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“Blasts from the Past” by Graham Orr

“BLASTS FROM THE PAST”

(a history of Daylesford & District Municipal Band)

An address given to the December 1987 meeting

of the Daylesford Historical Society by Graeme Orr.

The background information that I have used in researching this talk comes from several sources, these being from the late George Page’s notebook, now in the possession of his Grandson, Mr Harry Millar – also Mr. Page’s writings under the pen name of “Tempus Fugit” in the 1917 circa Advocates. Also the late Miss Margaret Cross’s writings in the 1937 Daylesford Advocate called “Daylesford’s By-gone Days”. Notes from Mr. Andy Doherty, information supplied by local historian Mr. A. “Brian” Bateman, and from information written and spoken by former bandmaster Mr. Jack Oglethorpe. Mr. Oglethorpe has also done a wonderful service to the band by faithfully recording its goings on in the Advocate over a great many years.

I have also found much of interest in the research that Joyce and I have done reading old district newspapers and through my own family’s involvement in the band.

If I was going to give you a short history of the band I would say “that it was formed in 1862 and is still very active in 1987, but in between it has gone into recess several times, generally after a disagreement or lack of numbers. The causes of some of the disagreements has often been the bandmaster, only to reform again after the Mayor or Shire President has convened a meeting for this purpose and then to find that instruments from the former band are missing.”

These conflicts remind me of a quote from former band stalwart Bryan Johns, who once said to me “It’s hard to keep peace in the band, it’s because members are musicians, performers, artists and therefore very temperamental – 50% temper and 50% mental.”

The thing that I found interesting in my research was the many historic and notable events that the band took part in, and the band and the fire brigade were two of the leading organisations for the young men of Daylesford in the town’s formative years.

The band formed in 1862 after a conversation was held by a number of young men viewing the foundations of the Church of England, and whilst standing near the foundation stone, it was suggested by Mr. Robert Knox (a schoolmaster) that a band should be formed “to enliven and brace up the dull portion of our lives”.  This conversation took place while the church bell was ringing on Christmas morning.

Mr. Knox had previously been connected with bands in Melbourne. A meeting was called and a band duly formed. They started from scratch with few instruments. They did not have a drum and after much work they made one with a galvanised iron body. This drum, according to Mr. Page, was eventually destroyed when it was placed under a dancing platform at sports at Victoria Park, when several people stood on the platform to watch a race the weight caused the structure to collapse destroying the drum – however Miss Cross tells us in her history that it was destroyed when a fire burnt a shed at Victoria Park. Perhaps what happened was that it was left in the shed after the accident and the shed eventually was burnt down. Nevertheless it is recorded that a collection after the accident at the ground raised five pounds and a collection in Vincent Street raised the £14/10/0 necessary to purchase a new drum.

The band was first called the Daylesford Amateur Band and the following letter appears in the local newspaper:

 

“Daylesford Amateur Band        April, 1863.

Sir,

I have the honour to inform you that a Brass band has been formed in this place under the above title. The members have hitherto borne the expense without any assistance, but with the engagement of a professional bandmaster (Mr. Wilson) and the purchase of several expensive instruments renders it necessary to solicit public aid.

With the conviction that a periodical performance in the public street would both enliven the township and promote its welfare they confidently appeal to the inhabitants for support.

I am, Sir, Yours truly,

J.R. Westwood

Hon. Secretary”

 

One of the first functions that the band played for was the local celebration for the marriage of the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. It was a very wet day in Daylesford but in spite of this a large crowd turned out to form a procession to march to the summit of Wombat Hill where the Mayor and the Borough Surveyor each planted an oak tree to commemorate the occasion. That night a bonfire consisting of 1,000 ton of wood (from the clearing of Wombat Hill) was set on fire and a bullock roasted to provide food for those in attendance. The fire brigade were to light the bonfire but some boys saved them the trouble.

