Albert Edward “Bert” Bowden OAM (30/7/1926 – 5/9/2004)

It is with very sincere and deep regret that the Victorian Bands’ League wishes to inform of the passing of Bert Bowden OAM, former Secretary and Administrator of the League, on Sunday 5th September, 2004.

Albert "Bert" Bowden OAMOn 28th August 2004, the Victorian Bands’ League organized a Testimonial Concert for Bert. VBL President Ian Douglas thanked the Kew Band and Ringwood Band for their part in playing at the concert, and apologised for not being able to attend due to another commitment of very long standing. He sent the following statement:-

“When I joined the band movement 32 years ago, Bert would have been well involved, and that was certainly the case for more than 19 years spanning 1974 to 1993.Bert was the Secretary/Treasurer and later the Administrative Officer of the VBL over that period, and many of us would have described the extent of his involvement by saying “Bert Bowden was the VBL.”

When I became involved initially, Bert worked out of his garage, taking his trailer to contests, full of the items required. The League met regularly at the Musicians’ Union in Windsor. By the time I joined the Executive we were in the old YMCA Building. When that was to be demolished we went to the East Melbourne RSL in George Street, and then to the Royal Victorian Bowls Association rooms in St Kilda Road.

During the latter years of Bert’s involvement we were saving the money which eventually enabled us to own our own offices.

During the long period I have mentioned, we enjoyed increasing State government support, which eventually enabled the League to employ Bert full time. You would have perhaps thought the salary was not a princely sum, but Bert used to say he was fortunate to have a hobby that was also his job.

When there was a lot of work to do, we all suspected that Bert’s commitment was such that he used to sleep overnight at the office. After he retired, Bert kept up his hobby by playing with a number of community bands.

His encouragement of young people showed in his involvement with the State Youth Brass Band, and my own personal recollection is his organizing and running of VBL music camps. I attended a camp at Barramunga, in the Otway Ranges. Spartan conditions they were, in winter temperatures, with plenty of rain – picture, if you will, the male toilets with two inches (50mm) of water on the floor! The little hamlet had virtually died when its railway was closed and dismantled, leaving a one room school and the local hall, with a group of small accommodation cabins. Bert had the local hall fitted out with a festoon of light bulbs on the ceiling to allow evening rehearsals, and he knew all about how to buy the cheapest provisions to keep the costs down.

Working at his hobby, Bert’s speciality was his knowledge of Victorian bands, and the people in them all. His encyclopaedic knowledge of all banding matters earned him a tremendous reputation, which culminated in his receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to banding.

Needless to say, he had previously received VBL awards, including the esteemed Life Membership.

The proceeds of the Testimonial Concert have been passed to Bert’s family to assist with the expenses of his passing.

Bert’s Eulogy

The following is the text of the eulogy read out by Wayne Bowden at his father’s funeral service. It bears much evidence of input from Bert! Those present would have learned from it many things about Bert that they had not previously known.

Bert was born in Horsham on the 30th July 1926. He was the first child of Alexander and Jessie May Bowden. He had three sisters, Evelyn (dec.), Lois and Ethel (dec.). At six weeks of age, the family moved to Karnak, a small farming community between Goroke and Edenhope in far Western Victoria.

His father was a farm labourer who worked on farms in the area. Due to the depression and unavailability of work, the family moved into Horsham in January 1935 so his father could find employment. In September 1935, Bert commenced lessons with the Horsham Salvation Army Band on Baritone and progressed to Euphonium at age 15 years. Bert attended the Kangawall State School ( 1 teacher and 7 students), then Horsham Primary School. He began year seven at Haven State School because it was closer to home, but transferred to Horsham High School midway through year eight as he had ambitions to become an accountant. These ambitions never eventuated because the economic situation in 1941 meant that he had to leave school to help with family finances. He took on an apprenticeship as a spray painter in the motor trade.

By this time the war had been going for two years and a cadet unit, Air Training-Corps, was initiated in Horsham.

Bert was keen to serve his country, so it was natural that he should join the cadets. By the time he received his call up to join the RAAF he had risen to the rank of Corporal/Acting Sergeant. He completed his Air force initial training course at Somers and was posted to the Point Cook Wireless School. He had almost completed his “wireless operator” course, when hostilities were called to a halt in August 1945. He then returned home to Horsham to complete his apprenticeship.

Athletics and Football

On returning home Bert did not continue his banding but chose to pursue sporting activities. Although only small in stature, he was a better than average athlete, competing with some success at district carnivals and gymkhanas. In the Horsham gift over 130 yards off 8 1/2 yards handicap he was placed first and off 13 yards in the 220 yards was again placed first, thus ensuring that in future events he would not receive very lenient treatment from the handicappers. During the ’45/’46 summer season he trained with several other Horsham athletes under his coach Mr Fred Plozza. After some early successes he found himself among the backmarkers in all distances from 75 yards to 1 mile. He became disgruntled at what he perceived as several athletes not being entirely truthful on their entry forms, so that they were receiving unwarranted liberal handicaps. In 1946 he took on boundary umpiring; firstly in the Horsham district league, and then in the Wimmera League (which at that time was considered to be one of the best country leagues). Central umpires were drawn from the VFL senior panel and he gained some very valuable experience running with top central umpires. Bert soon became recognised as one of the best boundary umpires on the Wimmera panel and in 1949 was appointed to officiate at all four Wimmera finals, a feat he achieved again in ’51, ’52 and ’53.

After a break of three years from football he then enrolled as a central umpire and was eligible for appointment to several leagues in the Wimmera and Western Victoria. After a few seasons, he began to be appointed to officiate at final and inter league games in district competitions. He twice handled all four finals in the, then very strong, South Wimmera League. His last game was a two point thriller, the South Wimmera Grand final. The reporter from the Stawell Times praised him for his cool but strict control of the hectic last quarter, describing his performance as “Top Shelf”.

