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AMEB national enterprise created

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In 1918, the NSW State Conservatorium of Music joined with the universities of Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania to create a national enterprise offering public examinations in music. An annual conference of directors - known as the 'Central Board' - had been held before NSW joined. In 1918 the conference was held in Sydney for the first time and the name "Australian Music Examinations Board" officially adopted. The members of the Board included:

Professor William Adolphus [W.A] Laver, Ormond Professor of Music, University of Melbourne.

Professor J. Matthew Ennis, Elder Professor of Music, University of Adelaide.

Mr Henri Verbrugghen, Director of the State Conservatorium of Music, NSW.

Mr D.J. Coutts, representing the University of Tasmania.

Mr G. Sampson, representing the University of Queensland.

Mr C. R. Hodge, representing the University of Western Australia.

Qantas was founded

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The 1920s saw the first Australian airline, Qantas, founded in Winton, Queensland. Charles Kingsford Smith became famous after successfully completing the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia.

Written papers for theory adopted for all grades

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In 1919 a decision was taken by the Board to include theory of music written examinations for all grades in addition to practical instrumental examinations. However, no marks were to be awarded and the candidate either passed or failed. The Manual stated that "if a scheme of marks is adopted, so much allotted for particular questions...there is great danger of the Examination papers, and with them the method of preparation falling into a rut, and so making examinations in so elementary a subject almost useless."

At Grade I [the highest level] two papers were set, one in harmony and the other in counterpoint.

Cars take over from horse and cart

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Wooden carts drawn by horses were a common form of transport in the 1920s but by the end of the decade the Ford Model T was the most popular car. Ford began assembling motorcars in Geelong in 1925.

Formal arrangement with Allans Publishing

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1920 saw a formal arrangement with Allan & Co for the sole publication of AMEB material and to act as a distributor to the various music houses. Collections of sonata movements and polyphonic works were among the early publications.

Employment in the 1920s

In the 1920s there were no unemployment benefits and women made up 20% of the workforce (many of them in factories). All women were paid less than men. There was great political unrest and many strikes as the unions became more militant to protect workers’ rights.

One manual to be published for all states

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In 1921, there was a proposal, instigated the following year, to publish one Manual of Public Examinations in Music to be applicable to all states, rather than each state having a separate edition. The Manual contained such items as information and advice to candidates, the object of the examination system, use of specialist examiners, and details of the examination repertoire required for each instrument.

Australia’s first radio station

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The wireless was introduced in Australia so people could sit down for hours at a time and listen to their sets. Australia’s first radio station, 2SB, went to air in 1923. The gramophone was also gaining popularity.

Licentiate established

image description 1922 grade certificate for Ivy Pearl White.
Courtesy of the White family.

By 1922, a licentiate diploma in music in the practical subjects of piano, violin, 'cello, organ and singing was established in order to recognise outstanding achievement in performance. The post-nominals LPMA [Licentiate Performer Music Australia] could be used. The certificates for grade and diploma examinations at that time were of an elaborate design.

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Vegemite came into existence!


The quintessential Australian product of Vegemite was produced from 1923.

Each state takes responsibility for own exams.


1929 saw an update of the Memorandum of Agreement between the six signatories to the AMEB with the result that each state would take responsibility for the conduct of the examinations in its respective state. Due to geographical reasons, it was agreed that the University of Adelaide would assume responsibility for examinations in Broken Hill, NSW. Each state had local centres and organising secretaries to ensure the smooth running of the examinations. The same year saw the adoption of C522 as normal pitch for the instrumental examinations.

Stock Market Crash of 1929

The crash in the global stock markets of October 1929 in Wall Street, New York sent the world into the Great Depression (1929 – 34)


Australian Composers included in the syllabus

image description Extract from A Kookaburra Laughs at the World (Allan & Co. Melbourne)

Awareness of the work and importance of Australian composers led to the Board's decision the following year, to invite several composers to write works suitable for examination. As a result several works for piano were included in early grade books from 1934; by 1942 the works of ten Australian composers, both male and female, appeared on the piano syllabus and three on the violin syllabus.

Telecommunication advances

image description Photo by Quino Al on  Unsplash

In 1930 advances were made in communications. On April 30, Australia and Britain were linked by a radiotelephone service for the first time. Later that year (on December 19) a phone line linked Perth with the rest of the country. It was not until March 25, 1936 that Tasmania was linked to the mainland though the operation of a submarine cable.

