ISSUE 19 - MAY 2006

- Making Connections in Folklore -

Australian Folklore Network
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Curtin University of Technology


From the Convenor
National Australian Folklore Conference, Easter 2006
Digitisation of D.K. Wilgus Folksong Collection
WA Folklife Project 2005
Folklore and the Cronulla Riots
Gallipoli 2015
Review of Singing Australian by Graeme Smith
Australian Folklore Association
Oral History Conference
Recent Books and CDs
Verandah Music Special
AFN Affiliates


Transmissions19 brings news of conferences, past and future, reviews and notices of new publications and productions and recent fieldwork projects. The Grammy Foundation in the USA has recently made a substantial grant towards digitisation of the important D K Wilgus collection, an initiative that might suggest possibilities for funding of Australian activities from the entertainment industry? The details of the project, including the technical, have been left in for the interest of the technologically inclined among our readers.Also included is an extract from a student project on applied folklore in relation to the Cronulla riots and notice of the Gallipoli 2015 research program, which includes a substantial folklore component.And don’t pass up the chance to purchase a copy of Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition at a very special price to AFN subscribers. Details below.I hope you find this Transmissions of interest and please send in any relevant items for publication in the next edition.Graham Seal



A second well-attended conference convened by the AFN, the National Library and the National Folk Festival, was held on April 13. Speakers were Alex Hood, Ann Young, Lyn Costigan, Karl Neuenfeldt and Nigel Pegrum, Graeme Smith, Chloe & Jason Roweth, Bruce Simpson and Bill Gammage, Ruth Hazleton, Ron Edwards, Jennifer Gall and Dave DeHugard. Topics covered included recording and interpreting collected traditional music, dance traditions, publishing, the transmission of traditional music, oral history of droving, interpreting the songs of Carrie Milliner, the folk music revival, performing folklore and combining industrial soundscapes, music and oral histories in multimedia forms. Jennifer Gall also presented a paper by Edgar Waters in absentia on the possibility of using new technology for on online encyclopaedia of Australian folklore.Rob Willis and friends presented a concert of traditional music from the Nulla Nulla Creek (NSW) region during the lunch break.The conference also made a good introduction to the National Folk Festival and its many offerings of traditional performance and craft. This year included an expanded version of the Nulla Nulla concert, featuring Nulla fiddler Vaughan Kyle, and an extremely well received presentation of Queensland traditions, that state being this year’s featured state. Both these events were organised by Rob Willis. Lyn Costigan, Karl Neuenfeldt and Nigel Pegrum presented a full multi-media presentation of the Sweet Sounds of a Sugar Town project (see New CDs) featuring percussion by Dane Costigan. Most other presenters at the conference also appeared at the festival in a variety of capacities.Another conference is planned for 2007.



The Ethnomusicology Archive has been awarded a $40,000 grant by the GRAMMY Foundation to digitize and make accessible 1,000 unique recordings from the D.K. Wilgus Folksong Collection. The project--known as the Wilgus Access and Preservation Project (WAPP)--is the second Archive preservation project funded by the GRAMMY Foundation since 2002.                        

D.K. Wilgus was a giant in the field of folklore studies. He was a folksong scholar and renowned authority on "race" records, and "hillbilly" music. At the time of his death in 1991 he had authored over 250 works and edited several journals.                       

Wilgus was also an indefatigable fieldworker and folksong collector. In 1965, while establishing the UCLA Folklore and Mythology Program with Wayland Hand, Wilgus founded the Archives of Folklore and Mythology. This archive included materials documenting belief, medicine, dance, and folk music. When the Program and Archives were disbanded in 2002, more than 10,000 sound recordings and folk music related materials were transferred to the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.                        

The Wilgus Collection consists of 8,000 commercially recorded albums, 2,800 field-recorded tapes, and some 20 linear feet of supporting manuscripts.  With WAPP we will preserve and increase access to a selection of the most valuable tapes in the Collection. WAPP we have selected the following 1,000 field recordings for digitization:                        

381 reels from Wilgus’s Archive of California and Western Folklore (ACWF). At 1,754 reels, ACWF is the largest part of the Wilgus Collection and covers such diverse topics as music, beliefs, medicine, jokes, and tales. The 381 ACWF field recordings selected for WAPP document folk musics in America, including Filipino gospel in Santa Monica, Irish mining songs from Montana, Portuguese music in San Diego, Creole music in Louisiana, Chicano music, Dutch music in Los Angeles, Yiddish music, Japanese-American songs in West Los Angeles, California cowboy songs, and more.

