CELEBRATION TIME: Current Mildura District Pipe Band members, including Side Drummer Neil Lawrence and Piper Major Peter Fleming will take part in the group’s 95th birthday celebrations this weekend. Photo: PAUL MENSCH
THE iconic Mildura District Pipe Band will celebrate 95 years of history and good times tomorrow as part of a special luncheon at the Mildura RSL Club.
Former members of the group will descend on the region to take part in the event, travelling from as far as Brisbane and New Zealand to be in attendance.
They will be entertained by members of the current band, which is made up of eight pipers and six drummers who frequently perform at various public events across Sunraysia, the Riverland and south-west NSW. The group also performs at private functions such as weddings, funerals, birthdays, fetes and parties.
For those unfamiliar with the group, the Mildura District Pipe Band boasts a long and distinguished history stretching back to May, 1922, when a small ad inserted in the Sunraysia Daily invited ‘pipers of Sunraysia’ to a public meeting at the Working Man’s Club.
That meeting was well attended, with a high-power steering committee elected, headed by the then Mayor of Mildura E.T. Henderson.
Word of the new pipe band spread among Sunraysia’s Scottish community, with Mayor Henderson saying at the time that, “The residents had not known that there were so many pipes lying silent in the settlement.”
Donald MacLeod, a highly decorated World War One veteran, was appointed Drum Major, while Danny McPherson – another Scottish immigrant with an international reputation as a soldier, piper and highland dancer – was appointed Pipe Major.
A local Caledonian Society was also formed to support and raise money for the band.
Three weeks later, the Maryborough Pipe Band and a troupe of Scottish entertainers brought its ‘Grand Carnival’ to Mildura – a major entertainment and fund-raising event held over the June long weekend.
The group was actually greeted at the train station at 6.30am by “almost every Scot in the town,” according to local media. They were escorted to a Civic Reception by Mildura’s new pipe band, which at the time consisted of seven pipers and four drummers wearing various degrees of Highland dress, before both pipe bands performed at numerous functions over the long weekend alongside the Mildura Brass Band and various local and imported artists.
Over the next six months Pipe Major McPherson conducted regular classes in piping, drumming and highland dancing, with the newly-formed Caledonian Society organising regular ‘Grand Scotch Concerts’, garden parties and other fund-raisers to outfit the band.
By the end of that year the group had raised enough money to equip the band and subsidise a trip to the famous Maryborough Highland Gathering held on New Year’s Day, 1923.
There the band won the Novice sections in piping and marching.
During the 1920s and 1930s the band went from strength to strength under the leadership of Pipe Major McPherson and his pupil and successor, Pipe Major Bill Brown, establishing a reputation as one of the best bands in the eastern States.
When World War Two broke out 1939, individual band members began to volunteer for military service, and were posted to various regiments. This prompted concerns that the years of training would be lost if the band was dispersed, so a letter was drafted to the Australian Army Command offering the services of the remaining members, complete with their instruments, as a regimental band.
A novel idea as far as the Australian Army was concerned, it took several months before it was taken up. In April 1941, an offer was made by the 2/4th anti-tank regiment to train the members, primarily as gunners, but also as a part-time regimental band for special occasions, with 10 band members and their instruments travelling to Melbourne to enlist. After basic training they were sent to Malaya.
Following the battle of Muar in January 1942, most of the regiment was evacuated to Singapore, with a small group cut off and instead waging a guerrilla war in Malaya for another month until one man was shot in the ankle.
The group surrendered to the Japanese in the hope of getting necessary medical help, and were imprisoned in Kuala Lumpur and then, some nine months after the fall of Singapore, transferred to Changi.
Meanwhile, back home the supporters of the band were not idle, realising that when ‘the boys’ came back they would be needing new uniforms and instruments.
Fund-raisers were continually being organised, with the only band piper left in the town being Malcolm McKenzie – a WW1 veteran who had been severely wounded at Gallipoli.
He piped several times a week for highland dancing classes, displays and competitions, jumble sales, raffles with ‘Scotch Concert’ variety shows also popular.
As a result of these efforts, when soldiers were repatriated in 1946 the band was reformed, with replacement instruments and new uniforms.
In the years immediately after the war, several band members resigned to take up Soldier Settlement blocks in Robinvale where they formed a new band. The two sister bands met regularly, and played together on special occasions such as the Royal Visit of 1954.
Today the Mildura District Pipe Band conducts learner classes in piping and drumming at the Old Aero Ovals pavilion (off Eleventh Street) on Wednesday nights from 7pm, or by arrangement.
Tuition is free, with anyone interested in learning to play the pipes or drums asked to contact the band secretary on 5024 5164.
While celebrations will be in full swing tomorrow, the group is also hoping to host further reunions over the next five years leading up to the band’s centenary.
More information about the Mildura District Pipe Band can be found online at www.mildurapipeband.org.au, or visit the Mildura Pipe Band Facebook page.