Successful candidates listed in the Manual of Syllabuses

image description Extract from the 1932 Manual

In order to recognise their achievements in the subjects of music and elocution, a decision was taken to publish the names of successful associate and licentiate candidates in the Manual of Syllabuses. Consequently, the 1932 Manual included all names from 1917 to 1930, which amounted to 216 successful licentiate candidates and over 900 successful associate candidates. The candidate's respective state was also included in the list.

Death of a Dame

image description Dame Nellie Melba – Image courtesy of Melba Opera Trust

Australia’s beloved diva, Dame Nellie Melba, died on February 23, 1931 in Sydney aged 69

Prescribed works to be published in albums by Allan & Co


A proposal by publishing house Allan & Co was approved and led to the creation of affordably priced volumes to appear on the Comprehensive Lists. This was a great advantage for students and teachers who could purchase one album with several of the prescribed works. Allan's further suggested that samples of the volumes could be sent to all music sellers assisting those in country areas.

The Great Depression

image description Man living in a tent, the Domain, Sydney, during the Depression of the 1930s, image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria (

The 1930s in Australia was a period of Great Depression. Severe unemployment meant that many families could no longer pay their rent and were evicted from their homes by the banks and forced to live in camps, which dotted the outskirts of the major cities.

Negotiations begin between ABRSM and AMEB to unify examinations

image description Change in Music Licentiate' The Mercury (Hobart), 23 June 1951.

Because Australia was a Commonwealth country and a member of the British Empire, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) had been the principal examination body in Australia before the AMEB had been formulated as a national body. Negotiations between the two organisations over many years eventually led to the advent of a joint licentiate examination in music, which first came into operation in 1944, eventually ceasing in 1951, as the Australian system became the dominant examining body in the country.

Establishment of the ABC and their state orchestras

image description AYO 60th Anniversary Concert

1932 saw the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) established on July 1 to transmit radio programs nationwide. By the end of 1936 the ABC had a permanent orchestra in all six state capitals to entertain listeners.

Can women be examiners?


Although the works of women composers had been recognised and included on the syllabus and the majority of teachers were women, a proposal to appoint women as examiners had been rejected outright for several years. The question arising was one of who had the better judgment, man or woman.

However, the Board conducted a survey of teachers and schools throughout the country with a total number of 2,974 letters being sent out. Of the 661 replies, 303 favored the employment of women examiners, 58 of those nominating examining the lower grades only. In the event, it took another nine years for women to be permanently appointed to the various examining panels.

Grainger Museum donated to the University of Melbourne

image description Percy Grainger. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria (

The Australian composer, Percy Grainger, donated the Grainger Museum, an important archive for Australian Music, to the University of Melbourne in 1938.

Grade numbering system refined

image description Cover for 1929 Grade III piano, under the old numbering system

Since its inception, the AMEB had used a numbering system where the highest grade was designated as 'Grade I' and the lowest grade designated as 'Grade VIII'. Due to the introduction of the joint AMEB/ABRSM licentiate diploma, it was decided that a uniform numbering system would be advantageous. As a result, the numbering system was reversed, commencing with Grade I and finishing with Grade VIII, with the highest grade corresponding to the standard of the Associate diploma.

First national conference of Indigenous Australians

1938 was also marked by the First national conference of Indigenous Australians, held at the Australia Hall, Sydney, to mark a ‘Day of Mourning’ and protest during the 150th Australia Day anniversary of colonial settlement.


Joint Licentiate exams begin

AMEB Licentiate Joint AMEB and ABRSM Licentiate certificate, courtesy of Annette Erskine-Smith [née Smith]

The AMEB and the Royal Schools of Music [RSM] finalised negotiations to offer a joint Licentiate with two examiners to be appointed, one from either organisation. A public announcement was made regarding this venture and a notice included in the AMEB Manual. Certificates between 1944 and 1951 included the names of both examination bodies.

World War 2

World War 1940 Private J. Rogers, nurse, member of the women's services of the 5th Australian camp hospital in the new issue fur felt hat for wearing during the north Queensland summer. 20 September 1943, Cairns, QLD
Image: James Tait
License: Public Domain mark 1.0 via

The 1940s was dominated by World War 2, which brought social, political and economic change to Australia. The Government both throughout and after the war rationed many items of food and clothing. As with WW1, women entered the workforce to replace the men fighting at the frontline.

