While undertaking research for my blog posts thus far I have come across all manner of writing describing brass bands, their members and competitions. Much of the writing is very useful in finding the “little stories” behind people, places and events. Occasionally I have come across some oddities in the mix and this post is going to highlight an aspect of writing; poetry.
In this context of brass band history, penning up a poem about musicians, bands and competitions might seem very colloquial. And in some respects, it is. One only has to look at the style of writing and while the poems might not have won any literature awards, they were helpful in bringing to life some little stories in a unique style.
Below are just three of these brass band poems. I have not been actively searching for these. However, if while searching for material on other topics and they appeared, I have made a note of them for the novelty. These are defiantly the needles in haystacks! Two of the poems were published in local newspapers by writers using pseudonyms while the third poem was composed by brass band writer C. C. Mullen in his rare book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951).
I am quite sure there are other brass band poems in other newspaper articles so this post might be expanded in the future. Please enjoy the language and stories that are being told here and remember that they were for another time. Perhaps this blend of artforms might be used again one day.
“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):
One of the first blog posts in Band Blasts from The Past was about the famous Cornetist and Conductor William Ryder who travelled to Australia in 1910 with the renowned Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band (de Korte, 2018). Just eight years later, after stints with bands in Victoria and New South Wales, he arrived in Maryborough, Queensland to take the reins of the Maryborough Naval Band and we found that an enterprising contributor, under the pseudonym of ‘Bannerman’, had penned a poem to welcome him to town. No doubt this would have been perceived as a very friendly gesture, and it gave the town some insight into the prowess and reputation of Ryder as a musician. This poem was published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser on Wednesday, 8thMay, 1918.
Here’s a hearty welcome “Billy”,
To our pleasant country town,
And may Fortune every lead you,
And misfortune never frown.
We are pleased to have you with us,
And we hope you long may stay
To encourage local talent
In the latest style and way.
When you played the “solo cornet”
With the finest in the land,
You were classed as England’s champion
In the famous “Besses Band.”
And here in fair Australia
You can show us all the way
As the Champion of the Champions
From the South to old Wide Bay.
“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.
(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)
“Back to South Street” by Cecil Clarence Mullen (1951):
There is one brass band musician and writer among many who is significant to early Victorian brass band history, Cecil Clarence Mullen (C. C. Mullen). His writing might be rare and hard to find now, however, being a band journal representative he had a unique insight into the workings of brass bands and was associated with many famous bands, conductors and administrators (Mullen, 1951).
It is in his little book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951) that we find his poem, “Back to South Street”. In this piece of writing Mullen has cleverly highlighted the nostalgia of the South Street event while noting many of the famous names of bands and bandsmen. It is a worthwhile poem to read for the sake of history.
BACK TO SOUTH STREET
Just let me go back to South Street
For a week with the famous bands,
And take with me others who would compete
In Australia’s Golden City of renown.
Just let me alight at the station
With cornet, trombone and drum,
And meet bandsmen from all over the Nation,
To whom South Street once more come.
Just let me line up in the station yard
And play through Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,”
Or “The Heavens Are Telling” by Haydn – just as hard,
As bands played in the days before us.
Just let me march along Sturt Street
With gay crowds lining the way,
With step by step and beat by beat,
Is South Street just the same to-day?
Just let me see who is judging again,
Is it Stead or Bentley with ears for tune?
Short, Beswick, Sutton or Morgan – men of fame,
Or King of them all – J. Ord Hume.
Just let me go through Inspection
As we did when we dressed with much care;
With the gayest uniform in our section,
That made all our rivals stare.
Just let me compete in the solos again
From the grand old Coliseum stage,
With “Adelaide” or “Gipsy’s Warning” – or “Pretty Jane,”
“Zelda” and “Miranda” of a later age.
Just let me mount he platform
And play through “Beethoven’s Works.”
Or any Alexander Owen’s selections
That South Street bands would not shirk.
Just let me play through the Test piece,
Be it “Mercandante.” “Mozart” or “Liszt,”
“Wagner,” “Chopin” of “Meyerbeer,”
The tests that were tests on our lips.
Just let me march in the Quickstep
With Ord Hume’s “B.B. and C.F.”
“The Challenge,” “Cossack” or “Ravenswood”
Or was the “Twentieth Century” the best?
Just let me see the others swing past,
Code’s, Prout’s, Rozelle and Boulder. Wanganui, Newcastle and Bathurst Brass,
Great names that come dear to the older.
Just let me see those fine Geelong bands,
St. Augustine’s, Municipal and Harbour Trust.
Also Collingwood, Malvern, Richmond, Prahran, Perth City – all great power among us.
Just let me see Geelong Town again
With Sharpe Brearley at the head of affairs.
They ranked with Prout’s in quickstep fame,
First in marching honours was often theirs.
