Concert band music in Australia

Concert band music in Australia
Concert band music has long been performed in Australia, a tradition stretching back to the first naval and military bands of the Australian British colonies.
9 November 2017

Concert bands performed at numerous official and community events such as parades, funerals and other commemorations. By the mid nineteenth century, many communities had initiated their own local concert bands. These bands performed a range of functions in their communities, offering a place for people to make music together, support local culture and community causes and to provide entertainment.

A marching military band, Gundagai, New South Wales

Gabriel, Charles Louis, 1857-1927, A marching military band, Gundagai, New South Wales  between 1887 and 1927,

Competitions were a regular feature of the band calendar with local, regional and state competitions. The first multi-state band competition was held in Ballarat in 1900 as part of the annual Royal South Street Competitions, an event that continues to this day.

Geelong City Municipal Band in 1914 at the South Street Competition in Ballarat

Geelong City Municipal Band in 1914  1914, HistoryInPhotos (CC BY-NC 2.0),

Popularity of concert band music continued to rise following Federation in 1901 with the formation of more bands across the country. Well known British bands such as the Besses O’ the Barn and the Grenadier Guards were regular visitors from 1900 onwards and were enthusiastically received, even mobbed. In 1911, Australia received a visit from marching band royalty in the form of renowned bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa and his band from the US.

Formal card issued in acknowledgement of Sousa's Australian visit

Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band  betwen 1890 and 1920,

In 1924, the Newcastle Steelworks Band, comprised of employees of BHP, completed a year long tour of Great Britain. During this time, they participated in a number of band competitions, beating their British counterparts to first place in the British Empire and English championships, as well as winning third prize in the world championship. During this tour, the band added another first to their name, becoming the first recorded Australian brass band. You can listen to a recording of the Honest toil march made by the band in London on the National Film and Sound Archive website.

The Newcastle Steelworks bandmaster, Albert Henry Baile, went on to become the bandmaster of the Australian Commonwealth Band. Baile lead them on a number of world tours, helping to further cement Australia’s world class band reputation.

Group portrait of the Australian Commonwealth Band

Australian Commonwealth Band - World Tour 1925-1929 between 1925 and 1929, Aussie~mobs,

The National Library has a significant collection of Brass band music of the Salvation Army composed and arranged by well known bandmaster Arthur Gullidge. Gullidge was the Salvation Army bandmaster in Brunswick, Victoria, from 1933 before enlisting as a bandsman in the A.I.F. in 1939. Sadly, Gullidge and many of his battalion were captured by Japanese forces and later died at sea after the vessel they were being transported on was bombed by US forces. The Arthur Gullidge series of brass band arrangements issued by the Salvation Army continues Gullidge's legacy. 

Group portrait of 25 members of 2/22 Battalion Regimental Band, 23 of whom were originally members of Salvation Army bands who had enlisted in 1940

Group portrait of 25 members of 2/22 Battalion Regimental Band, 23 of whom were originally members of Salvation Army bands who had enlisted in 1940 1941, Australian War Memorial,

The National Library also holds the Kogarah Concert Band collection. The Kogarah Concert Band, founded in 1886, is the oldest known continuing community band in Australia. As such, the collection offers a rich window into the music that was popular and played in and for the community over a prolonged period of time. In addition, the collection offers a historical record of the fortunes of neighbouring community bands who folded and whose repertoire was then added into Kogarah’s own. Also included are items which belonged to the NSW Navy Band reflecting the period before Federation when most states had their own navy, as well as a piece formerly belonging to a New Zealand band. Works in the collection range from popular classical and operatic music, patriotic pieces during times of war, marches and contest pieces.

The geelong city band in the photo was conducted by the great Percy Jones he also conducted St Augustines Orphange band at the same time
I still hold the Arthur Stirling Australian Band Research Collection begun about 1905 and many of the early Australian scores from this collection were scanned for the NLA by the late Ken Snell, music collector and seller. The collection (about 30 boxes) is very diverse and invaluable with many cuttings and photograph scrap- books, runs of early Oz bands journal, many early program and bands histories, a banding library, archives of individual figures like Tommy Bulch etc, 3-400 recordings and should, by rights, finish up at NLA before my time runs out. You can contact me via my website Probably best in January
Your information re kogarah is incorrect. Albury City Band celebrated its 150th this year and published a history. I understand you have a copy. Bendigo is the oldest known continuous band beginning in 1865.
Hi Lisa, Thank you for putting this blog post together. I did share it among my Facebook band networks hence the sudden interest and influx of comments. It's caused a bit of conjecture in the band world as to which community band is the oldest. However, for the most part, I think the band musicians appreciate having the National Library take an interest in this fascinating aspect of Australian musical history. I'm a bit of an amateur band historian myself having completed a couple of projects now, most recently compiling competition results for some extinct brass bands as part of my library placement. I'm hoping to complete further projects in band history. This blog post is just another piece in a larger puzzle. Thanks again for your work and I hope to see further interest from the National Library in the band world and community.
The Ballina Shire Concert Band has continually served the community since 1883, and the Casterton (Vic) Vice Regal Band was formed before this. Kogarah is definitely not the longest continually serving band in Australia.
I welcome the NLA’s interest into banding however the terminology used is incorrect. The photos are of brass bands not concert bands. While brass bands did give concerts, the description ‘concert band’ is specific to a certain instrumentation (woodwind, brass, percussion) as are brass bands (brass- saxhorns, trombones, tubas and percussion). From my reading brass bands were the more common in the period you have highlighted. However, there were many groups that were hybrids and I suggest that the accurate term is Community Banding.