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The Melbourne Staff Band ‘rock star’ who made it big

The book launch in Melbourne had significant Salvation Army involvement.

The Salvation Army Australia Museum participated in the Melbourne book launch of Sir Bruce Small – from Malvern Star to Mr Gold Coast at the invitation of the tome’s author, journalist Rachel Syers.

Sir Bruce, a former long-term member of the Melbourne Staff Band and the son of Salvation Army officers, was a famous philanthropist, business mogul, sporting personality (as the manager of global cycling superstar Sir Hubert Opperman), politician, land developer and the visionary who established Queensland’s Gold Coast as a tourism mecca.

The launch was held in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, at the MCC Library, on Wednesday afternoon 13 March.

Introducing the museum’s assistant manager (Melbourne), Barry Gittins, Rachel prefaced their discussion with her belief that The Salvation Army informed and shaped ‘a definite side to Sir Bruce’s life that he treasured’.


“For his whole life,” she added, “he served the community through boards and various roles, including playing with the Army’s territorial staff band. The Salvation Army was very special to Sir Bruce.”

Rachel noted that Sir Bruce’s funeral in May 1980 was held at The Salvation Army’s Gold Coast Corps, supported by the corps band.

The book’s author, journalist Rachel Syers.

Barry suggested that a young Bruce Small had loved playing and singing in the Melbourne Staff Band (as the group is now known) for many years and “was something of a rock star before there was rock and roll”.

“Sir Bruce was a very respected instrumentalist and euphonium player, who could play his hemi-demi-semi-quavers with the best of them, and he was also a gifted vocal soloist and member of a vocal quartet used by the MSB.”

Citing Merv Collin’s 2015 history of the MSB, Barry said that radio station 3LO’s first broadcast on Monday 13 October 1924 featured Dame Nellie Melba singing La Bohème from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre. The following evening, the Territorial Staff Band gave a live broadcast from the studio in Collins Street, and “Bandsman Bruce Small sang, accompanied by Mrs Carnell at the piano and Cadet Neilson on violin.”

Following Dame Nellie was no mean feat.


Barry also cited a report in The Salvation Army publication The Musician that recalled Sir Bruce visiting Mildura Corps (Vic.) with the MSB “in the 1920s, when Sir Hubert Opperman was riding in the Tour de France cycling event. Older comrades of the band remember the keen interest that Sir Bruce Small (then a member of the band) had in his friend’s progress.”

“The entrepreneur was already showing the remarkable multi-tasking skills that exemplified his life,” Barry said.


Days before his death in 1980, Sir Bruce wrote congratulating the MSB on 90 years of existence. Despite the former lord mayor and parliamentarian’s international renown, his vast fortune, his many successes and victories in business, sport, politics, and his shaping of a city’s culture and a state’s reputation, Sir Bruce said that “the most satisfying years of his life had been spent in the Staff Band.”


For more information and to purchase the book, click here.


Article compiled by Barry Gittins, The Salvation Army Museum (Melbourne) Assistant Manager

(Clockwise from left) Bruce Small and his brother Frank’s profiles in a Melbourne Staff Band promotion; a statue of Bruce on the Gold Coast; Bruce singing with the MSB in the early 1920s; Bruce holding his euphonium (in gold) with the MSB.


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