Women to examine during war shortage


Due to war conditions, it was decided that individual states could employ women examiners for both music and art of speech if necessary. However, this was to be seen as an emergency measure with the proviso that their names were not to be placed on the panel of examiners. This was the first step in breaking down the policy that women examiners would not be as capable or competent as men or be able to give as sound judgment.

Post war Australia

Post War AU Turbinhall of Murray 1 Hydroelectric Power Station, New South Wales, Australia
Image: Martin Kraft (
License: CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Post 1945 there was large resettlement of European refugees to Australia through the assisted immigration program. This immigration scheme provided labour for new industries and large public works programs such as The Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme (launched in 1949). An immigration agreement with the British government saw 70,000 Brits migrate to Australia each year. These migrants were required to contribute £10 while the two governments met the rest of the costs. This led to the colloquial phrase “Ten Pound Poms”.

Women officially appointed as examiners


After some ten years of deliberation and hesitation, the decision was finally taken to appoint women examiners and the first ten were appointed, to examine in piano, violin and art of speech. Twenty years later however, only another thirty women had been appointed as examiners.

The decade of crooners and jazz stars

crooners Frank Sinatra, Liederkrantz Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. 1947
Image: Ky
License: Attribution2.0 via

Music of the 40s was the decade of the crooner with performers such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como enjoying fame. In the jazz scene, swing was popular into the mid 40s with groups such as The Andrews Sisters. Bebop emerged with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Generally music was listened to on the radio although the phonograph was beginning to become affordable for households.

Grade book updated

gradebook ameb updated 1940

Instead of stating the year of publication, grade books were now numbered, beginning with series No. 10. "Preparatory" was the designator of the earliest grade during this time.

The first Holden motorcar was produced

holdencar 1948 Holden 48-215 (FX) sedan
Image: sv1ambo
License: Attribution 2.0 via

Cars in the 1940s were more streamlined than the 30s. Many improvements were made to conserve materials. In October 1948 the first Australian Holden motorcar came off the assembly line and became a symbol of Australian prosperity.

Support for Australian Compositions

au compositions Extract from The See-saw (Allan & Co, Melbourne)

To encourage the music of Australian composers to be included in grade books, the Board took the decision to establish a fund of £500 towards the cost of publishing Australian compositions, with the costs to be shared between the states.

Technological advancements

gradebook ameb updated 1940 Tupperware containers
Image: Orin Zebest
License: Attribution 2.0 via

The 1940s saw the early beginnings of new technologies such as computers, nuclear power and jet propulsion. During this decade the development of quantum theory and nuclear physics thrived with the sound barrier being broken in October 1947. The development of commercial television also advanced, although it was another decade before the TV was introduced into Australian homes. Other modern conveniences were also invented including Tupperware and the refrigerator.

Licentiate Certificate Clarification

au compositions

The wording of Licentiate certificates was changed to clarify whether the candidate gained their diploma for teaching or performing. This clarification still applies today.

Working Conditions and Wages

The average yearly male salary was around £300 and a female average yearly salary was £140. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave approval of the forty-hour five-day working week nationally beginning on the 1st of January 1948.

Grade Book Revisions

au compositions Cover of First Grade under the reverse numbering system.

The grade numbering was reversed to begin at Preliminary through to Seventh Grade. Previously, First Grade had been the highest grade level. This came about because of the close association of the AMEB with the ABRSM and the numbering system of that examination body that began with Preparatory.

Iconic kangaroo symbol adopted by Qantas


In 1947 Qantas adopted the kangaroo symbol on all its aircraft. The symbol (first used on a plane in 1944) was tailored from the Australian one-penny coin.


Examiner Conduct


The Board required that a condition of employment of examiners was that they must maintain a high standard of professional behaviour. If written evidence was submitted showing that an examiner had not behaved in a professional manner, then that examiner's name would be removed from the panel. This directive applied to examiners in all the states.

Sir Robert Menzies

AMEB Licentiate Sir Robert Menzies / Harold Freedman.
Harold Freedman 1915-1999, artist.

Robert Menzies was Australia’s Prime Minister for the entire decade.

Co-examination for Licentiate examinations


It was resolved that the Licentiate examination would have two examiners, a Federal examiner appointed annually by the Board and a co-examiner appointed by the states. This decision ensured that the standard of examining remained uniform and consistent throughout the country.

Fighting the rabbits with science

AMEB Licentiate [Rabbit] [picture] / Lindsay G. Cumming.
Lindsay G Cumming 1894-1979, photographer.

