Our Disciplines

Throughout its 136 year history, Royal South Street Society has introduced many new sections  to cater for the changing cultural needs of Ballarat’s population. Some were adopted, and still running, while others did not flourish. For example, typewriting and shorthand, cooking for women under 30 (in search of a husband), Boomerang mouth organ bands and individuals, spelling bees, and  gum-leaf playing!

As part of our 125th anniversary celebrations, South Street introduced two new disciplines in 2016.  The first is Mi Sound  which provides VCE and VET students with the opportunity to perform in front of live audiences and to be assessed by industry judges not only on their technical expertise but also their ability to engage with and capture their audience.  The second is a new Calisthenics Solo where 26 elite athletes are selected from across the country to compete. The ‘Cali Solo’ is a highly athletic event for competitors aged 17 years and over and is expected to become as prestigious over time as the 92 year old ‘Peace and Quite’ Graceful Girl solo.

South Street will also introduce an All Abilities section in 2017 for people with disabilities and will provide competitors with an opportunity to be judged on a national basis.

Over 125 years, disciplines have come and gone as changing popularity and social appeal has evolved. In the early days — add in more to do an overview.


Debates, Essays, Elocution, Readings, Lectures, and Recitations formed an integral part of  the South Street Young Men’s General Debating Society when it was first established on 10 July, 1879. The Society met every Friday night to indulge their passion for debating Literary and Musical items and and these items quickly became a central focus for  South Street’s first Eisteddfod which took place in  1891. Fred Barrow won the first debate, ‘The Best Means of Coping with the Liquor Traffic.’ and through the 1920’s and 30’s topics tended to feature the political and social issues of the day. ‘

Given the popularity of debating and  impromptu speeches – with several of our future Prime Ministers including Alfred Deakin and James Scullin  the Society’s most vibrant supporters – it was therefore surprising to see debating deleted from the 1940 Competitions, until it made a triumphant return in 1977.

In later years debating continued to grow and was further strengthened with the introduction of a Primary School Section in 2002. The first debating competition to be held in the City Council Chambers as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001 led to all debating now being conducted in the Council Chambers. It’s an ideal location that gives competing students a sense of community pride and purpose. To further enhance the Debating Section, the Australian Catholic University in 2015 provided Prize Money of $5,000 per annum for naming rights to the Debating Challenge Cup.

Speech and Drama

The Speech and Drama Section started when the South Street Young Men’s General Debating Society first met in 1879 and remains an integral part of the competitions today. The first recorded Ballarat winner of the Championship was A. Bertram Flohm in 1898, followed by Queenie Burrows in 1900, and A. Rahilly in 1901, and James Anderson in 1902, and 1905.

The 1914 Senior Championship winner, Louie Dunn, would go on to play a significant role in the development of South Street’s Speech and Drama Section in later years. A talented young actress in the 1930s, and founder of the all female Louie Dunn Shakespearian Players, the Louie Dunn prize was established in 1950 after her premature death for Best Performer in Shakespearian, Lyrical and Champion Recital. It attracted 581 entries that year and has become the most coveted Eisteddfod dramatic award nationally. She also trained 17 South Street aggregate winners between the years 1921 and 1949, and was never beaten in plays at the Eisteddfod.’ – a remarkable achievement.

Speech and Drama has attracted many fine Adjudicators including past winners including Beverley Dunn, Beryl Alford, V.L. Trotman, Basil Hartford, Gwenyth Cadwallader and Frank Russell to name a few. Other identities who performed included, Jas Anderson, Lawrence Campbell, Hamilton Howell, and one of South Streets most famous supporters, Miss Winifred Moverley. Perhaps best known to the Australian public is Lionel Logue, made famous in the recent film “The King’s Speech’ with Coli Firth and played by Geoffrey Rush.

Prize Awards include: Ivy Keates Award, a former student of Louie Dunn, Shaw Nielson Prize, Lawrence Campbell Memorial Trophy, Victor & Mrs. L. Trotman Trophy, Sallyanne Vawdrey Memorial Prize, Mrs. Alma Purcell Prize, and the Lyle Blackman Memorial Prize. Many additions and deletions have occurred, One-Act Plays was restricted to 6 entries in 1965, a Section for over 55 year olds was trialled in 1990, and in the Centenary year of the Competitions in 1979, ANA Prizes were given for Prepared Readings from the Work of an Australian Author, and a Written Poetry Section.

