No Joe Blow

Murtoa born, son of blacksmith Michael, Joe Saunders was a fine harmonica player and bandsman.

Joseph Patrick Saunders (1898 – 1977)

Before highlighting Joe’s legacy, I would like to clear the air on the claim that he was founder of the first mouth organ band in this country in 1928. This would be a bit of a stretch. Their is a report of a band in existence in Bendigo in 1902.

We may yet hear the Speaker of tho Legislative Assembly asking Mr A. E. Cook, the member for Bendigo, to while away the tedium of an all-night sitting by giving a solo on the mouth-organ. Yesterday was Mr Cook’s birthday, and he had a surprise visit from a Richmond dentist, who was a fellow member of his in what is claimed to have been the first mouth-organ band formed in Australia. It began its harmonious career at Bendigo in 1902, with Mr Cook as a soloist.

I thought the Richmond dentist would have been Walter Omond, however my records have him passing in August of 1933. We also had the Temperance Institute Harmonica Band in Bendigo (twenty members) in 1904, the Try Boys Mouth Organ band in Melbourne in 1909 (pictured below), the Broken Hill Mouth Organ Band who were active around regional New South Wales in 1910, in 1914 the Maryborough Mouth Organ Band performed at the Borough Hall in Talbot in regional Victoria (Talbot Leader, Saturday 25 July, 1914) and in 1917 the Aussie diggers had a band aboard the HMAT Euripides.

Left: Try Boys Mouth Organ Band (1909) Right: Four of the Cleveland Street Public School Mouth Organ Band (1927)

In 1927 Harold Collier’s Crackajack Mouth Organ Orchestra (pictured below) competed in the Dance Orchestral Section (open to dance orchestras of no more than ten players) at the South Street Ballarat Competition. They paved the way for future bands when the Mouth Organ Band’s competition was introduced at South Street two years later. Also in 1927 the Cleveland Street Public School in Sydney were highly regarded for their boys mouth organ band (pictured above).

The notion that J Saunders was the founder of the first mouth organ band had even upset a reader of the Shepparton Advertiser having witnessed this proclamation in a report on Joe’s visit to his country town in 1934. He stated that, “I wish to correct this statement, for in 1897, there were many mouth-organ, bands in various parts of the State, and it was a common sight to see boys dressed in white sailor costumes performing in the streets, and giving entertainments on Hohner and Ludwig mouth organs, the latter instruments costing the large sum of sixpence each.” (Shepparton Advertiser, Friday 15 June 1934)

There were probably many other mouth organ bands formed before Joe’s, but Joe certainly formed one of the first modern mouth organ bands of that period that competed successfully at the highest level around the nation. This was acknowledged by good mate Les Benoit, however he incorrectly stated they were founded in 1927. Les’ Ballarat Harmonica Band started early in 1928 and perhaps just a whisker later than Joe’s.

Commun Na Feinne Hall (Previously St. John’s Lutheran Church) Geelong

On Tuesday 17th January 1928 a call for mouth organists was placed in the Geelong Adveriser.

Four days later the paper reported the meeting as, “highly successful results and that several promising players had made an appearance” and that “three vacancies exist with violin and banjo accompaniments the twelve or so players who will make up the band should prove a popular attraction.”

Left: The Band in 1928 Right: Released 1929 – ‘A’ side Lead Kindly Light Geelong Mouth Organ Band

Practice was held every Wednesday evening at the CNF hall. One of the first public appearances of the band was witnessed at the popular Palais Da Dance in Geelong on the 28th April 1928. Later that year in Melbourne, with Joe conducting, the band won the first mouth organ championship organised by radio stations 3LO and 3AR and received a gold medal. The band headed to the recording studio in 1929 to lay down Lead Kindly Light and Joe’s solo rendition of La Paloma.