Mr. W. E. Stanbridge invited the band to play at a function that he hosted at Wombat Park, they were invited to partake of refreshments, particularly a drink called Hennessy’s Best (Mr. Hennessy was Stanbridge’s farm manager). All the band members except one had signed the temperance pledge and the band was considering changing its name to the Temperance Band. Because of this incident many had to resign from the Band of Hope Temperance Society, and the Amateur Band did not change its name.

During the year the Fire Brigade purchased a bell that was to be transported from Castlemaine, the band members met the bell at the Farmers Arms Hotel and escorted it into town. The bell is now at the Church of England.

In 1864 the band met at Jamiesons Hotel (Raglan Flats) where they assembled and marched to Victoria Park, evidently playing the march “Brave Robin Hood” all the way. Many were on the verge of exhaustion when they finished.

Mr. Page also notes that on a playout at Wombat Park he noticed Margret Graham enjoying herself amongst her friends, little did they know the sad fate awaiting her on the following night (the infamous Graham murder).

After such a good start the band folded up in 1866. In 1871 the band reformed. The band having an engagement to play, understood the drummer could not attend, so the bandmaster sent a member to obtain the drum. It was refused and the consequence was that the band had to play without it. The bandmaster, then, on behalf of the band, made a formal demand for the drum, and in the end summoned the drummer for illegal detention of property. The magistrate however decided that, as there was no personal rightful owner and no trustee, the drum appeared to belong to no-one in particular and that possession was the best part of the law, he ruled that the drummer was as much entitled to the drum as anyone else. Finally the drummer sold it to the Blanket Flat Band and eventually the Salvation Army had it.

The band played for the Great Hospital fete held at Victoria Park on Easter Monday 1871, the head of the procession had reached where the State School now is before the last had left the Hospital Reserve. Bands represented were the Daylesford Band, Rechabite Drum and Fife, Daylesford Drum and Fife, Deep Creek Brass Band and the Guildford Swiss Italian Association Brass Band. Guildford led a 300 strong contingent of Swiss Italians, many of them dressed in military uniform. There were also 200 Chinese dressed in gorgeous array. Various Lodges, Friendly Societies, etc also took part in the parade.

In 1871 a practice was started that the band still carried on today, that is the playing of Christmas Carols at various locations around town except that in 1871 they started at midnight and continued until 5.00 a.m. For lamps they had two kerosene tins with glass fitted.

The band played at Barry’s Reef on New Year’s Day 1875 for the sum of £20 Mr. Verey did the carrying and Mr. Hutchinson drove one of the conveyances. They arrived there the day before at dusk. On arrival they were met by a full force of inhabitants. They played on the march over what the only bit of good road to Godwin’s Hotel and did justice to a boiled leg of mutton with very little else. The sleeping accommodation was sparse with two in one bed being the order. One was found among a lot of potatoes and the drummer was found by the landlord’s wife coiled up in their bed. He beat a hasty retreat, but all took things in good fun.

At this time the band changed its name to the Daylesford Borough Band. Their conspicuous uniform was locally made and very much admired, and cost the members over £50.

The band was called upon to assist at the opening of the State School on July 1st 1875.

In 1882 there was a row between members of the band. Mr. Thorpe the bandmaster resigned and Mr. Gascoigne (who was the curator of the Wombat Hill Gardens) took charge of the band, and the Council became the band’s trustees. Problems again occurred getting an instrument back from a former player.

The band played at a fire brigade demonstration in Ballarat, to do this they journeyed there by train, leaving Daylesford at 7.00 a.m. via Castlemaine, Maryborough, Clunes, Creswick, arriving at Ballarat at 2.00 p.m. – a seven hour journey.

Mr. Gascoigne was in charge of the band during the day set aside for the laying of the foundation of the Daylesford Town Hall and the laying of the first water pipe for the new reticulation system into Daylesford. Mr. Page describes this as the day of all days to be always remembered by those who took part. He wrote “personally it was about the happiest day that I spent in the Borough”.

