Names and status: the rare National and State bands

19240000_Perth_Aust-Imp-Band_phot13310
The Australian Imperial Band, 1924. (Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Introduction:

For the most part, the naming of bands is fairly logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however there were a number of exceptions  – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways.  This gave the bands an identity and a purpose.  Where two bands existed in the same area, there was undoubtedly some disagreements, although not generally over naming but over status and prestige…and performances!  If a band was given an Australian or State name, that lifted their reputations almost immediately, yes?  Possibly, but there were other factors involved.

The focus of this post is to explore a level up from the local bands where we delve into the rare State and National bands.  Granted, there were not many of them.  In fact, in the time period that is being focused on in this post, these types of bands were thin on the ground.  In a previous post the life of the ABC Military Band was explored, a unique ensemble in its own right and one that included bandsmen from all over Australia.  This was a representative band but different to the more common brass bands in that it included woodwind and percussion.  In this post we will highlight brass bands.

Admittedly, there was some difficulty finding material on these rare bands due to their short periods of existence.  That being said, there were other bands in Australia aside from the more notable ones and mention will be made of them.  We will also see how a certain State band raised the ire of the governing body of its home State.

There is no doubt that being part of a National or State band was one that bandsmen aspired, and for the National bands, the best bandsmen were picked for a proposed or grand world tour.  The one State band that was set up did so in unusual circumstances and the naming of them as a State band brought them much recognition and pride.  With this in mind, National and State bands did exist and although they were sporadic and formed mainly for tours, they developed reputations in their own right and gave more bandsmen another musical outlet.

Early attempts:

State and National bands were mainly set up by organisations that had the resources to undertake such ventures.  Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places was sometimes very vast, and it was not easy to move people anywhere. Yet in the first instance, we can see that the Salvation Army pulled this off in 1898 with the formation of a Federal Band.  An article which was published in the South Australian Register on the 14th of February 1898 is very informative and details the formation of the band and the tour it had undertaken thus far:

There is now in Adelaide an interesting band of clever musicians picked from the ranks of the Salvation Army.  It is styled “the Salvation Army Federal Band” and has twenty-five playing members, exclusive of Major Taylor (Victoria), who is their director.  The bandmaster is Ensign Cater (New Zealand), who takes up an instrument.  Counting in Major Taylor, the seven colonies of Australia are represented in the following order: – Victoria, eight; South Australia, five; Western Australia; four; New South Wales, three; New Zealand, three; Queensland, two; Tasmania, one; total, twenty-six. (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898)

The Salvation Army had begun planning for this band twelve months in advance, with the aim of the band being “the kind of which should tour the colonies and encourage the members of the Army, and by producing music of a high order raise funds for the work in the different parts of Australasia” (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  By the time the band had reached Adelaide it had already toured from Melbourne to Western Australia, back to South Australia and from there had been to the Yorke Peninsula and Broken Hill (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  According to another article published in The Advertiser, the Federal Band was a very fine combination of musicians and presented a wonderful concert (“SALVATION ARMY.,” 1898).  As it is ever thus with Salvation Army bands.

19080401_SMH_Com-Brass-Band_Newtown
Sydney Morning Herald, 01/04/1908, pg. 8

In 1908 a tiny article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which the title is misleading. As you can see in the article (pictured), there is no “Commonwealth Brass Band” that has been formed.  Rather, it is a proposal to secure the services of the Newtown Brass Band to perform at the Anglo-French Exhibition (“COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND.,” 1908).  By all accounts the Newtown Brass Band was very famous having won numerous competitions by this time, and could have probably served as the Australian band at the exhibition (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  However, the Prime Minister apparently rejected this proposal for reasons unknown.

The Australian Imperial Band:

19240109_Morning-Bullletin_Aust-Imp-Band
Morning Bulletin, 09/01/1924, pg. 8

In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993).  However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924).  Mr Partington is mentioned in some references –  he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 (Pattie, 2010).  However, he is not really noted amongst some of the more famous bandsmen of this time.  That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organisational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924).  Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.

1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands.  Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  Other bands wanted to emulate this success and the newly formed AIB was no exception. Hindsight can tell us that this was a noble ideal, and certainly the AIB tried to raise money over the months of their tour to fund this aim.  We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:

In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests. (“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)

However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling.  One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out.  Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band travelling to England.