Just let me see the giants of the baton,
Riley, Code, Bulch and Prout,
McMahon, Barkel, Jones and Hoffman.
Many, alas, have gone out.
Just let me see others again,
Partington, Shugg, Johnston, Bowden.
Men who kept time in South Street’s fame;
Wade and Baile must be among them.
Just let me think if I missed any,
Yes, there was Davison, Niven, Lewins – any more!
Hopkins, Ryder, Billy May among many,
Not forgetting Frank Wright and J. Booth Gore.
Just let me see the best of officials
And critics like Davey, Gartrell and Hellings,
Humphreys and Boyce – Kings of staff and whistle,
May march us again – well, there’s no telling.
So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.
(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)
“Dungog Brass Band” by ‘Mad Mick” (1954):
Above is a picture of the Dungog Brass Band from around 1912 and unfortunately, this is one of the only pictures I could find of them. However, some thirty years later this prose was published in the Dungog Chronicle : Dungog and Gloucester Advertiserby a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”. One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950’s!
From reading the poem it appears that ‘Mick’ is a third cornet player. This poem is quite good in describing who the band is, what it does and where it goes, but the prose hints at some problems like attendance issues. We can appreciate that this was a local town band, and this was the way they did things. I think every band has a ‘Mick’ in their midst and we can thank him for highlighting the Dungog Brass Band in the way that he did.
DUNGOG BRASS BAND
I’ve heard it said that Old King Cole was happy, gay and free,
And he liked music sweet and low, played by his fiddlers three,
But in Dungog we’re luckier than King Cole in his day,
We have a band of 25 with band-master, Bob Gray;
And of this band we all feel proud, a mighty job they do,
They play in aid of charities, and spastic kiddies too.
Some Saturdays they entertain at each and every pub,
They finish off the evening playing at the Bowling Club.
Now I would like to tell you all the names of those who play,
And how old Bob the baton waves, and gets them on their way;
Soprano cornet heads the list and that’s I. Kennedy.
That solo cornet it is played by little Johnny Lee;
Keith Kennedy is downstairs for he is baritone,
And forwards, backwards, goes Stan Leayr upon the old trombone;
Now solo tenor horn Barry Schofield plays alone,
Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot! Don Redman goes upon his saxophone.
First tenor horn’s Wal Arnold, third cornet Mick Neilson,
Johnny Schofield’s second cornet, Hector Robson the side drum;
Ken Wade with his euphonium, gets down to bottom D,
While second solo tenor horn is little Barry Lee;
Then there’s E bass Freddy Schofield and Ted Mathews is the same,
And there’s one more solo cornet, Artie Redman is his name;
The secretary is Jack Kerr, he’s also big bass drum,
While tenor horn number three is played by “Butch” Neilson.
There’s only six more instruments and players for to pen,
For to conclude the roll call of Bob and his merry men;
And Bob calls them “some-timers,” they don’t attend a lot,
Sometimes they’re there for practice and sometimes they are not.
There’s the E bass and the B bass, and repiano cornet too,
And they’re played by Tommy Ferris and Keith Lean and Shelton, Blue,
Well now I’ve two trombonists whose attendances are poor
And they are “Sambo” Neilson and offsider Dennis Moore.
Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.
(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)
…and something from me:
In concluding this next blog post in Band Blasts From the Past,
Some tales of bands and bands people, but they won’t be the last.
For as we know from history, stories wait until they’re found,
Of the many tales of bands people who were there to make a sound.
In comparison to the first part of this series of posts, the Australian bands were not quite as proactive as crossing the Tasman as their New Zealand counterparts. This being said, when the Australian bands did go to New Zealand, they tended to do very well in competition and performances gained rave reviews. This part of the post will detail the trips that four Australian bands made to New Zealand between 1900-1940.
1907: Newcastle City Band – Christchurch International Exhibition Contest:
It took a little bit longer for Australian bands to start reciprocal visits to New Zealand and in 1907 the then champion Newcastle City Band traveled to Christchurch via Wellington to participate in the International Exhibition Contest (“NEWCASTLE CITY BAND.,” 1907). By all accounts, this was a huge event with no less than twenty-nine bands participating (Newcomb, 1980). Also in attendance at the Exhibition was the world-famous Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band from England who performed to great acclaim (Newcomb, 1980). Code’s Melbourne band was also intending to take part in the event however they did not end up going due to some of their bandsmen being unable to take time off work (Trombone, 1907).
