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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Thirty members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ulverstone Municipal Band, 1948 (Source: IBEW)

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

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

(“Rapid Progress.,” 1929)

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

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

First Intermission: Thirty shillings:

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

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

(Interested Citizen, 1922)

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

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

(Interested Citizen, 1922)

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

Thirty Years:

Armidale City Band, date unknown (Source: IBEW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(“Municipal Band Has Outstanding Record,” 1953)

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

Second Intermission: Thirty minutes:

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

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

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

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

(Grills, 1940)

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

Thirty Years Ago:

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

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

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

(“Thirty Years Ago.,” 1933)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For bands and for community: admire the rotunda

Postcard: Artillery Band playing at the Band Rotunda, Hyde Park, Sydney. (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Introduction:

They stand in parks and gardens throughout Australia as monuments to public entertainment before the days of broadcasting music through the wireless.  A source of civic pride, they are of a distinct purpose, yet cover a very wide variety of design and architecture.  They were built as memorials to musicians, royalty and service personnel, for bands and bandmasters, and also for the towns.  If there is one structure that provides a perfect linkage between a locality, people and a band it would have to be the band rotunda.

Nowadays, as it was when they were first built, we take pride in their aesthetic appeal.  They may not be used as performance platforms anymore as the bands they once served are no longer in operation.  Nevertheless, they still stand, often painted in heritage colours and with plaques on the sides we can learn of the story a rotunda.  A source of fascination for many.

The band rotundas have been a focus for academic and local studies over time as they can help tell parts of the history of architecture and music in this country.  This post is not seeking to replicate the valuable work that has already been completed in documenting band rotundas.  However, there are numerous little stories that can be told, and this post will seek to complement previous work, as well as display numerous photographs.

At the head of this post is a postcard showing an Artillery Band playing at the Hyde Park band rotunda with people watching around the sides, obviously appreciating the playing.  This idyllic scene could have been repeated anywhere when bands played at the local rotunda.  Suffice to say, with growing preservation and appreciation of these structures, as well as the building of new rotundas, music is being heard once again; the old is back in fashion.

History not forgotten:

Queenscliffe Hotel and Rotunda, Kingscote, Kangaroo Island (Source: State Library of South Australia: B+30375)

Much has been written and studied about band rotundas in Australia, and all of it is worthwhile information.  The rotundas are the subject of many photos and postcards, and, as mentioned, they have also informed some of the history of architecture.  There are too many rotundas in Australia for this post and other writing to do them all justice, which is unfortunate.  Regarding academic study, Tracy Videon documented the history of rotundas in Victoria for her Master of Arts thesis (Videon, 1996).  This thesis has been cited in other heritage studies by local councils, for example, the Shire of Mount Alexander (Jacobs et al., 2004/2012).  

Interest in the rotundas has also been displayed periodically on social media with the advantage of having other like-minded people post and link their own stories.  In 2017, Michael Mathers posted on Facebook about the rotunda in Kew that he used to play at with the Kew Band and invited responses from other people (Mathers, 2017).  I have also posted on Facebook regarding band rotundas through displaying parts of my historical collection of postcards – one post relating to the postcard of the Artillery Band at Hyde Park, Sydney (de Korte, 2020c).  Through communication with band historians on Facebook, other resources have come to light such as the book, ‘Band Rotundas South Australia’ written by Brenton Brockhouse, historian of the Campbelltown City Band in Adelaide where he documented all the band rotundas in South Australia (Brockhouse, 2016).

Postcard: Main Street Gardens and Band Rotunda, Bairnsdale, Victoria (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Perhaps the most important resource that has been created about band rotundas in recent years is the book, ‘Pavilions in Parks : Bandstands and Rotundas Around Australia’ by Allison Rose with photographs by Belinda Brown.  This book is very useful as it details the architecture and design of each rotunda and highlights the history and civic pride (Rose, 2017).  It is understandable that Rose could not cover every rotunda in Australia.  However, she does tell us how she made choices by saying that each rotunda in her book was “chosen for architectural, historical or social significance” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  Importantly she also states that the word “Bandstand” is used to describe its “major function” but is also known as a “rotunda, pavilion or, in earlier times, kiosk or orchestra.” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  

In terms of the history of this building type, Rose informs us that its history is long and examples can be found in classical Greece, 7th Century Persia and 16th & 17th Century India (Rose, 2017).  The designs of these early structures were replicated in England in the 1800s and from this came the development of bandstands which were used for musical performances (Rose, 2017).  And as Rose (2017) tells us, the location and function of a bandstand was important.

A bandstand in the park had a useful social purpose.  It brought music to many people who would have no other opportunity to hear it, it was a way to meet old friends and for the young to find new friends

(p. 7)

In Australia, the custom of the time was to follow the traditions and architecture of the British homeland and to this end, they proliferated across the country.  As in England, the purpose of these rotundas was the same and they also gave new opportunities for people to hear music.

The concert in the town bandstand was often the only opportunity for people to hear live music as well as to socialise.

(Rose, 2017, p. 12)

Regarding building materials, many rotundas were built using cast iron columns and lacework which later evolved into timber features (Rose, 2017).  They were mainly built up until the First World War and in between wars, the building of bandstands “almost came to a halt” (Rose, 2017, p. 16).

After the Second World War, the building of outdoor performance spaces was dominated by concrete “sound shells” of which some were “well-designed, but others were extremely ugly” (Rose, 2017, p. 16).  Thankfully, Rose details in her history that the appreciation of rotundas was noted in the 1980s and many rotundas were saved from demolition, and in many localities, they have found new uses for them.

Today, there is interest in bandstands for their practical uses as well as their decorative function and towns and suburbs are building new bandstands.  Some are in Federation style, others provide a more contemporary home for today’s musical events…

(Rose, 2017, p. 16)

We are lucky that so many rotundas have been preserved for the current generations to enjoy.

Bands and Rotundas:

Postcard: Band Rotunda, Castlemaine Gardens (Source: National Museum of Australia: 140044)

There is a synonymous relationship between bands, rotundas and local communities.  A locality expresses pride through a band, but the band needs a place to perform on a regular basis.  A rotunda is then built for the benefit of the town band and the community and the rotunda becomes focal point for the community.  There is more to this of course and with each rotunda that has been built and survives, “each has a story to tell.” (Rose, 2017, p. 5).  

A letter written by a person with a pseudonym “A Lover of Music” was published in the Mount Alexander Mail newspaper on the 23rd of January 1893 to berate the local council over the lack of a permanent rotunda in Castlemaine.  

Sir, – I have often wondered that Castlemaine has been so long without a suitable place for the band to perform in.  I can’t understand why the Council have not sufficient enterprise to erect a “rotunda” in the Botanical Gardens.  Every concert in the Gardens necessitates the erection of a temporary platform.  It has struck me that as our worthy Mayor is a Welshman – and, of course, fond of music – it would be a graceful act on his part to have erected a rotunda worthy of our town and of the band, and to present it to the Council. […] I trust that the Mayor and Councillors will see that very soon our splendid band will have a proper place to perform in.  My main object in mentioning this matter is to show my appreciation of the band.

(A Lover of Music, 1893)

It took another five years, but finally in 1898 a band rotunda was built in the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens where it was opened by the Mayor with a concert presented by the Thompson’s Foundry Band (“CASTLEMAINE.,” 1898).  A rotunda still exists in the gardens to this day.

In 1909, a rotunda that was described as “commodious and ornate” was opened in the town of Nhill in Western Victoria by the Mayor and some local parliamentarians (“NHILL.,” 1909).  The Nhill Town Band was said to be in “high feather” about the new rotunda and during the concert, some bandsmen also demonstrated how civic minded they were by leaving the bandstand to help with a nearby house fire (“NHILL.,” 1909).  The Nhill band rotunda is very much a civic landmark and was refurbished in 2018 by the local council (Hindmarsh Shire Council, 2018).

Some rotundas were not built by the local councils or bands and it is interesting to find an example of a rotunda that was built by a private company for the use of the local band and the town.  The Portland Brass Band from New South Wales was the beneficiary of this investment when the local cement company, which supported the band as well, built a band rotunda in Portland.

The band rotunda, recently erected by the cement company for the use of the band, was officially opened on Saturday night by Dr. A. Scheidel, the managing director.  Mr. J. Saville, the works manager, was also present.  The bandsmen were in uniform, and when all were assembled, the doctor switched on the light and addressed the bandsmen.  He said that the rotunda had been erected by the company as an appreciation of their efforts.  He hoped that they would see that no injury would be done to the building, and looked to the townspeople generally to assist with that object.

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

This article, which was published in the Lithgow Mercury newspaper, also provided an excellent description of this newly built structure.

The bandstand is a very neat structure, octagonal in shape.  It is nicely painted in two shades of green, relieved with white.  It is lit with eleven incandescent electric lights of sixteen candle power each.  Eight of these are arranged round the sides, while a group of three is suspended from the centre of the ceiling.  When lit up, it presented a very brilliant appearance.

(“BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND.,” 1910)

A photograph of the original rotunda can be found on the Facebook page of the Lithgow & District Family History Society Inc. (2015).  In 2017 a new rotunda was opened in Portland where the local parliamentarian is quoted in an article published by the Lithgow Mercury newspaper.

The rotunda is a reflection of the past, of Portland’s history with the original structure providing a backdrop for many events and occasions when the community came together to enjoy music by the local band.

I have no doubt the new rotunda will provide a great place for the local band to again deliver some fantastic events to the residents of Portland.  It will enhance the landscape of the surrounding park, provide a comfortable place to sit, relax and enjoy music from a band or perhaps even a string quartet.

(Toole in “Portland’s bandstand rotunda is officially opened for all.“, 2017)

These sentiments sound very familiar to those of times past.

Commemorative rotundas:

Sydney Morning Herald, 17/05/1924, p. 13

Often, rotundas were built to serve a commemorative function in addition to their stated purpose.  We can see an example above in this rotunda from Wollongong which was built to commemorate the landing of “Bass and Flinders in 1796” (“MEMORIAL TO NAVIGATORS.,” 1924).  This of course is a commemoration to a very old event; however other rotundas were built to commemorate much more recent events.

In 1917, an article published in the Pinnaroo and Border Times agitated for a rotunda to be built in town which would benefit the town band (“Band Rotunda Wanted.,” 1917).  The writer of this article is very eloquent in his words, and ties in town support for the Pinaroo Brass Band as a key element in wanting a rotunda for them to perform in. 

The town owes a duty to these unselfish bands of musicians who give their services gratis and pay fees for the privilege of doing so.  No complaint emanates from the members on this score, but that they are entitled to practical help – which may be given by a strong roll of honorary membership – cannot be refuted.  An opportunity now presents itself of showing this appreciation by inaugurating a movement for a rotunda which many country towns possess.  Not only would a rotunda facilitate and render more comfortable outdoor playing, but the music could be heard to a greater advantage, and the building, if artistically designed, would be a welcome ornament to the Show ground or any other favourable site. 

(“Band Rotunda Wanted.,” 1917)

The Pinnaroo Band Rotunda was eventually built in 1922 to commemorate people of the district that saw service during World War One  (Virtual War Memorial Australia, n.d.).  In 1935 it was renovated and extensive repainting was undertaken, as well as other sundry repairs in the vicinity (“BAND ROTUNDA RENOVATED,” 1935).  The band rotunda still stands to this day.

Band rotunda, Maryborough, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, September 2020.

The band rotunda at Maryborough in Victoria is another interesting example.  This structure was built in 1904 and as the plaque below reads, this was built to commemorate Maryborough’s Golden Jubilee.  As a band rotunda, this is one of the more ornate examples that exist.

Band rotunda plaque, Maryborough, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, September 2020.

In the township of Merbien, a little way west of Mildura in the far North-West of Victoria, a band rotunda was built to commemorate King George V who died in 1936.  The postcard below shows us what it was like in its early days, and the events of when it was opened in 1937 were documented in an article published by the Argus newspaper.

…To-day the third day of the jubilee celebrations was a quiet day for Mildura, but Merbien was the centre of intense activity.  A dense crowd gathered in Kenny Park for the unveiling of the King George V. Memorial by the Postmaster-General Senator McLachlan.

