Royal Australian Air Force Band turns 100

For the past century, the Royal Australian Air Force Band has been lifting troop morale and winning the hearts and minds of the Australian public.

CAPTIONThe Royal Australian Air Force Band under the direction of Squadron Leader Dan Phillips in concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre in August 2022. Story by Flight Sergeant Ralph Whiteoak.

To celebrate its centenary, the Royal Australian Air Force Band is holding a concert on November 3 and releasing a book about its history.

Commanding Officer  Squadron Leader Dan Phillips said the band continued to support the Royal Australian Air Force.

“Music has always been a part of the culture of the Royal Australian Air Force,” Squadron Leader Phillips said.

“Whether it be onstage in front of a crowd of thousands, bringing people together to sing, or on parade for special events, it has the power to transform any occasion.

“We are very fortunate to have this amazing, unique asset here in the Royal Australian Air Force Band.”

August 20, 1923, marked the inauguration of air force music, and is the date when Hugh Niven, the first official Royal Australian Air Force bandmaster, was appointed to run a part-time band at Point Cook.

There were musical ensembles in the Air Flying Corps before this date, such as 1 Squadron’s formation of a concert party and camp orchestra in 1916 to entertain troops in Egypt, and ‘The Flying Kangaroos’ and ‘The Gee Whizzers’ who gained popularity in England in 1918.

However, the appointment of an official bandmaster marked the recognition by the Royal Australian Air Force of the rich musical heritage and cultural impact that an band would bring to the organisation.

Since then, the band has played an important role in supporting ceremonies.

Notable events have included:

  • the opening of Parliament House in Canberra in 1927
  • ceremonial support for the presentation of the Queen’s colours for RAAF in 1952
  • support for the royal tour of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in 1954
  • official band of the Olympics in 1956
  • morale-boosting concerts for Australian troops deployed to Vietnam and Malaysia in 1969
  • Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoos
  • forces entertainment tours to East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands
  • Anzac Day ceremonial support in Gallipoli
  • Villers-Bretonneux in France and Australia
  • support for the AFL and NRL during grand finals and Anzac Day matches.

Their bestselling album Thirty Smash Hits of the War Years was even awarded a gold record in 1975.

The band has been through many iterations since 1923.

A second part-time band was formed at RAAF Base Richmond in 1932, followed by a significant change in 1952 with the creation of the famous RAAF Central Band, an equally important musician muster that progressed Royal Australian Air Force music from the amateur to the professional.

A second full-time band, the Air Command Band, was also formed in NSW in 1969 to cater for the increasing demand for music services within the RAAF.

The RAAF had two bands until 2008, when both bands were amalgamated into the one RAAF Band, based at Laverton.

Today’s Royal Australian Air Force Band has 40 full-time professional musicians and about 20 reservists with whom they support events nationally and abroad.

From this limited number of personnel, Royal Australian Air Force band capability boasts a symphonic wind band, ceremonial band, big band, rock bands, jazz ensembles, wind quintet, brass quintet, clarinet quartet, fanfare team, bag piper and a selection of fine buglers.

To mark 100 years of the RAAF, the band recently completed the feature-length film Through Struggle to the Stars.

A book about their own history by Dr Chris Clark will soon be released.

Fittingly, the Royal Australian Air Force Band is also hosting a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre to celebrate 100 years of music-making in the Royal Australian Air Force.

 

CONTACT believes RAAF is deliberately dropping ‘Royal Australian’ from its name – despite Defence assuring us it isn’t true. Campaigning against this name-change-by-stealth, CONTACT has appropriately ‘repaired’ this official story. See here for more details


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