The Newcastle Band achieved a very credible third placing against some top-ranking New Zealand bands and some of their soloists also achieved good placings (“BAND CONTEST,” 1907). However, soon after the contest finished, questions were being asked over the judging with Newcastle and others feeling that Newcastle should have been placed higher. In an article published in the Wanganui Herald, a Mr. Edgar Nicholas from Ballarat who was visiting was asked about the adjudicating at the contest by Lieutenant Bentley, formerly of England. Mr. Nicholas said in his interview that,
I have been at all the band contests in Ballarat, where the principal bands in Australia compete. We had had Messrs Ord-Hume, Wade, and Beard from England, but, speaking generally, Mr. Bentley has given equal satisfaction in Ballarat with these gentlemen”. (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907)
Speaking pragmatically in the interview, Mr. Nicholas noted that an adjudicator sometimes fails to please everyone given that Mr. Bentley had to judge 30 bands. Also, as Mr. Nicholas suggests, some bands may not have been at their best given the late hours that some of them competed (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907). Mr. Nicholas kept drawing comparisons with the Ballarat South St. Eisteddfod, the first being that that in the case of large sections, Ballarat employed up to three judges and that in Australia there were separate gradings which, at the time, were not used in New Zealand (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).
One Newcastle bandmember was quite firm in his comments which were published in a Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate article by saying,
When our band-master tells us we played well I am satisfied. He tells us often enough when we don’t play well; but we never played better than in the competition.” (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).
Aside from this issue over the placings, most accounts note that the Newcastle City Band had an enjoyable trip and were welcomed in various locations. On the ship home, they played for an appreciative audience and were welcomed home with a civic reception (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).
1923: Redfern Municipal Band – South Island Brass Band Association Contest, Dunedin:
Some sixteen years after the first Australian band traveled to New Zealand, it took until 1923 for the next Australian band to arrive. The Redfern Municipal Band, conducted by Mr. W. Partington, was a formidable band at the time and they undertook a short tour through the South Island of New Zealand on their way from Wellington to Dunedin. Upon arriving in Wellington, along with a contingent of N.S.W. Bowlers, they were given a large civic reception by the Mayor (“BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN,” 1923). The arrival of Redfern had generated an amount of excitement throughout New Zealand, suffice to say that their conductor Mr. W. Partington had conducted one of their own champion bands, The Wanganui Garrison Band for a while (“ENTERPRISING BAND,” 1923; Newcomb, 1980) – the band from Redfern was not unknown in New Zealand.
Redfern Municipal was ultimately triumphal in Dunedin by winning the A Grade section and Aggregate. This was no easy feat given that a number of New Zealand’s A grade bands were in the section, including Mr. Partington’s former band, Wanganui. Newcomb (1980) wrote of Redfern and the A Grade contest,
In Dunedin, it competed against seven of New Zealand’s top A grade bands. After a week of intensive rehearsal in the “Edinburgh of the South” Redfern was rewarded for its painstaking efforts when it took out the A grade title 12 points ahead of Invercargill’s Hiberian Band. The 1st Canterbury Mounted Regiment Band was third.
The talking point of the contest was the poor performance of the Wanganui Garrison Band, under Mr. J. Crichton. The veteran Wanganui conductor’s ambition was to thrash the Redferners…” (p. 44)
Of course the triumph was noted in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, and rightly so, it was a great win for the Redfern band (“BAND CONTEST,” 1923; “REDFERN BAND,” 1923). However, the backstory of the two conductors was intriguing and written up as part of an article published by the NZ Truth newspaper:
There is an interesting story (perhaps) behind the crossing of the Redferners. Bandmaster Partington was over here for a while, and had charge of the Wanganui Band. Within a very short period of training under his baton he made champions of them, winning the N.Z. honors last year. Then there arose a controversy between Partington, of Aussieland and Jim Crichton, of Wanganui, the ex-bootshopman who knocked off trade to become a musician, undergoing a special course of study in London for the purpose of pursuing his brass-bound hobby. He told P. that if he (C.) had the Woolston Band under his baton for a month he could beat anything that P. could bring against it. There was such a heated argument that it was leading to something like a £1000 wager. But P. left for Aussieland again, and took charge of the Redferners. Now the question is: Did he bring the Sydneysiders over to compete against anything that Jim Crichton had under his wing? Well, Jim took the Wanganui cracks down to Dunedin to play against their old leader – and Wanganui was nowhere in the final! (“Brass Bands and Bandsmen,” 1923).
When returning to Australia, there was a snippet of thought that the Redfern Band might head to England to compete (“REDFERN BAND,” 1923). However, this evidently did not eventuate. Their conductor, Mr. Partington, went on to other activities and formed a representative band that travelled Australia with the aim of heading to England. But as detailed in a previous post, that tour ended up running out of money upon arrival in Perth.
1925: Malvern Tramways Band – New Zealand National Band Championship, Auckland:
Just two years later, another crack Australian band made the trip to New Zealand to compete. The Malvern Tramways Band was renowned throughout Australia as one of the elite bands of the Commonwealth having won numerous competitions by this time. So much so that the Malvern Band, like many others, tried to get to England however they too were unable to raise sufficient funds. To compensate, they did arrive in New Zealand early in 1925 to commence a six-week tour culminating in the championships in Auckland (“Malvern Tramways Band,” 1925d).