[…]

Senator McLachlan said it was a tribute to the people of Merbien that they had erected such a fine memorial to a King whose influence was for righteousness and peace. 

(“MEMORIAL TO KING GEORGE,” 1937)
Postcard: Band Rotunda, Merbien, Victoria, 1937. (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)
Bathurst Times, 13/09/1915, p. 2

One of the more famous band rotundas that was built to commemorate an event is the Titanic Memorial Band rotunda in Ballarat.  Allison Rose has documented this rotunda in her book, and this rotunda is the focus of a commemorative event each year.  The opening of this rotunda was noted all over Australia, especially because the costs of erecting this structure was due to bandsmen from all over the country contributing a subscription (“Local and General.,” 1915).  The Evening Echo newspaper from Ballarat described the opening of the memorial in an article published in October 1915.

This memorial has been built to commemorate the heroic bandsmen of the White Star liner Titanic (45,000 tons), which met her doom by striking an iceberg in the Atlantic two years ago.

It is on record that the ships band mustered on deck and played “Nearer My God to Thee,” and then went down with the ship, all of them being lost.  When the news of their sublime courage reached Australia the idea immediately occurred to some one that the bandsmen of Australia should place on permanent record their appreciation and it was suggested that I should take the form of a memorial bandstand.

(“TITANIC MEMORIAL.,” 1915)
Titanic Memorial Bandstand, Ballarat, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, June 2019

It is no accident that this memorial bandstand was erected in Ballarat as it was, by this time, regarded as one of the band centres of Australia thanks to the South Street events (Rose, 2017).  Indeed, when this memorial was opened in October 1915, the South Street events were well-underway and there was no shortage of bands in town to combine in a massed band conducted by Albert Wade  (“TITANIC MEMORIAL.,” 1915).  Interestingly, as Rose (2017) tells us, 

It is unique among the bandstands of Australia in being a memorial to the Titanic bandsmen.  The citizens of Broken Hill attempted to build such a bandstand, but they could not raise sufficient funds by public subscription.  With the money raised they had to settle for a broken column memorial that now stands in Sturt Park in Broken Hill.

(p. 80)
Titanic Memorial Bandstand commemorative stone, Ballarat, Victoria. Photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte, June 2019

Proposals, building and public opinion:

Postcard: Hillside Rotunda, Broken Hill, N.S.W. (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

In the early years when building band rotundas was a fashionable thing to do, many proposals were submitted to local councils, and some were for alterations to existing precincts.   Civic pride accounted for the fact that many proposals were accepted – although there were some who objected.  Finding an objectionable letter to any rotunda was rare.  In 1907 a Mr Angove of Albany, Western Australia expressed surprise that the local council was going ahead with the building of a rotunda in Lawley Park (Angove, 1907).  His letter, published in the Albany Advertiser newspaper, mainly raised the question of expense, of why the council was diverting funds to a rotunda instead of other “urgent works” (Angove, 1907).  An understandable attitude at the time.

Proposals for band rotundas, as has been seen earlier in this post, mainly appealed to the goodwill of councils and the public, and drew in the needs of the local bands as well.  For example, we can see in articles regarding proposals in Dandenong, Victoria, and Wallaroo, South Australia that detail how this kind of appeal was expressed (“A Band Rotunda Proposed.,” 1917; “WALLAROO ROTUNDA.,” 1925).

Input from bandsmen was also noted in the early newspapers, as they had more of a vested interest. “A Bandsman” from Scottsdale, Tasmania, wrote a letter to the North-Eastern Advertiser newspaper in November 1919 to complain about the proposed site of the new rotunda – (in summary) it was going to be too close to other buildings and out of sight – why not place it in a park? (A Bandsman, 1919).  Likewise, “Carbolic” wrote to his local newspaper to congratulate the Glenelg Town Band on their recent performance, but advocated for the moving of the band rotunda to a more suitable location because of acoustics – there were nearby walls that affected the sound projection (Carbolic, 1918).

Maintenance was another issue (and an ongoing issue).  While some were proactive about maintaining rotundas, it seems that some were not so proactive.  In Broken Hill, a Mr H. R. Boyce wrote to the Barrier Miner newspaper to complain about creepers that were growing over the rotunda in the Central reserve (Boyce, 1923).  The rotunda in Healesville faced a different maintenance issue in 1941 when lightning struck the rotunda which shattered a flagpole (“BAND ROTUNDA STRUCK BY LIGHTNING,” 1941).  And in 1950 we find that the Brisbane City Council was unable to maintain rotundas to a satisfactory standard due to a lack of materials and labour (“CAN’T REPAIR BANDSTANDS,” 1950).

The Argus, 16/01/1941, p. 5

To finish this section, there were two pictures from newspaper articles that caught my attention.  The first is a picture published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in 1910 that shows a proposal to surround the band rotunda in Hyde Park with an amphitheatre.

Daily Telegraph, 26/11/1910, p. 15

This second picture shows the laying of the foundation stone for a new rotunda in Mount Gambier, no doubt a special occasion.

Border Watch, 26/10/1933, p. 1

Conclusion:

These are special buildings.  They are unique buildings.  And they provide life for so many bands, people and localities.  It is a shame that so many rotundas have been removed, but equally, it is worthwhile to see how many remain and are preserved as icons to a community.  Each rotunda has a story to tell and the stories are interlinked with towns, suburbs and bands across Australia. 

Postcard: Band Rotunda, Auburn Gardens, Victoria (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

References:

A Bandsman. (1919, 11 November). Band Rotunda : (To the Editor.). North-Eastern Advertiser (Scottsdale, Tas. : 1909 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151262612

A Lover of Music. (1893, 23 January). CORRESPONDENCE : A BAND ROTUNDA. Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 – 1917), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198699429

AMPHITHEATRE BAND-STAND. (1910, 26 November). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238664637

Angove, W. H. (1907, 02 November). Lawley Park Rotunda : [To the Editor.]. Albany Advertiser (WA : 1897 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69959867

BAND ROTUNDA FOR PORTLAND. (1910, 24 August). Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218492203

A Band Rotunda Proposed. (1917, 18 October). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1877 – 1920; 1926 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66192904

BAND ROTUNDA RENOVATED. (1935, 17 May). Pinnaroo and Border Times (SA : 1911 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189641733

BAND ROTUNDA STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. (1941, 16 January). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8171730

Band Rotunda Wanted. (1917, 10 August). Pinnaroo and Border Times (SA : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188360174

Band Rotunda, Castlemaine Gardens. (n.d.). [Postcard]. [Josef Lebovic Gallery collection no. 1]. Ward, Lock and Co Ltd, London and Melbourne. National Museum of Australia http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/140044

BANDSTAND BUILDING UNDER WAY AT VANSITTART PARK. (1933, 26 October). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77944349

Boyce, H. R. (1923, 31 October). THE ROTUNDA FOLIAGE : To the Editor. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45624435

Brockhouse, B. (2016). Band Rotundas South Australia. Albumworks. https://my.album.works/2AhNhAf 

Brokenshire, J. (n.d.). Hillside Rotunda, Broken Hill [Postcard]. Joseph Brokenshire, Broken Hill, N.S.W. 

Bulmer, H. D. (n.d.). Main Street Gardens and Band Rotunda, Bairnsdale [Postcard]. Bulmer’s, Bairnsdale, Victoria. 

CAN’T REPAIR BANDSTANDS. (1950, 30 August). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49731125

Carbolic. (1918, 22 August). BAND AND BANDSTANDS : To the Editor. Glenelg Guardian (SA : 1914 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214715457

CASTLEMAINE. (1898, 23 November). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9861653

de Korte, J. D. (2019a). Ballarat Central, Vic. : Titanic Memorial Bandstand – Memorial Stone [Photograph]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2019b). Ballarat Central, Vic. : Titanic Memorial Bandstand [Photograph]. Jeremy de Korte, Malvern, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020a). Maryborough, Vic. : Princes Park : Band Rotunda [Photograph]. [IMG_5902]. Jeremy de Korte, Redan, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020b). Maryborough, Vic. : Princes Park : Band Rotunda – Plaque [Photograph]. [IMG_5903]. Jeremy de Korte, Redan, Victoria. 

de Korte, J. D. (2020c, 12 August). These are the latest additions to the historical band postcard collection that I’ve been putting together. The first one is of a Military Band playing at the bandstand in Hyde Park, Sydney. Unfortunately, the band and year are unknown but the scene it creates could probably be replicated around any bandstand… [Post]. Facebook. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/145016798904992/permalink/4120772517996047

Hindmarsh Shire Council. (2018). Goldsworthy Park, Nhill [Newsletter]. Monthly Newsletter (October), 3. https://www.hindmarsh.vic.gov.au/content/images/what’s%20on/Monthly%20Newsletter/2018/Monthly%20Newsletter-Hindmarsh%20Shire%20Council-%20October%202018.pdf

Jacobs, W., Taylor, P., Ballinger, R., Johnson, V., & Rowe, D. (2004/2012). Shire of Mount Alexander : Heritage Study of the Shire of Newstead : STAGE 2 : Section 3 : Heritage Citations: Volume 3 : Newstead [Report](6205). (Heritage Studies, Issue. Shire of Mount Alexander. https://www.mountalexander.vic.gov.au/Page/Download.aspx?c=6205

Local and General : Titanic Memorial. (1915, 13 September). Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111229166

Mathers, M. (2017, 12 August). Most of us have (or had) a local Band Rotunda. Do you have a photo of it (the older the better) ? This is the one in Kew, Melbourne (a band with which I used to be a player). Upload yours [Post]. Facebook. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/472757142742103/permalink/1844534445564359

MEMORIAL TO KING GEORGE : Merbein Ceremony. (1937, 11 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11116265

MEMORIAL TO NAVIGATORS. (1924, 17 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28072947

NHILL : NEW BAND ROTUNDA. (1909, 05 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218793589

Portland’s bandstand rotunda is officially opened for all. (2017, 11 December). Lithgow Mercury . https://www.lithgowmercury.com.au/story/5111856/portlands-bandstand-rotunda-is-officially-opened-for-all/

Queenscliffe Hotel Kingscote. (1900). [Photograph]. [B+30375]. State Library of South Australia, Kingscote Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+30375

Rose, A. (2017). Pavilions in parks : bandstands and rotundas around Australia . Halstead Press.

Tellefson. (1937). Band Rotunda Merbein [Postcard]. [Tellefson Series 4]. Tellefson.

TITANIC MEMORIAL. (1915, 22 October). Evening Echo (Ballarat, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241689331

Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. Ltd. (1924). Band Rotunda in Auburn Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria [Postcard]. [Real Photo Series M.1763]. Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. Ltd., Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane. 

Videon, T. (1996). “And the band played on …” band rotundas of Victoria (Publication Number 9924382201751) [MArts, Monash University, Faculty of Arts, Department of History]. Clayton, Victoria. https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/MON:au_everything:catau21172148940001751

Virtual War Memorial Australia. (n.d.). Pinaroo Sodiers Memorial Band Rotunda . Virtual War Memorial Australia. Retrieved 30 November 2020 from https://vwma.org.au/explore/memorials/684

WALLAROO ROTUNDA : Proposition by Town Band. (1925, 09 September). Kadina and Wallaroo Times (SA : 1888 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124763086

Ward & Farrans. (n.d.). Sydney – Hyde Park (Band-Musique de l’artillerie) (Artillerie-Kapelle) [Postcard]. [L. v. K. No. 48]. Exchange Studios, Sydney, N.S.W. 

Testing times: the resilience of Australian bands during the Great Depression

165x215mm
A large room of tables stocked with fruit and vegetables with a brass band in the centre of the crowd. (Source: State Library of Western Australia: 8292B/A/6851-1)

Introduction:

From conversations I have had with bandmasters in Australia it would appear that the bands generally have been very hard hit by the depression, but I have been struck by the fine spirit and courage shown generally by them in these passing troubles.  Undoubtedly brighter times are coming, and they will be rewarded for the admirable attitude they have taken right through.

