Urban Sketching, weekly theme: Music Festivals

September 22, 2011

This week’s theme for Urban Sketchers is “Music Festivals”. I’m not likely to draw a Music Festival as such before Sunday’s deadline and I don’t have any relevant previous sketches to post.

The theme, though,  has rather set me off on a goose chase regarding Bandstands (aka “band stand”) and Rotundas, where “music festivals” of a certain type might be said to have been held in times of yore. Bandstands were built in Sydney (and elsewhere in NSW and other States) a hundred years ago. They follow on naturally from Victorian times when public concerts were given by brass bands. They evoke British leisure practices, especially when combined with popular sea resorts in summer. I gather there were not only lots of bands a hundred years ago, but fierce competition between them as well.

Before picking one (or several) to go out and sketch, here’s what I’ve discovered about them through some Internet trawling. Curiously, I’ve yet to come across a definitive website or book detailing them all; I’m also surprised there is no central photo gallery online. What emerges are two things: firstly, how diverse the architectural styles were (given the obvious flux of styles between the 1880s and the 1930s) and secondly, a common approach these days in local government circles that Councils tacitly agree to preserve and maintain just one bandstand in their respective local government areas.

Former bandstands

There are records and photos of bandstands in Sydney which are no longer extant. Basically they were erected in public spaces in the city and eventually came to be built in suburban parks, especially in combination with war memorials. Competing interests and changes in use of public space meant the inner city ones disappeared. In an age before radio, television (and anything electronic), music was performed live and in this instance in public. The lack of any electricity in the bandstands or rotundas themselves means they’ve never become venues for public entertainment since. In any case, residents overlooking parks would complain these days about excessive noise.

* Hyde Park, Sydney. There are photos attesting to one from around the turn of the century. Declared a common by Governor Macquarie in 1810, the park was only established or developed as we know it today around 1929 (virtually destroyed to create the underground subway), at which time there was a popular bandstand (with raked seating, no less) in the south-east corner, approximately where the formal garden of Sandringham Gardens opposite the Australian Museum is now. The Hyde Park bandstand, erected in 1888, had ironwork and pillars cast by the firm Souter and Martin at Globe Foundry, Ultimo, Dismantled by Sydney City Council in 1910 to make way for a new bandstand and amphitheatre, is was re-erected with some alterations at Camperdown in 1911.

* Wynyard Reserve, near Wynyard Station. The park was established in 1887. Like Hyde Park, it was virtually destroyed in the construction of the underground subway. Given substantial business and retail highrise in the inner city, city parks were deserts from the 1940s onwards and have only been revived as busy, out-of-hours venues in the last decade

Prince Alfred Park, near Central Station. Like Hyde Park, this public space has made numerous makeovers in its time, resembling at one stage a type of  Royal Agricultural showground. It was the site of Intercolonial Exhibitions (the sort of exposition we associate with the Crystal Pavilion at the Botanic Gardens in the 1880s and Homebush as we know it today). Photos of the 1904 bandstand still exist, reputedly replacing one built in or around 1870.


Extant bandstands and rotundas

Attitudes towards public spaces have changed over the last hundred years. Off-leash dog owners are probably today’s most vocal social group when it comes to public use of parks and gardens.  To pay their way and to help justify their retention to ratepayers, local Councils rent out bandstands for marriage ceremonies. 

* Observatory Hill, Millers Point. The City of Sydney Council appears to have elected to preserve and maintain two examples of bandstand/rotundas, here at 1001 Fort Street Sydney 2000, and at Belmore Park.

* Belmore Park, near Central Station. Erected 1910, a year later than the one in Moore Park.

Moore Park, under the umbrella of Centennial Parklands, northern end of Moore Park.  A bandstand was erected here in 1909 and survived till the 1930s. In 1936 it was enclosed and became an adjunct of sporting activity nearby. Moore Park was of course a location chosen for Sydney’s first zoo. The bandstand has recently been rebuilt and its original open air form restored. It was reopened in 2004. Similar in style to the near-contemporary one in Belmore Park at nearby Haymarket.

* Camperdown Park, Mallett Street, Camperdown. Previously located at Hyde Park in the middle of Sydney, it was erected in 1911, With grants from the NSW Heritage Council and Marrickville Municipal Council, together with fund-raising by the Camperdown Residents Action Group, the rotunda was restored and ‘re-opened’ on 22 June 1991.

* Petersham Park, Petersham. This is (as far as I can tell) the oldest bandstand in Sydney still operating as a venue for regular band concerts. It was erected in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and was opened by Sir Harry Rawson, then Governor of New South Wales. It was repaired and restored in 1993. The Petersham Brass Band has performed more than 700 concerts in its time and still does so in a season of concerts in July Winter evenings. This, along with Camperdown Park’s,  is Marrickville’s Councils contribution to bandstand heritage.