The reputation of Malvern preceded them to New Zealand and all manner of hospitality was afforded for the band including, special observation cars on trains, reduced rail fares and free travel on New Zealand trams! (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925b). They sailed from Melbourne to Invercargill and from there travelled up to Auckland giving concerts in all the major towns on the way (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925a). By late February they had reached Auckland and commenced competing in the band sections and solo sections. In competition, the Malvern Tramways band was formidable and they won just about every section except for the Quickstep where they achieved third place (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925b; “MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST,” 1925). Newcomb (1980) wrote of the contest:
After many years of bickering, common sense prevailed when the North and South Island associations joined forces to stage the 1925 national contest in Auckland.
It was made doubly interesting by the presence of the Malvern Tramways Band from Australia under the conductorship of Mr. Harry Shugg.
New Zealand’s top A grade bands proved no match for the highly fancied Australian combination which won both tests, the hymn and the championship aggregate. (p. 45).
After this astounding success in New Zealand, the Malvern Tramways Band sailed for Sydney where they performed their competition repertoire in concert to rave reviews (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925c). Traveling back to Melbourne, the success of their New Zealand venture was written up a couple of months later by the local Prahran Telegraph newspaper (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925a).
1936: Cairns Citizens’ Band – New Zealand National Band Championships, New Plymouth:
In October 1935, the Cairns Post newspaper published the news that the Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band would compete at the 1936 New Zealand Band Championships in New Plymouth (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935). Conducted by James Crompton, a person that was not unfamiliar to the New Zealand brass bands, the band was nominally the first band from Queensland to compete in New Zealand and the first from Australian Military Forces (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).
The Cairns Citizens’ Band won the New Zealand Championship that year, although they did not win the Test selection. However, their aggregate points were enough that they could win the championship (“Cairns Band.,” 1936; Newcomb, 1980). The New Zealand press was also impressed by the standards set in New Plymouth and an article published in the Evening Post newspaper praised the marching – the Cairns Citizens’ Band achieved 2nd place in the marching section (“GOOD MARCHING,” 1936).
There was a similarity of experiences for bands crossing to either side of the Tasman; with civic receptions, a very interested and informed public and commentary from the newspapers. The excitement generated by viewing a visiting band was also interesting to note – and there were plenty of other articles that were written about bands (but too many to list in these posts)! It was interesting to note just how close the Australian and New Zealand brass band movements were in terms of standards and rules, so much so that any band crossing the Tasman could expect near similar conditions of competition. The best bands of each country could match the other and in the spirit of competition, this was plain to see.
It is the collegial nature of band movements that enabled these visits to happen and to this day, the friendly rivalries remain, and visits continue to take place. Kudos to the bands that made these early trips as they set a foundation for other bands to build on.
For the most part, the naming of bands is fairly logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however, there were a number of exceptions – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, 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.
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.
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:
In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993). However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr. W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924). Mr. Partington is mentioned in some references – he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 (Pattie, 2010). However, he is not really noted amongst some of the more famous bandsmen of this time. That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organizational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924). Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.
1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands. Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001). Other bands wanted to emulate this success and the newly formed AIB was no exception. Hindsight can tell us that this was a noble ideal, and certainly, the AIB tried to raise money over the months of their tour to fund this aim. We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:
In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests. (“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)
However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling. One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out. Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band traveling to England.
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.
At least they tried.
The Australian Commonwealth Band:
Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001). No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925). Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).
The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name 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”:
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.
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).
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.
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.
Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Kangaroo Flat, Vic.: Muso’s Media.
Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.
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.
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 travelers and had various loyalties. Given the size of Australia, it can be assumed that geography was an early challenge – it took a long time to get anywhere and obtain the fundamentals for running a band. Yet the early bands did it and a number of bands survived.
This post is about the brass bands that were located on some of the islands that surround Australia. In selecting the islands and bands, I took a punt with some and 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).
There you go, we have been told!
There is a further mention of the Kingscote Brass Band giving a performance in 1921 where they were noted for showing improvement in their playing (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921). The article mentions that they had been tutored by their former conductor who was visiting the island after a 10-year absence (“THE KINGSCOTE BAND.,” 1921). Unfortunately, due to limited resources, it is unclear how much longer this band survived. However, it is clear from this brief amount of information that they were appreciated when they performed.
King Island (Tasmania):
King Island is located in the middle of Bass Strait off the northern coast of Tasmania. It is renowned for its produce although it has never had a big population, there are some well-known localities on the island. It is also known for the ruggedness of its coastline and there are many instances of shipping coming to grief on the rocks. The main 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).
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.
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:
Victorian Band Championships
No 1 Test Piece
No 2 Test Piece
No 1 Test Piece
No 2 Test Piece
Victorian Band Championships
(Source of table data: Royal South Street Society, 1932, 1934)
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.