(Adkins, 1934)

The years from 1900-1950 are filled with historical events that caused great upheavals in society across the globe. Australia was similarly affected, and nominally our bands as well.  It was not all doom and gloom for bands as this time is one that I personally regard as a golden period.  However, when society experienced hardship, our bands did as well.  The Great Depression from 1929-1939 is just one of those events that was global, but it was felt right down to the tiniest country town.  As for our bands, numerous articles published in newspapers tell of struggle and hope.  The words from Capt. H. E. Adkins, quoted above, then conductor of the A.B.C. Military Band attest to this.

In a previous post the impact of the “Spanish” Influenza on our bands was examined.  Australian society could not have predicted that a decade later they would again be thrust into convulsions not because of a health crisis, but an economic crisis.  Australian bands that existed at the time relied heavily on local council support and the goodwill of subscriptions from the general public.  The money was necessary to keep them going and keep them supplied.  Yet, as can be seen, there were some bands that were formed during this time.  Music, it seems, was a way in which people could forget their struggles and enjoy some community.

This post will obviously highlight some of the struggles that were experienced by bands and band associations during this time; unfortunately, this is unavoidable.  It is also necessary to provide context.  This post will also highlight the resilience of our bands during this time.  Many survived in the most trying of circumstances.  They also kept up a regular pattern of concerts, parades, contests, and other events and in one instance, they also gave their support to the desperate of society. 

The Great Depression is but one event in history, as is the Coronavirus pandemic of today that is again impacting our many bands.  Resilience is a common term that defines the bands of the time.

The Great Depression in Australia: a brief history:

The headlines on an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 26th, 1929, did not mince words: “Wild Selling. New York Panic. Profits Wiped Out. £80,000,000 Slump.”  – the stock market in New York had crashed on October 24th and this sent the economy into a tailspin (“WILD SELLING,” 1929).  The crash on October 24th, 1929, has been well-documented and for much of the world, this had profound consequences.  However, there had been economic troubles in Australia leading up to this event during the 1920s and this led to a decade of financial hardship for all:

As for many other countries, the 1920s were a decade of mixed blessings for Australia.  State governments continued to borrow to finance important public works projects, but underlying problems remained.  Post-war inflation in 1919 and 1920 was followed by a recession.  Unemployment hovered at around 10 per cent during the 1920s.  Loan funds from London dried up after 1927, limiting debt-financed public works.

(Eklund, 2008)

The early years of the Great Depression were very hard in Australia with major unemployment, collapse of the wool and wheat prices, social unrest, displacement of people and governmental problems (Eklund, 2008; National Museum Australia, 2020).  Williamson (2009) tells us “it was the working classes and those who became unemployed who bore the greatest brunt of the Depression.” and that “Losing a job broke the work and leisure routines of an individual’s life, and the victim further lost the company of workmates.” (from Electronic Article).

From 1930 a form of welfare assistance was given to needy households and was either in the form of “sustenance”, “the dole” or “rations” which was “barely enough to survive” (Hutchens, 2020).  This later evolved into other forms of basic work on designated projects for governments and local councils.  In 1932, 60,000 Australians – men, women and children, were dependent on this scheme and unemployment hit a peak of 32% (National Museum Australia, 2020).  A small song sung by the unemployed and children basically summed up the situation that thousands found themselves in:

“We’re on the Susso now,
We can’t afford a cow.
We pay no rent,
We live in a tent.
We’re on the Susso now.”

(Hutchens, 2020; McAnulty, 2017; National Museum Australia, 2020)

The immediate effect of such large job losses and unemployment led to mainly men wandering the country in searching for work (Eklund, 2008).  As well as this, those that remained in work faced cuts to wages and underemployment, which added to the social problems.  Many who had lived reasonable well in the 1920s found themselves in employment situations that they had not previously encountered (Eklund, 2008). 

By the later parts of the 1930s, economic conditions gradually improved although unemployment was still a major problem (“Australia’s Rise From Depression,” 1936).  Recovery was slow, and then tempered by the advent of the Second World War – the next global period of strife.

Finances and Administration:

How did Australian bands weather this economic storm, and what do the available records tell us?  The Annual General Meetings of individual bands and associations provide snippets of information as to how they fared, and thankfully these meetings were detailed in local newspapers.  The Hills Central Brass Band from South Australia held an Annual General Meeting in March 1930, the early years of the Depression.  In their reports the band said they were faring well and had accrued a small credit.  A paragraph from the article that was published in the Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser newspaper provides an insight into their awareness of the economic situation.

The chairman, in moving the adoption of the report and balance sheet referred to the excellence of the report.  Mr. Duffield had made a very capable secretary, and took a keen interest in the band.  The report was the best they had had.  With regard to the financial position of the band the speaker though it was highly satisfactory, considering the present depression.

(“HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1930)

The Devonport Brass Band from Tasmania took an insular view of the conditions when they held their meeting in March 1931 insofar as the rest of Australia was having problems, but their band was proceeding as best they could.  Their acknowledgement of the present conditions opened the report of the AGM as detailed in an article published by The Advocate newspaper.

The report of the year’s working of the Devonport Brass Band at the annual meeting this evening will reveal that there is little sign of the depression so far as the fortunes of this organisation are concerned.

(“DEVONPORT.,” 1931)
Peterborough Federal Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW))

Back to South Australia, at an Annual General Meeting of the Peterborough Federal Band held in July 1931, the financials were outlined, and credit was given to the secretary of the band for his sound management of the finances during the previous year.

The secretary’s annual report disclosed a very active and successful year, whilst the balance sheet showed the Band to be on a sound footing; two years ago the overdraft was in close proximity to £200, last year it had been reduced to £14/6/5, and this year closed with a credit balance of £15/0/3, the receipts being £116/19/1 and the expenditure £87/12/5; this in face of the terrible depression that has existed, is a wonderful achievement, and reflects great credit upon the secretary (Mr. W. H. Kaehne), whose sole aim has been a credit balance, and he is to be highly complimented on reaching his objective.

(“Peterborough Federal Band,” 1931)

In these early years of the depression, it is obvious that bands were well aware of the prevailing economic conditions.  However, it was not just individual bands that were taking notice, the band associations were as well.  In May 1932 the Queensland Band Association held their Annual General Meeting and mention of the depression was made in the annual report.

Fees received for registration for the year totalled £119 18s 6d., as against £106 8s 6d. in the previous year. The 1933 contests would be held at Mackay.  Notwithstanding the prevailing depression the association had held its own financially and closed a successful year with a credit balance of £91 11s 4d. compared with £105 16s 1d. last year.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1932)

Unfortunately, some bands inevitably ran into trouble during this period and either went into recess or disbanded.  Finances were certainly a factor in this, but loss of members was another – which will be explored in the next section.  In 1932 the Yeppoon Brass Band, located in North Queensland, announced that it would go into recess due to lack of funds and members (“INTO RECESS,” 1932).  However, in a generous move, the band allowed remaining members to keep their instruments while in recess.  The Franklin Harbour Band from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia lamented its struggles in an article published by the Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune newspaper in November 1936. 

… at present one of the depression periods is being experienced and unless a revival of interest by the young men of the town and district is evinced, there is a possibility of the band after 25 years of continuous existence, sinking into oblivion.

(“FRANKLIN HARBOUR BAND.,” 1936)
Franklin Harbour Brass Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW)

The Gawler Brass Band was another that faced growing troubles and in 1938 announced that it was disbanding due money being owed to the local council – they owed £100 for instruments – and lack of members as they had gone from 24 players to 12 (“Gawler Brass Band May Not Continue,” 1936).

The Mail, 18/07/1936, p, 2

This call for more support was a common one from bands and associations as their finances dwindled and membership became problematic. The then Secretary of the Tasmanian Band Association, a Mr W. H. Gray was one who called for more support in a long letter published in The Mercury newspaper in January 1932 (Gray, 1932).  The letter is interesting given that Mr Gray makes no mention of the Depression while calling for more support for the bands – the subject of the letter is mainly about bands playing in certain parks from which they gain revenue.  However, one cannot help but feel that the impact of the Depression was implied when Mr Gray writes in his letter,

The bands are prepared to carry on provided the necessary public support is forthcoming, but many of them are doomed to early extinction if that support is not more liberal from now on.  The Sunday evening concerts provide a most pleasant hour, and are a wonderful tonic and inspiration for the following week’s worries and cares.

(Gray, 1932)

Of course, there were always some who resented that brass bands were getting any form of support at all, which was perhaps understandable. One person from regional South Australia wrote a pointed letter to the Advertiser and Register newspaper complaining that the Government was not doing enough to help primary producers and instead found some money to fund an Institute in Waikerie and buy instruments for the Waikerie Brass Band (to the value of £350) (Rogers, 1931).

Waikerie Brass Band, 1930s (Source: State Library South Australia: B 34089)

There are still more stories to be found regarding the experiences of bands in the Great Depression and thankfully, some are brought to light through community newspapers.  For example, two stories about the Walcha Brass Band, published in the Walcha News newspaper (Walsh, 2019a, 2019b).  The Walcha Brass Band suffered through the 1930s due to the impacts of the Depression but recovered soon after the cessation of the Second World War and survived until 1969 when it disbanded  (Walsh, 2019b).

If this small sample of AGM’s are to go by it is evident that bands were fully aware of the impacts of the depression.  Which made them all the more pleased to find they were riding the economic impacts as best they could. 

Employ a Bandsman:

Every band wants to retain their members as best they can.  This was no different for the bands during the Depression years where, as it was mentioned, people had to leave their localities to find work elsewhere.  Again, the fact that bands were losing members due to Depression conditions, factors that were really beyond their control, sometimes had a detrimental effect on the bands.  One strategy that bands used was to try to find employment for bandsmen in their own localities and on occasion implored local businesses to help them.  This was not an easy thing for bands to ask.

Freeling Brass Band (date unknown) (source: IBEW)

In 1931 the loss of members from the Freeling Model Brass Band from South Australia was noted as a significant factor affecting the survival of the band.  We can see in an article published in The Bunyip newspaper just how dire the circumstance of the band was in 1931.

The secretary (Mr. E. L. Anders) read the report and balance sheet on the year’s work.  He stated that the Band were in a financial position, but were unfortunate in losing eight playing members during the year; some having left the district through unemployment.  […] He also stressed the point, that little or no interest was shown by the playing members and the support from the public was very scanty.  This let the band down badly, and if not more support was forthcoming, the band would have to go into recess for a short period. […] A lengthy discussion arose, and for a time it was hard to distinguish what was being said.  It was proposed that the band go into recess.  After order was restored, it was proposed and seconded that the band carry on. 

(“FREELING MODEL BRASS BAND.,” 1931)

The Muswellbrook Brass Band, located in the Newcastle area of New South Wales, recognized that they might lose two members due employment issues and they made a request to the public in their March committee meeting.  This request was detailed in the local Muswellbrook Chronicle newspaper.

Employment Sought for Members.

Reference was made to the possibility of losing two valuable members of the Band owing to their inability to obtain employment in the town.  The hope was expressed that this matter would come under the notice of the general public, and that anyone in the position to offer employment would communicate with Mr. Wallace (hon. Secretary). 

(“MUSWELLBROOK BRASS BAND.,” 1935)

Similarly, in the same year, the Dandenong Brass Band from Victoria (as can be seen in the article below) also put out a plea to try to find employment for two of their members.

Dandenong Journal, 21/03/1935, p. 5

The Waratah Brass Band from Tasmania and the Port Adelaide Municipal Band were other bands that noted the loss of members due to employment issues (“WARATAH.,” 1935; “YOUR LOCAL BAND NEEDS SUPPORT!,” 1938).  It was a circumstance that many bands found themselves in during these years.

Port Adelaide Municipal Band (Source: The Citizen, 30/11/1938, p. 7)

Finding themselves in a slightly different situation, in 1937 a brass band located in Canberra was “disbanded as a protest against the refusal of the Department of Interior to guarantee all members permanent employment.”  (“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937).  They were to play at an Armistice Service at Parliament House which forced the Department of Interior to hire a Sydney based band (“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937).  However, in trying to defend this decision, the Secretary of the Department, Mr. Carrodus did say…

…that at least half of the members of the band had been given departmental jobs, but because of the stringent observance of the Returned Soldiers’ Preference Act it would be impossible to absorb them all.”

