The City of Hobart Highland Pipe Band began, like many organisations, on the impulse of one or two people. “Barney” Donovan and Kevin Lowe, were, in the year 1946, two of a mere handful of pipers in Hobart. They used to practice up on the Domain. One evening they decided that Hobart needed a Pipe Band. In 1946, if you wanted a full Band for a parade in Hobart, you contacted one of the Bands in the North or on the Coast. St Andrews Pipe Band, in particular, made a number of trips ‘south’ to provide Highland music. Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that a small Pipe Band existed in the late 1920’s, recollections of its activities seem to be hazy, at best. The common wisdom is that it consisted of some ex-Military Band types who decided to ‘diversify’
Barney Donovan enlisted the support of a drummer, George Storrey, who had been a Military Band drummer. Meeting were held at a house in North Hobart. One of the founding members, Vern McTye, recalls that there were plenty of recruits, but not much in the way of experience: “Most of us wouldn’t have known the difference between a set of bagpipes, and a bag of spuds”. But there was plenty of enthusiasm. The war was over and people wanted to get on with their lives. Indeed, many of the early recruits were ex-servicemen.
By early 1947, it became obvious that the Band would need an organisational structure to ensure that uniforms, instruments and music could be obtained. A public meeting was held at the Hobart Town Hall on 15th May 1947. John McCarrey, who was the Honorary Organising Secretary, recorded that there were 27 potential pipers and 10 drummers at that stage. It was estimated that it would cost sixty one pounds to equip one band member. At the time, the average wage was four pounds eighteen shillings. The task was clearly huge. The Mercury reported (Undated) one of the early performances given in the Hobart Town Hall for a monthly meeting of the Caledonian Society. Four pipers and a drum major featured. One of the tunes performed was “Major Knox, M.C.”
Photo: Marching down Macquarie Street, Hobart, 1951. Photo courtesy of Mary Excell.
Lady Binney, the wife of the Governor, accepted the role of being Patroness, and Mr Henry Dunn, a Scot, became the President. By June, 1947, total substitutions from the public totaled two hundred and seventy pounds, including one gift of sixty one pounds. Several pipers funded their own equipment. Henry Dunn funded a considerable amount for the purchase of equipment as an interest-free loan. By July, funds had swelled to five hundred and thirty pounds, and moves were made to have a major debut in the New Year. Norm Duffy has recorded photographs of practices and the actual first performance at the Hobart Showgrounds.
From there, the Band went from strength to strength. The Band was flooded with requests for performances. Vern McTye reports that there were, in fact, too many parades. Getting five to ten pounds per performance wasn’t too difficult. Vern also reports that in the early days there were only two tunes that the Band could play well. They were “Highland Laddie” and “The Barren Rock of Aden”. Vern reports that city marches could be tricky ; you had to make sure that no city block was more than “two tunes long”.
Practices were held on the TCA Ground, the Regatta Rowing Club, and later, the Albuera St Public School. A strong organising Committee had been formed, substantially from non players. The favourite watering hole of the HHPB in the early days was ‘Ma Dwyers Pub’ on the waterfront.