Polka Music in Geelong

The railway line between Melbourne and Geelong opened in 1857 and in 1866 von Rochlitz published the Geelong – Melbourne Railway Polka, this copy from the National Library of Austtalia.   It was a common practice for a new song to be  commissioned for the band to play at the opening of a new railway.

Geelong-Melbourne Railway Polka

Over the years Polkas appear in the programs of musical entertainments in Geelong including performances by Geelong’s Volunteer Rifle Band, the oldest Victorian Militia unit, first raised in 1854 in Geelong as a Volunteer Rifle Corps

The Volunteers were present for the arrival of the first train and the official opening of the Geelong Railway Station  and so was a band who played some spirited items.   A huge banquet was arranged but unfortunately the train was late and the locals had their fill of the feast before the  invited guests arrived, including the Governor, Members of Parliament  and other dignitaries.

The Geelong Artillery Band , as the Volunteer Rifle Corps band later became,  is commemorated in the Bollard Walk along the seafront.  The band played its  first recital in 1861

bollard band

And what could they possibly be playing ?

Geelong Polka music  Flickr 3374324250_5290276276_z

My grandfather, Tom Tansey, joined this band some time after arriving in Australia in 1888  and was with them until 1899.  This photo of the Artillery band was taken in 1890

Artillery-1890And was Tom with the band when this photo was taken ?  I don’t know. His portrait (below) was in the uniform of the Geelong Town Band c1900.




This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday for this week but there are plenty more examples of polkas, violets, music and mystery posts to be found in the links on the Sepia Saturday page.


19 thoughts on “Polka Music in Geelong

  1. jamestaylor

    Love the red coats on the figures. Are they authentic uniforms, do you know. Must get over to Geelong again after a few year’s absence. Last time we walked out on and enjoyed the pier renovations and, I think, there were only bollards representing life savers and not much more. This was about 1997.

    I like some of the things that Geelong have done to make their city more appealing.

    (just “googled” *Geelong Bollard Walk* and there are so many images to see!)


  2. Barbara Fisher

    I think your grandfather is over on the far right (as I look at the picture) leaning against the post and standing slightly away from the others. I’ve tried studying all the other faces, but it’s no good, I’m drawn to that chap on the right – my eye goes to him every time.


  3. jofeath

    I have the image of people dancing the Geelong polka in the train aisles between there and Melbourne, to the music of the band, which would make for an entertaining trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Miss Donna

    I enjoyed reading about polka bands in Australia; and that your grandfather was actually a member of one. And I especially appreciate the bits of information such as, the commissioning of a new song at the opening of a new railway. I never really gave it much thought. But it was great to learn it here.


  5. Wendy

    I never knew that a song would be commissioned for the opening of the railroad. That little tidbit plus your personal connection makes this post exceptional.


  6. La Nightingail

    I love the commemoration of the Geelong Artillery Band. That train must have been REALLY late if the locals were allowed to partake of the feast before all those dignitaries arrived!


  7. alanburnett1

    I love the photographs and you have tied all the elements of the theme together in such an expert way. Such a pity that the practice of composing special music for infrastructure projects has died out, something like the M62 Polka would have been most suitable.


  8. Mike Brubaker

    A terrific story with wonderful photos. The polka fad was first a great hit of Paris society in the 1840s so the Geelong Polka was still a part of that enthusiasm. As many factory and railway had their own bands, the railway may have commissioned it for their own. Tom’s instrument, a valve trombone, is only pictured twice so I think he is third standing on the right.


  9. saundersbeachhistoryproject

    Since reading your post about bands and a railway line I noticed this today (Tuesday) in our local paper (Townsville Bulletin):
    From the Townsville Daily Bulletin 10 March 1923 – “An excursion will be run to Charters Towers tomorrow. The train leaves Morey St at 7am and Central Station at 7.30am. The Railway Band makes the trip and plays at Charters Towers in the afternoon.”
    Another fascinating piece of history that makes ‘the olden days’ come alive.



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