(“BAND IS NOT TO PLAY,” 1937)

It is hard to read of these circumstances and not feel saddened about the state some of these bands.  They were trying to exist in a time of history where outside forces were affecting how they operated; membership and commitment being a major part of those factors. No doubt they were doing the best they could under the circumstances.

The bands played on:

Brass band marching on Anzac Day, Sydney, 1930 (Source: National Library of Australia: 14446)

Music has always been known as a great reliever to troubles and during this time our brass bands rose to the challenge, not only for the good of the band and band members but also for the public and other causes.  In fact, some commentators suggested that there was no need for music making to stop.  In 1931 a Dr A. E. Floyd wrote in an article published in the Australasian newspaper,

The effect of the present financial stringency on every man’s music and musical progress need not be unmitigatedly bad; indeed it may be easily, with a little forethought, be decidedly good. 

(Floyd, 1931)

Admittedly, the context of Dr. Floyd’s article was more on making music in the home environment.  However, there is no doubt that his thoughts were cross-applicable to playing in ensembles outside of the home as well – his encouragement was for people to keep making music no matter the circumstances for health reasons.

For our bands it was a little more difficult as engagements slowed and money was scarce.  The bigger bands, often based in metropolitan centres were luckier than most as they could keep up with a regular pattern of performances, parades and competitions.  Indeed, the Victorian Bands’ League presented some very impressive massed band events during this time including one in 1937 that involved six hundred bandsmen! (“BIG BANDS DISPLAY,” 1937).  In Sydney, a grand competition was held in 1938 which drew together bands from across Australia (Bandsman’s year book, 1938).  While in the regional town of Wellington in New South Wales, their first competition in twenty five years was labelled a “Tremendous and Outstanding Success” by the Wellington Times newspaper (“WELLINGTON BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

Music for a cause:

The brass bands also did their bit for charitable causes and lent their services to help the needy.  For the bands, this was not a new style of engagement as over time they were regularly engaged in helping raise money for charity – the Victorian Bands’ League massed bands event in 1937 raised money for charity.  However, during the Great Depression this was giving a new meaning and we find the bands involved in some distinct social causes as well.

We can see that bands were an uplifting presence.  In North Queensland the Mirani Brass Band helped to lift spirits during a harvest thanksgiving event and the band was noted for their playing – practices had lifted after harvest when more members were available (“DISTRICT NEWS.,” 1930).  While over in Western Australia, the Merredin Brass Band joined other local organisations in an engagement that raised money for the needy in the district (Branson, 1931).  The Matron of the Clare Hospital located in South Australia wrote an appreciative letter to the Blyth Agriculturist newspaper to thank the “generosity of the general public” and the Clare Brass Band was given a special mention for raising money for a new dressing table in the Isolation section (Pattullo, 1934).

The thanks went both ways.  In April 1930 a letter was published in the Burra Record newspaper co-written by the President, Bandmaster and Secretary of the Spalding Brass Band thanking a Mr. P. Clark of Burra for financing a trip and engaging them to play (Hewish et al., 1930).  No doubt the band was grateful for these kinds of opportunities.

Burra Record, 16/04/1930, p. 3

We can also see mentions of brass bands leading marches and demonstrations, which is perhaps understandable.  Many brass bands were supported by industry at this time and no doubt some of the workers were affected by the conditions around them.  Mention was made of a brass band leading an Anti-Eviction procession in Sydney in 1933 and in Newcastle, a brass band headed up 600 unemployed from the “West Wallsend District” who marched on the town hall in 1935 (“ANTI-EVICTION PROCESSION.,” 1933; “UNEMPLOYED,” 1935).

Sydney Morning Herald, 14/08/1933, p. 10

Resilience:

We have already seen that some of the effects of the Great Depression on brass bands led to them going into recess or suffering financial and membership difficulties.  We have also seen that bands kept up their activities as best they could.  They were resilient in the face of adversity.  And if it was one activity that brought people together, it was the brass band.  In this decade, some bands even started up again.

In the township of Leeton, located in the Riverina district of New South Wales, a long letter was published in the Murrumbidgee Irrigator newspaper written by a contributor with the colloquial name of “Has Been”.  In 1932 the Leeton Band resumed practicing and this writer waxed lyrical on how much this band would mean to the town.

Sir,- I notice by your advertising that the Leeton Band is commencing its practices again, which means that we are again to have the pleasure of hearing band music.  This, I am sure, will be very pleasing to quite a number of people in our town and district, for the band is a decided acquisition to any town, no matter how small.

(“Has Been”, 1932)

Of course, there was a trade-off to reforming the band and “Has Been” wrote an appeal to the townsfolk to look for employment opportunities for bandsmen.

Might I add another word to the employers of labour, whether it be shop, farms or factory, when in need of a man, give the band secretary a chance to supply you with a bandsman.  If there is not a man in town suitable for the job, ask the band secretary to see what he can do.  The band secretary, being a life man, would, no doubt insert an advert in the city papers, worded something like this: “Wanted – A mechanic (or whatever the position was that had to be filled), good man only; must be bandsman (cornet player preferred) – Apply Secty Leeton District Band.

(“Has Been”, 1932)

“Has Been” was probably working a bit ahead of himself but the initiative was warranted given the difficult times – and many other bands were trying the same initiative.

The Tully Brass Band from North Queensland was perhaps one of the luckier ensembles as six years prior to 1933, residents of the town subscribed to the band and £400 had been spent on instruments (“TO BE RE-FORMED,” 1933).  When the band was reformed in 1933 those instruments were still available, so the band was able to restart almost immediately.  We can see in the photo below what the band was like in the 1930s.  

Tully Brass Band marching. ca. 1930s (Source: State Library of Queensland: 33123)

To be resilient a band had to be able to handle the circumstances as best they could and gathering public and council support was a chief aim.  When these pieces fell into place, bands could survive reasonably comfortably despite the outside circumstances.  For bands to restart during this time was an additional challenge which some of them managed with success.

Conclusion:

Coming out of the 1920s where the world seemed to be recovering only to plunge into another crisis must have been a major shock.  For bands, this meant a greater focus on administration especially finances, engagements, and membership.  Some aspects were simply out of their control such as the movement of members due to employment – as enjoyable as playing in a band might be, the outside need was to find a job.  It was admirable that many bands sought to find work for their members and themselves become a social service.

No doubt the work the bands were doing was appreciated by their communities either through live performance or over the wireless.  Music is uplifting.  Music could help people forget about their predicaments, if only for a short time.  The bands did their best.

References:

“Has Been”. (1932, 26 February). REFORMING THE BAND : (To the Editor). Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155893074

Adkins, H. E. (1934, 10 January). Britain’s Big Brass Bands. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1158876

ANTI-EVICTION PROCESSION. (1933, 14 August). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16998155

Australia’s Rise From Depression : Story Told By Figures. (1936, 15 February). Northern Producer and Morawa and District Advertiser (WA : 1930 – 1947), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257624349

BAND ASSOCIATION : The Annual Report. (1932, 12 May). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article180704011

BAND IS NOT TO PLAY : Demand Permanent Jobs. (1937, 11 November). Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW : 1924 – 1938), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237760894

The Bandsman’s year book and official programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. (1938). (Band Association of New South Wales, Ed.). Band Association of New South Wales. 

BIG BANDS DISPLAY : 600 Players. (1937, 25 September). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article180841683

Branson, I. N. (1931, 28 April). The Meldrum Benefit. Wheatbelt Wheatsheaf and Dampier Advocate (Merredin, WA : 1930 – 1939), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article251755519

DEVONPORT. (1931, 31 March). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67710241

DISTRICT NEWS : Mirani : (From our Correspondent). (1930, 23 December). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170235248

Eklund, E. (2008). 10 June 1931. In M. Crotty & D. A. Roberts (Eds.), Turning Points in Australian History (pp. 48-61). University of New South Wales Press Ltd. 

Floyd, A. E. (1931, 03 January). MUSIC : Need the Depression Stifle Music? Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141416272

Franklin Harbour Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot3437]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

FRANKLIN HARBOUR BAND. (1936, 26 November). Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune (Cowell, SA : 1910 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219473615

Freeling Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot15438]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

FREELING MODEL BRASS BAND. (1931, 19 June). Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96642544

Gawler Brass Band May Not Continue. (1936, 18 July). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55830899

Gray, W. H. (1932, 09 January). BAND CONCERTS : Appeals for More Liberal Support : To the Editor of “The Mercury.”. Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29939058

Hewish, P. A., Carlson, A. C., & Mannion, F. J. (1930, 16 April). SPALDING’S BRASS BAND APPRECIATION : (To the Editor). Burra Record (SA : 1878 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37488195

HILLS CENTRAL BRASS BAND. (1930, 21 March). Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147845925

Hutchens, G. (2020, 29 March). The lessons of our past and our neighbours’ present could guide Australia’s economic response to coronavirus. ABC News. Retrieved 02 October 2020 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-29/australias-history-of-economic-support-coronavirus-covid-19/12100194

Illustrations Ltd. (1932). Large group of people in shed near tables full of vegetables and fruit [picture] [1 negative : glass, b&w ; 17 x 22 cm.]. [101841PD]. State Library of Western Australia, Illustrations Ltd collection ; 8292B/A/6851-1. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb2649568

INTO RECESS : Yeppoon Brass Band. (1932, 26 April). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54737835

ITEMS OF INTEREST : Dandenong Brass Band. (1935, 21 March). Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213964037

McAnulty, H. (2017, 13 January). History Talking: Surviving life in the dole-drums of the Depression. Central Western Daily. https://www.centralwesterndaily.com.au/story/4403111/history-talking-surviving-life-in-the-dole-drums-of-the-depression/

MUSWELLBROOK BRASS BAND : Committee Meeting. (1935, 01 March). Muswellbrook Chronicle (NSW : 1898 – 1955), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107669487

National Museum Australia. (2020, 15 April ). 1932: Height of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment. National Museum Australia. Retrieved 26 September 2020 from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/great-depression

Pattullo, B. (1934, 12 January). THE CLARE AND DISTRICT HOSPITAL : | To the Editor |. Blyth Agriculturist (SA : 1908 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217990434

Peterborough Federal Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot6378]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Peterborough Federal Band : Annual General Meeting. (1931, 17 July). Times and Northern Advertiser, Peterborough, South Australia (SA : 1919 – 1950), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110542695

Pohjanpalo, J. (1930). Brass band marching on Anzac Day, Sydney, 1930 [1 negative : nitrate, black and white]. [nla.obj-15268053]. National Library of Australia, Jorma Pohjanpalo collection of photographs of Sydney and Queensland, 1928-1931. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-152628053

Rogers, G. S. (1931, 15 April). POINTS FROM LETTERS : Brass Bands or Primary Production. Advertiser and Register (Adelaide, SA : 1931), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45760607

TO BE RE-FORMED : Tully Brass Band. (1933, 13 May). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41214410

UNEMPLOYED : Meet Shire Council : MANY DEMANDS : 600 March from West Wallsend : Strikers State Their Case. (1935, 12 July). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138136031

Unidentified. (1933). Marching brass band, Tully, ca. 1930s [photographic print : black & white , ca. 1930s.]. [33123]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OneSearch. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/192004

Waikerie Brass Band. (1930). [Photograph]. State Library South Australia, Waikerie Collection. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+34089

Walsh, B. (2019a, 27 February). Walcha History: Band stands and delivers for Premier. Walcha News. https://www.walchanewsonline.com.au/story/5922107/walcha-band-stands-and-delivers-for-premier/

Walsh, B. (2019b, 13 March). Walcha History: Walcha Town Band’s final years. Walcha News. https://www.walchanewsonline.com.au/story/5947106/walcha-town-bands-final-hurrah/

WARATAH : The Band. (1935, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86569751

WELLINGTON BAND CONTEST : THE FIRST FOR 25 YEARS : A Tremendous and Outstanding Success. : UNBOUNDED ENTHUSIASM. (1932, 04 January). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143246369

WILD SELLING : New York Panic : PROFITS WIPED OUT : £80,000,000 Slump. (1929, 26 October). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16596498

Williamson, A. (2009). The Cud on History — Looking Back on The Great Depression in Australia [Electronic Magazine Article]. The Cud: Entertain a new perspective: chew the cud. Retrieved 26 September 2020, from http://thecud.com.au/live/content/cud-history-—-looking-back-great-depression-australia

YOUR LOCAL BAND NEEDS SUPPORT! : A Short History. (1938, 30 November). Citizen (Port Adelaide, SA : 1938-1940), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236745262

Legitimate quirks of instrumentation: The inclusion of woodwinds in brass bands

19000000_Malvern-Tradesmen-Military-Band_phot11448
Malvern Town Military Band, approx. 1900. (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

Cornets, Flugel Horns, Tenor Horns, Baritones, Euphoniums, Trombones, Tubas and Percussion.  This standard of instrumentation for a brass band has been in place for a good number of years.  Yet before this standard was settled upon, there was an amount of time where the range of instruments was less distinguishable, or available.  The brass band as we know it today is the result of years of evolution with the result being a largely homogenous sound across the ranges.  Composers and arrangers also moved with the time, and we can see this in the sheet music.