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 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).
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).
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.
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.
Barnes, J. (1926, 11 June). UNDER BLUE SKIES : Life on Norfolk Island : No. 4. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104960531
Unidentified. (1920). 436923 Salvation Army brass band visiting Peel Island Lazaret during 1920s [Online Photograph]. State Library of Queensland : OneSearch. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/208680
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.
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, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d). An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b). All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall. Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996). In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).
Ballarat welcomes the bands:
Well, not entirely.
It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place. Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900). On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War. The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event. The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900). The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.
A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith. He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).
Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic. Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:
On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels. Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two. Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).
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).
It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900). Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received. An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900). Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.
The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands 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 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). Duly noted, however, the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.
One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing 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.
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.
Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from 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.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.
Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.
It is a massive undertaking to take any musical group on tour which stands true even today. But let’s examine these undertakings from another time. When we look back at the grand tours of brass and military bands in the early 1900s, we can only marvel at the schedules they set for themselves, the places they visited, and the effect they had on local populations. Australians it seemed had an insatiable appetite for viewing the best in the business and visiting bands were not disappointed when they toured here.
Visiting bands did not come all the way to Australia just to return home again. Often, Australia was just one stop on a world tour. From reading the Trove archive we can see that the movements of the bands in foreign countries was eagerly reported on because Australians knew they were next to see them. And when the bands did arrive in Australia, each concert was widely advertised.
This was a great age of Australian and World banding. It must have been quite a sight too when each band was alighting from ships and trains which were eagerly awaited on by an adoring crowd. Parades of massed bands, dinners, receptions, concerts, photographs, articles and other events all greeted visiting bands when they stepped upon our shores. Thankfully our libraries hold some ephemera and newspaper articles from those tours, so we can imagine just what it would have been like.
This post will highlight some of the visiting band tours and will see that some bands had vast reputations which preceded them. However, the famous bands were not the only groups to visit. This post will not cover all tours or bands. Undoubtedly there might have been other bands that visited that are buried in time (more stories to uncover). However, for the bands that did visit, their tours last in memories, and even in some of the local bands that were beneficiaries of the expertise of visiting bandsmen. There are some fascinating stories that surround these tours.
Besses o’ th’ Barn Band travels around the world, twice:
The reputation of this unique brass band is well-deserved. Besses o’ the’ Barn Band from the Manchester area, England is one of the oldest brass bands in the world and has been an ensemble of excellence since its establishment in 1818 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018a). So it was with a great deal of excitement the world over (and from the band itself) when Besses commenced its first world tour in 1906 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b). This first tour took them to “North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b). For each performance they attracted vast audiences and it is written in their history that their visit to Melbourne was most notable with no less than “twenty-two of Australia’s finest brass bands” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b) preceding them in a parade along Collins St. This must have been quite the spectacle and sound! Before they arrived in Melbourne they had been in Sydney and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in 1907 gave an enthusiastic review of their performances (“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND,” 1907). In July 1907 the Argus newspaper published an article which gives us an amount of detail about the parade and the massed bands that led it:
Immediately they alighted from the Sydney express the visiting bandsmen stepped across the platform into the railway yard and as they did twenty-two bands, under the conductorship of Mr. E. T. Code, commenced to play an inspiring march. Each man in those twenty-two bands contributed his full share to the volume of sound the like of which has rarely been heard in Melbourne. […] A procession was formed and heralded by the twenty-two local bands, the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band were drive up Collins Street in two drags. The street was crowded with citizens whose curiosity had prompted them to see the famous bandsmen at first opportunity.
The bands which took part in the ceremony of welcome were as follows: St Kilda City, Prahran City, Code’s Melbourne Band, South Richmond Citizens, Collingwood Citizens’, Richmond City, Malvern City, Williamstown Premier, Footscray City, Stender’s, Doncaster, South Melbourne City, Brighton City, Brunswick City, Warneeke’s, Bootmakers, Camberwell, Box Hill, Fitzroy Military, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy Citizen’s, Kyneton City, St Vincent de Paul Orphanage, St. Arnaud, Castlemaine, Maryborough, and Ballarat bands were also represented. (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907)
Regarding the huge crowds, an 1907 article in the Quiz newspaper from Adelaide which reported on the progress of the Besses tour thus far, noted that 70,000 people lined the parade route in Melbourne, which is a staggering amount of people for this kind of event (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907). Such was the popularity and reputation of this ensemble.
However, Besses did not finish touring after this first monumental effort. Not one year after they had arrived back in England, the band embarked on another world tour (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND,” 1909). As noted in their band history (2018b), “Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band) which was a very long time for bandsmen to be away from home. Needless to say, Besses had not lost any popularity on their next world tour and again drew large crowds wherever they went.
Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to one bandsman staying on in one city, and another bandsman joining them on their tour. In a previous post, we can read the story of Besses Lead Cornetist William Ryder who absconded from the tour in Melbourne and joined the Wests Theatre Company before becoming the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018; Stonnington City Brass, 2018). This being done, it appears that Besses invited one of our most famous bandsmen, Percy Code to join them on the rest of the tour (Bradish, 1929; Gibbney, 1981). The conductor of Besses during this world tour was Mr. Christopher Smith and after the tour ended he was secured by the Adelaide Tramways Band for his services in 1911 (Seymour, 1994).
There is no doubt that Besses left their mark on Australian banding and were adored by audiences. Certainly, in the succeeding years, many fine Australian bands dominated the landscape and as we saw some ex-Besses musicians now called Australia home. Besses was one of the first bands to include Australia in their tour, but they were not the last. Next to tour was the famous Sousa Band from the USA!
Sousa heads South:
The band of John Phillip Sousa was no less famous than the Besses band, although much bigger with sixty musicians and some additional soloists in their touring party. They toured Australia and New Zealand from May 12th to August 23rd, 1911 and like the Besses band generated huge excitement wherever they went (Lovrien, 2012). In fact, the excitement had started brewing before they had even arrived with newspapers reporting expected arrival dates and schedules (“SOUSA’S BAND.,” 1911). As with the Besses tour that had just finished, the Sousa band was feted with ceremony, functions, awards, parades and large audiences – upon arriving in Sydney there was a grand parade featuring twenty NSW brass bands (“SOUSA AND HIS BAND,” 1911).
Inevitably, given the timing of the Sousa tour to the previous Besses tour, questions were asked as to which the finer band was. In an article from May 1911, the World’s News newspaper sought to answer this question from a reader (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911). The article reported on the differences between both bands and diplomatically opens the article by declaring that: “Comparisons are odious in connection with bands, as well as with politics” (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911). However, it came down to the fact that one was a brass band as opposed to a military-style band and one band was much bigger than the other. Musically, they were both very fine ensembles.
The Sousa band was a very different ensemble and they enthralled Australian audiences. However, there is no real indication that the Sousa band had an influence on Australian bandsmen, and if they did, it was not reported. One could assume the reason was that Australian bands, which were mostly brass at the time, were very much tied to the band tradition of England, not the USA.
From Australia, the Sousa Band traveled to New Zealand where they again delighted audiences and received rave reviews (White, 2018). And after this swing through the Southern Hemisphere, they returned to the mainland USA via a visit to Hawaii (Lovrien, 2012).
The Sousa tour, despite the number of places that they visited and the largeness of the audiences, did not generate a huge financial windfall and it was very expensive to take the band around the world (Lovrien, 2012). However, in 1913 a court case was heard regarding the profits from the Australian leg of the Sousa tour. From the brief flurry of newspaper articles that were written at the time, it appears that a series of contracts were entered into by the promoter of the tour, Mr. Branscombe with a Mr. Quinlan, and later a Mr. Singer over £30,000 in profits (“SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA,” 1913). It is interesting that this case was heard two years after the tour had finished, and that these profits were not intended for the Sousa band itself.
Bythell (2000), writing on the band tours and exchanges between countries during this time says that “…the logistics and high costs or international tours and exchanges made them exceptional” (p. 229). Certainly, it was noted in the New Zealand article on the Sousa visit that the tour (through Aus. & NZ) was costing “over £2,000 per week” (White, 2018). Given the logistics of moving a sixty-piece band plus soloists around Australia and New Zealand, this figure is hardly surprising.
Despite this, the Sousa tour appears to have been a success for the band and audiences as Sousa was a renowned conductor and composer. The time frame between this tour and the previous Besses tour had not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Australian public in wanting to see these kinds of entertainments. The Sousa band did not disappoint.
The visit of a Belgian Band during the First World War:
The Besses and Sousa bands were undoubtedly famous, but that did not stop other promoters searching for bands that might tour, which is exactly what happened during the early stages of the First World War. In 1915, a band from Belgium visited the country and apparently went on tour through Australia and New Zealand. (“MUSIC.,” 1915). A paragraph in a Leader newspaper article from May 1915 provides some detail on this band, but the band had no name – they were simply known as the Belgian Band:
A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia. The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).
The reaction of the Australian press to this visit was understandable. A number of articles expressed admiration that the musicians had actually left Belgium, while also expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Belgian people under German occupation. An example of this kind of article was from the Daily News in Perth (“THE BELGIAN BAND.,” 1915). Notwithstanding the circumstances of this visit, the band drew the interest of an Australian public and received good reviews for their performances (“Visit of Belgian Band,” 1915). In an act of decency, the band promoters donated all profits to “…the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers Fund” (“BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA.,” 1915).