Cycling

Over the summer of ’46/’47 Bert turned his attention to cycling. He again found himself at odds with the handicappers. At his third start in a senior cycle race he gave notice of things to come with a very strong finish in a tight bunch sprint. The track season was just getting into full swing, and with several carnivals/gymkhanas in the Wimmera district, there were plenty of opportunities for someone who was prepared to put in the time and effort to achieve success. At this time there were several clubs operating in the Wimmera area, and at some carnivals there were as many as 90 competitors. With two handicap events and graded scratch races on the schedule, we could have up to five hours continuous racing.

After several very good performances Bert found himself among the back markers and also in A Grade Scratch races. He was a prolific heat winner in handicap races, but far too often found that other backmarkers failed to qualify, and he would be faced with the impossible task of trying to make up gaps of up to 100 yards to his nearest competitor. Whilst he enjoyed track racing, it was road racing during the winter months that Bert enjoyed most.

Because of the training regime that he set himself, he did find it hard to find training mates, which in hindsight may have been to his advantage, because he could then train as hard and as long as he wished. After a couple of first placings and a “first and fastest” time, he found himself being placed in a scratch bunch. At one stage, during a “Purple Patch”, he found himself being placed on scratch on his own.

This was when all that training he had done by himself paid dividends. He was able to combine football and cycling during winter, because a lot of the cyclists were footballers, so the racing was done on Sundays. He did, on occasions venture away from the Wimmera into Open Victorian competitions, but because of his record in Wimmera races, the Victorian handicappers did not give him much opportunity for success. However on two occasions he finished in the main bunch when the scratch bunch “got up”.

Marriage and Banding

In 1948, a young, attractive Warracknabeal girl came over to Horsham to work in the Royal Hotel. She took herself to the local dance where Bert asked her would she like the pleasure of the next dance. There began a relationship which lasted 55 years. In July 1949, Albert Edward Bowden married Joan Marion McKenzie. Towards the end of 1949, Bert accepted a position as a Spray Painter in Hamilton, where he remained for 18 months before he moved to Warracknabeal where their only child Wayne was born in 1952. While in Hamilton he rekindled his interest in banding and joined the Hamilton City Band. While at Warracknabeal, Bert continued his banding, and took an active role in committee work as well as diversifying his occupation. Firstly as a spray painter, and subsequently at the local newsagency, which doubled as the sports store. Bert was responsible for the repairs to bicycles and all manner of sporting equipment.

Move to Melbourne

His next change was to work for the Shire of Warracknabeal as manager of the Swimming Pool in the summer months, and other duties during the winter months. This he did for 5 years. The last 12 months before leaving Warracknabeal to move to Melbourne in late 1965, he and Joan worked at the Palace Hotel in Scott St. In Melbourne he immediately joined the Brighton Municipal Band (now known as Bayside Brass) and soon became involved in their committee and was duly elected Secretary in 1970. At that time the Bayside Brass Band Group was formed, and Bert was one of Brighton’s delegates to the group. He was active in innovative ideas for the progress of the youth of the movement. In 1972 Bert was elected to the position of Secretary of the group, and continued this role until he was elected Secretary of the Victorian Bands League in 1974.

At the VBL

Bert worked in the motor trade for a number of years before accepting the appointment of Secretary of the VBL (the first full time employee of the band movement in Australia). This was at the start of 1980. Prior to that time he had been part time Secretary to the VBL for 6 years. He retired from the VBL in May 1994. On May 4th 1995 Bert was presented with the OAM for his services to music, in particular for his contribution to the development of music throughout the banding fraternity of Victoria. Whilst employed by the VBL he was the Victorian delegate to the National Band Council of Australia for 20 years, eleven of which he served as Secretary/Treasurer. During his time with the band movement, Bert saw many innovative changes to the operation of band activities, not only in Victoria but also on a National scale. He appeared to have endless energy and took an active part in the organization of every band , contest in Victoria, plus the resurgence of the Victorian Solo and Party Championships.

Probably his greatest achievement in banding was the organization of successful National Band Championships in Melbourne in 1978, 1985, 1990 and 1994. He also assisted with the 1998 Championships. Bert was very involved in the initiation of the VBL Music Camps and the Victorian State Youth Brass Band.

After the VBL

On retiring from work with the VBL, Joan and Bert moved to live in a “Village” situation in Wantirna where he soon found himself in demand as the “Village Handyman”. He was doing repairs and minor alterations for other residents, many of whom were elderly ladies, which led to his circle of friends being referred to as his “Harem”. He was elected as Chairman of the Village Residents’ Committee and became involved in various negotiations for the benefit of the residents. One such task of Bert’s was to have a coach come to the Village each week to pick up residents and take them to Knox City for shopping. This initiative began operation a couple of weeks before Bert died.

Bert used to travel to Geelong, Brighton and Dandenong to have the pleasure of playing under his son Wayne’s direction. He was also a regular member of the “Huffers and Puffers” brass band. Bert was extremely proud of his son’s performances both as an instrumentalist and conductor. The highlight was in 1980 when he travelled to New Zealand with Wayne who became the only Australian in history to win the New Zealand National Champion of Champions.

Bert was the proud Grandfather of Robert and David. He thoroughly enjoyed showing them his workshop at home and teaching them how to build things with timber. It gave Bert enormous satisfaction and joy to be able to hear both of them play in the Victorian Solo Championships in June 2004. His pride was very private indeed about all manner of things throughout his life. Bert was delighted to be able to get out of his bed to attend the Testimonial Concert held in his honour in Melbourne on August 28th.

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