Eisteddfods originally were gatherings of bards and minstrels in Wales. They were the first form of musical competition in Australia, beginning in Ballarat in 1855. Eisteddfods allow amateurs to perform publicly, enhancing standards through constructive criticism by qualified adjudicators, as well as encouraging musical patronage in the community. Fields of endeavour include vocal, choral, instrumental, band instrumental, dance, speech and drama.
The Rev Henry Jones, a Welsh Presbyterian clergyman, was the driving force behind the Launceston Competitions Association in 1902. Aiming 'to education, elevate and entertain', the first Tasmanian eisteddfod drew a good response from audiences and performers. The only prize, ten guineas for the Grand Choral Contest, resulted in a tie between St John's Church, Launceston and a Hobart choir conducted by Lucy Benson. Except for the depression year of 1935, competitions have since flourished.
Annual eisteddfods have been held in Devonport since 1921, apart from a wartime recess. In common with other eisteddfods, the experience has encouraged many talented amateurs to establish successful careers. The potential of the Rosny Children's Choir, for example, was noted at the 1968 Eisteddfod by the Sydney adjudicator.
The Hobart City Eisteddfod has been held annually since 1951, and offers $1000 prizes for open aria, piano recital and instrumental recital. Initially part of the Derwent Festival, a Clarence eisteddfod has been held since 1962. Burnie's eisteddfods commenced in 1968. The Rock Eisteddfod Challenge for high-school students has been staged in Tasmania since 1991. Promoted as a drug and alcohol prevention vehicle, participation boosts self-esteem and competence, and facilitates bonding at the team, school and community level.
Further reading: W Bebbington (ed), The Oxford companion to Australian music, Melbourne, 1997; Devonport Eisteddfod Society, 'Official guide, 2002', Devonport Times, 4 April 2001; B Harris, The Burnie Eisteddfod society, 1968–1988, Burnie, 1988; P Webb, A century of the competitions, Launceston, 2002.