This post will touch on one of the quirks of instrumentation in earlier brass bands, the use of woodwinds such as Clarinets and Saxophones, and even the odd Piccolo.  For the best part of forty years, some Australian brass bands included woodwind musicians amongst their personnel and allowances were made at some competitions, including the famous South Street.  This did not mean that there was widespread usage or acceptance of woodwinds in the brass bands.  However, there is evidence that some bands used them right up into the 1920s.

Tied into this is the naming of bands.  With the inclusion of woodwinds, some bands were still nominally called brass bands, but others were more inventive with names.  Some bands were sitting on the border of being brass or military in their instrumentation, as we can see with the photo of the Malvern Town Military Band above.

Nowadays the distinction between brass, military, and symphonic bands (concert bands) is much clearer cut.  The earlier times was when the boundaries were pushed.

Names and Instrumentation:

A brass band usually means that it is wholly comprised of brass instruments, and then when it included Clarinets, Saxophones, and Piccolos it was still called a brass band.  Such was the discrepancy in the names of early bands, a discrepancy that would cause confusion in the minds of modern musicians – today, names of bands generally indicate what kind of instrumentation they include.

The inclusion of Clarinets in a brass band was one of those holdovers from English brass bands.  Arnold Myers (2000), writing in a chapter titled Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands, explains that,

Often clarinets were used in what were otherwise all-brass groups, a usage which continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, though not in major contests from the 1870s.  The presence of clarinets did not alter the essential nature of the brass band: they replaced one or more Bb cornets, or were used to provide brightness in the upper register in the role usually played by the soprano cornet.

(p. 156)

In Australia, trends of instrumentation in brass bands tended to start and end much later than in the UK.  We know that brass bands held a prominent part in many towns, communities and industries across Australia.  We also know that various military bands, bands comprised of a more substantial variety of woodwind instruments, brass and percussion, had been a part of musical life since the early days of the colony.  Although, at times, they needed special explanation, as shown in an article published in the Geelong Advertiser in 1911 (Blakiston, 1911).  Mason (2013) in his thesis, tells us that “military bands provided music military and state functions, as well as performing for the general public and servicing as a source of musicians for cities’ orchestras and other ensembles.” (p. 81).  In their own way, the military bands have their own important history.  The early military bands served as a precursor to the many Defence Force Bands, school concert bands, community concert bands and symphonic bands that fill the musical landscape today (Mason, 2013).

Aside from the number of woodwinds, some commentators attempted to call out the brass bands which included clarinets for trying to be something they were not.  One interesting article was published in the Bairnsdale (Vic.) based Every Week newspaper in May 1918.  Titled “Clarinets in the Brass Band”, the writer used the premise that just because some brass bands included Clarinets (or other woodwinds) in their instrumentation, did not automatically make them a military band – and that they should not attempt to play military band music or arrangements.

Bands which have few clarionets or even bands which have a goodly number of clarionets, but no other reed instruments, make a big mistake when they consider themselves “military bands” and aim to play military band arrangements.  They are really brass bands plus clarionets – a thing very far removed from a military band.

(“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918)

Excusing the seemingly blunt language, the writer was correct.  Brass bands that included Clarinets and Saxophones in their line-up were still nominally brass bands, they were not military bands.  Still, the naming of bands is interesting.  Below is a picture of the North Hobart Concert Band taken in 1917.  We can see in the picture that four of the members have Clarinets and one member a Soprano Saxophone.  They also include all of the instruments that comprise a brass band.  If we were to apply the modern name and meaning of a concert band, we would assume it to have a full section of woodwinds.  However, in these early days, this was not the case.  On a side note, we can see that the Bandmaster is one of the members holding a Clarinet.  The Bandmaster in this photo, a Mr. A. W. Caddie, was appointed Bandmaster of the North Hobart Concert Band in 1916 after leading the Zeehan Military Band for a number of years (“NORTH HOBART BAND.,” 1916).  Mr. Caddie was a Clarionetist of some renown and won the Clarionet section at the Royal South Street brass solo competitions in 1912 (Trombone, 1912).

19170000_North-Hobart-Concert-Band_phot3458
North Hobart Concert Band, 1917 (Source: IBEW)

Through this short discussion on instrumentation and naming, it is established that Clarinets and Saxophones existed in brass bands for several years and were accepted as such.  It was up to the music publishers to cater for them as well.

Sheet music:

The other side of including limited woodwinds in brass bands is of course the sheet music.  Brass bands that included limited woodwinds may not have had the instrumentation to play arrangements of military music, but they were able to play brass band music with added Clarinet parts – of which the writer of the article in Every Week pointed out (“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918).  Given that the instruments in brass bands are predominantly keyed in Bb or Eb, it was easy enough to create parts for Clarinets and Saxophones as well.  Piccolos used in bands in those days were mostly keyed in Db or Eb which was different.  Parts were included with some editions of music, but this was not always the case.  It is easier to make a comparison between Clarinet and Cornet parts.

Below are two parts of the 1904 march “South Street” by Hall King (edited by T. E. Bulch).  Here we can see clearly that the Clarinet part neatly doubles the Solo Cornet, in parts up the octave (King, 1904a, 1904b).  The range of the Clarinet obviously makes this easy to do, and musically this would make sense. These Clarinet parts would be taken up by an Eb Soprano Cornet in todays brass bands.

19040000_Suttons_South-Street-CL1
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19040000_Suttons_South-Street-SoloC
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Most of the brass band music that was printed in these times originated from large publishing houses in the form of journals, the parts above being published by Suttons Proprietary Limited.  Here we see that this journal of brass band music included parts for Reeds, so obviously Clarinets, and possibly Saxophones, were catered for.  Suttons was not the only Australian music publishing company that included parts for Clarinets in their journals of music.  The two march cards below of the marches “Artillery” by Alex Lithgow and “Newtown” by T. E. Bulch were published by Allans & Co. (Bulch, 1901; Lithgow, n.d.).

00000000_Allans_Artillery_2CL
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19010000_Allans_Newtown_2CL
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Obviously, the publishing companies found there was a market for Clarinet, Saxophone and Piccolo parts and composers would have been encouraged to include these parts in their compositions – although, given the similarities in keys, maybe this was up to arrangers.  After having some discussion with Dr. Richard Mason on this topic, extra money for publishers and composers to produce Clarinet parts was assumed (Mason, 2020).  Possibly the real reasons cannot be found, however, the production of specific music to cater for extra instruments added some legitimacy to woodwinds being included in brass bands.

Brass bands with woodwinds:

19060000_Wunghnu-Brass-Band_phot14255
Wunghu Brass Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

As mentioned in the opening of this post, Clarinets and other woodwinds were part of brass bands in Australia for around forty years.  We can find some evidence of this from early newspaper articles.  It is claimed that Saxophones were added to brass bands in Australia as early as 1890, although, as mentioned in the linked article, this was a matter of conjecture (“The Saxophone,” 1934).  Other bands were more forthcoming over what they had in their band.  In August 1893, an article regarding the early history of the Dandenong Brass Band was published in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal. It seems that when the Dandenong Brass Band was formed in 1885, it comprised of ten members; three Cornets, two Piccolos, two Tenors, one Baritone and one Clarionet (using this unique spelling) (“DANDENONG BRASS BAND.,” 1893).  Likewise, in 1899, a public meeting was held in Tallangatta with the aim of (re)forming a brass band.  Several participants in the meeting spoke in support, one of them was a Mr A. J. Fortescue,

…speaking as a member, observed that the old band had died through want of proper management and lack of public interest.  If formed on proper lines, with a good committee, he thought a band would prosper there.  There were sufficient of the old brass instruments on hand for a start, but there would be some repairs needed.  There would be wanted a piccolo and two drums.  In reply to a question from the chairman, he stated that with a sum of £20 they could make a fairly good start.

(“BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA.,” 1899)

In January 1904 the Linton Brass Band held their annual general meeting, and they were another brass band that boasted a piccolo in their instrumentation.

The band has a stock consisting of one big drum, one side drum, three B flat cornets, two B flat Euphoniums, one E flat bass, one E flat piccolo.

(“LINTON BRASS BAND,” 1904)

These were brass bands in their early years.  Yet twenty years later, as can be seen in the list of musicians in the Wagga Wagga Concert Band (below), a Clarinet was part of the ensemble (“WAGGA CONCERT BAND.,” 1921).  And in 1926 the Gnowangerup District Brass Band from Western Australia was proud to announce that they had added a new Clarionet to the band (“Gnowangerup District Brass Band.,” 1926).

19210303_Young-Witness_Wagga-CB_Clarionet
Young Witness, 03/03/1921, p. 2

There are of course numerous other examples of woodwind instruments appearing in early brass bands of which the above mentioned are a small number of instances.

Competitions:

When in competition, the woodwinds of brass bands were mostly treated the same as any other brass instrument, and they also received the same criticism as well.  There are some examples of woodwinds being mentioned in competition, although this was mainly related to Clarinets and Saxophones.  Even the famous Royal South Street competitions had sections for Clarinets and at times Saxophones over the course of a decade.

The year is 1899 and in September, Northcott’s Bendigo City Brass Band, conducted by Mr. O. Flight, had travelled to Echuca to take part in a small regional competition adjudicated by the famous Mr. E. Code.  The article here details the adjudication of their program and at one point both the Clarinet and Piccolo were mentioned:

Largo – Clarionet and cornets not in tune ; cornet has good taste ; accompaniments too loud ; cornet not clean at bar 17 ; piccolo a little out of tune at bars 18 and 19 ; bass too loud at bar 20.

(“NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND.,” 1899)

Regarding South Street, they added another layer of legitimacy by having sections specifically for woodwinds included in the brass solo competitions.  As can be seen in the lists of entries (which can be acccessed from the links), the Clarinet & Saxophone sections attracted musicians from all over Australia.  Below is a list of competitions held over ten years (with some gaps), with the woodwind instruments that were included each year:

(Royal South Street Society, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916)

Unfortunately, there are some gaps in the list due to lack of data however, it is known that a brass solo competition was held in 1912 which included a Clarionet section (Trombone, 1912).

As well as the records from Royal South Street, we also have articles in newspapers that provide the adjudication of Clarinettists.  This article published in the Ballarat Star (below) in October 1915 is a prime example of an adjudication.  The adjudicator of this section was the famous Albert Wade (“SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1915).

19151022_Ballarat-Star_Wade-Clarionet
Ballarat Star, 22/10/1915, p. 6

What of the Saxophonists?  It is seen in the Royal South Street lists that Saxophones were only able to compete in sections for four years.  However, other opportunities for them to integrate with bands were limited to military bands.  That does not mean they were completely forgotten.  In a forward thinking move, Saxophones were provided their own section in a “novelty” event at the Interstate Band Contest in Perth, February 1931 (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931).  The reasoning was understandable at the time.

