Around 1910 Castlemaine had two highland pipe bands – a men’s band and a ladies’ band. Both eventually lapsed, but the tradition was not forgotten. By the early 1950s the formation of a new town band was strongly supported by the community, which had extensive Scottish connections. It was thought that a band would be worthwhile interest for young people, and the community expressed a great desire to have the finest pipe band in Australia. Henry Macintosh, one of the key figures in the drive to form a band, decided that if the town was going to have a pipe band, it was going to be a good one.
On 25 May 1951 a group of 17 people representing a number of public organisations in Castlemaine gathered at a meeting convened by the then Mayor, Cr. B. Roderick and agreed to form the Castlemaine Highland Pipe Band. The inaugural members included Henry Macintosh (President), Murray Caldwell and Ken Birnie (Vice-Presidents) Les Stevens, (Secretary) and A. Johnston (Treasurer). The Chief Macintosh tartan was chosen in honour of Henry Macintosh, and approval for its use and Macintosh patronage gained from Lachlan Macintosh, head of the Macintosh clan, who stated that he was honoured to be named Patron of the band.
However, there were substantial challenges ahead to find people capable of forming the band and teaching young players, and the problem of considerable set-up costs. Henry Macintosh had been in touch with the Pipe Bands Association of Scotland, and had negotiations well underway to bring several Scots out to Australia to form the nucleus of the band. Ken Birnie, a piper who played with a Bendigo band agreed to teach young people interested in learning the pipes until a pipe major could be brought out from Scotland.
Advertisements were placed in newspapers throughout Scotland, and from a pool of 60 top-class applicants, the services of six highly competent, well regarded pipe majors, drum majors and a drummer were secured. Housing and employment provided for the men and their accompanying families – Thompsons Foundry providing jobs for three of the men. The procurement of the Scottish band members caused great interest Australia-wide, with numerous reports about the band members repeatedly featured on national radio. A number of articles appeared in the Age and Argus newspapers periodically following the progress of the band and its appearances.
Foundation members included Pipe Major Alex McDermid, Drum Major Gordon Jelly, Pipe Major Duncan MacPhedran, Pipe Major Charles Cochrane, Drum Major Alex McCormick and Drummer Thomas Hume. Two recent arrivals from Scotland who were living in Morwell and South Australia, Tenor Drummer Sam Garratt and Pipe Major Sam Boslam, also moved to Castlemaine to help form the all-Scottish nucleus of the band. Unfortunately, only one of the Scotsmen, Duncan MacPhedran, honoured his contract to stay with the band for five years; two of the six brought out from Scotland left within six months.
It was anticipated that £1,600 would be sufficient to equip the band, but this seemed an impossible amount to raise. However, support was very strong throughout the community and with the pledge of the Castlemaine Tourist Association to raise the money, fundraising began in earnest. The whole community banded together and started to raise money for the instruments and equipment that would be needed. Dances were held all over the district, raffles were run regularly and the tireless efforts of the band committee and members of the public over the next four years raised 2931 pounds, most of which was spent outfitting the band.
The Premier of Victoria, J B McDonald included a grant of £150 towards the purchase of instruments. The Castlemaine Woollen Mill wove the tartan for the band from a sample provided by Chief Lachlan Macintosh, which could not purchased ready-made due to its rarity, even in Scotland.
The first appearance of the band at the Grand Parade of the Castlemaine Show at Camp Reserve, in terrible weather on 7 November 1953 was greeted with a huge roar of approval and applause from the 5000-strong crowd. The Castlemaine Mail reported that the President, Henry Macintosh, was the most excited man in the crowd as the pipe band swung out onto the arena. As the band members stepped out like veterans, Henry Macintosh saw long awaited hope and ambition march with them. The skirl of the pipes frightened the stock, who, as one official put it, played-up terribly!
Over the years the band took extensive 1st, 2nd and 3rd placings at Highland Gatherings, Festivals and Pipe Band Championships all over Victoria and interstate, and gathered an impressive collection of silver trophies and platters. The band went into recess in the late 1960s due to lack of numbers, but a recruitment drive was most successful and the band reappeared at the Castlemaine Show the following year.
The primary focus of the band has always been as a community band, supporting social and charitable organisations around the district, with regular appearances at the Bendigo and Maldon Easter Parades, ANZAC services at Harcourt, Campbell’s Creek and Castlemaine, the Castlemaine Show, Melbourne Show and Melbourne Cup.
A number of loyal and long-serving members associated with the band include Ian Wilson who joined the band in 1956 (who has filled the role of Pipe Major several times), and Drum Sergeant Trevor Kuhle who has had 35 years or more service with the band. Other former long-serving members included Stan Cawthan, Bill Robertson and Neville Cooper. Ian Wilson represented the band at the Millennium Pipes gathering of 10,000 pipers in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2000, attracting great attention and featuring in the official video and photographs.