234 reels documenting UCLA Folk Festivals. Recorded at UCLA in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1978 and 1979. Original performances by Sam Hinton, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley; Kenny Whitson, Wellman Braud, Mike Seeger, Rodney Balfa, Dewey Balfa; Mark Savoy, Alle Young, Patty Hall, Rose Maddox, Sally O’Connor, Jimmie Driftwood, Ollie Gilbert, Son House, The Triumphs, and others.

182 reels deposited by Wilgus student David Evans. Performers include Rev. Rubin Lacy, Babe Stovall, Herb Quinn, Roosevelt Holts, Sally Dotson, Robert Pete Williams, Henry R. Crossley, Myrt Holmes, and others. 

165 reels from Wilgus’s Western Kentucky Folklore Archive. Collected by Wilgus while at Western Kentucky University in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Contains recordings by Doc Hopkins and scores of lesser-known Appalachian musicians.

17 reels deposited by Wilgus student and Testament Records founder Peter Welding. Includes live recordings of the Blue Sky Boys, Bill Bolick, Earl Bolick, Fred McDowell, Billie and Dee Dee Pierce, Jimmie Tarlton, and others.

13 reels of live performances by finger-picking songster Mance Libcomb. Recorded by Wilgus students Birnbaum and Iwakiin in 1966 in Novasota, Texas.

8 reels collected in 1966 by Wilgus student John Fahey.  Includes recordings by fiddling great Tony Thomas.                                    

As is the case with all our collections, the Archive physically owns the Wilgus Collection but does not own the rights to most materials (e.g. copyright, performance rights, publishing rights, etc). Therefore, we will not publish or allow personal dubbing of the material without express written permission from copyright holders.  Fortunately section 108 of U.S. Copyright Law gives us the right to make preservation and access copies, and make these materials available for research.                       

The WAPP recordings contain a constellation of sounds. Though they are a diverse lot, they do have one thing in common: all are in need of preservation. Some reels have faired better than others, but all show the inevitable effects of time: cupping, edge fluttering, binder disintegration, print-through, and sticky shed syndrome.                        

The WAPP plan of work has two goals: to 1) preserve the recordings in a manner that meets current archival standards and 2) greatly increase access to the recordings. Our methodology is built on internationally accepted practices and the Archive’s eight years of digitization experience (e.g., an NEH preservation grant, a GRAMMY preservation grant, and recent preservation efforts).                        

July 2006 to June 2008 We estimate it takes three times the length of a recording to digitize and provide access to it. Therefore, it will take approximately 3,000 hours to digitize 1,000 recordings. If we commit 34 hours per week over the course of 88 weeks (roughly two years) we will preserve and provide access to the materials.                        

May 2006 – July 2006 Before the grant begins, Archive staff will page back the 1,000 WAPP recordings from the Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF). Since a detailed finding aid for the entire Collection already exists, Archive staff will double-check the accuracy of the documentation and the tapes for wear and deterioration: those media that show the highest degree of deterioration will be given priority in the digitization process. Tape players will also be reconditioned at this stage.                          

Reformatting and Processing:
July 2006– May 2008 WAPP reels will be played back on reconditioned Nagra tape players and digitally reformatted into 24bit/96kHz Broadcast Wav Format (BWF) preservation files via two existing reformatting stations in the Archive: a G4 iMac with an Apogee Mini-Me A/D converter and a Dell PC with another Mini-Me A/D converter. We will capture the analog recording in as “flat” a manner as possible (i.e. we will not equalize or apply noise reduction filters during capture), while monitoring recording levels and quality. Metadata about the newly created digital assets will be included in the BWF files and access MPEG-4 files, and made available on our website and through an EAD finding aid.  The EAD finding aid will be available through the Online Archive of California (OAC) and linked to our website. After digitizing a reel, BWF preservation files and MPEG-4 access files will be stored onto separate preservation sets of Mitsui data CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. These preservation media will be stored along with the analog tapes at the SRLF and will be checked using error detection software.                        

