, when it came to bands wanting to compete in other States, this undoubtedly caused problems at times. The States then tried to start working with one another to bring some uniformity in rules for competitions that attracted interstate entrants.
Hence the subject of this post. This is an examination of how the State band associations tried to put aside their differences and work with each other. This post is not a synthesis of the different State competition rules. As will be seen, uniformity was not an easy process and some iterations of a National Council did not last long. Undoubtedly the War years intervened in the activities of bands, so a working National Council was further fragmented and delayed. When reading this post, people might get a sense of déjà vu, however, this will be open to individual interpretation. This is just another of those fascinating stories that add further history to the activities of Australian bands and bandsmen.
The early years, 1900 – 1930:
The current iteration of our ‘National Band Council of Australia” (N.B.C.A.) dates back to 1930s and their competition result archive and history reflects this (National Band Council of Australia, 2019a, 2019b). However, efforts to form a National Council predate this by another ten years.
The first State band association to form in Australia was the Band Association of New South Wales (B.A.N.S.W.) in 1895 and they staged their first interstate band competition in Sydney, 1896 (Greaves, 1996). This was followed by the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) in 1901 with other State association forming soon after (Greaves, 1996). With each State association now assuming responsibility for running competitions, there were a number of rule differences for bands to negotiate, especially if they competed in interstate events.
The band associations affiliated with each other and recognized each other’s rules and processes. It was not uncommon for letters and other correspondence from State associations to be presented at various meetings. With this in mind, through an article in Adelaide’s Register newspaper in 1913, we see that the South Australian Band Association (S.A.B.A.) received a letter from B.A.N.S.W. “suggesting a conference of the Australian associations in order to discuss and possibly bring the rules of the different associations into something approaching uniformity.” (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1913). This was probably one of the first approaches from one association to another with a proposal to at least discuss differences in rules. There is no indication at this stage as to whether this conference took place, or if it did, what the outcome was.
Notwithstanding the disruption of the First World War on Australian society in general, once this had finished the associations carried on with their activities. It is in the year of 1921 where we see the next mention of a National Council being formed through an article published in the Argus newspaper reporting on a conference held in Ballarat. A summary of the article tells us that:
An Australian Band Council has been formed
“Only one association from each state is to be recognized.”
An order of States has been decided as to who will host the next championships.
Slightly more detail on this 1921 Ballarat conference was provided by the Northern Star newspaper brass band correspondent, ‘Drummer Boy’ where he has noted that, in addition to only one association being recognized in each State, “only players of bands affiliated with that association will be permitted to play in contests in other States.” (Drummer Boy, 1921). There was also another discussion on how many professional musicians could play in each band, with the recognition that brass bands were essentially amateur groups. The next conference was to be held in Brisbane (Drummer Boy, 1921).
There may or may not be a connection, but a picture of an “Australian Band Committee” was published by the Daily Mail in 1923 (pictured at the head of this post) (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COMMITTEE.,” 1923). Perhaps this is a result of the aforementioned Brisbane conference although, at this stage, the connection is unclear.
While there had been championships held in various States billed as interstate band contests, they were essentially conducted by the respective State association under their own rules. However, the formation of an Australian Band Council meant that championships could now be held under National rules and patronage. In 1925 we see how this is affected through a tiny article published in the Toowoomba Chronicle where the 1926 Toowoomba competitions “at Easter will carry the 1926 Australian Championship title for the A, B, and C Grades” (“THE NEXT BAND CARNIVAL.,” 1925). This is an important step in banding competitions as it is now evident that the States had actually agreed on common rules and a national committee had given patronage to a competition. This recognition was not forgotten by local brass bands. In 1927, the Victorian Band Association (V.B.A.) upheld a protest brought about by one band, which was written up in an article published by The Age newspaper:
Malvern Tramways Band complained that two other bands in Melbourne were claiming themselves to be Australian champions, and a ruling was sought. It was set out that the title of the Australian championship was legitimately held to belong to Malvern Tramways Band by reason of its success in winning the Australian championship contest at Toowoomba, Q. last Easter. The association secretary (Mr. W. Martin) stated that he had replied that the Queensland Band Association had the right to grant the championship in 1926, and by its success at the Toowoomba contest Malvern Tramways Band was thereby the possessor of the title. The matter was one in which the band itself could take what action it considered advisable.”
