VICTORIA BANJO CLUB – 1954 QUEEN’S ROYAL TOUR BANJO MANDOLIN

My uncle Ern Davis and his wife my aunty May founded Davis Music Centre in Footscray, said to be the Australia’s oldest family owned music shop.

Long ago when I was a young lad at school, Davis Music Centre was located in Hopkins Street Footscray. Above the shop was a large room used for music tuition including banjo lessons conducted under the banner of Victoria Banjo Club.

My father Bill, a former violin player with the St. Kilda City Band, was keen for me to learn an instrument. Back in the day the day the banjo was popular so my parents settled on an 8 string mandolin, knowing tuition was readily available at our relatives’ Davis Music Centre.

As luck had it, at the time my parents decided I should start lessons, recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh had just completed their 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. Melbourne was on the itinerary with the Queen’s motorcade scheduled to travel down Swanston Street and along to Government House where they were staying. With premises in Swanston Street, Victoria Banjo Club decided to showcase the 1954 Royal Tour by commissioning a unique one-off banjo mandolin for display in their front window. This is that very same instrument as verified by the Royal Crown embossed on the head including REX which is Latin for King. Vice Regal approval from the state Governor would have been needed for the Queen’s symbol of authority to be used in such a way.

Just how I came to have the 1954 Royal Tour banjo from new was due to uncle Ern Davis using his business relationship with Victoria Banjo Club to acquire it on my parents’ behalf. Having presented me with this unique and rather costly instrument, my parents then pushed me really hard to learn to play it as well as possible. Over the years I performed a number of times on the Victoria Banjo Club’s Sunday morning show on radio 3KZ, and also gave a few solo performances including one at just 15 years of age at Williamstown Town Hall where I recall playing Blue Danube to a full house. That night top billing went to celebrated country and western artist Stan Stafford who complimented me on my effort and autographed the banjo’s drum head. Years later I was invited to join Australia’s famous Red Onion Jazz Band on a tour of Russia, but declined in favour of a regular pay packet from the good job I had at the time.

While this banjo has not been played seriously for many decades, it has stayed with me through life’s long journey to marriage, raising a family, becoming a grandfather and virtual retirement. For much of that time it sat in its original case under the stairs of successive family residences, thus remaining in excellent condition.

The time has now arrived for this unique instrument with its small place in Melbourne’s banjo scene history to find a new home.

Viv Paine.

June 2018