First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:
After the war, visits from overseas bands resumed quite early on with a visit from the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown”. This band was brought to Australia by J. and N. Tait, the same promoters who engaged the Belgian Band in 1915 (“RENOWN BAND.,” 1920). The Royal Marines actually visited twice; their first visit was in 1920 and they followed up with another visit in 1927. The concerts of 1920 received some very favorable reviews with one article printed in the Argus praising the sound and playing of this ensemble, and making a comparison of conducting styles with the great Sousa (“Concert by Renown Band.,” 1920). On the second tour, a concert in Melbourne was presented as a massed bands concert in combination with the “Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Band” and the “Victorian Railways Military Band” with the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Appeal Fund the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).
In 1934 the Band of the Grenadier Guards visited Melbourne as part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations, with a subsequent tour of Australia as well. There was some initial confusion as to which Guards band was going to visit with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Welsh Guards being mentioned in some press (“GUARDS’ BAND VISIT.,” 1933). It seems there was also some objection to the tour on the part of the Musicians’ Union. A letter to The Herald in September 1933 berated the Union for their stance with the writer stating that “Their visit will be education and beneficial to our unemployed musicians.” (Musician, 1933). A visit to Australia by a band of this caliber was beneficial to all who witnessed them (not just unemployed musicians). The band made a special appearance at the South Street competition of 1934 with a concert presented to an appreciative audience which included the Duke of Gloucester who was also visiting Australia (“South-street Band Contests.,” 1934).
These two British military bands were highly regarded, and it appears that their tours were more genuine with concerts in combination with Australian ensembles and presenting inspirational performances. There was no comparison with the previous tours of Besses and Sousa as these were again, very different groups. However, Australians were no less enthusiastic about the visits of these bands and made them feel very welcome.
What we have seen here is only a small sample of the bands that visited Australia within a shorter time frame. Each group was very different, yet they elicited an amount of excitement from the Australian audiences, bandsmen and public authorities. Yes, they were expensive undertakings. But musically they were invaluable. This truly was a great age of banding.
145695597 Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band [postcard]. (1910). David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597
Bradish, C. R. (1929, 05 September). Prominent Personalities : PERCY CODE | CONDUCTOR OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA. Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146712994
Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.
Canberra is a unique city as it was fully planned and designed wholly to house the seat of Federal Government in Australia. By Australian standards, it is also a very young city having only been in existence just over a century. It stands to reason that any artistic groups that are located in Canberra are also very young.
As it is with the Canberra City Band…
Having visited Canberra recently, I did some thinking about the other bands that most likely existed in towns around Canberra, and then it was a matter of finding them. After visiting local libraries, it surprised me that there is not more history on these groups. However, some historical snippets clearly exist. It is a matter of putting them all into place.
The purpose of this post is not to redo the history of the Canberra City Band as there is already an excellent history of the band, Mr. Chifley’s Baby: The Canberra City Band written by William Hoffman OAM and John Sharpe. Rather, this post will provide an overall view of banding in this area of New South Wales and the ACT with the aim of showing the development of the Canberra City Band in context. Around Canberra in the local towns and regional centers, there were a number of brass bands, so the cultural knowledge of brass banding was already in place when the building of Canberra commenced. Interestingly, none of the other bands seemed to have the longevity that the Canberra City Band now holds – perhaps this is a benefit of starting at a later date…?
The Southern Tablelands:
Within this region, as can be seen by the map below, there is the typical layout of country Australia with regional centers, rural towns, and other localities. And then there is Canberra, the seat of the Federal Government and a city in its own right. Quite a few of these towns are famous having gained their reputations for being railway towns, centers of Shires, being near stunning natural geography, or sitting on transport routes and rivers. Nowadays with the main highways bypassing these towns, they are still famous for historical architecture, arts, museums…the list goes on. The railways had their part to play with many towns located on the Main South railway from Sydney – Melbourne via Goulburn and Yass. Or they were located on the line from Goulburn to Bombala that went via Bungendore and Queanbeyan. The only working part of this line is now from Goulburn – Canberra (Gee, 2017). With this proximity to transport, people traveled, and news spread. As populations grew, so did the services and with these settlements came local brass bands.
To place a geographical boundary on this post, the focus stretches from the tiny locality of Nimmitabel in the south to Goulburn and Yass in the north and from Braidwood in the east with Canberra roughly in the center.
The bands start up:
Unfortunately, there are no definitive dates on when some of the band started but we can have a general idea when searching the Trove archive. What is evident, and interesting, is that many local bands appear to have started in the late 1800s. In local papers we see little items about performances and meetings – this gives a general clue. In 1887, the Goulburn Evening Penny Post reports on the second performance of the Gunning Town Band where they marched through town to their band room at the railway station (“GUNNING.,” 1887). The correspondent also notes that any future performances of the band “will tend to greatly relieve the dull monotony of things in general” (“GUNNING.,” 1887). Also in 1887, the first pictures of local town bands start to appear as shown below by this early photo of the Yass Town Band.