Hitherto the saxophone has not been considered to be a true brass band instrument, and therefore ineligible for registration under the W.A. Band Association contest rules.  The contest committee, however, obtained permission from the association to include the competition in its program, and fourteen entries have been received.  There are a number of capable executants among the entrants, and as the choice of the solo is left to the competitor, a varied range of saxophone music may be reasonably anticipated.

(“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931)

The recognition by competition societies that woodwinds had a place in their own sections was well-meaning and forward thinking.  While they were brass band centric, all instruments of the brass band were included, even if they were not strictly brass.

Conclusion:

19100000_Brisbane-Concert-Band_phot8024
Brisbane Concert Band, 1910 (Source: IBEW)

The thought of woodwinds in brass bands would probably raise the eyebrows of many brass band purists. Yet, like many other stories of the brass band world, it is one that is worth exploring, if only for the novelty.  One wonders how these early brass bands would have sounded with limited woodwinds playing similar parts.  The history and sheet music tell us that woodwinds existed in brass bands.  As do some of the pictures, like the Brisbane Concert Band above.

References:

Blakiston, C. (1911, 22 April). A MILITARY BAND : How it is made up. Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149205289

BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA. (1899, 18 February). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199465362

Bulch, T. E. (1901). “Newtown” (2nd Clarionet Bb) : (Dedicated to Thos. Mellor Esq. Bandmaster). [March Card]. Allans & Co. 

CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND. (1918, 09 May). Every Week (Bairnsdale, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153439388

Colouhoun, J. (1900). Malvern Town Military Band [Photograph]. [phot11448]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

DANDENONG BRASS BAND. (1893, 02 August). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1877 – 1920; 1926 – 1927), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70015776

Gnowangerup District Brass Band. (1926, 10 July). Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette (WA : 1915 – 1944), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158909246

King, H. (1904a). “South Street” (1st Clarionet). [March Card]. Suttons Proprietary Limited. 

King, H. (1904b). “South Street” (Solo Cornet). [March Card]. Suttons Proprietary Limited. 

LINTON BRASS BAND. (1904, 13 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210140838

Lithgow, A. F. (n.d.). “Artillery” (2nd Clarionet). [March Card]. Allans & Co. 

Mason, R. W. (2013). The clarinet and its protagonists in the Australian New Music milieu from 1972 to 2007 (Publication Number 38294) [PhD, The University of Melbourne, Faculty of VCA & MCM, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music]. Minerva Access. Melbourne, Victoria. http://hdl.handle.net/11343/38294

Mason, R. W. (2020, 14 June). Phone call with Dr Richard Mason regarding the use of Clarinets in brass bands [Interview]. 

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

NORTH HOBART BAND : New Bandmaster Welcomed. (1916, 05 September). Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191143234

NORTH HOBART BAND : New Bandmaster Welcomed. (1916, 05 September). Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191143234

NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND : Conductor – Mr O. Flight. (1899, 22 September). Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW : 1869 – 1954; 1998 – 2002),2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115017023

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 30 October). 1906-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 26 August 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-30-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1907, 22 October). 1907-10-22 Brass Section. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1907-10-22-brass-section

Royal South Street Society. (1908, 20 October). 1908-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910, 18 October). 1910-10-18 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 20 July 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-18-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1911, 24 October). 1911-10-24 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1911-10-24-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1914, 20 October). 1914-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1914-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1915, 21 October). 1915-10-21 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1915-10-21-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1916, 30 October). 1916-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 11 June 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1916-10-30-brass-solo-contests

The Saxophone : Who Brought it to Australia. (1934, 06 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218832762

SAXOPHONE COMPETITION : Interstate Band Contest. (1931, 02 January). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83492508

SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Brass Section Continued : Mr A. Wade, Adjudicator : Clarionet Solo. (1915, 22 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154562484

Trombone. (1912, 29 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189103747

WAGGA CONCERT BAND. (1921, 03 March). Young Witness (NSW : 1915 – 1923), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113606153

Wunghnu Brass Band. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot14255]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Australian society and brass bands: The Pneumonic Influenza pandemic of 1919

19190624_AIF_VAD-Band_phot16531
Bandys Picnic June 24th 1919. Photo was taken at an Australian camp in England. (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

Early in 1918 it began to be whispered that a new plague, the first pandemic scourge of the present world war, had made such inroads upon the German military machine, as well upon the “home front” behind, that the Western offensive had to be postponed until the worst of it was over.  The end of the third week in March saw this point reached, and the onslaught began.

(Hirshberg, 1919)

So wrote M.D. Leonard Keene Hirshberg in an article for the Australasian newspaper in March 1919.  The years of 1918, 1919 and 1920 were tumultuous times for society with the end of the First World War, the return of service men and women to homelands, and this horrific pandemic.  This influenza touched every corner of the globe and has been noted in medical and social history.

This post will be about some of the local responses to the pandemic and the effect it had on the nations brass bands as they were nominally affected by what was going on around them.  There were several ways the bands were affected, some through loss of members, others through loss of rehearsal spaces and performances, and other bands sought to keep up morale by continuing as best they could under the circumstances.  Pandemic rules and responses from national, state, and local government meant that the bands had to adapt to an ever-changing situation.

Some might consider that there are parallels between this time and ours with many of our community bands in enforced recess.  However, as they were back then, the bands were resilient enough to survive and continue to make music.  I personally give my respect to all Australian bands and band members who are in recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic – this post is dedicated to you all.

The “Spanish” Influenza:

For want of a more accurate name this modern plague, the like of which has not been experienced by humanity for 400 years, has commonly been called Spanish influenza.  Yet it did not originate in Spain, nor was it exactly the grippe or influenza of other days.

(Hirshberg, 1919)

To provide some context, a little history of the influenza must be explored.  Hirshberg was right, the influenza did not originate in Spain.  It was given this name as the then King of Spain was one of the more high-profile sufferers of this pandemic (he survived) (McQueen, 1976).  Most accounts tell of a milder influenza originating in the USA and American troops bringing this form over to Europe in 1918, which then mutated and rapidly spread around the world (McQueen, 1976).  This “Spanish” Influenza is reputed to have killed more than 50 million people around the globe (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Australia must face the fact that the scourge which has taken so heavy a toll from the rest of the world has invaded her own frontiers.

(“Influenza,” 1919)

Australian troops that were demobilising and convalescing in Britain were hard hit, as were troopships (McQueen, 1976).  Australia was forewarned and enacted various quarantine measures in late 1918.  Despite this, the influenza did arrive in Australia with returning troops and “40 per cent of the population fell ill and around 15,000 died.” (National Museum Australia, 2020).  While countries such as New Zealand and South Africa sustained heavy loses, Australia appears to have got off lightly in comparison.  What made this influenza so dangerous was that it was indiscriminate and affected age groups beyond the usual sufferers of influenza with young adults being particularly affected (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Victoria has today been declared an ‘infected’ state on account of the presence of pneumonic influenza which appears to be spreading fairly rapidly.

(Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 104)

The first case of this influenza in Australia was recorded in January 1919 in Melbourne (National Museum Australia, 2020).  Around Australia, Federal cooperation was fragmented and States closed their borders, set up quarantine stations, camps and emergency hospitals, and imposed social restrictions (McQueen, 1976).  Times of infection varied depending on location and travel.  While much of Eastern Australia faced the influenza from early 1919, the first case did not appear in Perth until June 1919 (National Museum Australia, 2020).  By the end of 1919, this influenza pandemic had largely abated (National Museum Australia, 2020).

The bands are affected:

19180000_St-Arnaud_Soldiers-Parade_3361762672_o
Band leading a Returned Soldiers’ march at St Arnaud in 1918 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

Society is the big picture; brass bands are a microcosm of society.  And as mentioned in the opening of this post, brass bands were affected in several ways.  To start with we can look to New Zealand which suffered through the influenza pandemic at a slightly earlier time frame than Australia, and their brass bands were similarly affected.  In November 1918, a Mr Cyril Warin died at the Auxiliary Hospital in Warkworth, aged 19.  He was noted as being “very musical, and was a member of the local brass band” (“Mr. Cyril Carson Warin,” 1918).  A champion drummer of New Zealand and member of the Masterton Brass Band, Mr John Page died in December 1918 (The Referee Special, 1918).  However, in more positive news for one NZ brass band, the Kaitangata Brass Band “obtained permission from the Health authorities to resume their musical practices, which were suspended during the epidemic” (“Kaitangata News,” 1918).

In Australia, local bands started experiencing the impacts soon after the first cases of the influenza appeared.  The Boolaroo Brass Band was to have held a sports carnival in aid of the band in February, only to have it cancelled – this was a decision of their committee (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  However, the Boolaroo Brass Band did participate in the welcoming home of a local soldier from France in this week of February (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  Further south in Tasmania, the Stanley Brass Band found itself without a rehearsal room as their building at the showgrounds was taken over by the council for a hospital (“Local and General.,” 1919).  All was not completely lost as the local council arranged for the band to rehearse in the local school (“Local and General.,” 1919).

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 14/02/1919, p. 5

The Ipswich Brass Band had the distinct misfortune to be south of the Queensland border in New South Wales when the State border was closed.  They were interred with many other Queenslanders in a temporary quarantine station set up on the Tenterfield showgrounds.  However, they put their time to good use presented some impromptu concerts to entertain the other internees (“INFLUENZA.,” 1919).

An interesting discussion took place amongst the Richmond City Council (Melbourne, Vic.) in March 1919 over the activities of two of the local bands and proximity to the local hospital, which was no doubt treating influenza patients.  Initially, the council had declined an application from the Richmond Juvenile Brass Band for the use of the City Reserve, similar to an application, which was also declined, made two weeks earlier by the Richmond City Band (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The reason for both applications being declined by council was the “assembling of a large number of persons” (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The second part of this issue was the proximity of the local hospital to the reserve, and the city band room.  One councillor argued that patients “would be disturbed by the band performance” while another councillor took the position that the sounds of the band would be appreciated (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The refusal of applications for use of the reserve was upheld by the council.

00000000_Dapto-Brass-Band_phot11479
Dapto Brass Band (date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

In April 1919, the activities of one local band was disrupted with the Dapto Brass Band being the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances.  It must be noted that safety was important however, the loss of a function to aid the band (as detailed in the article below), would have hurt the band financially (“SAFETY FIRST,” 1919).

19190419_Sun_Dapto-BB_Flu-Scare
The Sun, 15/04/1919, p. 5

By the death of the late Frank W. Haase (Vice-President and late Organising Secretary), the Band Association of New South Wales has lost and esteemed officer and valuable worker, and the community at large a good citizen.  A victim of the deadly pneumonic influenza his demise was sudden, many in fact, not knowing of it till some days after.”

(Atkins, 1919)

Sadly, the bands, as in society, felt the loss of their members due to the influenza.  In May 1919 the President of the Stawell Brass Band, a Mr David John Thomas, passed away due to influenza (“STAWELL.,” 1919).  The obituary tells of a man that was embedded in his community and participated in a wide variety of activities.  Likewise, the passing of Mr. R. L. Tulloch of Morwell from influenza was also keenly felt by the town.  He was only 26, a father of three young children, a fit gentleman who also participated in a range of activities including being a member of the Morwell Brass Band (“Influenza Victim.,” 1919).

19190510_Ballarat-Star_Stawell-Obiturary
Ballarat Star, 10/05/1919, p. 6

Influenza very prevalent in Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale though mostly in a mild form.

(Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 127)

For other bands, the times were tough as detailed in some reports presented at Annual General Meetings.  The Taree Civilian Band, while surviving through enforced recess, found itself without a bandmaster as he had taken up an appointment as bandmaster of the Port Kembla Brass Band (they soon appointed a new bandmaster) (“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919).  In the AGM report, the secretary Mr. F. W. Barnett also makes mention of the effects of the influenza where he noted,

Owing to the unfortunate outbreak of influenza the band has been in enforced recess for the last couple of months, but notwithstanding this Mr Drake was able to get a scratch band together for the Peace Day celebrations on July 19.  The band has now resumed regular practice and will be before the public in the near future.

