By Heather Mavric
Yarraville Mouth Organ Band was established in 1933 by Ernie Weybury after he saw 12-year old, Lindsay Luscombe, playing his mouth organ in the street. With a dozen donated harmonicas, the 15 teenagers practiced in an old shoe repair shop in Birmingham Street, Yarraville.
They went on to entertain in hospitals, aged care homes and other places where people often had very little entertainment.
Two years later the band won the ‘B’ Grade Championships at Ballarat’s South Street Competitions.
During the 1930s Victoria boasted more than thirty active mouth-organ bands. Yarraville is the only one existing today.
Among the original members was a 17-year old Horrie Dargie who, after 10 years with YMOB, went on to travel with his own quintet.
Arthur Cardell joined the band in 1935 after his barber, Sam Smart, who was the conductor at the time, persuaded him to go along to listen to the band practice. He arrived on their Annual General Meeting night and suddenly found himself appointed Secretary. For the next 57 years he served as Secretary, Compere and President. The band’s clubrooms are named after him.
Prior to 1957 the band used the visitors’ room at the Yarraville Football Ground for practice. In a quest to own their own home they applied to the Footscray City Council for land on which to build. They were allotted a small area on the Yarraville Oval, bordering Williamstown Road.
With support from local businesses and the community, they began to plan.
Estimates from builders put the cost in 1956 at £4,300 ($8,600) so the members decided to build with volunteer labour.
The work was underway when, fortunately, the professional eye of a passer-by, Les Isaac, noticed that the floor had a lean of about 13cm. He came over and supervised the building from start to finish some 18 months later.
An amateur film recorded men and boys working on construction and the women supplying cups of tea and cakes. This film has been dubbed onto a DVD.
The band room was opened on June 13 1959 by the then Mayor of the City, Cr. Wally Richards, and is still home to the band today.
All members are volunteers, willingly giving their time to entertain every second Sunday, mainly in nursing homes and retirement villages where the residents enjoy hearing songs reminiscent of an earlier era.
“Our repertoire is varied from sentimental waltzes to a lively polka or tango, with some Seekers and Beatles music thrown in, all played on a chromatic harmonica (which has a button on the side to produce sharp and flat notes).”
Audience participation often produces some amazing voices singing every word of once very familiar songs. Toes are tapping, sometimes leading to a few dancers ‘on the floor’.
Most concerts are held in the western/northern suburbs. Band members come from as far away as Balwyn, Bundoora, Ferntree Gully and Greenvale to attend practice on Friday evenings in our hall at 203 Williamstown Road Yarraville, 3013.
New members will be made very welcome, whether players or willing learners. Our more experienced players are always ready to help and encourage new members.
Hopefully we can contribute to keeping the sound of mouth-organ music alive for the next 80 years or so.
To get involved you can contact Heather on 9399 2190, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org