In 1950 the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) released the myxomatosis virus into the Murray Valley as part of its ongoing attempt to eliminate rabbits.

Certificate in School Music Teaching

Post War AU Certificate in School Music Syllabus ' extract from the 1942 Manual

Notification that the Certificate in School Music Teaching was to be abolished after 1953. The previous two years had seen discussion regarding the viability of this particular syllabus and whether it should be modified or abandoned. This syllabus had been offered since 1942 and required the candidate to perform three works in either pianoforte or singing; obtain either a credit in AMEB Grade Three theory or a pass in a higher grade; to perform several tasks in practical harmony; to pass several items in musical perception as well as history and general knowledge and sight reading and lastly, to satisfy the examiners that there is a good knowledge of how to teach class singing including questions on voice production and breathing.

Television is introduced to Australia

Post War AU [Will Alma before Herald-Sun television, Showgrounds, Melbourne, 1953]
Image Bk.15/No.619

A formal announcement was made by the government in 1954 for the introduction of a two-tiered television system into Australia. A government-funded service would be run by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and two commercial services would broadcast from Sydney and Melbourne. By September 1956 mainstream television was launched in Sydney with Nine Network station TCN-9-Sydney. This new medium was introduced by Bruce Gyngell with the words: 'Good evening, and welcome to television'.

Teaching Diplomas


1952 saw the establishment of a syllabus for an Associate teaching diploma in piano, violin and singing. The candidate was examined in both written and practical subjects including harmony and rudiments, how to teach areas specific to their instrument and the general principles of teaching. The practical area included performing technical work as well as three works in which they would demonstrate how to teach such works to their students. A viva voce, aural and sight-reading tests were also part of the examination.

Olympic Games

1946 to 1956
gradebook ameb updated 1940 [Photographs documenting events and competitors of the XVI Olympic Games, Melbourne, 1956] [picture]

Australia hosted its first Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.


Violin Grade Books

AMEB Licentiate By User:Frinck51 [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0
(], from Wikimedia Commons

Publication of the violin grade books were put on hold due to a perceived weakness in the education of stringed instruments throughout the country which led to the appointment of a committee to discuss the matter.

Social and economic transformation

AMEB Licentiate

During the 1960s Australia was transformed socially and economically. Established rules and restrictive morals were challenged as the children of the post-war era matured and became disillusioned by what they perceived to be the shallowness and materialism of contemporary society. Towards the end of the decade, many adopted an alternative hippie lifestyle.

AMEB on ABC Television

AMEB Licentiate

Negotiations with the ABC resulted in an agreement to instigate a series of television programs entitled "Introduction to Music", the financial arrangements being split between the two organisations. The lecturers were to be chosen by the Board and there was to be eleven lectures in the first series. One episode of this series has recently been found in the archives of the ABC and excerpts will be shared on our website.

Vietnam War

AMEB Licentiate Troops of 1st Australian armored regiment in front of Australian centurion tank receive briefing at Vung Tau.
Starry, Donn A. Mounted combat in Vietnam. Department of the army.

War broke out between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam in 1959. By 1964 Australia sent thousands of troops to Vietnam in an effort to stop the spread of Communism. In total, around 50,000 Australians served in the conflict between 1965 and 1972. Many of them were conscripted, which meant their military service was compulsory. Australians became divided over the issue of conscription and whether or not Australia should be involved in the war. Towards the end of the decade, thousands of people demonstrated against the government and some protests became violent.

Speech and Drama


1965 saw the implementation of the Speech and Drama Authority, a committee established to advise the Board on matters relevant to the speech and drama syllabuses.

Harold Holt disappears at Chevoit Beach

Post War AU By Australian News and Information Bureau, via National Archives of Australia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robert Menzies served as Australia's Prime Minister throughout the 1960s, until his retirement in January 1966. He was replaced by Harold Holt, who faced the challenge of defending Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. Holt went swimming on 17 December 1967 at Cheviot Beach in Victoria. He was never seen again and two days later was officially presumed dead. His remains have never been found.

Syllabus additions and revisions

gradebook ameb updated 1940 By Ludek at cs.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Citation: Crews, R. (2018). A Centenary celebration. 1st ed. Melbourne: Australian Music Examinations Board Ltd., p.44.

