Town bands: Binding a community

The Bulli Town Band early last century

The Bulli Town Band early last century

By MICK ROBERTS ©

Eighty-five-year-old Doug Davies (in 2005) with the cornet he used in the 1933 Corrimal Town Band.

Eighty-five-year-old Doug Davies (in 2005) with the cornet
he used in the 1933 Corrimal Town Band.

AS A young man, Doug Davies would don his uniform, polish his shoes and tuck his cornet under his arm for the hike from his home on Black Cutting Hill to practice his musical instrument under the Coral Trees in Railway Street Corrimal.

Like his father David, teenager Doug became a member of the Corrimal Town Band which entertained the working class and fiercely contested competitions throughout the state during the early 1900s.

This is the story of town banding when at some time just about every coal mining village in the northern Illawarra boasted their own brass band.

Town banding has its roots in the working class and is unique in its principally amateur status.

Helensburgh, Bulli, Woonona, Corrimal, Bellambi and Balgownie streets all echoed to the tunes of town bands early last century. The musicians entertained at local halls, road corners, fairs, fundraisers, funerals and demonstrations.

The town band movement has its origins in the English industrial revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Corrimal Town Band in 1933 when Doug Davies was a member

Corrimal Town Band in 1933 when Doug Davies was a member

They flourished in settlements where there was organised industry, following the immigrant miners to the shores of Australia and eventually the Illawarra in the 1870s.

Many of the bands were supported by miners’ subscriptions, the business community and/or the general public.

The first in the region was the 20 member Bulli Brass Band which performed their debut concert on Boxing Day 1879 on Sandon Point.

Bulli Royal Hotel publican, musician and German immigrant Charles Ziems purchased instruments from Sydney in November 1879 with Charles’ brother Julius the conductor.

That same year John and Anne Davies, grandparents of Doug Davies of Dapto, emigrated from Wales to Australia eventually settling in the coal mining town of Bowenfels near Lithgow.

Doug tells the story of how his grandparents reared seven children in Bowenfels before his grandfather made the move to Corrimal to work at South Bulli Colliery after the death of his grandmother in 1899.

Corrimal Town band 1904 when at least four members of the Davies families played in it. David Davies is pictured third from left back row.

Corrimal Town band 1904 when at least four members of the Davies families played in it. David Davies is pictured third from left back row.

 

 John Davies, grandfather of Doug Davies of Dapto, emigrated from Wales.

John Davies, grandfather of Doug Davies, emigrated from Wales.

It is not known if Doug’s grandfather played in a town band, or in fact played a musical instrument, but his father David joined the Corrimal Town Band not long after the family moved from Bowenfels in about 1904.

Doug followed his dad and also joined the Corrimal Town Band.

He has fond memories of entertaining crowds and competing in competitions during the 1930s.

He joined-up as a teenager often entertaining at “McKinnon’s corner” (the intersection of Railway Street and the Princes Highway at Corrimal).

“The treasurer, a chap by the name of Ring, would shake the donation box as we played at various street locations,” Doug recalled. “That’s how we made money.”

Money raised from performances depended on the quality of the band.

The Bellambi Town Band outside the Bellambi Music Hall, which was located directly behind the Bellambi Hotel (the site is now a car park for the pub)

The Bellambi Town Band outside the Bellambi Music Hall, which was located directly behind the Bellambi Hotel (the site is now a car park for the pub)

David Davies joined the Corrimal Town Band in about 1904.

David Davies joined the Corrimal Town Band in about 1904.

Prestigious bands could fill local halls and theatres for whatever fee they could command. A good secretary could get reasonable work for a band, especially those jobs where the band was there to provide background music such as fairs and carnivals.

As no member of the band was paid, except the conductor, expenses could easily be capped.

Money and instruments could also be won at contests.

Apart from the prestige associated with a band playing at contests in front of the large audiences, the prize money could be considerable.

In addition subsidiary awards, such as cash or instruments donated by an instrument making company supporting the event, were made to best soloists, best euphonium, best horn section and other divisions.

The Corrimal Town Band successfully contested many of these competitions throughout the state Doug said.

In his mid 20s Doug’s teeth were replaced with dentures and he was never able to play his cornet the same again.

“I gave it away after I got dentures,” he said. “Although I tried a number of different instruments, I just couldn’t get the same sound as I did previously,” he said.

Doug followed his great grandfather, grandfather and father into the coal mines and later established his own trucking company in 1950.

He retired in 1975 and today (2005) lives with his wife Dorothy at Dapto. His son and grandson are also both musicians.

Corrimal Town Band, like many in the region, disbanded during the Second World War.

 © Copyright Mick Roberts 2015

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