Ballarat contestants have been well represented over the years, with Mary-Rose (Morgan) McLaren, now Chairperson of the Section, Donna Morell, Cameron Morell, Belinda Lees, Leanne McInnis, Peter Freund, Sallyanne Vawdrey, and Gemma Bromley, all winning the Elocutionary Championship, with most also winning the Louie Dunn Prize.

Highland pipe bands

The South Street Board approved a Pipe Band Contest to take place in October 1948 along with a Highland and National Dancing Contest – and taking no chances on Ballarat’s fickle weather, insurance was arranged at 250 pounds.

However, the contest lapsed for many years until President of the Highland Pipe Band Society, Mr Ian Morrison backed by Harry Charmers, a Life member of the Pipe Band Society, supported the re-joining of the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Society. In 1995, the first competition was held in Her Majesty’s Theatre, and in 1996, the combining of the Brass Band and Highland Band Committees saw the re-introduction of Highland Band Contest after an absence of 47 years.

A big welcome back celebration included a street march from Doveton Street with ‘Spot Pipers’ appearing at Central Square, Target, Coles and the Golden Point Tabaret.

From the first year of competition, the pipe bands competed on the North Shore of Lake Wendouree, then alongside Fairyland for the remainder of the time. Due to high running costs, the competition was formally handed over to the University of Ballarat (now Federation University) Pipe Band in 2012.

Brass Bands

The 1900 Band Contest held by the South Street Society was not the first conducted in Victoria, given many smaller contests were already active around the state from the early 1880’s. However, in the years that followed, Ballarat quickly became a Mecca for musicians, with bands in Australia and New Zealand travelling thousands of miles to participate at South Street.

So popular were the bands that over 15,000 people attended the first Competitions at the City Oval, with crowds of 10 to 20 deep clamouring in front of the grandstand to catch sight of the bands, resplendent in uniforms trimmed in colourful braid. In an era well before radio and television the competitions provided a much anticipated source of live entertainment and a chance to showcase their talents. As their popularity grew, equal only to the Melbourne Cup, schools were given the day off and a petition was put forward to declare a public holiday to allow people to attend the competitions.

This plus the fact that Ballarat was home to the first association of bands led to formation of the Victorian Band Association in 1901 to manage band competitions across the State. Forerunner to the present day Victorian Bands League, the VBA’s first president was Mr Fred Sutton of Sutton’s Music Store fame, who would later become President of the South Street Society.

In 2001, South Street introduced the Frank Wright Medal in honour of the Ballarat musician who was a great teacher/conductor and composer of band music. In 1949, he was appointed Adjudicator of the Band Contest, and the conductor of the Massed Bands. The Frank Wright Medal was awarded to a person who had been constructive and active in the band world.

Since those early days, the adjudication of a band’s general turnout, marching and drill has gone and the bands now only perform in a theatre setting – mostly Her Majesty’s Theatre but in recent years, the Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts. They are judged on concert items as well as the traditional test piece, hymns and marches. The Victorian Brass Band Championships form part of the band comps at South Street, and bands still come from far and wide. A total of twenty seven bands have competed in each of the last two years.


In 1897, the introduction of a Choral Contest created a new dimension for the South Street Society, drawing choirs from around the country, and attracting famous Australian and international adjudicators, choir leaders, along with prize money and prestigious trophies such as the Sunshine Shield valued at 50 Guineas.

The Choral Section was a huge success particularly due to the Welsh influence stretching back to the 1850’s. Ballarat was a musical city and its local choirs had immediate success, but it was the participation of visiting Victorian and Interstate choirs that attracted enormous publicity in newspapers around Australia. Within three years entries were so numerous the Contest was divided into two sections, performed on two consecutive nights. In 1899, with an audience estimated at 3000 at the Alfred Hall, drags (carriages) were chartered to take choirs from the Hall to Her Majesty’s Theatre and vice versa after they had competed, thus allowing both audiences to see and hear all of the contestants.

Such was the success of the Choral Section, special trains brought supporters from Melbourne and around the Ballarat district, and provided the impetus for the Society to build a new hall – The Coliseum.
 Like other Competition Sections Choral has undergone many changes throughout the years, with school choirs now leading the charge and competing for the City of Ballarat $1000 prize.

