The Boys’ Brigade was first introduced into Australia well within a decade of the formation of the movement in Glasgow by the Founder. In 1890-91 a Company was formed at the St. Mark’s Church of England, Fitzroy, Melbourne. The next Company to be formed was at the Wesley Church, Perth in 1895 and this was very quickly followed by Companies in each of the other States on a fairly scattered basis. For instance in Queensland by the year 1899 there were Companies in Mackay, Townsville, Weipa, Aurukun, Charters Towers and Brisbane, whilst in New South Wales there were Companies in Richmond, Kurrajong, Bathurst and Cobar as well as in Sydney. In Tasmania by that year efficient Companies were operating in Launceston and Hobart.
To provide a more coordinated basis for growth an Australian Council was formed at the turn of the century, based in Sydney. The first Annual Report in 1900 noted that the Secretary knew of 15 Companies functioning with a membership of 431 Boys and 41Officers. The first Battalion Council was formed in Adelaide in 1901 and comprised four Companies.
In the beginning of this century several Companies of the Naval Boys’ Brigade were formed, mainly in Victoria, and in 1907 separate Battalions of Military and Naval Companies were formed in that State. It appears that most of these Companies merged with the Government scheme of Military Training for Boys of 12 and upwards introduced in July, 1911, and as a result of this scheme plus the drain on leadership into the Armed Forces, few Companies survived the First World War.
There was one notable exception, in 1913 a new 1st Brisbane Company had been formed at the Ithaca Presbyterian Church, led by a Mr. George Orr a former Lieutenant of the 1st Glasgow Company under the Captaincy of Sir William Smith. The formation of this Company marked the commencement of the present era of The Boys’ Brigade in Australia. In the years following the First World War, a former Captain of the 5th Dublin(Ireland) Company, Rev. J. Wesley-Smith, who had migrated to Western Australia, after correspondence with Mr. Orr, was instrumental in the formation of the 1st and 2nd Fremantle Companies at Fremantle Baptist Church and Wesley Church, Fremantle, respectively, and the 1st Northam Company at Northam Presbyterian Church, W.A. It was not until 1929 that a new 1st Melbourne Company was formed at Armadale Baptist Church, Melbourne, and a new 1st Sydney Company was formed at Glebe Presbyterian Church, Sydney. Of these the 1st Brisbane is still active.
No further Companies were formed in Queensland or Victoria up to the outbreak of the Second World War and in New South Wales growth was extremely slow, there being 18 Companies active in Sydney at that time. However, the immediate post-war years saw a rapid spread of the Movement so that we now have Companies in all States and Territories.
Another point of interest relating to the pre-Second World War years is that upon the Brigade becoming more active in New South Wales in the early 1930s it was pointed out that other non-uniformed Boys’ Organisations had been operating in Sydney and Adelaide for many years under the name The Boys’ Brigade and had been incorporated in those States as Limited Companies. As a result, we no longer had the legal right to the use of the name The Boys’ Brigade in New South Wales and South Australia and ultimately agreed to use the name The British Empire Boys’ Brigade. In 1970 the Australian Council adopted the name The Boys’ Brigade Australia and the Movement is now known by that name in all States of Australia.
In 1948 the Overseas Committee of The Boys’ Brigade Executive Committee in London, appointed Mr. Robert McEwan (Captain 3rd Sydney Company) to act as Honorary Organiser for Australia and acting under this authority Mr. McEwan invited one Officer in each State to join him in what was called the Provisional Federal Advisory Committee (P.F.A.C.). This body continued to operate until 1955 when each State was invited to appoint two representatives to the Committee.
The enlarged P.F.A.C. paved the way for the formation of The Australian Council and on 1st January, 1958, The Boys’ Brigade Australian Council was formally constituted. A fitting tribute was paid at this time to the oldest Company in Australia, the 1st Brisbane Company, when its Captain, Mr. R.H. Tait, was elected the first President of the Australian Council.
A full history of The Boys’ Brigade in Australia is published in Boys, Urchins, Men by M.E. Hoare.
Peter Shave (25 Jul 2006)