1928 was a big year for Joe away from the mouth organ too! And not just his clerical duties with the Victorian Railways at Geelong nor his football umpiring, but primarily for his marriage to Kathleen Gill in September. Kathleen was born and raised in Colac and was a prominent dancer and singer. Kath had founded a very successful juvenile troupe in Geelong back in 1917 called ‘Just the Children’. The children travelled the countryside entertaining one and all and in the process raising money for various charities. A house record was exceeded by the tin lids for His Majesty’s Theatre Ballroom in 1920 – a title previously held by J C Willamson’s Katinka Company. Percy Crawford, a Tivoli stalwart, pronounced in 1924 that, “Just the Children – the best company in the world”. In 1925 there were fifty children, ranging mostly in age from three to thirteen, who performed a series of sketches, acrobatics, quartets and dancing. They competed at the 1927 South Street Ballarat Championships in the Open section Spectacular Theatrical Display, tying for second place. At some stage, Joe also managed the company, perhaps from as early as 1922 and at least through to 1925. Is this where the love affair was conjugated?

No longer humble! Umpire!

Joe had a long association with Australian Rules Football going back to his days of being secretary of local leagues. He was responsible for this role with the Geelong & District Football League for six years. His ability as a footballer and his limited vertical stature (5’ 3”) warranted Joe finding another form of involvement in the great game. Umpiring provided this vehicle.

Left: Oops! Not the best bounce by the look of it. Right: There’s that assertion.

According to Joe the humble harmonica’s capabilities had advanced as was witnessed in the Bands Section of South Street – “last year the bands played classical operatic selections, and brass band marches, such as ‘Caractacus’ and the score of ‘Chu Chin Chow’.”

The standard of Joe’s Australian Rules Football umpiring, did come into question when he failed to make any reports in one game.

I do have to agree with a quote of Joe’s regarding umpiring. “When players go to a match knowing umpires have a uniform interpretation, no matter who the umpire is, then they can play with every thought on the actual game.” (Barrier Miner, 4 May 1935). Personally I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed this.

The Geelong Mouth Organ Band quite possibly were the first band of its type to play at a funeral in January of 1930.

Members of the Geelong Mouth Organ Band paid their last tribute of respect to a former member of the band in a unique way today. At the funeral of Joseph Cameron, who was a member of the band for more than a year. The band, under the leadership of Mr Saunders played the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” at the mortuary chambers of Alex Monro, Ryde street. At the graveside at the Eastern Cemetery, where the Rev. T. Gault officiated, the band played the hymns, “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Lead Kindly Light.” This is probably tho first time in which a mouth organ band has officiated on such an occasion. (Riverine Herald, 8th January 1930)

Joe on Stage

Joe’s Football officiating was required in the Apple Isle (Tasmania) in 1930. His solo mouth organ playing was also in demand. Joe featured on the bill at the prestigious Majestic Theatre in June of 1930. A local exponent, Mrs. Jensen, challenged Joe for the Championship of Tassie on one night. I couldn’t source the result – he must have won or it would have been front page news if he went down. The Tasmanian Examiner informed their readers of Joe and his mouth organ talents by stating, “unique entertainer with his simple instrument.” (17th June 1930)

(The Age, Tuesday 27 October 1931)

Joe’s talents was demonstrated at the Australasian Mouth Organ Championships at South Street Ballarat in 1931, where he finished runner up to William Ketterer the conductor of the Geelong West City Harmonica Band. Bendigo (Eaglehawk) born William was a fine tuba player, who had been a member of the Malvern Tramways Band under Harry Shugg for six years. In 1931 he began the Geelong West City Harmonica Band and developed their prowess into championship material. Joe Saunders eventually joined the Geelong West City band and would also become their secretary, organiser and manager. He had this honour in 1934 when the band was once again successful at South Street. In that year he also held the Duet Championship of Australia with Mr. G. Kennedy. Might be him pictured below, front row second from right and William Ketterer is also front row fourth from the left.

Australian Champions South Street Ballarat – Geelong West City Harmonica Band (1934)

I think you’ll all agree Joseph reached some heady heights back in his day and was more than just a Joe Blow.

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2 thoughts on “No Joe Blow

  1. Fascinating when you put these histories together. Individuals can lead some pretty impressive life experiences. It would be good to get a book together and get it out there. Cheers as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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