Introduction of the Solo Recorder syllabus and the revised Instrumental Ensemble syllabus. Recorded was popular in the school music setting and could be examined in a group or class situation. As such it was viewed as an important group activity the ‘values in facilitating music reading and widely acknowledged [for] stimulating appreciation.’ (Crews, 2018)

The Beatles tour Australia

gradebook ameb updated 1940

In 1964, at the height of Beatlemania, the Beatles toured Australia. In Adelaide it was estimated that 300,000 people (a third of the population of the city) lined the streets to see them.

‘AMEB in New Zealand’


A suggestion to extend AMEB activities to New Zealand was discussed by the Board. It was felt this could result in mutual benefit to music education in both countries. It wasn’t until later in the century that examining took place across the Tasman sea.

Peter Sculthorpe

gradebook ameb updated 1940 © Bridget Elliot 2008. All rights reserved.

1965 was the year we first heard Peter Sculthorpe’s Sun Music 1. Sculthorpe who died in 2014 was one of Australia’s most prolific and well-known composers taking influence from Australian Indigenous cultures and the Australian landscape.

New Syllabuses

gradebook ameb updated 1940

Approval was given in principle for new syllabuses for Theory grades 1 to 3; Musicianship grades 4 to 8; Musical Perception grades 2 and 3; and Aural tests for preliminary to grade 8. An Associate Diploma for Bandmastership was introduced in 1969 and included prerequisites of a pass in Sixth Grade Musicianship or Theory and Sixth Grade Practice on any brass or wind instrument.

Iconic poet dies

gradebook ameb updated 1940 Public Domain,

On January 14th, 1968 the Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar died. She is best known for her poem My Country which features the iconic line “I love a sunburnt country….”


New Musicianship Syllabus

By User:Frinck51 [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0
(], from Wikimedia Commons

This year saw the introduction of a new Musicianship syllabus for grades 1 to 8. Initially called the "Alternative Theory Syllabus [Musicianship]" it could be used as an alternative to the then Music Theory syllabus. The states that first introduced the Musicianship syllabus were NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. Victoria and Western Australia adopted the new syllabus in 1975.

Creation of the Aboriginal Flag

In 1971 Harold Joseph Thomas, a Lurutja man, designed the Australian Aboriginal flag. The flag was designed as a symbol of the Indigenous land rights movement and was officially made a flag of Australia in 1995.The elements of the flag, the yellow, red and black represent the Sun, the Earth and Aboriginal peoples.

AMEB purchases a typewriter!

IBM Electronic Composer Typewriter. From the Centuria expo in Quito, Ecuador. Typewriter property of "El Comercio".

Whilst it might seem amusing in today's high-tech environment, the decision to purchase an IBM electric typewriter was considered to be an asset to the federal office and could be used to prepare examination papers.

Australian National Anthem

Peter Dodds McCormick -

1974 Advance Australia Fair replaced God Save the Queen as the Australian National Anthem. In 1976 the Fraser Government reinstated God Save the Queen but in 1977 a poll showed voters preferred Advance Australia Fair so the swap was again made.

Aural test recordings


A decision was taken to record the musicianship aural tests on instruments other than piano, in particular, using strings and woodwind. It was considered that such a move would make the tests more effective, particularly the sections on rhythmic dictation. From originally recording the tests on LP record, the technology moved to cassettes and then to compact discs.

Countdown launches on ABC television

Village People perform a medley of their hits (1979), Countdown Australia, ABC

The popular ABC music program Countdown, hosted by Molly Meldrum, was launched in November 1974. This much-loved program ran for 13 years and featured live performances and interviews with hundreds of artists including the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, INXS, Marcia Hines, Olivia Newton-John, AC/DC, Elton John, Village People, Kate Bush and Peter Allen.

The first AMEB exam in New Zealand

gradebook ameb updated 1940

In 1979 the first AMEB exams in musicianship were held in New Zealand. A request from New Zealand led to negotiations to offer practical examinations in that country with a proposed trial period over the next two years. The successful trial resulted in a substantial amount of examining in both the North and South Islands until the AMEB ceased international operations in 2005 and New Zealand set up its own examinations board.

Medibank launched

In July of 1975 a new scheme of medical and hospital benefits called Medibank came into operation. This allowed Australians to access free health care.

Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge opens

Thad Roan from Littleton, CO, USA, - West Gate Bridge, Melbourne

November 1978 – The West Gate Bridge built over the Yarra River and Port Melbourne was opened. It was the second largest single span bridge in Australia. Its construction was marred by the collapse of a 120m section of the half built bridge in 1970.

Come back and visit this page each month as we add another decade to the timeline.