The Music Club

Between 1967 and 1976, the Beecroft Music Club was a vital part of the cultural life of the district.

‘The Sound of Music’

‘Beecroft’s reputation for adventurous excursions into music making was undoubtedly enhanced by this concert and if Nigel Butterley as musical director can conjure up more programs as alive and entertaining as this one, Beecroft could become a mecca for those who regard music as a thing to be relished rather than endured,’ wrote Kenneth Robbins in the Bulletin, referring to a Bach and Jazz concert.

Another memorable comment came from Fred Blanks, the music critic for the S.M.H. about the Children’s Percussion Concert: ‘The noise the children made would chase all the devils out of Beecroft.’

Yes! Music was in the air in Beecroft in those days – between thirty and forty years ago.

It was born on 1st August 1967, christened the Beecroft Music Club, spent its infancy at St. John’s Church, and later moved to the Concert Hall of the Presbyterian Church. The change was indicative, one might say, of its pluralistic nature. It was robust from birth and was sustained, as Kenneth Robbins said, with programs ‘alive, adventurous and entertaining’. Those ‘alive, adventurous and entertaining’ programs each year comprised eight Pre-Concert Student Recitals, eight Chamber Music Series, and six Children’s Concert Series.

Then there were those concerts that, while under the auspices of the Club, were presented in venues outside Beecroft, one of them and perhaps the most ambitious, was that staged at Macquarie University by the Baroque Chamber Players, all of whom were professors of the University of Indiana. What was special and indeed memorable, besides the delightful personalities of each of the Players, was that the event comprised master classes during the afternoon for the Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe and Double Bass, followed by an evening workshop concert. The Players’ reputation preceded them. It was described as ‘nothing less than flawless’ by Harold Schonberg writing for the New York Times, and was indeed demonstrated both in performance and in master class.

Other highlights in which the Club was involved included its management of the first professional concert given by the Renaissance Players in the Cell Block Theatre, concerts given by musicians in the Club for the International Society of Contemporary Music in the same venue, a Vietnam Moratorium Concert in the Round House, University of N.S.W. and a ‘Bach and Jazz Concert’ in the courtyard of Macquarie University.

While these have been singled out as highlights, the Club’s standard programs of traditional and contemporary music were no less ‘alive, adventurous and entertaining’, the bulk of them presented by leading Australian artists, including first performances of works by Australian composers. These leading Australian Solo Artists and Ensembles included the Sydney Wind Soloists, the Don Burrows Quintet, Martin Wesley Smith, Frances Hillier, Nigel Butterley, Marilyn Richardson, James Christiansen, John Champ, the Sydney Baroque Soloists, Laira String Quartet, Donald Hazelwood, Marie Van Hove, the Austral Quartet, Carl Pini and the New Dance Theatre.

Australian composers included Martin Wesley Smith, Felix Werder, Nigel Butterley, Ian Farr, Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale and a group of young composers including Kim Williams, Nick Negerevich, Gavin Costelow, Richard Kefford and Ross Edwards.

Readers of this article who were members of the Beecroft Music Club and who attended its concerts will be aware that this is only a small selection of the artists who performed during the Club’s existence. Others might well ask, ‘Where is it now, this ‘alive, adventurous and entertaining’ Club? The answer! Well, that big building on Bennelong Point opened in 1974, and our lovers of music needed to sample what was on offer there. Perhaps those who administered the Club became a little weary. Maybe it was a combination of both. It is rather sad, but then again Beecroft has other compensations and it is still a good place to be.

The writer is James Hillier, who served as president of the Club and still resides in that ‘good place to be.’

Music in Beecroft and Cheltenham

Music has always been present as part of Village life. This was even so in the Dreamtime. As with all indigenous peoples, music and dance was core to their spiritual and ceremonial life: as it has continued to be since the formation of the Village. The piano became as ubiquitous in the homes of Beecroft and Cheltenham as did the tennis court, or later the swimming pool. Stories elsewhere on this web site will tell of people like Mr H Arnott who made available his gramophone so that pupils of the Public School could hear music. At all major public events music was performed. To facilitate music the Village Green had a bandstand erected in 1915. The singing of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus is synonymous with Children’s Girls High School as is the school’s annual Speech Day (since 1973) in the Sydney Opera House.

One of the earliest music societies to be formed was the Beecroft Orchestral Society that performed in 1906 under Mr E G Sherring as conductor [1]. It appears to have been amalgamated into the Beecroft Musical & Dramatic Society that was formed in 1907 [2] and, after being suspended for the duration of the First World War was revived by Mr Charles McKern in 1918 [3]. The society performed a number of Gilbert & Sullivan and other light opera.

