Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band has proud heritage


The Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band is the oldest pipe band in Queensland. Heading towards Anzac Day we take a look at this proud group.

Bundaberg RSL sub-branch president Helen Blackburn says the pipe band is a valued participant at services.

“The Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band is a dedicated group of musicians who not only love their craft but love to bring their distinctive Scottish sounds to the community,” Ms Blackburn said.

“The pipes are a long-standing military tradition, derived from our Scottish heritage.

“The band's contribution to Anzac Day and other ceremonies is much appreciated by veterans and participants.”

Scottish influence strong in early Bundaberg

The Pipe Band was established in June 1884 after the founding of the Caledonian Society. It earned great public acclaim although it was only one branch of the society’s activities to exert a considerable impact on the less populous Bundaberg community of that era.

First March for the day. Dawn Service.

Posted by Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band on Tuesday, April 24, 2018
At the 2018 Anzac Day Dawn Service.

Scottish migrants played a most significant role in the formative years of Bundaberg.

Many of them became leaders in its commercial and industrial life, and established a strong influence in general community affairs.

Two founders of European settlement in Bundaberg, John and Gavin Steuart, were Scots.

For at least 30 years, the Caledonian Society’s New Year sports gathering was one of the great events of Queensland’s sporting calendar.

Drummer Dave Finlay
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band member Dave Finlay won the Australian bass drum championship in the 1920s.

By 1898 the wide range of sporting events that marked the annual gathering included, in addition to piping and dancing, foot and bicycle races, quoits and even a goat and cart race. Venue was the Showgrounds, which remained the site for more than another two decades.

In 1906, at that year’s annual meeting the society’s two official pipers, William Jamieson and John Rankin, were voted an honorarium of two guineas each, but the move to form a pipe band began to gather force.

The final decision was made with six sets of bagpipes costing 57 pounds, a bass drum and two side drums (12 pounds 10 shillings) were ordered from Scotland.

These did not arrive until the end of January, 1908 and immediately a decision was made to outfit band members with kilts. An order for nine suits of full Highland costume costing 187 pound, was dispatched to a Glasgow outfitter, and these arrived in Bundaberg a week before the 1909 New Year sports.

Bundaberg Mail
A report from The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser, 18 November 1908.

Formation of the band had a beneficial effect on the fortunes of the society, because public interest soared. There were record takings at the customary Queen’s Theatre concert and social on the two nights of the sports that year.

The president, Mr J Smith, credited the band with being one of the best turned-out in Australia.

The Band won and placed in many State and Australian Championships in the 1920s. During this time, Dave Finlay won the Australian bass drum championship.

The Caledonian Society has had three names. It was founded in June 1884 with the name of Musgrave Caledonian Society, taking the name of the electorate of those times.

When the region was divided into two State electorates in 1888, Bundaberg and Musgrave, the society changed its title to Bundaberg-Musgrave Caledonian Association.

This was retained until 1956, when it was changed to Bundaberg Caledonian Association.

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band outside the Bundaberg Post Office.

For many years the Band appeared in the Hunting Stewart tartan as well as wearing their famous red tunic, but in 1971 the decision was made to change to the ancient Sutherland tartan which is still worn by the band today.

The band continued with its quest at both the Mini and Full Band competition level, with considerable success.

The band contests still continued until 2010 when the band competed in the Australian Pipe Band Championships on the Sunshine Coast.

The band has competed regularly over the past century at local functions, and has the honour of leading every parade of ex-servicemen and women to Bundaberg’s Anzac Day Dawn Service since its inception in 1920 (99 years in 2019).

Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band
Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band at the Moore Park Beach Anzac Day service.

The Band can be seen playing at memorial and ceremonial occasions, Multicultural Festivals, annual marches, New Year’s Eve celebrations and private functions regularly around the district.

Members are very proud to uphold the Band’s tradition which was built by their predecessors.

A full concert of pipes and drums is held every year in October at the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre.

This year, they will be taking the audience “Through The Years”, with many memories made. These concerts help keep the Bundaberg Caledonian Pipe Band’s tradition alive.

How to get involved

For more information about the band, visit their Facebook page.

The band is often seen at annual festivals, street marches, sporting and charity events, ceremonial and memorial occasions, and private functions.

Practice is held weekly with tuition on pipes and drums. Instruments and uniforms are provided for a minimal yearly fee.

Practice is held at the group's hall, 37 Victoria Street, East Bundaberg, and the Pipe Major is Kyle Myers.