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Mirror, 09/08/1924, pg. 1 (“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”, 1924)

The length of time this band was in existence was short however they managed to get themselves together and go on a grand tour of Australia, to some very favourable reviews.  There is not much mention of the personnel of the band but given there were many quality bandsmen in the country at the time, finding gifted musicians was probably not a problem.

At least they tried.

The Australian Commonwealth Band:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5293
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)
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Daily Mail, 29/09/1925, pg. 10

Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925).  Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).

The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name being etched in history.  We see in the various photos and ephemera included in this post that they were a very smart looking ensemble, and that they had a distinctly Australian look with slouch hats.

Aside from the way the name of the band continually evolving in the newspapers, this did not discount the fact that it was an extremely fine ensemble made up of the best brass soloists and led by Baile himself.  Certainly, reviews from Australian newspapers as well as those from overseas, gave high praise to the sound of this band likening it to an “organ” or an “orchestra” (“Australian Silver Band,” 1925; “VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).   The newspaper article published by the Todmorden & District News (UK) in 1926 was very informative as to the concert it gave in their area, attended by 5,000 people, and the quality of the soloists in particular the Solo Cornet player, Mr Arthur Stender (“VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).  Below is a list of the band members as published in the book, “Legends in Brass : Australian Brass Band Achievers of the 20thCentury”:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5292
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Front row: Len Ryan, Norm Forbes, Alf Cornish, Fred Myers, Vern Beacroft, Albert Baile, Clarrie Collins, Jack Stokes, Tom Bennett, Ossie Forbes
Middle row: Bob Gibson, Joe Clay, Len Atkinson, George Robertson, Stan Ryan, Albert Ovenden, Bill Murphy, Jack Murphy, Harold Hewson
Back row: Archie Moore, Harold Collins, James “Scott” Armour, Arthur Stender, Alfred Paxton, Joe Hardy (Greaves & Earl, 2001, p. 51)

The Australian Commonwealth Band undertook two Australian/World tours, the first from 1925-1926 and the next from 1926-1928.  As in their first tour, they received rave reviews during their second tour, of which an article in New Zealand’s Evening Post  from February 1927 provides a brief summary (“COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1927).  This second tour was not all plain sailing.  While the band was travelling around Australia, the Australian Musicians’ Union was up in arms about a boycott of the Commonwealth Band while it was touring America (“COMMONWEALTH BAND,” 1927).  The Union started lobbying for retaliatory action against musicians visiting from overseas.  It is unclear how this action was resolved however it is interesting that despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Band, there was this hiccup while on tour.

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Figaro, 03/12/1927, pg. 1 (THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND, 1927)

The Australian Commonwealth Band was disbanded in Sydney in early 1928 after they had finished their last tour of Australia (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  There is no doubt that this was a truly remarkable ensemble, started from the players of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to become a unique band in its own right. And it certainly boosted the reputation of Australian bands in general.  The legacy of this fine ensemble was felt for years to come.

The Queensland State Band:

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Northern Herald, 09/09/1933, p. 19

In the early 1930’s, we see the formation of the one and only State band, the Queensland State Band.  This was formed in unusual, but possibly well-meaning circumstances as the musicians were notionally “unemployed” (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933b).  The other aim of the band was to try to emulate the success of previous tours by the Newcastle Steelworks Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band by touring overseas and competing in England.  Nevertheless, the band formed in September 1933 and included previous members of the Australian Commonwealth Band (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR.,” 1933).

Almost immediately this band raised the ire of the Queensland Band Association (QBA) of which sent an annoyed letter to the Courier Mail published on October 9th, 1933.  In the letter, the QBA Secretary of the time, Mr J. R. Foster made some forceful points about the State band not being “tested for proficiency” under QBA rules, and the fact that the State band was professional yet had excluded some Queenslanders by bringing in bandsmen from Southern States (Foster, 1933).  In addition, apparently the Lord Mayor of Brisbane had allowed the State band to perform in a park while excluding other Brisbane metropolitan bands (Foster, 1933).  It is fair to say that this letter (and the QBA) failed to have much impact on the operations of this band.

After being brought together, the Queensland State Band commenced a tour of Queensland where they visited many towns and rural centres north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favourable reviews of their playing (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933a).  Indeed, they also inspired many local town bands and schools, and it is noted that they played for a combined total of 20,000 people over the course of the tour (“STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN,” 1933).  After this part of the tour ended, they were supposed to tour through Northern NSW and also raise finances for a trip to England, of which either activity does not appear to have happened.