In 1884 Mr. William Lawry was appointed Drum Major and led the band at the Ballarat Brigade Demonstration, it was here that he met a widow with two little boys, he eventually married her and the boys attended the local State School and carried off the highest honours. They did the same in other colleges, etc. – sadly one died when he was on the verge of a successful career, the other raised himself to a very high grade of medical science. He was Dr. Tom Dunhill, known far and wide as the personal physician to King George V.

Mr. Thorpe, the former bandmaster, then formed another band, therefore giving Daylesford two brass bands. The new band was named the Phoenix Brass Band. This band continued to exist for the next 20 odd years. Sometime after its formation application was made to the Miners to change the band’s name to the Miner’s Band. There was jealousy and great rivalry between the two bands. Each band had 20 or 30 names on their books, their own particular supporters, and many an argument occurred between these two factions.

In 1888 the band played for a visit to Daylesford from Governor and Lady Lock. It is interesting to note that on that day the official party visited Wombat Park, the mineral springs, the Wombat Hill Gardens and Mt. Franklin. In 1985 when the Governor Sir Bryan and Lady Murray visited Daylesford they were taken to Wombat Park, the mineral springs, the Wombat Hill Gardens and Mt. Franklin.

The Borough Band was successful in winning a competition in 1905, the first prize being £100 and a trophy that is today on exhibition in the Daylesford Museum. So great were the rejoicings that when the men returned triumphant they were met at the railway station and the leader chaired to the bandroom to the strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes”. A portrait of the band was presented to the bandmaster Mr. C. McLeod.

The band played for the Railway Sports Committee’s picnic, held at Daylesford. Ten locomotives were parked at the station on this day.

On 1st December 1910, the band gave a recital at the Gardens and raised the sum of  £12/04/07 made up as follows: 7 half crowns, 5 florins, 27 shillings, 30 sixpences, 445 threepences, 133 pennies and 54 half-pennies.

During the 1914-18 War it is recorded that the band used to go to the railway station to farewell soldiers going to war, and also played at welcome home ceremonies for those lucky enough to return.

And today in 1988 the band still regards the Anzac Day ceremony as one of the most important on its calendar.

However all was not going well for the band in 1916 and the following appeared in the Advocate on 1st February 1916:

 

Hospital Carnival

On Saturday night enthusiasm ran high when the time approached for the arrival of the famous Police Band. At the station there was quite a gay scene and when at last (only half an hour late) the train arrived, the simmer of excitement rose to boiling point, the Miners Band all honour to them and their bandmaster, were at the station ready to play a few bars of joyous welcome to the Melbourne Bandsmen. The Borough of Daylesford Band was conspicuous by its absence, though in other respects the absence was not to be wept over, but there is another point of view in this connection and one that is not to be forgotten, in another column in this issue of the Advocate is a list of subscribers to the Borough Band. People are disgusted at the band for its disloyalty to the town by not going to the station on Saturday night, and will remember this when asked for a subscription again. The plea of a “prior engagement” won’t carry any water as that engagement terminated at 8.00pm and the train was not due till 8.30.

 

In 1916 the band went into recess.

In 1919 a citizens’ committee was formed to reorganise the band. The meeting was a large one and representative one of about 70 people – of these 3 or 4 were ladies.

It was decided to hand all of the band’s assets over to the Council, with the Council acting as trustee. Mr. Geo Hamilton is quoted as saying at the meeting “as far as Daylesford is concerned it is ideally situated to have a good band. There was nothing like good music to stir the people up and induce them into supporting the town, he would quote some figures to show what a struggle the band had had in the past, he had often heard people remark ‘what a rotten band you have here’. Well what also could they expect. Their receipts last year were about £70 mainly for playing for picture shows. That was a very small sum to run a band in a tourist resort. They couldn’t expect to get good music, new instruments and pay a bandmaster out of that amount. The property of the band was a big sting. They had 28 instruments valued at £281. To buy them would cost £800. Uniform, music stands, lamps etc were valued at £350. It was estimated it would cost £150 to £200 to run the band decently.