A male chorus, the Beecroft Orpheus Society was formed in 1914 but seems to have lapsed with the onset of the First World War [4].

Cyril Ritchard

Concerts were often conducted and were often associated with fund-raising events. Two such concerts held in the School of Arts were organised and had starring performances by one of Australia’s all time leading actors. The first was in July 1915 and the second, a revue called ‘A Beecroft Bubble’ was in February 1916. Both were fundraisers for local troops [5]. The organiser, and star performer, was Cyril Ritchard [6]. The second show ran over 4 nights and raised over 67 pounds. It included an item by a young George Blackwood of Marabar Beecroft Road performing “Ragtime Goblin Man” [7]. Ritchards was only 17 years old and still a school student for each revue. From this small beginning Cyril did go onto the bigtime.

Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard (1898-1977) had been born in Surry Hills where his father was a grocer. He went to St Aloysius where he performed at each school prize night between 1909 and 1913 [8]. In 1910 his family moved to Hornsby where in 1914 his father purchased the business of the Railway Hotel Hornsby and then in 1915 paid 7,500 pounds for the business of the Hampden (now Pennant Hills) Hotel. The family remained there until 1917 when the father moved to the Royal Surrey Hotel in Bondi Junction [9]. Cyril was intended by his family for medicine and in that faculty he successfully completed his entrance exam in 1916. But instead, shortly thereafter, he left university to join the J C Williamsons theatre  company. In 1918 he was on the same bill as Gladys Moncrieff (who also has connections with Beecroft) in the Melbourne production of Oh Oh Delphine. He left for the United States where he had a role in an early Alfred Hitchcock talkie Blackmail in 1929. In a range of performances he won two Tony awards firstly as Captain Hook playing opposite Mary Martin in the Broadway production of Peter Pan in 1954 and then in The pleasure of his Company by Samuel Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner in 1959. He died while still working, in a production called Side by Side by Sondheim [10]. Please also see the YouTube clip: A year to remember 1935: Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard Wedding.

Musical revues and concerts

Fundraising concerts did not start with World War 1 and “A Beecroft Bubble.” They had previous been held as early as 1893 when the Willis family were facing difficult financial times or in 1898 when the Stanton family were in similar circumstances [11].

Following the success of “A Beecroft Bubble” another fundraising revue called “Another Bubble” was held, without Cyril Ritchard, on 12 and 13 October 1914, under direction of Miss Myee Kenyon and with Miss M Hartwell as a driving musical force. Mr Georgie Blackwood again performed and each of Alice and Ada Chorley had items. Miss Hartwell presented a further Revue in 1925.

In 1945, George (no longer Georgie) Blackwood arranged (but did not perform in, two revues (once called Two Starry Nights and the other Three Bright Nights) where popular songs like The Road to Mandalay and White Horse Inn were performed.


Music is a fundamental aspect of how Christians have always worshiped their God. Each of the major Churches in the two suburbs, Anglican, Uniting [12], Presbyterian and Congregational had music as important parts of their services and the first three churches each installed organs as part of their church buildings as soon as funds permitted. Mrs Lily Chorley, for example, was a regular organist at the Presbyterian and then Congregational churches. Even without an organ, choirs sang at regular services and in concerts. Mr Shilling was appointed the Choir Master of the Methodist (now Uniting) Church in 1895. Each church also had in their early years, individuals who strove to attain excellence in choral music over long periods of time. In the Methodist Church this was George Pettit and in the Presbyterian this was Charles McKern. During the 1990s for the Presbyterian Church this was Heather Moen-Boyd.

This continued for many years with the Uniting Church choir winning the Dural Music Festival Church Choir section award for three consecutive years from 1991 to 1993.

Some of the churches had parishioners who composed music for the church. These include Ken Strong for the Uniting Church (in the late 1950s) and Nigel Butterley for the Anglican.

A girls choir was formed by Jessie Ross Murray (1918-2011) in 1952 at Fort Street Girls High School, and then re-located to the St George District. As the Linnet Girl’s Choir it moved to Cheltenham when Mrs Murray became a teacher at Cheltenham Girls High School in 1961. In 1972 the Linnet Girl’s Choir still under the leadership of Mrs Jessie Murray, and still largely comprising girls from Cheltenham Girls High School, travelled for the first time to an overseas eisteddfod at Llangollen, Wales. Mrs Murray built a choir of renown and significance – albeit while at the same time creating considerable terror in the girls! In 1977 she also formed the Linnet Fledglings and finally in 1991, in lieu of the Linnet Girls Choir, the Linnet Singers. The last choir was still singing in 2012 (at least) under Olga Johnstone, one of Mrs Murray’s former pupils [13]. Mrs Murray was awarded Membership of the British Empire (MBE) in 1977 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Collegiate of Specialist Music Educators in 2010.