Contemporary Vocal

In 1991, The Royal South Street Society opened its doors to a Contemporary Vocal Section, with prize money generously sponsored by Redwood Studios and MidWest Music. By 1993, Contemporary Vocal attracted 79 entries over four sections, with a Duet section added in 1994 and a Country and Western section in 1996 as entry numbers steadily increased. By 2013, the discipline grew to include Pop, Rock and RnB Vocal Solo, Stage Musical, Disney / Film or TV, Country and Jazz / Blues or Soul and attracted 377 entries. The VCE section was still on offer for VCE singers, and across all age groups and sections, and this year, 2016, saw the introduction of a Singer Songwriter section.

Royal South Street was one of the first Eisteddfods to offer such a diverse range of sections for contemporary singers and continues to draw entrants from all over the state.

Classical vocal and the Herald Sun Aria 

Vocal competitions have been a part of the South Street eisteddfod since the very first competitions in 1891, with many singers trained, competing and performing in the classical genre. The classical vocal competitions included inter alia, art songs, sacred songs, oratorio, lied, ballads and arias from operas and operettas. It was not until the twentieth century, popular or modern styles came into vogue.

For the first one hundred years of South Street, classical vocal tunes were very much the popular songs of their day and saw early winners such as Amy Castles and Peter Dawson take the world by storm and become international superstars of their day.

Within a decade of the first vocal competitions, arias from operas were added to the repertoire and in 1924 the Sun Aria (now the Herald Sun Aria) was included in the competitions courtesy of Thorold Waters, who was the Sun’s music critic at the time. Apart from three years during the Second World War, this competition has flourished with the same sponsor for 92 years.

The Herald Sun Aria has launched many great operatic careers including those of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Jonathon Summers, Raymond Myers, John Pringle, and Marjorie Lawrence. It has also seen a number of Ballarat winners including Edward Hocking, Adele.McKay, Lynette Kierce, Jason Wasley, Natalie Jones and Roger Lemke who won the Aria in 1985. His father, Robert, and grandfather, George, were also successful South Street competitors.

Another superstar on the world stage, Dame Nellie Melba, while never a competitor at South Street, was one of a valuable supporters and benefactor, while 1965 winner, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, is currently a Patron of the Royal South Street Society.


On 16 October 1903, Children’s Day, which previously consisted of Juvenile Choirs, introduced calisthenics items to the Competition and quickly established a discipline that would bring thousands of competitors and families to South Street. In its first year, calisthenics ran for just under a day with nine teams competing for 12 pounds, 10 shillings in Prize Money. However  the introduction of the Coltman Shield in 1904 provided a major impetus for the discipline to expand and calisthenics has never looked back. Today the section attracts over 2,400 entries to Ballarat with an estimated 1600 competitors competing at Her Majesty’s Theatre over a period of four weeks for prize money worth around $35,000.

Calisthenics comes from a combination of the Greek words ‘Kallos’ meaning beauty, and ‘Thenos’ strength and includes dance, gymnastics, singing, apparatus manipulation and ballet. The largest competition in Australia, South Street draws teams from across the country and although calisthenics is regarded as a team sport, it also has an individual aspect, The Most Graceful Girl Contest. Introduced in 1924 and originally called The Best Type of Physical Girl, the first winner was Madge Hamilton from North Carlton – and due to its popularity, became the subject of a documentary made in 2015 entitled Graceful Girls. Grace and serenity are the hallmarks of this section as distinct to the bustling activity of the team sections.

As part of our 125th year, Royal South Street introduced a new Calisthenics Solo section where 26 elite athletes were selected from across the country to compete. The solo is a  highly athletic event for competitors aged 17 years and over, and is expected to become as prestigious over time as the 92 year old ‘Peace and Quite’ Graceful Girl solo.

Calisthenics continues to attract many fine competitors, coaches, teachers and parents, and brings to the stage a dazzling display of colour and movement.

Those who have made the discipline so successful through their hard work and commitment include Mr. A.W. Steane, a Past South Street President and Life Member who was responsible for its introduction,  Mr. Doug McMillan Past President and Life Member and his wife Daphne and most recently Mr. Ron Harrington O.A.M., 7-time President and Life Member and his wife Dawn. The South Street Eisteddfod sits under the auspices of Calisthenics Victoria Inc. (CVI) and rules of the Australian Calisthenic Federation (ACF).


At the start of the 20th century, the Kiora Calisthenics Club taught calisthenics and what was termed as “fancy dancing” but it wasn’t until 1932 that South Street’s Calisthenics Section grew to include a dancing section, which was won by Dorothy Gladstone – who would go on to become a pioneer dance educator and to establish the National Examination System.

In the meantime, Adeline Close opened her dance school in Grenville Street in 1924 and began a tradition of producing many wonderful dancers. One of her student’s, Nancy Waldron, would later become mother to Carole and Cheryl Oliver, both who would have a major influence on dance both locally and nationally.

In 1938, the Calisthenics and Dancing Sections became separate disciplines and by 1940 Ballarat had four dance schools and two Calisthenics clubs and continued to produce young stars including Merle Heath, winner of the Classical Ballet Solo in 1938, and Adrienne Opie (Australian Ballet), winner 1955.

In 1954, ballerina, Lija Svalbe, hid in a load of torpedoes to escape communist Latvia before settling in Ballarat where she stared her ballet school. Around 1960, the Ballarat Light Opera Company, and Lyric theatre (with Fred Fargher) commenced production, while Carole Oliver, Carol Trenfield, and Pam Waller opened their own schools. These schools gave birth to many superb dancers into the 70’s, and beyond.

In 1978, The Courier/3BA offered a sponsorship prize of $100 for the Open Classical Solo, and in the following 18 years, Ballarat dancers won the Solo 12 times.

By the 1980’s, dance and theatre saw an explosion of opportunities for young dancers through BLOC, Lyric, Begonia Festival productions and the fabulous Fred Fargher Song and Dance Shows.

The 1990s continued to see the rapid growth of dedicated dance schools in Ballarat and passion by local students and parents – all of which augers well for the future of Dancing at the South Street Competitions.

Since joining the South Street Society Board in 1984, and later as Chairperson of the Dancing Section, Dr. Tony Cole, has seen many fine dancers perform on stage and taken a keen interest in their dancing development.

Over the years, South Street has seen many of its dancers achieve fame and cross the stage internationally. Betty Pounder AM, who started dance at the age of four to cure shyness, won the section in 1937 and went on to world-wide fame as a dancer and choreographer. Other dancers include Adam Bull and Brooke Lockett, both currently with the Australian Ballet, and David Kierce who teaches at the Central School of Ballet in the UK.

Highland dancing

The first reference to Highland Dancing was when it was included in celebrations held at Ballarat’s City Oval in 1909, where it remained an integral part of the Highland solos and bands competitions until 1913. After several years’ absence, highland dancing was reintroduced to the Eisteddfod in 1946 at the Alfred Hall and included the Fling, Shean Truis, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Sword Dance, Irish Jig, Hopetoun Reel and the Reel O’Tullock.

However by 1949, interest had waned and it would be another 48 years before it was reprised in 1997 with the support of Chairman Peter Pollard and the Victorian Scottish Union.

After many years of holding the competition outdoors where dancers faced the vagaries of the weather, it moved indoors across a number of venues including Her Majesty’s Theatre which rang with the skirl of bagpipes and the movement and colour of tartan kilts. In 1998, written “Crits”were introduced for the first time – and in 2000, the South Street only Troup Sections were added to showcase dancer’s skills and contribute to the overall enjoyment of the discipline.

In 2003, there were 43 solo dancers and 58 troupes, with the troupe sections remaining unique to RSSS. However, with changing interests and times, the Highland Pipe Bands, Highland Dancing, and Brass Bands finally called it a day and made way for new Competitions disciplines.


The strong Welsh influence on the goldfields saw piano competitions take place as early as 1880 and by the turn of the century, Pianoforte was listed as a competition discipline. By 1902, the large number of entries in each age group reached a peak and it was not unusual to have up to 57 young pianists in a single section. Given the piece to be played was only advised at the time of entry, audiences frequently had to sat through the same work multiple times.

The only occasion when the contestants ‘Own Choice’ was acceptable was for duets, a restriction which would continue for many decades. However in 1933, more “own choice” sections were included and a Champion Concerto was added, although the music choice was still limited to piano works only. But before long, strings and woodwind were included and in 1976 brass was also included – at which point the number of entries greatly increased.

Dennis Olsen, better known for his character performances in the Australian Opera, won the Champion Concerto in 1958 – and over the years, many now well recognized musicians showed early promise in the Concerto competition including Wendy Morrison, Genevieve Lacey, Barry Cockcroft, Julie Haskell and Cameron Hill.

