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Community & Business

22 July, 2023

Brief history of the Gilgandra Town Band

Thanks to Jenny Johnston, Shirley Marks, and the late Terry Nangle

By Emily Middleton

The story of the Gilgandra’s town band has been fondly told as a story of survival. It has been through many recessions, it’s seen a lack of interest, at times even too much interest.

But in 2003, the late Terry Nangle compiled a brief history of the band, and the turbulent, colorful eras it went through – and The Gilgandra Weekly thought it just might be of your interest:

The original Gilgandra Brass Band formed around 1909, with the local hairdresser and bookdealer, Tom Kift, as the bandmaster.

Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long, but another effort to revive the band happened in 1910 by members who had played alongside Mr Kift – Les McMillan, Alex Connelly, and Bob Fleming. These men were joined by the Weaver brothers, Frank Collins, Ben Boardman, and Joe Ferguson, who all made attempts to purchase a set of instruments. Another year later, with Arthur Weaver now as bandmaster, a handful more members had joined, and instruments secured.

In 1913, Mr Weaver unfortunately had to move to Coonabarabran for employment, and formed a band over there, leaving the reigns to Wally Hayward. In 1915, Emanuel Sousa took over the leadership for three years, which was then passed on to Oliver Williams.

Due to World War I, the band was forced into reces- sion. It was only reformed again in 1924, when Fred Foster was bandmaster. In 1931, Charlie Ross took over leadership, and the band began performing at various local functions. A standout at the time was when the band played at half time at the movies in the Western Monarch Theatre. The theatre was owned by Fred Brook, who had helped sponsor the band.

According to Mr Nangle’s account, the exact time the band folded during this era is unsure, but evidence suggests early during World War II. Over 30 members made up the band, and Gilgandra were very proud to have them play anywhere and everywhere they could.

Mr Nangle also states that there have been sugges- tions that the band reformed after WWII, in the mid 1940s, but there is no evidence of this.

The Gilgandra Brass Band had a change of name in the late 1950s, known as the Gilgandra Town and District Brass Band, with Ron Arthur as bandmaster.

Following Mr Arthur, Mr Nangle notes that possibly ‘Gilgandra’s most notable bandmaster’ came in control, Eddie Bird.

Mr Bird was a very accomplished cornet and trumpet player, who came second in the Australasian Band Championships held in Dubbo. This was held in the 1960s. where he played a solo cornet rendition of ‘The Flight of The Bumble Bee’.

Mr Bird sadly move don from Gilgandra, when he went on to be a professional trumpet player in Sydney, alongside other local band member Garry Barwick who became a professional piano player. But during Mr Bird’s time, the band became very strong. It was affectionately known as the golden era of the Gilgandra Band, with over 30 members playing at all sorts of functions.

Mr Nangle mentions that the members even learnt to play the march Invercargil in the dark, due to a function being held at the oval which had very poor lighting.

It was during this time that the band had a very strong support from the community, with a committee and very enthusiastic ladies auxiliary, consisting of many mothers and wives of band members.

Mr Nangle wrote that “It was also about this time that the successful Gilgandra Marching Girls came into being with two strong teams”.

The committee’s support of the band was able to raise a considerable amount of money, which lead to the purchase of their “trendsetting uniforms” in the early 1960s, alongside the odd new instrument. The Gilgandra Apex Club also donated two new side drums during this time, ensuring the band was fit and ready to compete at the Australasian Band Championships held in Dubbo once again, as well as the Graded Band Championships held in Orange. “The band often travelled to surrounding towns to entertain and add support to local bands in Coonamble, Coonabarabran, Dubbo, Warren, and Wellington,” Mr Nangle wrote.

“On one trip to Coonabarabran, the band was short of a bass player, so keen supporter (with three son’s in the band) Tom Nangle – never having played the instrument – stepped in and filled the role quite admirably.”

Mr Bird, still bandmaster at the time, unfortunately received the news that his wife passed away, and he moved to Sydney to further his talents. He was replaced by Phillip West, and the band remained very strong.

Under Mr West the band competed at Parkes in the D-Grade Band Championships, taking out first place in both the street march and the square march. Both were done while also playing the music of a march, and the band returned triumphantly with trophies to Gilgandra.

Following Mr West, there was a string of bandmas- ters including Charlie Berry, Jack Remfrey, Bruce Ostler, and Terry Nangle.

It was reported that the band continued to perform at many functions, but slowly lost strength and eventually went into recession after ANZAC Day in 1974.

The band recouped under Terry Nangle to perform on ANZAC Day 1975, but after this the band folded.

Again, an attempt was made to revive it by a new family to town, Derek Leonard and family, but this was short-lived and the band folded completely in the mid 1970s.

In this era, band members included people such as Brian Collison, Lloyd, Ross, and Terry Nangle, Bruce Ostler, Barry, Norm and Colin Whitby, Barry Musgrove, and many more.

After a bit of a hiatus, in 1999, former Gilgandra Weekly editor and keen bandsman for many year, Jim Brunsden returned to Gilgandra in retirement and prompted reformation of the brass band.

Slowly Mr Brunsden gained support and was able to get the band up and running in late 1999, with some support of the Gilgandra Services Club.

From then on, the band was known as the Gilgandra Services Memorial Band, and there were enough instru- ments and music gear left over from previous bands to start up straight away. Some of the remaining instru- ments dated back to the 1930s, Mr Nangle believed.

After a year or so, Mr Brunsden decided to retire and hand over the reins to Terry Nangle. “The band, altho- ugh few in numbers, as managed to appear and entertain at many local functions including ANZAC Day, Christmas carols, Coo-ee Festival, the local show, and many fetes and celerations,” Mr Nangle wrote.

“The band also travelled to Coonabarabran for a workshop under the tuition of head of brass at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Andrew Evans.

Members in this era include Jim Brunsden, Rosemary Duncan, Mick Edwards, David Lamb, Don Kennaugh, Kynan McCutcheon, Terry Nangle, Sam North, Liz and Sarah O’Shannessy, Adam, Joel, and Lorraine Sorensen.

As of the Gilgandra band today, it has come to the end of an era. For the first time Gilgandra was without a bass drum at ANZAC Day, due to usual drummer Maxine Elsom unable to play.

The left-over money from the bands bank account has gone towards a beautiful cause at Gilgandra’s Windmill Cottages.

For now, the legacy of the band remains, until the next bandmaster takes centre stage... 

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