Back to the Future: Digitising the Nowra Town Band

When I undertook this project, I immediately knew I wanted to work with the Nowra Town Band. With 140 years of history and some incredible resources that the Band has rarely had the means to collate and preserve, it seemed the perfect organisation to work with. My personal connection to the Band helped; I grew up playing cornet with them, and over the years my entire family has been dragged into playing a part, whether in the Band itself or providing vital assistance at band events.

I decided on the project itself while during preliminary research online, for the precise reason that I was able to find very little. In an age where the internet is one of the primary resources for finding information, this felt like something that I could address. I attended the Annual General Meeting to raise the idea of building a website with both a fleshed-out history section and, just as vitally, information about joining the band. The band committee agreed, and from this, the official Nowra Town Band website was formed.

Part of the reason this project is the right step for the Band is because of membership. While the Band is still thriving 140 years on from its inception, its numbers are dwindling and many of the players are older members of the community. A simple and accessible website broadens the avenues through which people are able to learn about and get involved. Ease of use was one of the main priorities due to the predominance of older people both currently in the Band and that show interest in getting involved- seasoned players who have recently moved or retired to Nowra make up a decent amount of the new additions. A website opens up an extra and very important avenue through which people are able to find out about the Band, its history, and its upcoming events.

Through the website, I aimed to highlight the community nature of the Band in order to create a welcoming atmosphere for potential new members that mirrors the welcoming nature of the Band itself. Throughout its 140-year history, the Band has never been an elitist organisation; many of its members have been beginners or self-taught, with little professional tutelage. This ties in with the accessibility of the site, as it makes it available to the widest range of people possible. An alternative form of presentation would have been increasing its social media reach through sites such as Instagram or YouTube, however without the basis of a simple website, these would have the potential to alienate the people most interested in joining or accessing the history of the Band. These may be a future endeavour for the Band, however they also require more frequent updates than a website which needs only to be updated with upcoming events.

The History section of the website is also a vital part of the project. The internet has become incredibly pertinent in the preservation and presentation of stories. In the process of writing it up, I showed my partner’s mother who grew up in Nowra one of the sources I was using. She read through it, pointing out the families she recognised and the members she went to school with or was taught by, and in an incredible coincidence, we figured out that she was distantly related to the man who had written the book she was reading. It is little moments like these that signify the importance of this project; not only for the future of the Band, but in increasing the visibility of its past and allowing these connections to be made. In small towns like Nowra, the personal connections to community run deep, and the preservation of local stories in easily accessible ways can be incredibly meaningful even to those who are not personally involved.

Nowra Town Band, 1980. Nowra Town Band Archives.

As part of the digitisation work, I scanned a variety of documents and photographs that have been stored in the Band Hall for decades. Many of them are falling apart, fading, or otherwise showing the test of time, and it is for this reason that taking advantage of digitisation technologies is important for organisations like the Nowra Town Band, whose resources for document preservation are limited by money and space. Digitisation requires resources of its own, which is why the Band’s archives had only been partially scanned prior to my involvement. The efforts which had already been undertaken were impressive, however the time-consuming nature of the work has meant that they have not yet been completed. This is something I hope to continue with in the future; working with the Band on this project has been an incredible experience, and it would be a privilege to continue this work with them.