On a side note and somewhat related, this was a perfect case of when a State association proved to be effective on one ruling but failed to uphold another ruling. The two other bands that Malvern Tramways was referring to in their protest were their two main crosstown rivals; Brunswick City Municipal Band and Collingwood Citizens’ Band. In the latter part of 1927, these two bands held a ‘challenge contest’ at the Exhibition Building with adjudicators “P. Jones, P. Code & R. McAnallay” presiding (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Interestingly, the presenters of this contest declared that “This contest…will decide which is the best brass band in Australia” (“CHALLENGE BAND CONTEST.,” 1927). Needless to say the Victorian Bands’ Association was not pleased about this contest and they tried to disqualify both Brunswick and Collingwood – which brought about a response from Brunswick accusing the V.B.A. of over-stepping itself as the current VBA rules “do not provide for a challenge contest” (“BEST BAND DISCORD,” 1927). The challenge contest still went ahead with Collingwood winning by two points (Greaves, 1996).
If the preceding two decades could be regarded as tentative, the next two decades where the National Council was reformed could be regarded as consolidation. In 1931 a new Victorian Bands’ League was formed by a large group of Melbourne metropolitan bands and every other band in the State rapidly affiliated. This led to the demise of the VBA and we see in a Herald article from 1933, the other State associations recognized the VBL as the single association for bands in Victoria and they sent through their affiliations with the new league (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). In the same article, Mr. H. G. Sullivan, Secretary of the VBL “said he wanted to see the formation of an Australian Band Council to unify band contests throughout Australia” (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933). This move was also welcomed in other States. The Secretary of the Queensland Band Association (Q.B.A.) Mr. J. R. Foster, “said they were hopeful that in the near future a Federal Council would be formed to control and lay down rules for brass band contests throughout Australia.” (“BRASS BAND CONTESTS.,” 1933).
A clue as to why the National Council was resurrected at this time lies in a long newspaper article from 1934 published in the Central Queensland Herald newspaper in which Mr. Foster, was interviewed. He provided some enlightening history:
“Years ago the whole of the State Band Associations throughout Australia were controlled by a Central Australian Band Conference, but since 1918 this body has not functioned although several attempts were made to revive the Council” said Mr. Foster yesterday.
“Last year, through the efforts of the Q.B.A., negotiations were made between New South Wales and the Victorian Bands’ League to hold a conference representing all States to endeavour to formulate a set of rules applicable to band contests throughout the Commonwealth.”
“The conference, which will be held in Sydney, will commence on April 9 and all States except Western Australia have expressed their intention of being represented.” … “Included in the agenda will be a suggestion from Queensland that every effort will be made to establish an Australian school for band music on the same lines as Knellar Hall in England.”
“If this could be achieved it would be of inestimable help to building band-masters to study the theory of music and up to date band training methods” … “At present time all State Associations are affiliated, but it is felt that the establishment of a uniform set of contesting conditions will further cement the co-operation already existing amongst the State Associations.”
The history of the current NBCA notes that its official formation was on the 13th of April 1934 which correlates with these events. (National Band Council of Australia, 2019b). A small publication comprising of a constitution, contest rules and quickstep & marching regulations was also published for the Australian Band Council at this time (Australian Band Council, 1934)
No doubt this is an interesting set of developments and hopeful proposals. Evidently, the State associations were quite collegial in the way they were now operating. It seems, however, that “The proposition by Queensland for the establishment for a college of music for the education of bandmasters and trainers could not be entertained at present owing to the expense involved.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934). This being said, an order of National championships was decided – “Queensland in 1935, in South Australia in 1936, in Victoria in 1937, and in New South Wales in 1938.” (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).
We also see evidence from this conference on just how difficult it was to achieve unity in rules. Mr. Dall, then Secretary of S.A.B.A. and the South Australian representative at the conference, was quoted in an article published in the Advertiser newspaper on the 30thof April:
“If such conferences are continued they will be of tremendous benefit to contesting bands in Australia. We found it difficult to frame rules owing to the different conditions operating in the various States. In framing a set of rules to apply to all States without seriously affecting any State’s present rules, we found it necessary to compromise on several items so that they would be applicable to all States.”