(“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919)

The Franklin Brass Band had faced similar difficulties throughout this time period and said as much in their annual general meeting report.  This meeting, which was the first since they reformed after a five-year recess, told of the difficulties brought on by the great war and the influenza epidemic (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).  To the band’s credit, the retiring secretary of the band had worked hard to reduce the debt from five years ago despite the “stressing times” (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).

00000000_Franklin-Brass-Band_phot17032
Franklin Brass Band (Date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

The ‘flu has kept bands back.

The epidemic is passing in New South Wales, New Zealand and Victoria.

Ere long Queensland will be free, and all other States and their banding will go ahead.

Bands will do well to keep preparing for peace celebrations.

(“Short Notes and Personals,” 1919)

With life gradually returning to normal by the end of 1919, the effects of the epidemic were still being felt and in early 1920 we find little stories of bands being called upon to provide their services.  In the tiny town of Westonia, located halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie, the local band was called upon to help commemorate “the unveiling of two tablets over the graves of W. Lockie and Vic Fuhrman (victims of the recent influenza epidemic)” (“‘LEST WE FORGET.’,” 1920).   Both men had returned from active service in the First World War.

Conclusion:

It has been interesting documenting some of the little band stories from 1919 as there were a variety of ways in which bands reacted to the rapidly changing circumstances.  At times the circumstances were beyond their control, however, this did not stop them trying to carry on their operations as normal.  If there is anything to be learnt from 1919 is that bands, for the most part, survived and thrived.

19190000_Riggs-Brass-Band-Gawler_photo821
Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler, 1919 leading a parade of returning servicemen. (Source: IBEW)

References:

Atkins, W. D. (1919). The Late Frank W. Haase, A Tribute [Obituary]. The Australasian Bandsman, 32(10), 3-4. 

Bandy’s Picnic June 24th 1919 : The best of the 300 Sisters, V.A.D.’s, Patients were shy. (1919). [Photograph]. [phot16531]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

BOOLAROO. (1919, 14 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139644485

City Reserve Not Available for Band Performances — Would Music be Soothing to Sufferers in Hospital? (1919, 01 March). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1907 – 1920), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article255877197

Dapto Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot11479]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

FRANKLIN BRASS BAND. (1919, 09 December). Huon Times (Franklin, Tas. : 1910 – 1933), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140944253

Franklin Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot17032]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Frost, L. (2012). Bandsman Vosti’s Diaries : war and peace in Essendon, 1917-1920. Lenore Frost. 

Hirshberg, L. K. (1919, 29 March). “SPANISH” INFLUENZA. Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 32. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140221010

HistoryInPhotos. (2009, 16 March). Band leading a Returned Soldiers march at St Arnaud in 1918 [Photograph]. flickr. Retrieved 20 January 2020 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/historyinphotos/3361762672/in/album-72157613028413958/

Influenza. (1919, 28 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15822176

INFLUENZA : Seven Deaths To-day : Another Victim in Sydney – Case from Argyllshire. (1919, 12 February). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176303325

Influenza Victim. (1919, 01 August). Morwell Advertiser (Morwell, Vic. : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65922832

Kaitangata News. (1918, 13 December). Clutha Leader, 3. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL19181213.2.7

‘LEST WE FORGET.’ : Unveiling Ceremony by the R.S.A. (1920, 07 February 1920). Westonian (WA : 1915 – 1920), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212529404

Local and General : Bandroom Wanted. (1919, 19 February). Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162263034

McQueen, H. (1976). The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19. In J. I. Roe (Ed.), Social policy in Australia : some perspectives, 1901-1975 (pp. 131-147). Cassell Australia. 

Mr. Cyril Carson Warin. (1918, 27 November). Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, 5. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ROTWKG19181127.2.14.6

National Museum Australia. (2020). 1919: Influenza pandemic reaches Australia. National Museum Australia. Retrieved 15 May 2020 from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/influenza-pandemic

Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler. (1919). [Photograph]. [photo821]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

SAFETY FIRST : Scare Spoils Social. (1919, 15 April). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221450689

Short Notes and Personals. (1919). The Australasian Bandsman, 32(10), 2-3. 

STAWELL : Obituary. (1919, 10 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212640834

Taree Civilian Band. (1919, 02 August). Northern Champion (Taree, NSW : 1913 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157096567

The Referee Special. (1918, 18 December). INFLUENZA : Heavy Losses Sustained in Sport and Stage. Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 – 1939), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120312959

Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards

Introduction:

Administering band associations was, and is even now, never an easy task.  Granted, the first focus of early band associations was managing the affiliations of member bands, forming rules and running competitions.  These tasks aside, there was little else they did.  In this arcane and insular world of administration, decisions that the early band associations made were at times difficult to understand and criticism was rife.  It can be seen in previous posts on the history of the National Band Council of Australia and the experiences of bands in South Street just how peculiar some administrative decisions could be.  In their defence however, we can also see that the associations were acting on the information that they had available at the time, and that some questionable decisions can simply be attributed to a lack of communication.

This post is focusing on aspects of band administration where the difficult decisions of band grading and choices of music were made by sub-committees known as Music Advisory Boards.  These noted groups of bands people, often adjudicators and conductors, made recommendations to band associations.  While some records are not as informative as they could be, the Trove archive gives us some clues as to how they operated.

It is an interesting portion of band history where some bands people desired more of a focus on the music but recognized the value of association.  Balancing these two ideals was a challenge!

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

19330706-(19330714)_VBL-AGM-P1
A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, p. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
19200814_Herald_J-Booth-Gore
Herald, 14/08/1920, p. 16

Above is part of the first page of an annual report presented by the Victorian Bands’ League at their second Annual General Meeting on 14th July 1933.  Prominently displayed on this first page are all the officers of the League; Delegates, Administrators, Conductors and Adjudicators, representing country, regional and metropolitan areas.  A good mix of people at the time to run the fledging League!  There is one group of musicians listed on this page that warrants special mention and is nominally the focus of this post – the Music Advisory Board.

It was not always possible to discern why the Music Advisory Boards existed in the first place.  Through research in the Trove archives, it was mentioned that they did exist, but their exact purpose in assisting the Associations was harder to find – however their contemporary counterparts operate in much the same way so we can apply this knowledge back over the years.

This post is not trying to dismiss the operations of other State band associations and their MAB’s.  However, the Victorian Bands’ Association and Victorian Bands’ League provided the most information through newspaper articles as to who was included in their MAB’s over the years.  Which means it presents a perfect case study of how the personnel changed (or did not change) over the years.  Below is a table detailing the members of the Victorian MAB over a time period of thirteen years.  Knowing Victorian band history, we can see that these musicians were all eminent conductors/adjudicators who displayed an extensive knowledge of brass band repertoire.  And they were all conductors of Victorian A Grade bands.

1920 – VBL1922 – VBA1927 – VBA1933 – VBL
P. CodeJ. Booth-GoreP. CodeJ. Bowden
P. JonesL. HoffmanF. C. JohnstonJ. Booth-Gore
H. R. ShuggF. C. JohnstonP. JonesF. C. Johnston
 P. JonesR. McCaskillA. H. Paxton
 H. NivenH. R. ShuggH. R. Shugg
 H. R. Shugg  
(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)
19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, p. 17

What is obvious here is the consistency of some of the appointments namely Percy Code, Percy Jones, Frank “Massa” Johnston, and Harry Shugg.  Some pictures of these bandsmen are on the side of this post.  We could assume that with the passage of time, if the same people were well-regarded in that role then they would continue to serve.  The interesting fact about the Victorian MAB members is that they carried through the changeover from the VBA to the VBL.  On a side note, given that many of these conductors were working with metropolitan bands at the time they would have been the instigators of the VBL in the early 1930s.

There were some occasions regarding band competitions where MAB’s were not involved in choosing music.  We can see articles published in the Advocate newspaper in 1921 and 1927 that Percy Jones was the adjudicator of the popular New Year’s Day Burnie carnival band competition (“BURNIE.,” 1927; “BURNIE CARNIVAL.,” 1921).   However, it is in the 1927 article where we can see that Percy Jones himself made recommendations to the Burnie Athletics Club on the choice of music for the next carnival band competition:

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.”

(“BURNIE.,” 1927)

One notable criticism of the music choices made by MAB’s came from Cecil Clarence Mullen in his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  We know from a previous post that Mullen was very opinionated, and it is not clear how much influence he wielded through his writings, especially his booklet.  He wrote:

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 6)
19200911_Herald_P-Code
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Now while Mullen might be right about the years when the largest crowds attended the brass band competitions at South Street, it must be recognized that he was merely expressing his opinion and it might be a short stretch to link crowd numbers with choices of music.  He went on further in this section of the booklet to explain his reasons for wanting more operatic arrangements in the band competitions with the implied belief that they were far more musical than what current brass band composers were providing, and that they were more pleasing to the ears of the audience (Mullen, 1951).  He was especially taken with the operatic arrangements of Alexander Owen and he also wanted a sight-reading section to be introduced (Mullen, 1951).  This was not the first time Mullen wrote with favour on operatic works being played by bands.  In a later article he attributed the fine playing of bands in the early years to their playing of operatic works (Mullen, 1965).

Aside from Mullen, there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism in early newspapers regarding the choices of music made by the MAB’s.  Which contrasts with the criticisms levelled at State Band Associations and MAB’s regarding grading of bands.  Grading was a vexed issue, and this will be explored in the next section.

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

To understand why grading does or does not work, it’s important to know a little history on how Associations applied grading to bands.  The first competition that included grading of some sort was in New South Wales at the 1896 Intercolonial Band Contest held in Sydney in November where bands were grouped into “first division” or “second division” (Greaves, 1996, p. 23).  In Victoria, the first five years of South Street from 1900-1905 were ungraded and, Mullen (1951) has provided some history as to how grading developed from 1905.

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909.

(p. 7)

Having only three grades was the status quo in Victoria until, according to available resources, a D grade was introduced in 1922 (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922).

19210108_Herald_L-Hoffman
Herald, 8/01/1921, p. 11

Let us take a look at how bands moved up or down grades over some years.  Below are links to files that show the grades in certain years from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.  The Victorian dataset is more condensed as they show the grades in the years 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 & 1927.  For Queensland, the dataset is more spread due to limited information and the files are based on information from the years 1913, 1919 & 1937.  Included is an example of grading presented by the Western Australian Band Association in 1932, which is very limited, however there’s an interesting discussion from the WABA meeting that took place that year.  All band lists were obtained from newspaper articles held in the Trove archive and can be accessed from the links in the citations.  The grade files will appear as PDF’s and can be downloaded.

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

(Source of Victorian grade data: “BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1923; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; “Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

(Source of Queensland grade data: “Band Association.,” 1919; “GRADING THE BANDS.,” 1913; “NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937)

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

(Source of Western Australian grade data: Delegate, 1932)

19200828_Herald_P-Jones
Herald, 28/08/1920, pg. 19

The Victorian context is possibly a better example of grade history given the range of years.  Here we see a bulge– a smaller number of bands in A Grade and D Grade while B Grade is larger and C Grade having the most numerous amount of bands  Taking a look at the C Grade in particular, while the D Grade was introduced in 1922, in 1924 there is large expansion of bands in C Grade.  Whether this is down to the number of bands that affiliated that year, or general musical standard is open to interpretation.  1924 was certainly a golden year of bands, except for perhaps the A Grade where there were only three bands.  Regarding the A Grade, once the top bands were placed in that grade, they tended not to leave.  In 1926 and 1927 we see a jump in that number due to bands moving up from B Grade.

In Queensland it is a little more difficult to interpret the grading history given the lack of information, so a reliance on the available years is necessary.  However, there are some similarities with Victoria, especially in the middle grades.  In 1919 there is a large expansion in the number of bands in C Grade.  We also see some innovation on the part of the Queensland Band Association in 1937 where there is a D Grade, but there are also grades to cater bands that are from specific locations or age groups.  Here we see a “Sub D Grade (Country)” and a “Boy’s Band (Under 15 years)” (“NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937) which no doubt helped more bands participate in events.

The example from Western Australia is obviously small, but the list originates from an article published in the Sunday Times regarding a wide-ranging meeting held by WABA.  The regrading of bands was included in the discussion as an agenda item:

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support.

