RAAF Amberley Band – A 60 Year History

            The year 2003 marks the 60th anniversary since the formation of the RAAF Amberley Band. With the many changes over the last 60 years to the structure of the Air Force and the Amberley community, it is highly likely that RAAF Amberley Band is the oldest continuously serving organisations on RAAF Base Amberley.

           This article draws on a previous article published in the Christmas edition of “Strike” in 1984 to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the band. That article was written by LACW Gray. LACW Gray was a committed member of the RAAF Amberley band through the mid 1980’s and much of the research for this article was undertaken by her. However, twenty years later the band is still in existence and there is more of the Amberley band story to tell.

            The first public performance of the RAAF Amberley band was on ANZAC day 1943, when the band led the annual ANZAC day parade through the streets of Ipswich. This occasion was the first of thousands of musical engagements undertaken by the band all over Queensland and New South Wales over the following 60 years.  Over this period the band has been through many high, and just as many low points when, due to funding difficulties or a shortage of competent musicians, the band had been reduced to not much more than a handful of players and a drum corp.

            Prior to 1943, the predecessor to the RAAF Amberley Band was formed in 1941 by SGT Ted Selby and twenty eight bandsmen. Due to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the first band folded in 1942. The current band was then formed in early 1943 with enthusiastic volunteers but no instruments. At this point Mr Bruno Ernst of the Laidley Town band came to the rescue and kindly donated a selection of Brass instruments from the Laidley band to the RAAF Amberely band, some of those donated instruments are still with the band today.

            The role of the band in the early years was to provide musical accompaniment for official occasions and ceremonial parades. As such the band traveled all over Queensland and New South Wales in support of official military and associated civic funtions. In 1954 the band played at Brisbane airport for the arrival of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and a few years later played at a reception for Princess Alexandra. In 1962 the band flew to Townsville to play in support of a ceremony for the arrival of the first three Neptune Maritime aircraft to enter service with the RAAF. There were many more trips away for the band through to the 1970’s such as Cairns, several trips to Townsville, Williamtown, and Tweed Heads, to mention a few. The band regularly performed at the opening of the Queensland Parliament and at the Ekka. In the late 1950’s the band gave radio recitals on ABC radio on Sunday Afternoons. Of course the band has always been on hand to provided musical accompaniment on ANZAC days throughout SE Queensland and, when numbers have permitted, performed for Base parades.

            As a part time band  with volunteer musicians, the issue of funding has always  been a major issue for the band. A Brass or Military Band is not a cheap organisation to run. There is the purchase and repair of instruments, the purchase of contemporary musical scores and other ongoing expenses. In 1959 the Air Board recognised the contribution the Amberley band was making and allocated 10 Pounds per year to offset some of the costs. Then in 1962 a whopping 1036 pounds was granted for the purchase of new instruments.

           On 24 April 1973 with the band under the direction of FSGT Jim Marriner, the bandd marked its 30th Anniversary and received national publicity when Channel Nine broadcast a 30 minute special entitled “ Music, Marches and Memories – a tribute to the RAAF Amberley Band”.

            Between the 1973 and 2003 the bands had several peaks and troughs, the troughs were in the main as a result of declining interest and the always devastating posting cycle. It seemed that just as the band was achieving a level a competence, the principal musicians would be posted. Through the 1980’s the band was ably held together by its part time band master, SGT Barry Martin, who during his last posting to Amberley with the assistance of accomplished players, reinvigorated the band and maintained on base parades, ceremonial occasions and kept up public performances when numbers permitted.

            The 1990’s were a low point for the band due to an unprecedented number of postings early in the decade. The membership did not fully recover adequately to parade a full band and, as in previous years, the band was reduced to a drum corps. The band continued however through the perseverance of FSGT Shane Flynn.

            In 2001, with the band at an all time low with respect to numbers, the decision was  taken to open up the band membership to other than serving Air Force members. After a small recruiting drive the brass band was re established under the musical direction of Mr Merv Cavell. The Pipes and Drums band, which was incorporated into the Amberley band in 2000 by a group of enthusiastic pipers, was led by LAC Lewis MacLennan.

            Since its’ formation in 2000, the Amberley Pipes and Drums have been very successful and performed at an impressive range of events and even winning prizes at Pipes and Drums festivals.

            After 60 years of history, the RAAF Amberley Band is once again a strong and viable musical entity, and is comprised of two bands, the Amberley Brass and the Amberley Pipes and Drums. The band consists of serving members, retired Air Force and Army personnel, spouses and dependants of serving members and civilian members from the Amberley community. New uniforms have been designed and purchased and the band is once again regularly performing at official Air Force ceremonies, and in support of local community functions.

            As in 1943, the issue of funding has not dissipated. The band receives no direct funding from the Commonwealth and is predominantly self funding with the capacity to charge a fee for performances which are not in direct support of official Air Force functions. The band does however, receive a small  amount of funding from Amberley Welfare which is used in the upkeep of instruments and uniforms.

            The Amberley Brass is currently under the musical direction of Mr Gary Lawrence who works tirelessly in a voluntary capacity to arrange scores and select appropriate musical programs for rehearsal and performances. The brass band currently consists of 28 highly competent members. The Amberley Pipes and Drums is led by Drum Major Mr Michael Craik who has led the band to much success and currently consists of some ten bagpipers and drummers..

            In this 60th anniversary year both elements of the Amberley Band have performed at a variety of official and non official functions, and have a busy schedule through to the end of the year.  Both bands always welcome new musicians from the Amberley community, so if you play a brass instrument or the pipes or drums and would like to a part of us, please contact the OIC Band Mr Philip Irvine on (07) 536 16829 for more information.


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