A Fascinating Beginning
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August 1969… Mr Arthur Greedy, newly appointed Director of Cultural Activities in Queensland happened to attend a performance of the then three year-old Queensland Youth Orchestra at the Sundale Shopping Centre in Southport. Arthur Greedy was an enthusiastic musician himself and a National Music Camp aficionado. His aim was to establish a vibrant Youth Orchestra Movement in Queensland, and this was begun with the founding of the Toowoomba Youth Orchestra and the QYO in 1966. Also at the performance were Mr John Curro, conductor of the Queensland Youth Orchestra, Sir Bruce Small, mayor of the Gold Coast, Frank Schieblich, renowned violinist who had retired to the Coast and Norma Goldner, journalist on the ‘Gold Coast Bulletin’ and keen amateur musician.
The Australian Youth Orchestra Movement developed from the philosophy of the National Music Camp Association, which began in a former army camp at Port Lonsdale, Victoria in 1948. John Bishop, the ‘father’ and early nurturer of the Music Camps joined with Ruth Alexander, an American who emigrated to Australia after World War II to lift the standard of young instrumentalists who until then had no experience of orchestral playing. The Australian Youth Orchestra was formed in 1957, nine years after the establishment of the Music Camp Movement and other Australian states followed suit in the late 1960s.
Queensland was fortunate to be the first state in Australia to have a full-time Director of Cultural Activities. According to John Curro, Musical Director of the Queensland Youth Orchestra since 1966, this appointment gave Queensland the impetus required to establish a secure Youth Orchestra tradition. Arthur Greedy made several tours around Queensland including Thursday Island to assess cultural development particularly focussing on the opportunities for young people. During his time as Director of Cultural Activities he saw the establishment of over 20 Youth Orchestras in the state. Such was Mr Creedy’s enthusiasm for the Gold Coast Youth Orchestra that on one of his first addresses to the fledgling orchestra he mentioned airline tickets for interstate and possibly overseas concerts! In fact the orchestra had to wait until 1997 to undertake its first tour overseas, a 10-day tour to New Zealand.
The Gold Coast of the late 1960s was a quiet spot dotted with holiday cottages, dairy farms and mineral sand mines. By 1970 the population had increased to 70,000 from 30,000 in 1960. However, the area still had a large transient population because of the lack of permanent local employment. The rail link to Brisbane was closed in 1964, Bruce Small entered local politics in 1967 and by 1969 the ‘Paradise City’ canal-fronted homes in the Isle of Capri, Sorrento and Bundall areas were only ten years old. In 1969 the City of the Gold Coast was itself only ten years old, having been known as the South Coast until then.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s entertainment was centred in club venues such as the Surfers Paradise Hotel that claimed ‘day-time or night-time is gay-time’ according town advertisement in The Bulletin of August 1969. The lamentation that the Gold Coast was ‘culture starved’ appeared with frequency in the local press and the situation was not helped by the lack of suitable venues for performances. Music tuition was not easily accessible to Gold Coast children and many were forced to travel to Brisbane to seek instrumental teachers. Instrumental music was taught at The Southport School, St Hilda’s and the Star of the Sea Convent with teachers often forced to teach several sometimes unrelated instruments. In the early 1970s George Willox started an instrument programme at Musgrave State School and by 1976 the well-known band programme commenced at Miami High School. However, many children had not been exposed to any musical training. In fact, when the first meeting of the fledgling Gold Coast Youth Orchestra was called at the SCWO Building in Southport, many of the enthusiastic ‘musicians’ had never actually played an instrument before!
Bruce Small was a contemporary local personality who also encouraged the development of youth activities. Born in Ryde, Sydney on December 11, 1895 to Salvation Army parents, he played tenor horn by the age of 6-years. He played for various Salvation Army bands for 40 years and was sole euphonium for 22 years in the Territorial Staff Band in Victoria; an image hard to reconcile with photos taken in the early 1970s of Sir Bruce Small flanked by bikini-clad maidens! Starting work at 13-years in a Real Estate Office in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, he decided to buy a cycle shop in 1920 at the time Malvern Star bicycles had become a household name. By the time he sold his business in 1958 the organisation comprised 115 retail shops, 100 dealers and a factory and dealership in every state. His first act of support to youth was in the guise of a penniless young cyclist, Hubert Opperman who won first prize in a competition. Bruce Small donated a bicycle as first prize, and later financially supported Opperman in his career as a long distance cyclist. The Gold Coast of the late 1960s and early 1970s was the culmination of a dream of Bruce Small’s. He retired to the area then known as The South Coast in 1958 intending to indulge in his hobby of town planning and land development. His aim was to start Queensland’s first town planned city. To the great amusement of the locals, he purchased 600 acres of land directly west of Surfers Paradise and commenced construction of inland waterways and prestige homes. By 1969, he had sold 830 acres in the so-called ‘Paradise City’ which included the Isle of Capri, Sorrento, Bundall Waters and Cypress Gardens. Homes ranged in price between $23,000 and $70,000, with one exclusive property selling for $100,000! During a promotional trip from Sydney to The South Coast in July, 1968 Small gave a guided tour to 12 radio and TV newsmen pointing out mineral mining areas in Currumbin and Broadbeach where the Oasis Shopping Centre now stands. Development of mineral deposits in Northern NSW and SouthEast Queensland had opened hitherto inaccessible beaches to tourists. Small also pointed out a site on the Big Burleigh where he envisaged a Music Bowl within the natural amphitheater.