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30 November 2015

AMC at 40: A Story of the Tumultuous Birth of the AMC (from interviews with Kenneth Tribe)

James Murdoch at his desk in 1975. Image: James Murdoch at his desk in 1975.  

Gwen Bennett - a long-term AMC board member herself, discussed the beginnings of the AMC with Kenneth Tribe as part of the interviews conducted for the 2011 biography More Than Music - the life and work of Kenneth W Tribe AC (2011). See also: AMC's first 41 years - timeline and articles.

The idea for an Australian Music Centre began within the Music Board of the Australia Council under the chairmanship of composer Don Banks. Banks felt that Australia lacked an organisation similar to those that he had seen in some other countries, namely, a centre focussing purely on Australian music. He had a number of enthusiastic supporters for his plan.

The first Australia Council in 1973 consisted of ministerial appointments from all states, as well as boards representing the different art forms. Within broad government guidelines, these boards initiated policies for allocating their funds.

Kenneth Tribe was invited to be part of both the first Australia Council and the first Music Board. He was a lawyer with a music background who had gained a considerable reputation as music director of Musica Viva. He was deputy chair, but as Banks became increasingly involved in the demands of the newly created Canberra School of Music, Tribe took over as chair from 1974-77, the period when the Australian Music Centre became established.

Jean Battersby, chief executive officer of the Australia Council, felt that it was not within the Council's mandate to support the setting up of such a body, and many others on the Council also did not approve. Their view was that the Australia Council was an 'enabler', not an 'initiator'; they were sceptical that funds could be provided for its ongoing upkeep. Tribe was careful. He commented: 'We need to support initiatives, but must use a cautious approach, a particular caution. Money is not the thing that initiates creativity. Initiatives must come from within people - that's what counts.'

The debate was genuine and fierce and was played out in numerous meetings. Tribe described a 'them and us' situation that developed as 'battle lines'. He and Battersby were at loggerheads: neither was prepared to capitulate to the other. 'It was hard work getting it going', Tribe recalled. 'In the end we got tired of fracas and just got it started'. The Council never did agree to the Music Board initiative but, unbelievably, capitulated and nothing more was heard from them.

A separate board was set up as a non-profit company under the leadership of John Sturman. James Murdoch, musicologist and music consultant to the Music Board, was installed as director. The appointment was not wholly endorsed, as it was considered procedurally problematic that the position had not been formally advertised. Yet it seemed appropriate and proved popular and successful at the time. Much excitement from that section of the music community ensued.

> AMC's first 41 years - timeline and more articles

Gwen Bennett was the Chair of the AMC Board in 1986-1990.


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