(Delegate, 1932)

Victoria offers more information on the roles of the MAB in the regrading process as the Queensland Band Association seems to have undertook this role themselves (there is no mention of a Queensland MAB).  The role of the MAB’s in advising on regrading is evident although it seems, at least in the early stages, that the V.B.A. undertook the regrading process with their MAB offering limited advice.  We see in 1920 that,

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive…

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

However, in 1922, the Victorian MAB was responsible for the regrading process:

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows…

(“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

And mention of the role of the MAB in regrading bands is again mentioned in articles from 1926 and 1927 (“BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926).

This is not to say grading was always a smooth process and there were always levels of criticism from various parties, as well as disagreements between States – the rules were never fully unified.  As early as 1914 we can see letters in the papers regarding the grading of bands.  One letter from Mr S. E. Hambleton, then Secretary of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band stood out for its candidness.  Part of his letter was criticism while contributing his own ideas:

The band of which I am secretary has not won a cash prize for five years, and although I have made applications to be re-classified (claimed on two years’ rules), I am told that the Victorian Band Association would not listen to it as we are an A Grade band.  The other bands know this, and, of course, will not enter for the higher grade, with the promise, perhaps of a life sentence hanging over them.

Our band of 24 could be divided into three parts and absorbed by B Grade bands and allowed to play in B Grade.  Why not classify the individual players and thus stop good players in A Grade bands from becoming members of a lower grade through better inducements.  Collingwood and Prahran are the only two bands classed as A Grade, although there are four or five others advanced enough to compete in this grade.

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in.

(Hambleton, 1914)

Again in 1914, a letter was published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper lamenting the grading process carried out by the Queensland Band Association after the Maryborough contests.  The writer, Mr W. Jackson, a Delegate of the Childers band, was obviously annoyed at the whole process and made this quite clear in his letter.  He wrote (in part),

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music.

(Jackson, 1914)

It would be fair to say that both Mr Hambleton and Mr Jackson made some fair points re grading problems in their respective states.  They both knew their bands and how the administration worked.  We could assume that the State associations were trying their best in trying to please everyone but in some respects, it was never a perfect process.  Perhaps this was the reason MAB’s were formed to advise on grading.

As mentioned above, at times the rules and administration of different State associations came into conflict with each other regarding registration and grading.  One notable example was highlighted in Tasmania after another one of the contests in Burnie.  At a meeting of the Tasmanian Band Association in 1930, this was raised as an agenda item:

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)
19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, p. 16

…which is fine in theory but as discovered in the history of the National Band Council of Australia, unification of rules was an ideal that never really reached fruition despite the best intentions of State associations.

What we have seen in this small history are situations where the grading process was fraught with difficulty, did not please everyone and criticism was rife.  And it was a thankless task as the reputations of the early bands hinged on success in competition and the decisions of the State associations.  Most of the time it was done correctly.  On occasion there were problems.  With the influx of bands starting up and wanting to participate in events, grading them was a necessity that called upon the State associations to try to find solutions.  When this went wrong, the administration was generally found to be lacking.

Conclusion:

For the MAB’s involved in the processes of choosing music and advising on band regrading, generally they did the right thing and all they could really do was offer advice.  Thankfully, the reputations of the MAB members carried them through some of the decisions made by State associations.  Evidently the fact that many of the Victorian members held their positions for many years is a testament to their authority as prominent bandsmen.

We should thank these early members of the MAB’s for the foundations that they laid as the members of the modern MAB’s carry out their tasks in much the same way as they did back then.

19200724_Herald_H-Shugg
Herald, 24/07/1920, p. 11

References:

BAND ADJUDICATOR : For Newcastle Contest : Mr. Percy Jone’s Career. (1920, 04 December). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162621130

BAND ASSOCIATION : Deciding Championship. (1923, 21 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213824101

Band Association : Grading for the Contest. (1919, 20 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176840373

BAND ASSOCIATION : Registering and Grading. (1930, 24 January). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29151289

BRASS BANDS REGRADED. (1927, 18 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3885887

BURNIE. (1927, 17 June). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68241846

BURNIE CARNIVAL : New Years Day : Bright Prospects. (1921, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69316043

CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS. (1926, 18 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3782670

Delegate. (1932, 21 August). BRASS BANDS : W.A. Association News : And General Notes. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58669392

Drummer Boy. (1922, 21 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93411340

GRADING THE BANDS. (1913, 27 October). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118654062

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

Hambleton, S. E. (1914, 13 January). EFFECT OF GRADING. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241657411

Jackson, W. (1914, 08 May). BAND GRADING : (To The Editor). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178879778

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

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

NEW GRADING LIST ISSUED BY QUEENSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1937, 12 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183521534

Quickstep. (1920a, 28 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Knight of the Baton. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242311544

Quickstep. (1920b, 14 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Meritorious Career. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242305795

Quickstep. (1920c, 07 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : An Enthusiastic Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242306287

Quickstep. (1920d, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920e, 24 July). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Leader of Two Famous Bands. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308343

Quickstep. (1921a, 19 February). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Noted Musical Qualities. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242256082

Quickstep. (1921b, 08 January). Bandsmen’s Gossip : St Vincent’s Bandmaster. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242259553

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Classification of Bands. (1924, 19 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213535974

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Special and General Meeting. (1920, 18 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211906214

Victorian Bands’ Association : Grading for the Year. (1922, 24 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205773169

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Victorian Bands’ League : Annual General Meeting : Annual Report [Annual Report]. Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a740621ea691478e4b482

Names and status: the rare National and State bands

Postcard: Australian Silver Band, 1925. (source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection)

Introduction:

For the most part, the naming of bands is 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, a similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways.  This gave the bands 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 from 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 organizations that had the resources to undertake such ventures.  Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places were 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.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1/04/1908, p. 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:

Postcard: Australian Imperial Band, 1924 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

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 and numerous other bands (Pattie, 2010).  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.

Morning Bulletin, 9/01/1924, p. 8

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).  The AIB had wanted to go to England to compete but were unable to make the trip due to a lack of funds.  The Newcastle Steelworks Band then went in their place (Cameron, 2020). 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 traveling to England.

19240809_Mirror_Aust-Imp-Band-Money
Mirror, 9/08/1924, p. 1

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 favorable 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.

The Australian Commonwealth Band:

Postcard: Australian National Band – Concert Position, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)
Postcard: Albert H. Baile, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

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 Daily Mail, 29/09/1925, p. 10

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 is 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”:

Postcard: Australian National Band, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

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 traveling 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.

19271203_Figaro_Aust-Comm-Band-Farewell
Queensland Figaro, 3/12/1927, p. 1

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:

In the early 1930s, 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).

The Northern Herald, 9/09/1933, p. 19

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 centers north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favorable 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 showing 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 a testament to the organization 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.

Postcard: Australian National Band – Soloists, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron, K. (2020, 12 August). Actually the steelworks band benefited from this group’s misfortune. The Newcastle band filled the Wembley exhibition dates that had been… [Comment]. Facebook. Retrieved 12 August 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/1404925869759642/?post_id=2612055202380030&comment_id=2612128729039344&notif_id=1597219322511437&notif_t=group_comment&ref=notif

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

COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND : What others think. (1927, 09 February). Evening Star. 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), 10. 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), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1128247

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

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

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.). City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926a). Albert H. Baile (Musical Director) : Australian National Band (World Tour) [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926b). Australian National Band (World Tour) [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926c). Australian National Band (World Tour) Concert Position : Albert H. Baile, Musical Director [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926d). Australian National Band (World Tour) Soloists [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp, A. M. (1993). Baile, Albert Henry (Bert) (1882-1961). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 22 March 2019, from https://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), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181171770

VISIT OF THE AUSTRALIAN BAND : Magnificent playing to big crowds. (1926, 20 August). Todmorden & District News,2. 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), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76437154

Bands on Australian islands: unique challenges in unique environments

19320000_phillip-island-bb_phot16005
Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932 (Source: IBEW)

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 traveler 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 several 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 accidentally found some others.  When looking for stories and histories I found that information on these island bands was 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 recognize that at the time, bands were created with a 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.

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).

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

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 center 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 1900s.  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.

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-traveled.  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).

Examiner, 30/08/1947, p. 3

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 promoters 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.

19340709_herald_phibb-crop
Herald, 09/07/1934, p. 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 endeavors are listed in the table below:

Year:Competition:Grade:Section:Points:Place:
1932Victorian Band ChampionshipsCNo. 1 Test Piece124
No. 2 Test Piece120
Quickstep133
DNo. 1 Test PIece1203rd
No. 2 Test PIece1193rd
Quickstep1263rd
1934Victorian Band ChampionshipsDSelection277Equal 3rd
Quickstep1674th
(source of table data: Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934)

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).

The Age, 8/10/1935, p. 4

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):

Palm Island Brass Band, Queensland, 1931 (source: State Library of Queensland: 166102)

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.

Unfortunately, the 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).

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

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).

19200000_peel-island_salvation-band
Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during the 1920s (source: State Library of Queensland: 74802)

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:

‘Band music provides healthy interest for aborigines’. (1953, 19 January). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 2. 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), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104960531

Brown, A. (2018, 07 July). Queensland’s last leper colony reveals its secrets. Brisbane Times. 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), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21343088

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

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

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

Cray, S. (2013, 14 August). Brass band babies. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 14 August 2013 from https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/intothemusic/brass-band-babies/4887046

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

FOOTBALL : Aboriginal Team. : Defeats Townsville. (1927, 26 September). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 7. 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). History. Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://www.kipioneers.org/history

KING ISLAND : Grassy News. (1918, 21 May). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 6. 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), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217035552

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

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

Low, M. K. (2012). Putting down roots : belonging and the politics of settlement on Norfolk Island (Publication Number 9451462) [PhD, University of Western Australia, School of Social Sciences]. University of Western Australia Research Repository. Perth, Western Australia. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/putting-down-roots-belonging-and-the-politics-of-settlement-on-no

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillip Island Brass Band, 1932. (1932). [Photograph]. [phot16005]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

PHILLIP ISLAND BRASS BAND. (1923, 30 May). Frankston and Somerville Standard (Vic. : 1921 – 1939), 6. 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 28 January 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1932-10-29-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1934, 03 November). 1934-11-03 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 28 January 2019 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1934-11-03-brass-band-contests

Sealink Travel Group. (2019). About Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Sealink. Retrieved 28 January 2019 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 31 January 2019 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), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48954474

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

Unidentified. (1920). Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s [copy print : b&w]. [74802]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OneSearch. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680

Unidentified. (1931). Palm Island Brass Band, Queensland [photographic print : black & white , 1931.]. [166102]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, One Search. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/220300

Victorian Bands League. (1935, 08 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 4. 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

Postcard: South Street band section, City Oval, Ballarat (Date unknown) (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

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 the 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 an opinion.  Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.

What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands traveling 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 (Source: 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 was 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 the audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966).  In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year was 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 the 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 a brass band and brass solo sections to the program 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 Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 1900a, 1900b, 1900c, 1900d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 1900c).  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)

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).

Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

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, 1900b).

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.

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

The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands was enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise that was given to the Bathurst District Brass Band.  Bathurst traveled 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 criticized 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 rumor 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 rumors were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanor and behavior of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of the 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 on 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 traveling 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 criticizing 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).  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 an 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 organizers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.

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Postcard: South Street band section, City Oval, Ballarat (Date unknown) (Source: IBEW)

References:

Ballarat, City Oval. (n.d.). [Postcard]. [Jeremy de Korte collection]. 

Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot7343]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

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

A BAND THAT FAILED : Groundless rumors contradicted. (1900, 19 October). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), 8. 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), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206978024

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. https://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2372005

HistoryInPhotos. (2009, 13 March). Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [Photograph of Metal Button]. flickr. Retrieved 15 November 2018 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), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241475579

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

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

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

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

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Royal South Street Society. 

Royal South Street Society. (1900a, 05 October). 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1900b, 05 October). 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1900c, 06 October). 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1900d, 06 October). 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved 12 December 2018 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

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

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

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