We are all familiar with that iconic period in Australian history, the Great Depression. At Kandos the cement works closed for months at a time, or operated with a reduced workforce. Families existed on handouts, susso, rabbiting, pilfering and fishing. Swaggies inhabited the roads. At the same time businesses opened and thrived, balls were held and orchestras played. Just as today, some suffered while others shone.
In April 1930 Almond Rice Goodacre and his wife Cecily Ellen (née Carman) sold their cafe at Eugowra and purchased the Kandos Majestic Refreshment Rooms. They immediately did extensive renovations, including attractive showcases and fittings, to make it “second to none in the north western district”. A few years later they set up their son and daughter in business, a few doors away. Keith ran a draper and mercer at both Kandos and Rylstone – ladies and children’s frocks, gloves, hosiery and shoes; men’s “strong” work trousers, tailor-made suits, shirts, ties, hats, shoes and boots – all up-to-date, all best quality and definitely cheapest prices. Clarice, popularly known as Bub, had a hairdressing salon at the rear of Keith’s Kandos shop.
If Keith was popular as a shop-keeper, which he was, he was even more popular as principal entertainer in Keith Goodacre’s Orchestra. There is something about an orchestra that sets it apart from a band. A band swells in the open air. It is an exciting spectacle, its natural space a rotunda, a park or a main street. An orchestra shines under electric lights. It radiates romance, its natural space a ballroom or concert hall. It woos and charms, caresses and pursues.
From its first public appearance in November 1935, Keith Goodacre’s Orchestra, also known as the Majestic Orchestra, was the orchestra of choice, especially for twenty-somethings – for balls and dances at Kandos, Rylstone, Ilford and Cudgegong. For the Shamrock dance, the cricketers’ dance, the hospital, Catholic and C of E balls, the Kandos Younger Set hospital fundraiser and for private events. It was described in terms like “par excellence”, “a lively pace”, “swinging”, “always up to date”, “greatly in demand”. And what about this description of the Hospital Ball in 1936: “a quintette of players that discoursed music of such perfectly timed syncopation that dancers demanded encore after encore”.
Keith himself was a talented pianist and proficient in other instruments. Mind you he had shown musical promise at the age of eleven under the tutelage of Sister Fabian at Eugowra Convent School, when he won success in the London Trinity College music exams.
Have you ever been on a pleasure cruise? On Monday 25 July 1938 you could have joined the “Empress of Fun” as it pulled out of Truswell’s Wharf with Blue Peter at the masthead. Captain Spencer Brown was at the wheel, First Officer Keith Goodacre led a first-class ship’s orchestra and cruise directors Miss Chambers and Miss Heath guaranteed you, and the many tourists on board, a fun-filled night of revelry.
Perhaps you would prefer to have been at the Back to Childhood Xmas Party. If so, on 21st December 1936 you would have joined Kandos Younger Set (of the Rylstone Hospital Auxiliary) at the Angus Memorial Hall. You would have dressed as an appropriate childhood character, though not Shirley Temple. That character was appropriated by Miss Zena Hayes, president of the Younger Set and daughter of the local picture theatre owner. Nursery rhymes, rearranged by Keith Goodacre’s orchestra, would have brought back childhood memories. You would have wanted to win a prize for your costume (won by Tom Sheehan and Miss D Williamson). Or a box of chocolates for one of many novelty dances. Or the ten shillings lucky number prize. In any case you would have had childish fun into the wee small hours.
On the other hand, you might reflect, knowing your own family’s history at that time, that either event was completely out of your orbit, given the struggle to live, let alone the costs of glitz and glamour.
Keith’s stars were in alignment, it seems, right up to the time of his death on 23 September 1939. At the age of 25 he died unexpectedly after a sudden two-day illness. Was he burning the candle at both ends? Did that have anything to do with his death? The week-end before, he performed at four dances and balls, followed by a business trip to Sydney, after which he returned home complaining of feeling unwell.
It was a shocked community of over 500 people who attended his funeral; and a procession over a mile long. No doubt many there reflected on the transience of life. Some might have recalled John Donne: “Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.”
Keith Goodacre had played his last medley but the Majestic Orchestra continued for a few more years under the direction of his sister Bub.
Here is a list of some Kandos orchestras and the approximate years they played:
Mrs Muller’s Jazz Orchestra 1919-1926
Owen’s Novelty Jazz Orchestra 1924-1926
Fordham’s Jazz Orchestra 1926
Junge’s Melody Makers 1926-1933
Agnew’s Orchestra 1929
Baistow’s Orchestra 1931-1938
Convent/Catholic Orchestra 1932
Goodacre’s Orchestra 1935-1942
Barry Conran’s Orchestra 1942-1954
Johnny May’s Orchestra 1954
The featured image is from the Powerhouse Museum collection. It is an unknown Australian orchestra, from the era.
Thank you Janet Aubrey for suggesting the topic “orchestras”.