October 2006 – June 2008 Throughout the grant, MPEG-4 files will be uploaded to the Archive’s server. These files will then be accessed via computers in the Archive. If the server or hard drives fail, preservation CDs will be used to reinstall content. Detailed information about the recordings and the Collection will be made freely available on our catalog­ethnomusicat ­and the OAC.                       

Beyond 2008 Throughout WAPP the Archive will work with the UCLA Digital Library in making all MPEG-4 files available online via their website. We plan to use their online Frontera collection as our model for such access. Frontera is an elegant online solution to access which operates within the realm of “fair use” by offering non-downloadable, streaming files and 50-second samples to off-campus patrons. Full-length files can heard via computers on the UCLA campus or by off-campus patrons through special arrangement with the Digital Library. As a part of this collaboration, all WAPP BWF and MPEF-4 files will be backed up on the Digital Library server arrays and data tape.  These files will be linked to our OAC finding aids. This will increase access to the materials and assure that BWF and MPEG-4 files will be preserved by state-of-the-art technologies developed by OAC’s parent organization, the California Digital Library.                       

To learn more about WAPP please contact John Vallier:



The Western Australian Folklore Project was initiated in 2004 as a partnership between the National Library of Australia, the Australian Folklore Network and the Australian Folklore Research Unit at Curtin University of Technology. Funding and recording equipment is supplied by the NLA, with the AFN and the AFRU providing background, contacts, general facilitation and hosting.

The first phase of the project led to the documenting of Ukrainian, Swiss and indigenous traditions in Perth, Fremantle, s-w WA and the Pilbara. The now-retired country music pioneer performers, Rick and Thel Carey were also recorded during this trip. The second phase of this project took place over two weeks in October-November, 2005. Rob and Olya Willis were funded by the National Library of Australia to gather further WA folklore materials for deposit in the Oral History and Folklore Collection at the NLA and also into the WA Folklore Archive at Curtin University.

This time the fieldwork was divided into two equal halves. The fieldworkers spent a week recording the musical, food, religious and handcraft traditions of the Perth Greek community. Dr John Yiannakis, Research Associate in the Australia Research Institute facilitated most of the contacts for this phase of the project, working through the Australian Folklore Research Unit, also part of the Australia Research Institute. Interest in this aspect of the work has already been expressed by the Centre for Hellenic Folklore at the Academy of Athens.

The other week involved documenting the life histories and traditions of timber workers and their families as well as bush railways, with a particular emphasis on the now-sunken timber town of Banksiadale. As well as reminiscences, stories and other traditions, this aspect of the project also tuned up substantial manuscript and photographic materials. The results of these activities will be a valuable input into an ARC Linkage application currently under development through the Australian Regional Research Unit in ARI.

Once again, the skill and dedication of the fieldworkers produced a substantial body of collected material that would otherwise remain undocumented. In addition, all those interviewed and the communities to which they belong have all expressed their enjoyment of the experience and their appreciation at having their cultural traditions acknowledged and recorded by such institutions as the NLA and Curtin University.

During the fieldworkers’ visit discussions were also held between the Fairbridge Festival, and the multicultural arts organisation, KULCHA, with a view to developing a series of concerts based on the collected traditions and their bearers. These would take place at the KULCHA performance venue in Fremantle and also at the 2006 Fairbridge Music Festival. Funding sources for these possibilities are being investigated.

Overall, fourteen extended interviews were conducted, together with the documenting of a Greek social function. These have been copied, indexed and illustrated for housing at the NLA and the WA Folklore Archive.A number of possible leads for a further fieldwork phase in 2006 were revealed, including further work on timber and the traditions of the Greek and Croatian communities.



