The Boys’ Brigade originated in Glasgow, as a movement to provide shelter and activities for boys who were living rough. It began with an imperial and Protestant flavour which faded with time but was still perceptible in the 1930s.
The movement spread to Australia, and in 1925 the Governor-General opened the three-storey Pyrmont Boys’ Brigade building. Pyrmont had been selected by the patrons of the movement – including Rotary and the Fairfax and Knox families – for its manifest poverty and lack of social facilities. The Brigade made a strong appeal to the philanthropy of well-to-do citizens, who financed the building and organised and sustained the Christmas parties.
The building contained a gymnasium, games rooms, reading rooms, a library and a social hall with a piano and cinematograph. Indoor cricket could be played in the evenings. It was closed in 1972 and demolished, to make way for a motorway. The Brigade had no continuing physical presence in Pyrmont. Its relevance had also declined: many families had moved away from Pyrmont, and television was one of many counter-attractions.
In the 1950s and 1960s about half of Boys’ Brigade kids in Sydney were migrants. More recently the movement became the Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade.