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Military music

A photo of Army Band Adelaide marching.

Army Band Adelaide. Image courtesy of the Australian Army.

On 2 February 1788 at Sydney Cove, the reading of the Governor's Commission was accompanied by music from the fife-and-drum corps musicians.

Military music, beginning with the fife-and-drum corps of the First Fleet, was the only public music-making apart from folk music sung in the public hotels. Both the fife-and-drum corps and the regimental band gave open-air concerts. The few musical instruments brought with them, including pianos, were often dragged overland to new homes.

Military bands have accompanied Australian ceremonies, parades, church services, mess dinners and performed at concerts on innumerable occasions since then. Musicians have long been incorporated into active armed service units, often doubling as medics. They have accompanied troops into action, sometimes as part of a fighting unit, and sometimes as a band.

Civilian pipe and drum bands have had a long and successful history in Australia, with some bands having performed continuously for over 100 years.

There have been a number of changes to the formation and re-formation of the military bands in Australia. Through all of these changes many outstanding musicians have received their musical training in the military and then gone on to contribute to music generally. Depending on the occasion, military musicians perform in a variety of musical styles - from jazz to classical, christmas carols to rock and pop.

Defence Force School of Music

A photo of band musicians at Balcombe, early 1965.

Band musicians at Balcombe, early 1965. Image courtesy of the Defence Force School of Music.

The Defence Force School of Music provides further and advanced training to support the skills and development of practicing and senior military musicians. The Army School of Music, located originally at Balcombe, was the foundation of the Defence Force School of Music located at Meares House, Simpson Barracks Victoria, in 1984. They were joined by the Royal Australian Navy School of Music, formerly at HMAS Cerberus, to form a joint services facility. Entry to military bands is usually assessed on the basis of an audition.

Salvation Army Band

Band musicians and band music owe a great deal to Australia's Salvation Army. Much of the training and development of some of the finest band members has been as a result of their association with the Salvation Army, an organisation that shares its membership with many military musicians.

Australian military bands

A photo of the Royal Australian Navy Band.

Royal Australian Navy Band. Image courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy.

Royal Australian Navy Band

Royal Australian Navy musicians have been playing at events since Federation in 1901. Since its inception, the Navy Band has maintained a reciprocal exchange program with the Royal Marines in Kent, England, which has included the training of Bandmasters. Since 1958 the Navy Band has produced 28 records, mostly for EMI and numerous recording sessions for ABC radio programs.

Royal Australian Air Force Band

The Royal Australian Air Force Central Band was formed in 1923 at Point Cook, Victoria. Early highlights included performing at the opening of the Parliament House in Canberra, 1927. In 1975 the RAAF Central Band won the award of a Gold Record for the recording Thirty Smash Hits of the War Years. The Air Force Band was formed in 2008 following the amalgamation of the RAAF Central Band and the Air Command Band. The Air Force Band has various ensembles that perform at regal, vice-regal, Defence Force ceremonial and public performances: ceremonial band, concert band, marching band, ceremonial fanfare team, ten-piece stage band, brass quintet, woodwind quintet, clarinet quartet, and jazz ensemble.

Royal Military College (RMC) Band

The Royal Military College (RMC) Band is the official band for all regal, vice regal, diplomatic and state functions held in the national capital. For example, 'Trooping the Colour' in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; representing Australia in Paris for the 50th anniversary of Armistice Day; and participating in the official openings of the Sydney Opera House and Parliament House, Canberra. The RMC Band is also involved in community relations and since its formation in 1954 has played a prominent role in Canberra's musical life.

A photo of the Australian 7MD Army Band at Uluru, 1990.

The Australian 7MD Army Band at Uluru, 1990. Image courtesy of the Australian Army.

Australian Army Bands

Due to the size of Australia and the locations of departure ports for overseas service, bands today tend to be geographically dispersed. The Australian Army has bands based in each state capital. The military musical needs of Canberra are serviced by the Royal Military College Band, Duntroon.

The Australian Army Band Corps Association was formed in 1989 to encourage communication between all former and current members of Army bands.

A photograph of Private Dunque armed with a bass tuba and Owen sub-machine gun, 1950.

Ian Robertson, Private Dunque armed with a bass tuba and Owen sub-machine gun, 1950. Image sourced from the Australian Army Band Corps Association.

Active service

Active military band service was first recorded in 1899, when the Band of the Victorian Naval Brigade sailed to China as part of the Naval contingent to suppress the Boxer Rebellion.

Unfortunately there is little record of active military band service during World War I. In World War II musicians served with distinction in various capacities. In addition to their musical duties, bandsmen worked as gun crews, shell bearers in magazines, first aid parties and as lookouts during day and night watches.

In 1950 the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, complete with bandsmen, embarked at Kure, Japan, for Korea:

Although he never played it in Korea (he gained the military medal for fighting infantryman at Kapyong in April 1951) Private Dunque went to war armed with a bass tuba and an Owen sub-machine-gun.
The AABC Association:

Naval musicians also saw action in Korean waters whilst aboard the HMAS Sydney in 1953.

A photograph of the 1RAR Army Band marching in Vietnam, 1965.

Unknown, The 1RAR Army Band marching in Vietnam, 1965. Image sourced from the Australian Army Band Corps Association.

In the Vietnam War, the First Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) Army Band musicians were required to work as stretcher bearers at a medical platoon between performances. In 1969 the Royal Australian Air Force Central Band toured Vietnam and Malaysia for ceremonial performances and morale boosting concerts. The Navy Fleet Band also performed two concert tours of Vietnam during the early 1970s.

In 1988 the RMC Band traveled to Bougainville, PNG, to perform for 300 Australian soldiers based in the province as part of the peace-monitoring group. In 1999 the RMC Band was deployed to Dili, East Timor, in support of INTERFET. A 'Tour of Duty' concert was presented which featured artists such as Kylie Minogue, John Farnham, Gina Jeffries and James Blundell.

Over Christmas and New Year 2005-6 the Navy Band were redeployed to the Middle East Area of Operations. Musicians from the Sydney and Melbourne detachments, Defence School of Music and the Directorate of Music formed a contingent that presented 25 concerts in 8 separate locations, over a 16 day period. Three and a half tonnes of equipment were transported to each concert location.

Australian police bands

The NSW Police Band has performed at police and state government functions since its formation in 1895. Comprised of four police officers and 29 professional musicians, the NSW Police Band has participated in many high profile events such as royal visits, papal visits and major parades. Ensembles include stage band, wind quintet, jazz ensemble and brass quintet.

Other Australian police bands include the Victoria Police Showband and Pipe Band, the Band of the South Australia Police, the Western Australia Police Pipe Band, the Queensland Police Pipe & Drums and the Tasmania Police Pipe Band.

Pipe and drum bands

Pipe and drum bands have performed at civilian and military functions in Australia since the early 1800s. Australia is known worldwide for its bagpipe playing. The Australian Ladies Pipe Band toured worldwide in the 1920s, and the Victoria Police Pipe Band won the world championship in Scotland in 1998.

An indication of the range and extent of pipe and drum bands is evident from the Western Australian bands. The Scotch College Pipe Band was established in 1947 and paraded for the first time a year later with 8 pipers and 5 drummers. This band continues to perform and has achieved success in WA Pipe Band Association competitions. The WA Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) Pipe Band was formed in 1981 and performs regularly for school and community functions. The PLC Pipe Band has also toured Australia and Scotland. The WA Coastal Scottish Pipe Band was established from pipers and drummers employed at the Fremantle Railway workshops in 1898. It is one of the oldest civilian bands in the southern hemisphere.

Useful links

Australian military bands

Australian police bands

Other links

Last updated: 20th March 2008
Creators: Mijo Consulting, et al.