* Green Park, East Sydney. This dates from 1925 and is testament to the popularity of bands between the World Wars. The park is named after a city alderman James Green, but is best remember for another Green – Alexander Green, the assistant hangman, from colonial days, employed at the Darlinghurst Gaol (now the National Art School); after participating in 490 hangings, he went insane.  The downstairs area was converted in the 1990s into a cafe-restaurant (Bandstand Cafe, 310 Victoria Street Darlinghurst). The park was important as a rallying location for AIDS memorials during the 1980s and 1990s and there is a Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial in the park.

* Yeo Park, cnr Victoria Street and Canterbury Road, Ashfield. This example from 1929, with its curious blend of the Victorian (the elevated, intricate dome) and Art Deco (the heavy urn-like forms at the base), is remarkably different from just about every other bandstand in Sydney. It is unusual also since it is close in design to another, in Geelong, Victoria. It is heritage-protected and is the only example left in the Ashfield local government area. Percy Everett, architect, designed both this one and the one in Johnstone Park, Geelong.

* Balmoral Rotunda, Mosman.  No other bandstand in Sydney is quite like this one, entirely monochromatic in reinforced concrete, The Balmoral Rotunda was originally built in 1930 as part of the beach improvement program undertaken by Balmoral Council. Originally used for brass band concerts trhoughtout the 1930s and 1940s, today it is used for festivals, events and weddings adn is an important historical landmark in Balmoral. Over time, the lead paint surface had deteriorated allowing chlorides from the harsh saltwater environment to penetrate the concrete structure. Steps have been taken to remedy this situation in recent times.

Bandstands requiring follow-up

Here’s my list of bandstands/rotundas reported to exist according to Internet sources. Unlike the ones above, I personally can’t attest to their existence, but hope to check them out.

* Mortdale Memorial Park, Boundary Road, Mortdale. This appears to be the simplest and least pretentious of Sydney’s bandstands. It is level with the ground, with a delicate Victorian aura. This may be Rockdale’s sole concession to bandstand heritage. In any case, it must be one of the least expensive in terms of upkeep and may have survived on this basis alone. It is the single focus of a very small park, bordered with moreton bay fig trees.

 * 171 Wollongong Road (“Dapeto”), Arncliffe. This may well be  a sole example in Sydney of a bandstand on private property, in this case adorning a High Victorian house. 

Balmain, Glassop Street. Elkington Park fronting Iron Cove, 1936 band rotunda. With its solid, heavy form, this example appears to fall completely within the Art Deco style, with virtually no Victorian ornament.  This may well be Leichhardt’s single extant example of the genre.

Victoria Park and Memorial, Great Western Highway, St Marys 2760. Combined bandstand and WW1 soldiers’ memorial (October 1922). This may well be Penrith City Council’s single extant example of a bandstand.

Arncliffe Park, Mitchell Street, Arncliffe. Small bandstand.

Grant Reserve, Neptune Street, Coogee. Bandstand, overlooking the ocean. Is this the sole example in the Waverley Council area?

* ? Prince Alfred Park, Parramatta 2150.

* ? Cabra-Vale Park Memorial Bandstand, Cabramatta 2166.

Mascot Memorial Park, Coward and Botany Roads, Mascot.

* Cabarita Park, Cabarita Road, Cabarita. Near the Rivercat ferry stop on Parramatta River.

* Woodville Park, Hudson Street, Hursville.

* Wahroonga Park, Coonanbarra Road, Wahroonga.

Lloyd Rees bandstand, Burns Bay Road and Longueville Road, Lane Cove NSW 2166. This has to rate as Sydney’s most recently constructed one and certainly bucks the trend that building bandstands died out in Sydney in the 1930s. It was designed by landscape architect Harry Howard in 1983 and funded by the artist Lloyd Rees. It is the venue for concerts by the Lane Cover Municipal Band, formed in 1963.

* Ashfield Park, Parramatta Road, Ashfield. Photos exist of one in an Ashfield park, looking extremely unusual because it took the form of a giant egg with a royal crown sitting on top. It may have been visible to drivers stalled in traffic along Parramatta Road in times past.


Bandstands/rotundas elsewhere in New South Wales

? Armidale, Central Park. Band rotunda with inscribed marble plaques (Boer War).

? Raymond Terrace, on the banks of the Hunter River.

? Orange, NSW.

? Lismore. Spinks Park. This 1914 Federation-style bandstand was designed by Spinks Park architect, F.J.Board.



Chrys Meader, Richard Cashman and Anne Carolan, Marrickville: People and Places. Sydney, Hale & Ironmonger, 1994.

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