Brett Tidswell: Piping in Australia


By Brett Tidswell

The oldest pipe band in the southern hemisphere is arguably the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia. The band was first established in 1894 in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. There is some argument that it was not a pipe band, just a group of pipers, as it was called the “Pipers Band” but early photographs, including the one below, indeed show the presence of drummers.

Around the turn of the century there were issues with piping competitions and the selection of impartial adjudicators. In 1924 the world’s first pipe band association was formed to provide a fair system of rules and a method of qualifying suitably impartial judges. This was the birth of the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association, which is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Bands from New South Wales and South Australia soon joined the Association. By the 1960s, all states had their own and the Federation of Pipe Band Associations was formed. In 1997 these associations all joined together to form one Australian Pipe Band Association, now known as Pipe Bands Australia.

The Pipes and Drums of the Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia, 1894.

The size of Australia has to be understood to comprehend the effort that bands and solo pipers have to go through to compete. For example, a band in Perth, Western Australia would have to travel over 4,000km to compete on the eastern seaboard. That is a greater distance than from Glasgow to Moscow. Even travelling between our closest cities, is a distance similar to travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Each state has a branch of the Pipe Band College, which are overseen by divisional Vice Principals. One Vice Principal each for Piping, Drumming, Drill & Dress and Rules & Admin, supported by a National Principal for each element as well as Ensemble. The branch runs all educational matters, seminars, exams, schools etc. and the National Principals ensure that a suitable syllabus is maintained to encourage and develop learning and to ensure that a national standard is always maintained. The Principals are also responsible for the grading of bands, and oversee the training of Adjudicators through the branches.

The Australian Pipe Band Championships are currently held every two years and this contest is rotated between cities. This often means that all bands around the country can’t attend due to the huge distances and costs involved. The states with smaller branches often do not tender for the running of the National Championship, although each state will run its own State Championship and other minor competitions each year.

Often bands travel to Scotland for competition with the likes of Victoria Police, WA Police, Band Club, Perth Metro, Scotch College Melbourne and others being successful in recent years. As the world becomes smaller we are seeing more bands venture across, and quite a few school bands in recent years. It is still a mammoth task to bring a band across from the other side of the world, with airfares, accommodation, time off work all making the trip very expensive and prohibitive. Often the bands improve a tremendous amount during the time they are together overseas working almost full time for at least a couple of weeks. Individuals also will put in a big effort with a trip looming and so the standard of some bands when away are often better than we would hear at home.

Steps are now being taken to match the contest requirements in Scotland so that bands travelling do not have to change their contest repertoire between countries. In the past this was only done on a regional level between Australia and New Zealand, but the world is becoming a lot more accessible these days and bands travelling to Scotland is becoming more common. We hope in the future that our exposure to international competition, the advancement of our educational programmes and the hard work by tutors, students and bands will see more making the trip to Scotland and continuing future successes.

Brett Tidswell is National Principal (Piping) for Pipe Bands Australia.