The next item of interest appeared in the Advocate on 12th February 1929 under the heading:

 

“Forming a Band

Disgust at business people – Mayor’s Trenchant Criticism

The Mayor (Cr. J.P. Crockett) last night expressed his extreme disgust at the business people of Daylesford for their lack of interest and enthusiasm and pitiful lack of energy, in not attending a meeting convened for the purpose of forming a brass band in Daylesford. If he could freely express his feelings he would be in the court on Wednesday.

The business people were not being asked for financial support, perhaps they thought they might have been, and were therefore staying away.

A band was essential to Daylesford and the response that the movement had received made him downhearted and disgusted.

The meeting later resolved to reform the band.”

 

In 1935 it was reported at a public meeting that harmony was again restored in the band and those present would forget any differences that existed previously. The band reformed under the leadership of bandmaster Williams.

In 1940 the band conducted community singing at the Town Hall. Admission charges were sixpence for adults and threepence for children. Mr. Jack Oglethorpe was the Master of Ceremonies and Mrs. Oglethorpe the pianist. Funds raised were used for various war purposes, including the London Bombing Victims’ Fund.

At the 1940 annual general meeting it is reported that Mr. F. Barkas had resigned as bandmaster. This caused much disaffection amongst the players and the band ceased to function.

The 1940-45 War depleted the band of players, the band folded and the instruments were placed in storage. Several were badly damaged through unauthorised use. The band reformed in 1945 with school children who attended evening practice in the basement of the Town Hall.

The band played at several functions but went into recess again in 1951. An attempt was made to reform the band in 1952 but this was unsuccessful.

The Mayor, Cr. Barron, called a meeting in 1963 and it was again decided to reform the band, the band was called the Daylesford and District Band. Mr. Jack Oglethorpe worked hard for the band and practice was held in the old Daylesford Technical High School building. The band had 12 instruments and several were still held by former players. It is believed that females were admitted as players for the first time.

The band changed its name in 1966 to the Daylesford & District Municipal Band.

Since it last reformed the band has been in a strong position for the last 25 years, and at the present time (1988) it has 32 registered players. As with all organisations it has had a few problems, but these have been overcome.

The Shire of Daylesford and Glenlyon had adopted the band’s constitution. If the band ceased to function the Daylesford Riding Councillors become the trustees of the band assets and would store them under lock and key at the Town Hall and in the event of the band not reforming they would be disposed of in 20 years. The band today has assets of approximately$40,000. This was done to ensure that the mistakes of the past when the band went into recess, did not happen in the future.

The band today consists of many family groups. An excellent example of this is the Pope family where Alex is the President of the Band Committee, also a player, his wife Barbara plays with the band, is a committee members, has taught half of the members in the band to play – their three sons have all started their musical careers with the band. Walter winning a Champion of Champions in a New Zealand Championship and amongst other notable performances was second in the Australian Junior Championships – Anthony two times Australian Junior Champion and at the present time the Australian Open Trumpet Champion – Alex Junior has won a Victorian Championship.

The Johns family – the late Bryan Johns being a foundation member of the present band, former President, bandmaster, player, tutor having great success with many of this pupils – his wife Betty being a long serving committee member, band librarian and of their 13 children, 9 have played in the band and two of the younger ones are expected to carry on the tradition.

Amongst other families who have had almost or all family involvement are the Doherty’s, Walker’s, Clark’s, Cooper’s, Pond’s, Sampson’s, Orr’s, etc.

At a recent concert to celebrate 125 years of brass banding in Daylesford it gave me great pleasure to dedicate the band’s adopted theme tune “Daylesford”. It was composed by a former bandmaster, Mr. Sam Smart, and dedicated to those wonderful supporters of the Daylesford and District Municipal Band, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. “Bill” Wood.

Perhaps the best example of dedication to the band was the late Mr. Jim Minotti, born with a club foot he used to walk as a young man from Sailors Hill to Hepburn for practice and because of his long service to the band the Victorian Bands League in the mid-1980s, presented him with a Certificate of Honour for 70 years of service to banding in Daylesford.