Music was a component of the curriculum of each of the schools in Beecroft and Cheltenham and, especially for the dame schools [14] where music was, prior to the First World War, a major distinguishing feature of the education of girls.

Concerts were also held by singing schools like the Beecroft Happee Club run by Miss Dorothy Cowie during the 1930s.

In addition to music being taught, Cheltenham Girls High School developed a tradition of choral music ranging from an entire school concert broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Commission Education Sunday program in 1962 to a youtube piece celebrating the school in 2021. In 1962 they combined with Normanhurst Boys High School to perform The Mikado. They also combined with Epping Boys High. In 1961 Mrs Murray introduced the girls singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus as a whole school as an item at the annual school prize day [15].

Beecroft Public School makes little mention of extra curriculum music in its history until the late 1960s with the building of the Assembly Hall and the arrival of Ms Jennifer Adam (1962-1967). Over a five year period, Ms Adam formed both flute and recorder bands. The Instrumental Ensembles that she trained performed, in 1964, at Sydney Town Hall. She persuaded the local composer, Nigel Butterley to write a piece for the school bands [16]. This sure foundation led over time to music being core to the Centre of Excellence Award in the Creative and Practical Arts for the school in 1991. The school band established at this time was reformed and conducted by Mr David Ellyard, a notable local resident, who was also President of the P&C, from at least 1984.

Nigel Butterley [17]

In a 1967 article, Butterley said that (at that time) he was a practising Christian who held as his creed the statement of J S Bach “All music should be to the glory of God and the refreshment of men.” For some time he was the Choirmaster at St Alban’s Anglican Church, Epping. As part of his interest in the social function of music in 1965 he wrote The Canticle of the Sun for a group of school children to perform at a UNESCO seminar on music in education. It was not initially successful because the co-ordination required of the individual parts was beyond the skill of the players. On the other hand his Music for Sunrise (1966) for diverse instruments for the children of Beecroft Public School was greatly admired and he said “the children play this with enthusiasm, flair and great success, not in the least disturbed by its aleotoric features or its dissonances.” One of the pupils who performed in that concert Louise Baur (now Professor Baur whose story is elsewhere on this website) has fond memories in 2021 of performing it in the original concert [18].

In 2007 he was commissioned by St John’s Anglican Church, on the initiative of Catherine Bartho, to mark the centenary of the then current church building. The tune that he composed had come into his mind after hearing Vaughan Williams Sine Nomine on the radio. The words were written by Maryanne Samson and “the choir and congregation sang the hymn enthusiastically – even though the organist would have preferred his own harmonisation!” [19].

Gordon Bennett String Quartet

This group held concerts in (at least) 1964 to 1966. They were held in 1 Wandeen Avenue or Cheltenham Kindergarten [20].

The musicians comprised:

Violin            Gordon Bennett, Ian Ritchie, Ruth Michele

Viola             Winifred Durie

Cello             Barbara Woolley 

Recorder       Alan Wallace

Harpsichord    Dorothy White, Nigel Butterley

Beecroft Music Club [21]

There had been an earlier Beecroft Music Club prior to the Second World War [22] however the longer running group was the initiative of Frances and James Hillier. Frances was a leading Australian soloist who also taught music in Beecroft. Initially it met, from 1 August 1967, in the St Johns Anglican Church hall but then re-located to the (then) new Vicars Education Centre at the Beecroft Presbyterian Church. The Club sought to have an annual offering of eight pre-concert student recitals, eight chamber music concerts and six children’s concert series.

Performances were provided by artists and ensembles such as Sydney Wind Soloists, Don Burrows Quintet, Martin Wesley Smith, Frances Hillier, Nigel Butterley, Marilyn Richardson, James Christansen, John Champ, Sydney Baroque Soloists, Laira String Quartet, Donald Hazelwood, Marie Van Hove, Austral Quartet, Carl Pini and the New Dance Theatre.

Australian composers presented included Kim Williams (Piano Piece for Two Players) and Gavin Costelow (Dear Ethyl) (both former students at the nearby Marsden High School who had studied under Richard Gill), Nick Negerevich (Portrait of a name), Richard Kefford (The Outrage) and Ross Edwards as well as established composers like Martin Wesley Smith, Felix Werder, Nigel Butterley, Ian Farr, Peter Sculthorpe and Richard Meale. The preponderance of males is representative of the times. One review by Roger Covell on the young Australian composers said “[I] thank Negerevich for trying to give some rhythmic impetus to his music, to ask Kefford not to let anyone jostle him prematurely out of his feeling for delicate lyricism and to remind Williams not to be so concerned by a search for clarity and proportion as to forget invention” [23]

The Club also sponsored a range of international and local artists to perform at concerts held outside of Beecroft.