As mentioned, this is one of the only instances during this time where a State band was formed.  It is unclear why other States did not form their own representative bands.  However, it does indicate that where there is a drive, things will happen even if all the aims are not met.

One more band:

There was only one more band to carry an Australian name during this time period, a band that was very short lived – the ‘Australian Girls’ Brass Band’ which was formed in 1934.  We know how rare female bands were through a previous post, so perhaps this was a tokenistic ensemble.  However, they were formed and presented one concert in Sydney where they were not exactly complimented for playing, but apparently looked very smart in green & gold uniforms (“Australian Girls’ Brass Band,” 1934; “FIRST CONCERT,” 1934).  There is no more record of this band doing anything else beyond this one concert.

Conclusion:

If there is anything show from the stories of these ensembles it is a distinct similarity between them.  They were all formed basically for the one activity, which was touring.  Except that this aim was obviously dependent on having enough money.  That being said, the Australian Commonwealth Band took things a few steps further by acting on their aims to compete in England and tour around the world, and it was a band that was in existence for the longest time.  Certainly, the fact that the Commonwealth Band undertook two world tours in quick succession is testament to the organisation and prowess of its manager and conductor, no doubt both well-honed from the previous Newcastle tour.

In any case, once again we see that these bands added to the reputation and life of Australian banding and through them, we have seen some interesting histories.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned and no doubt there are further stories to be unearthed.  We do have a unique history of bands in this country and having bands that carried the Australian name or a State name gained for themselves a distinct historical legacy.

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_Soloists_phot5294
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

References:

5292: Australian National Band (World Tour) [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5292.jpg

5293: Australian National Band (World Tour) Concert Position [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5293.jpg

5294: Australian National Band (World Tour) Soloists [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5294.jpg

13310: Australian Imperial Band, Perth [Online photograph]. (1924). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13310.jpg

13640: Australian Commonwealth Band [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13640.jpg

THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND. (1927, 03 December). Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld. : 1901 – 1936), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84901454

AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND. (1926, 02 February). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232244596

Australian Girls’ Brass Band. (1934, 24 January). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166103727

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 09 January). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54107997

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING. (1924, 03 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214257314

AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND. (1925, 29 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218269176

Australian Silver Band. (1925, 27 November). Te Aroha News. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TAN19251127.2.15.1

AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 24 June). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245712884

COMMONWEALTH BAND : Retaliatory Proposals. (1927, 01 November). Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1916 – 1938), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article34420586

COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND. (1908, 01 April). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14917036

COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND : What others think. (1927, 09 February). Evening Star. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19270209.2.93

FIRST CONCERT : Girls’ Band in Gold and Green. (1934, 18 January). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248959700

Foster, J. R. (1933, 09 October). QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : To the Editor. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1128247

Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Kangaroo Flat, Vic.: Muso’s Media.

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

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Brilliant Conductor. (1933a, 28 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41230080

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Six Months Tour : Trade Propaganda. (1933b, 09 September). Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld. : 1913 – 1939), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150003898

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR. (1933, 29 September). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1124687

SALVATION ARMY : The Federal Band. (1898, 14 February). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35105401

SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION : A Capital Band. (1898, 14 February). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54519628

Sharp, A. M. (1993). Baile, Albert Henry (Bert) (1882-1961). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baile-albert-henry-bert-9402

STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN : Northern Tour Ends : Successful Results. (1933, 30 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181171770

VISIT OF THE AUSTRALIAN BAND : Magnificent playing to big crowds. (1926, 20 August). Todmorden & District News, p. 2. Retrieved from https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001940/19260820/182/0002

“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”. (1924, 09 August). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76437154

Bands on Australian islands: unique challenges in unique environments

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Kangaroo Island (South Australia):

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

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

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

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

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

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

There you go, we have been told!

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

King Island (Tasmania):

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

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

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

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

Phillip Island (Victoria):

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

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Examiner, 30/08/1947. pg. 3

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

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

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

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

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Herald, 09/07/1934, pg. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Island and Thursday Island (Queensland):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peel Island (Queensland) and Norfolk Island:

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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Metal button showing the Geelong Town Band c1900 (HistoryInPhotos)

The beginning of South Street:

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

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

South Street Society adds bands to the program:

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

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

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

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

Ballarat welcomes the bands:

Well, not entirely.

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

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

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

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

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Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

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

The Bands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The competition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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