BATHURST CITY & RSL CONCERT BAND
Bands have formed an inextricable part of the social and cultural fabric of Bathurst since the 1860s and have participated in the celebration of all the City’s great civic and community occasions with more continuity and prominence than perhaps any other institution.
Today’s Bathurst City and RSL Concert Band stands in a direct line of succession from the Bathurst District Band which was formed in 1885 by the legendary Samuel Lewins. The 50th anniversaries of band and conductor were celebrated in 1935 at a great jubilee. The event is commemorated by the newly restored Lewins Memorial Gates in Machattie Park, next to the Entertainment Centre. Dr. T.A. Machattie, son of the dedicatee, was President of the band from 1885 to 1924.
The Rotunda was built in 1890 and payment for subsequent engagements (from 1899) represented the first recorded civic subsidy to a community band in Australia, (support which the city council continues to this day). By 1935 the band had presented over 1000 programmes in Machattie Park.
The turn-of-the-century Federation period coincided with the zenith of the band’s fame and success. In 1899 Bathurst hosted a Grand Federal Intercolonial Band Contest which was seen as advancing Bathurst’s claims to become Federal capital. In 1905, by winning the Besson and Boosey Cups at the Australian Natives Association contest in Sydney and becoming the first band to win them for a third time, Bathurst District came to retain them in perpetuity. In 1909 the band won the Championship of Australia in Sydney.
The band participated in the Commonwealth Inauguration ceremony in Sydney on 1 January 1901 (in its other guise as the N.S.W. Mounted Rifles Band), as did the Bathurst City and R.S.L. Band in the 2001 Centenary of Federation Parade.
The band was finally disbanded in the 1960s, an example of the general decline of country brass bands. However, in 1970, Vic Grieve formed a new wind band, the Bathurst City and R.S.L. Concert Band. The band was revived in 1991 by Mathias Rogala-Koczorowski and Colin Thompson and has been restored to its rightful place at the center of Bathurst civic and cultural life, a source of pride to the community.
The band went into decline in the 1970s, an example of the general fate of country brass bands. It was converted to a wind band, a combination which made better use of the available instrumental resources in the city’s schools and colleges, under the leadership of Vic Grieve in 1977. Subsequent distinguished conductors include Geoff Simm and Jim Denmead, who still plays in the band today. However, it fell on hard times again and was rescued from the threat of dissolution by Mathias Rogala-Koczorowski, with the assistance of Colin Thompson, at the end of 1990. Mathias, a professional orchestral horn player who had come to Bathurst to teach brass at Mitchell Conservatorium, went on to restore it to its rightful place at the centre of Bathurst civic and cultural life and a source of pride to the community. Mathias had been the band’s conductor for 25 years, second only to the legendary Sam Lewins, who served in the role for 50 years. In 2015, Mathias retired the position of conductor due to health reasons, and passed the baton to a long time member and musical educator, Wendy Jenkins.
Being custodian of a distinguished historical tradition has been acknowledged in recent times with participation in the Centenary of Federation Parade and the Federation musical “City of the Plains”, portrayal on the front cover of the 2000 Bathurst phone book and an appearance in the ABC television programme “Australians at War”.
Essential to the band’s existence is the continuing encouragement and generous financial support of the RSL Sub-Branch, Bathurst City Council and Mitchell Conservatorium, for which the band is truly grateful.