Many well known musicians have also given their time and support to South Street including Mr. E Sage, Organist and Choir Master at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Prof. Fredrich W Beard, and Her Edvard Scharf who officiated at both the Athenaeum and the Coliseum in the early years. Mr. Fredrick Mewton who adjudicated in 1919 gave lectures and demonstrations to the pianists or early “Master Classes’ while the fifties and sixties saw the names of Linda Phillips, G Logie- Smith, Prof Ronald Farren Price, Werner Bayer and Ellinor Morcom added to the list. The latter was the Society’s Official Accompanist for more than 40 years and as well as being a teacher and mentor to many, also competed at South Street in her early days.

A move by the Society to encourage the work of Australian composers and writers in 2001 was adopted across many disciplines including Piano. In 2006, Mr. Andrew Cochrane initiated the inaugural Celebrating Chopin section in honour of his late mother, pianist and teacher Margaret Schofield OAM. Prof. Dr. Ronald Farren Price and Dr. Anna Goldsworthy Adjudicated this prestigious event at Her Majesty’s Theatre where the Society’s newly restored Steinway Grand Piano returned to the stage. This Section is now contested at the Ballarat Art Gallery allowing for a more intimate venue.

Electric organ, theatre organ and electronic piano

Electronic Organ and Electronic Keyboard Sections were included in the Competitions from 1971 onwards and saw entries grow from 22 to 71 in the following decade. In 1983, the Royal South Street Society developed a new section for the Theatre Organ under the chairmanship of Board Member Peter Pollard. At the time, the South Street Society was the first Eisteddfod in Australia to offer the theatre organ as a discipline for competition.

The initiative was strongly supported by the Ballarat Organ Society who had spent 10 years rebuilding the Compton Theatre Organ and installing it in Her Majesty’s Theatre. The organ has been described as one of the most complex musical instruments ever invented with 677 pipes and over 200 keys the Compton can sound like an orchestra and has many additional sounds which were used in its hey day to accompany the silent movies.

Winston Loveland, Keith Hodges and Myrtle Cox from the Organ Society were the undeniable force that enabled the discipline to cater for young musicians.

Myrtle Cox was a much respected teacher of the organ and the presentation of her students when performing was described as splendid with ‘colourful waist coats, sparkly jackets and impressive grooming.’ Winston Loveland also gave of his time to young theatre organists by setting aside time prior to school hours and in the late afternoon and evening to enable them to practice.

The electronic instruments were loaned at the time from The Galaxy School of Music, Tara’s School of Music from Hamilton and Ballarat’s Allen’s Music. In the second year a new rule was introduced to limit the discs to the input of registration only. When Her Majesty’s Theatre was closed for refurbishment, the Pipe Organ section was conducted at the Neil Street Uniting Church and the Electronic instruments at the Wilkinson Hall.

In 2002, entries declined as local students moved on to tertiary education and in 2006 the last competition season for the Theatre Pipe Organ and the Electric Organs and Pianos was held.

Instruments and ensembles

The School Instrumental Section was first introduced in 1971 and attracted 110 entries, with an extensive program which included Quintet, Sextet, Septet or Octet, Duet, Trio or Quartet, Orchestral Group, Solo, Brass Ensemble, Bass Band, and String Orchestra. The rule stated that entrants must be full time students at any Secondary School and on the basis of its success, in 1974 the Minister of Education provided South Street with a $400 per annum grant to assist in the provision of prizes.

Chairperson of the Section in 1993, Brian McInnis recalls the bedlam; ‘Having no concept of music or the rules, Gayle Border and I stumbled through twelve or so stage bands and fourteen or so concert bands. Percussion Instruments were utter bedlam with all bands bringing their own until Blackburn Junction provided one set of Percussion instruments to be used by all Competitors. The sponsorship remains today although the company name has changed several times.’ The section has seen a number of changes over the years including the introduction of a Percussion Section, named after South Street Board Member and well-known teacher and Percussionist, John Chenery.

Instrumental groups in schools continue to grow and with good sponsorship and strong entries, it provides an outstanding atmosphere for students to perform in.

Mi Sound

To celebrate our 125th anniversary, Royal South Street introduced an innovative new competition category to its event calendar.  Mi Sound, which was designed for those studying VCE-VET Music Industry Skills programs, provides a real live industry experience at a Ballarat venue. Competitors will receive meaningful feedback from adjudicators who come from the live music scene and will be required to present a 20 minute set in any music style, either solo or as a group, with original material strongly encouraged.

Mi Sound winners are judged on their combined presentation of Music Industry skills, which includes not only their technical and musical skills but also performance individuality, confidence, stagecraft and the ability to engage with audiences. The category is also open to non students.

The inaugural Mi Sound took place this year over a three day period in September.