The following article is a slightly edited abstract of Lee-Anne Abdo’s project for the Applied Folklore unit of the Graduate Diploma in Australian Folklife. It demonstrates the value of a folkloric perspective in understanding the causes of communal conflict. (NB: some quotations include language that may be offensive).…

There are many examples from around the world of community tensions surrounding calendar/periodic customs. A brief Internet search of the terms ‘Christmas+Community+Tensions’ revealed a number of examples of conflict. For example AsiaNews_it reported that a Catholic school in Indonesia, 2004, required special protection from the government around Easter and Christmas over the past few years, due to violence and threats from the Muslim majority in the village. The news site also contained articles about similar tensions in Thailand and Pakistan. The Middle East, India and Pakistan etc. offer many unfortunate examples of terrorist attacks that have been timed to coincide with events on the Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist religious calendars, in order to inflict maximum injury and insult. Many countries have tensions related to other periodic customs, such as sport and hunting traditions. In England, the annual fox hunting season resulted in perennial clashes between the hunters and protesters. In Scotland, the football season brings clashes between Celtic fans and Ranger fans, particularly on the streets of Glasgow after a game. The Celtic supporters often wear green and align themselves with Catholicism and Ireland, while the Rangers wear red and blue and identify with protestant beliefs. Periodic clashes are common in many countries, from the most to the least developed.

In comparison to other nations, Australia appears to have been relatively free from calendar related/ periodic conflicts. At most, there appears to have been some debate in the community about the appropriateness of basing most of our public holidays around the Christian calendar (Seal, G. Applied Folklore Study Guide, Chapter 5, 2006) There are arguments for and against the incorporation of non-Christian religious days into the public holiday calendar, as well as arguments about whether public holidays should have a religious basis at all.

At this stage, most of the tensions surrounding calendar customs in Australia have been limited to discussions and airing of opinions. However, the recent unrest at Cronulla in New South Wales during December 2005, shows that Australia is not immune to violent community clashes, and although the Cronulla riots appear to have been an isolated expression of tension, an understanding of Australian folklore leads to suspicions that similar tensions may erupt into violence during future summer holidays, at Cronulla and possibly around the nation. In response to the riots, The Weekend Australian published an article with the by-line “Tensions that boiled over into rioting at a popular Sydney beach last Sunday have been simmering for years” (“Countdown to Conflict”, Caroline Overington and Drew Warne Smith, p17, December 17018, 2005)

According to Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, the occurrence of the riots can be attributed to local, state, national and international causes. Of the causes, only a few are not shared by a host of other Australian communities. One factor not shared by all communities is that Cronulla is located in a very homogenous shire, with a lot of bonding within the shire, but little bridging between the shire and the vastly more heterogeneous communities to its west. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins comments that “Often altruism within a group goes with selfishness between groups” (p10, 1976)  Another factor not shared by all communities is that the New South Wales police describe suspects in  more specific racial categories than police in other states. The remainder of the factors identified as causes of the riots by the Commissioner apply to many communities in Australia, and could therefore cause conflict to flare in many other areas of the nation. First, there is the “primordial” nature of conflict between young men over territory; second, international terrorism highlighting violence from Muslim extremists such as September 11 and the London, Spain and Bali Bombings; third, a lack of community and political leadership about the rights and responsibilities of multiculturalism; fourth, lack of education about Arab and Muslim culture; fifth, biased and erroneous reporting by some media; sixth, inadequate police procedures for dealing with discrimination. Tom Calma believes that these factors have the potential to create an environment where conflicts at a local level escalate to “intense and large scale racial conflict between middle Eastern and non middle Eastern people”, bringing Australia into ‘international disrepute” (Calma, T. Responding to Cronulla: Rethinking Multiculturalism, HREOC Website Speeches.htm)

In his speech the Commissioner did not discuss the timing of the riots at Cronulla. An understanding of Australian folklife leads to possible explanations for why the riots occurred at that particular time in the year, rather than during another season or holiday period.

The following features of folklife provide the basis for suspecting that the unrest may reoccur each summer, at Cronulla or other similar communities, unless steps are taken to address the issues identified by Tom Calma.  Firstly, December is traditionally time for taking holidays in Australia, allowing young men the opportunity to gather in large groups, free from the institutionalised rules and structure of work and education. The riots at Cronulla involved up to 5000 people – this was only possible because many of the participants would not have been planning to have to work that Sunday, or attend work on Monday, and were therefore able to respond to the SMS phone message that read:

“This Sunday every Fucking Aussie in the shire, get down to North Cronulla to help support Leb and wog bashing day...