Following the opening of the Sydney Opera House many residents, and performers, wished to attend concerts there rather than locally and the Club closed in 1974.

Beecroft Orchestra [24]

The Beecroft Orchestra was founded in 1989 by Allan Stiles and Graham Thiele who were teaching music together at the same school. Some of their students and family were playing in The Western Youth Symphony Orchestra which Allan had founded several years previously. The Beecroft Orchestra became an orchestra for graduates of the WYO, parents of WYO members, and interested musicians in general. Graham supported the project as founding manager.

Initially it was only a string orchestra and was called The Beecroft Chamber Orchestra. Allan was the conductor and under his guidance the orchestra expanded to a full symphony orchestra and became very active in the musical life of the area, performing four concerts a year and taking part in the then Beecroft Festival and other community performance opportunities.

Following Allan’s departure overseas, leadership passed to Louise Keller, David Hood, Mal Hewitt, Brendan Cooper for 10 years, Luke Gilmour, Alexander Colding-Smith and currently Joanna Drimatis. It’s current home is the St Albans Anglican Church Epping, Hall.

Bush Dancing

On the first Saturday night of every month there is a bush dance in the Community Centre. In 2008 it celebrated its 30th anniversary. The Ryebuck Bush Band often performed across these 30 years with George Bolliger on accordion, Walter Bolliger on lagerphone, bones, bush bass and electric bass, Alex Bishop on flute, concertina and whistle, Cath Sullivan and Susie Bishop on fiddle and Craig Edmondson on guitar [25]. The Bolliger family lived in Sutherland Road.

Music teaching and supplies

Throughout the history of the district teachers of singing and musical instrument, mostly by women, was been common. During the 1960s and 1970s The Student Nook run by Corinne and Jack McBurney supplied records, music and instruments. Music School, like that of Russell Smith teaching a range of instruments but specialising in guitar continue this tradition into the 2020s.

[1]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 24 November 1906 p.10

[2]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 14 September 1907 p.10

[3]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 November 1918 p.8

[4]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 24 April 1914 p. 8

[5]      Ritchard had also previously provided a musical item at some of the recruiting campaigns to encourage enlistment: Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 25 December 1915 p.8.

[6]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 24 July 1915; The Sun 20 February 1916.

[7]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 March 1916; Sydney Morning Herald 1 April 1916 p.20

[8]      Catholic Press 16 December 1909; 8 October 1910; 1 June 1911; 25 December 1913.

[9]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 12 March 1910 p.8; 11 May 1912 p.8; 1 May 1915 p.8; 24 July 1915 p.8; Freeman’s Journal 15 March 1917 p. 1

[10]    Critic 13 November 1918 p16 as well as biographical entries on Wikipedia and Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[11]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 23 October 1893 and 27 August 1898 p12

[12]    M Barr and J Moore A Charge to Keep (Beecroft Uniting Church, Beecroft, 1995) pp 33 to 40.

[13]    L Langtry In the Pink (Cheltenham Girls High School, Cheltenham, 2017) p. 83; Northern District Times 11 July 2012; For the earlier and subsequent history of the Linnet Girl’s Choir see: Sydney Morning Herald 20 November 1954 p. 9; Canberra Times 28 April 1958; 22 April 1963; 30 April 1966; 28 April 1969; Northern District Times 29 September 2011.

[14]    see the separate article on early schools in Beecroft and Cheltenham elsewhere on this web site.

[15]    Northern District Times 29 September 2011.

[16]    P Dewey, The History of Beecroft Public School 1897-1997 (Beecroft Public School, Beecroft, 1997) pp.64, 102.

[17]    for more information on Nigel Butterley refer to the article on him in the Section called People.

[17]    Tharunka 3 October 1967 p12

[18]    Notes by Nigel Butterley forming part of the Papers of Nigel Butterley lodged with the National Library of Australia:  accessed 7 January 2019.

[19]    Programme notes are held by the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group.

[20]    This material derives from J Hillier ‘The Sound of Music’ Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust Bulletin No.4, November 2006 pp2-3. This is also to be found elsewhere on this web site.

[21]    Sydney Morning Herald 30 August 1939 p.6.

[22]    unattributed and undated newspaper clipping held by the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group. Professor Roger Covell was often a music critic in the Sydney Morning Herald.

[23]    this material is almost entirely from the web site of the Orchestra: (accessed 13 August 2021).

[24]    Northern District Times 11 June 2008 p31.