“If the conferences can be continued there is no doubt that in the near future a set of rules will be framed that will be entirely satisfactory to all bands throughout the Commonwealth. With this object in view we framed a set of rules for two years trial.”
The next biennial conference of the Australian Band Council was held in Brisbane during May 1936. The Courier-Mail reported on some resolutions which included making Melbourne the national headquarters in future and that all future conferences would be held in Melbourne (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936). “Mr. H. J. Sullivan, secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League, who is the Victoria delegate to the council, was appointed permanent Federal secretary of the council.” (“AUSTRALIAN BAND COUNCIL,” 1936).
Evidently, a new President of the Australian Band Council was elected as seen by the picture which was published by the Australasian Bandsman newspaper in 1937 (“Lieut. K. G. Kennedy,” 1937).
Numerous rule changes were reported on before the commencement of the 1938 conference in Melbourne by the brass band correspondent to the Advertiser newspaper, colloquially known as ‘Baton’. He wrote a very detailed overview of the rule proposals which, unfortunately, cannot be listed here due to brevity. However, the rule proposals covered areas such as registration, marching and the quickstep competition (Baton, 1938). The conference, held at Hawthorn Town Hall in suburban Melbourne was a success and the Mayor of Hawthorn gave the conference, and brass bands full praise (“BANDS PRAISED,” 1938).
In 1939 the National Championships were held in Bundaberg, QLD over Easter and we see some reporting of new rules that were decided upon at the Melbourne conference. The Cairns Post, while highlighting the local brass band that was to take part, also reported that:
Rule nine of the Contest Rules governing all future championship contests now reads:- “(a) The Australian championship shall be competed for annually at a time and place to be decided by the Council, and shall be for “A” grade only”
“(b) State championships shall be held at such time and place as may be decided by the governing body.”
Such are the vagaries of the rules. It was at this time however when the world was again plunged into War and there was a suspension of a majority of band contests. We next see articles relating to the National band council appear again in the middle to late 1940s.
The 1940s & 1950s:
It appears that the Australian Band Council was quiet during the Second World War years, which was understandable and certainly there is not much evidence to suggest that National competitions took place. This is not to say there were not local and State competitions during this time, at least in Victoria (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939). However, as shown by these same records, a competition was held in Frankston, Vic. in late 1945 and early 1946 which was called an “Australian Championship” (Victorian Bands’ League, 1939, p. 34). While it was called as such, the only bands that participated came from Victoria.
Coming into the 1950s we again see the ideals of the Australian Band Council being reiterated in local newspapers. Published in 1952, an article in the Mudgee Guardian tries to explain what the A.B.C. actually is and what it does:
“While the N.S.W. Band Association controls Band matters within that State, the Australian Band Council is the governing body for Band matters throughout the Commonwealth, and has jurisdiction within each State.
The objects of the A.B.C. are similar to the N.S.W.B.A. that is to say: To ensure that Band contests, solo and part competitions shall be conducted throughout Australia under a uniform set of rules: to deal with any appeals which may be made to the Council by any affiliated State governing body in respect of any action taken under any rule of the Council: to promote a general love and knowledge of Band music and good fellowship amongst Bandsmen: and to promote and assist in the promotion of, and to control Band contests.”
The article then proceeded to highlight other aims and ideals.
Unfortunately, the exact date of a name change to the National Band Council of Australia is unclear, however, as mentioned, their website publishes National results dating back only to 1950 (National Band Council of Australia, 2019).
The history of the National Council is unique as there were a special set of circumstances needed to make sure it formed and succeeded. The various starts had similar aims and ideals with the uniformity of rules being first and foremost. Collegiality was emphasized despite the difficulty in creating a uniform set of rules and procedures. The interactions between different State associations are clearly highlighted in this regard. It seems that the State associations tried to make this work with the best of intentions and that is something to be admired. Certainly, the legacy is still seen today with the continued existence of a National Band Council of Australia and the National band championships which are held each year in a different State.
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…
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).
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.