A report from 1890 in the Goulburn Herald makes mention of a Goulburn Model Brass Band however no less than six years later a new brass band is formed called the Goulburn District Brass Band (“Goulburn Model Brass Band.,” 1890; “NEW BAND.,” 1896). This new Goulburn band, and another band called the Our Boys Band were noted for playing Christmas Carols around town a years later (“Goulburn Brass Bands.,” 1897). Further south in the town of Queanbeyan, a Goulburn musician by the name of Harry White was reported to be wanting to start a brass band in the town in 1892 (“Brass Band for Queanbeyan.,” 1892). Evidently, when musicians travelled, their services were sought after and in some cases their reputations preceded them.
Coming into the new century there are a few more reports of activities of other local bands. We see there has been a social event to aid the Queanbeyan Fire Brigade Band in 1902 and in 1904 the Bungendore Brass band has been out and about (“BUNGENDORE,” 1904; “Social.,” 1902). 1904 was obviously a good year for bands as a correspondent reported on the creation of a Nimitybelle District Brass Band (“NIMITYBELLE DISTRICT BRASS BAND.,” 1904). The town of Nimmitabel (as it is now known) lies to the south of Cooma on the road to Bombala and although the band was not very big, it obviously elicited a sense of town pride. The picture below shows the Nimitybelle District Brass Band in 1910. Of interest is an article from 1904 reporting on efforts to hold a band contest in Goulburn with the endorsement of the NSW Band Association (“BAND AND MUSICAL CONTESTS.,” 1904). From reading the article we can see that it was going to be a very proper contest with test pieces, a set march, and monetary prizes.
The bands of the region acted as formally as possible as these rules from the Bungendore Brass Band tell us (“BUNGENDORE BAND RULES.,” 1912). However, it seems that something had happened to the nearby Queanbeyan Band as they had to hold a meeting to try to get it restarted in 1914 (“QUEANBEYAN BRASS BAND RESUSCITATED.,” 1914). This meeting had a successful outcome regarding the reformation of the Queanbeyan Brass Band and as can be read, a new bandmaster was appointed, and old instruments and musicians called back into rehearsals.
In 1913 the construction of Canberra commenced which meant that towns on the railway line became very busy places handling the transhipment of materials and workers (Gee, 2017; Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). And while the other brass bands in many little towns and regional centres had already established themselves, Canberra’s band was about to get started.
Canberra City Band:
It was not until 1925 that we first see a report outlining the formation of a brass band in Canberra with a set of instruments donated by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne (“CANBERRA’S FIRST BRASS BAND.,” 1925). The reason for forming a band was mainly out of concern for the welfare of the workers, and to give them something to do in their down time (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). Indeed, as Hoffman OAM & Sharpe write of the first musicians,
The strength of the brass band movement throughout Australia at that time meant there was no difficulty in finding sufficient players of reasonable competence among the workmen in the city. Rehearsals were held in the Acton Community Hall.
(Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013, p. 3)
In a sense, the reasoning for forming a band is not at all different from the many industry bands that have been created for the benefit of workers. Some months after the first article was written, the Canberra Community News published an article on the progress of the new band.
The Band has commenced practice, and residents at Acton, it is understood, live only for Monday and Wednesday evenings, when Bandmaster McGuiness knocks the Band into shape with a view to its first public appearance, which is fixed for an early date. Mac. is indeed zealous in the Band rooms, and is so intensely interested that it requires all the persuasive powers of Bob Ellis and others to inveigle him into the ‘bus at the end of the evening. Transportation to and from practices organised by the Commission is working satisfactorily. It is some undertaking to assemble 20 bandsmen from the scattered suburbs of the City.
A year later in 1926 the Canberra City Band gained a committee of management to steer the band and it’s written that the band has already presented a number of performances (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926). However, as can be seen in the article, the band had just appointed its second Bandmaster in just its second year of operation (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926). It should be noted that in the band’s first eleven years of operation before it went into recess in 1937, the band went through six Bandmasters (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).
Unlike many of the other brass bands around the region, of which the history is harder to find, the Canberra City Band came out of recess in 1947 with William Hoffman OAM as its conductor, of whom conducted the band until 1976 (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013). The Canberra City Band survives to this day as a highly successful ensemble.
The development of the Canberra City Band could be described as fortunate timing or circumstance. Either way, the city Commissioners recognised that there was a place for a band in Canberra and took advantage of the fact that a culture of brass bands was well-established in many other parts of Australia. As well as this there was the wider development of brass bands in the towns around Canberra in the preceding years which no doubt helped contribute to the development of musicians and conductors. History will tell that the region had a strong banding culture and it is through the early photos and articles that we can see the musical and community life of the region as it once was.