Bring your mates down and let’s show them this is our beach and they’re never welcome back.”(Four Corners Transcript)

Many in the mob had been drinking heavily, another customary holiday pastime amongst young Australian men. The prevalence of drunkenness added to the intensity of the mob’s behaviour.

A second reason for suspecting that December may become a period of unrest is because the warm weather at that time of year is associated with trips to the relatively unregulated arena of the beach, where space is not demarcated by the official boundaries of roads, private residences etc. There are very hazy lines between different sections of many beaches in Australia.

Often the areas with swell are dominated by young men, the calmer water attracts young families or older swimmers, the shower/seating/grassed areas are often used by non-local people, who have travelled a distance to get to the beach. For generations beaches have been places rich in folklife. It stands to reason that an unregulated and unofficial event such as a “Leb and wog bashing day” for “Aussies” would most likely occur at the beach.  Additionally, the timing of the “day” was related to an incident from the previous summer:

Three volunteer lifesavers were leaving the beach, having finished their patrol. They were not in uniform. There was a verbal altercation with a group of what the locals call Lebs, with provocative insults from both sides. The lifesavers were bashed. .”(Four Corners Transcript)

Police were also called to the beach on a long weekend in October 2004 to deal with conflict between “Arab boys and young male surfers clad in Celtic tattoos and board shorts.” (“Countdown to Conflict”, Caroline Overington and Drew Warne Smith, p17, December 17018, 2005)..

It is worth considering the role that religious calendar customs may have played in the Cronulla conflicts. The December holidays are centred on the Christian calendar. For the past 3 years it appears that the major Islamic calendar date of Ramadan conclusion has occurred around the beginning and end of November ( Apart from a one each Jewish, Pagan Buddhist dates, the month of December is dominated by major Christian days, particularly 25th marking the birth of Jesus. Although the December holidays are linked to Christianity, this is not of great importance to a large number of Australians, who do not attend church services or acknowledge the religious basis for the holidays. Instead, the warm summer weather and associated beach, sport, shopping, camping and social drinking activities predominate. The group conflicts at Cronulla were therefore not fuelled by deep seated religious beliefs, but rather by the secular summer customs of excess leisure time, socialising, drinking and beachgoing.

Hugh Jansen’s concept of esoteric and exoteric folklore factors provides a useful framework for viewing conflict between groups. Exoteric folklore is “what one group thinks of another and what it thinks that other group thinks it thinks” and esoteric folklore is “what one group thinks of itself and what it supposes others think of it” (Dundes, The Study of Folklore, p46, 1965). In the context of the Cronulla conflict, the rioting “Aussies” esoteric folklore appears to be that the beach is a place for surfing, sun tanning and swimming and that other Australians believe that this is the proper role of the beach. Their exoteric folklore is that people of Middle Eastern appearance are fast-breeding, Muslim and from Lebanon, without respect for Australia or women and that the “Lebs” think that ‘Aussies” are inferior and immoral. The esoteric folklore of the “Lebs” is apparently that the beach is also accepted as a place for mainly males to meet for soccer and showing off cars. Their exoteric folklore appears to be that the “Aussies” are uncouth and weak people who regard them as foreigners and religious fanatics. Many of the racist and prejudicial beliefs held by both groups will require a substantial period of time to modify. However, some of groups’ seasonal customs can be modified in the short term in order to avoid future conflicts. For example, each summer the local councils can provide clear areas at the beach for soccer and better patrol areas for unsociable behaviour from locals and visitors. In this way, an understanding of calendar customs will help to diffuse community tensions… .




Incidence and Aftermath
Australian Studies Centre
Division of Humanities
Curtin University of Technology

Gallipoli 2015 is a multi-faceted array of national, international and regional research projects focussed on the cultural responses to and from this particular historical incident, as well as the subsequent cultural consequences and representations of that event.

The Gallipoli 2015 research agenda involves individual researchers, groups, networks and institutions in regional, national and international collaborations. These partnerships are designed to produce a number of scholarly, educational and community outcomes over the period 2005-2015, illuminating the many and varied dimensions of Gallipoli and its long aftermath.

This research agenda is posited on the multiple international, national and regional significances of an event that took place in a defined geographic area and in a period of barely eight months between April 25, 1915 and Christmas the same year.

In addition to its immediate impact and outcomes, Gallipoli has had continuing consequences in many parts of the world. For Australia, Gallipoli was the pivotal experience in the establishment of national identity, the iconic figure of the digger and the Anzac legend.

For many other participant nations, especially Turkey and New Zealand, Gallipoli also had immediate and far-reaching outcomes and impacts in relation to nation building, national, regional and local identity, cultural production and various forms of memorialisation and mythologisation. Other nations and groups present at Gallipoli have also continued to be affected by the experience, including Britain, Canada, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), France, Palestine and Germany.

Gallipoli was, and continues to be, an event of profound international significance, generating a continuing and varied outpouring of cultural expressions. The event itself produced verse, song, art, diaries, letters, trench newspapers, photographs, folklore and story. The long aftermath of Gallipoli has included novels, drama, poetry, memoir, histories, films, television fictions and documentaries, memorials, commemorations, oral histories, museology and tourism.

Gallipoli 2015 brings together researchers from many fields and disciplines in the production of a large and significant array of scholarly, educational and community outcomes.

Many of the projects that make up Gallipoli 2015 are collaborative enterprises with other researchers and units within Curtin University, including the Australian Regional Research Unit and the Australian Folklore Research Unit. Many also involve partners external to the University, including the Australia Research Council, the RSL (WA) and the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of WA, together with a variety of industry and community networks and associations.

As Gallipoli 2015 proceeds, we expect new research themes and interests to emerge and develop. At this initial stage our main interests are:

The Gallipoli 2015 research agenda is facilitated through the Australian Studies Centre within the Australia Research Institute, Division of Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia. It provides the Centre’s primary research focus, complementing its teaching, publishing and other research activities.

We invite interested researchers to contact us with suggestion for related research projects and activities. We would also like to hear from educators, community organisations, industry groups and government representatives with an interest in our research agenda.Graham Seal  International: +61 8 9266 3234  National: 08 9266 3234


Singing Australian: A History of Folk and Country Music.

By Graeme Smith. Melbourne: Pluto Press, 2005. Pp. 249. $35.95 paper.

Singing Australian is the product of Graeme Smith’s extensive and intensive research into various forms of popular music making and the cultural and political contexts in which these forms have originated, developed and, increasingly, interacted. It is not a roll call of performers, though some are obviously referred to in passing and a few are analysed in more detail. Nor, despite the title, is it strictly a ‘history’ and nor does it restrict itself to folk and country music. It is a broader study of the politics—external and internal—the ideologies and the environing contexts of these forms, as well as their relationship to other musical forms, including multicultural and the problematic field of ‘world music’. As a musician and participant in some of the movements and influences discussed in the book, Smith brings an additional perspective, particularly to those parts of the work that deal with the folk revival in Australia. His musicological approach also provides some useful thumbnail analyses of the music and its performances.

In discussing the development of folk music, Smith points out the constructed nature of the genre and its many sub-genres, at least in the forms and contexts in which they have been pursued through the folk revival. He opens with a standard romanticised description of shearers making music in the nineteenth century bush and asks if this is ‘A typical scene from nineteenth-century rural Australia, or a figment of our modern imagination?’ His answer echoes the balance he brings to his subject throughout the book: ‘perhaps a little of both’. He does not set out to make a study of traditional music-making itself, ‘but how and why in the twentieth century such a music was discovered and interpreted’. He goes on to ask ‘How, then, did it form the basis for a folk movement within which participants have worked through many-sided debates on their society, their nation and their identity?’ Such questions of ideology, identity and nation are central themes of Singing Australian.

Smith provides excellent background to the foundations, foibles and frequent fantasies that have motivated the various folk revivals of Australia, Britain and America. The Australian revival was strongly rooted in the left-wing politics of the cold war and many, if not most of its proponents were members of or sympathisers with the Australian Communist Party. They saw folk music as the authentic voice of the people and as an essential grassroots bulwark against the consumer capitalist inroads of American popular music, which was seen to be destroying authentic Australian culture. This politic is one of the enduring differences between the folk revival and the country music movement and one that is only now beginning to show some signs of fading.

A criticism of this section of the book is that it overlooks the importance of the state Folk Federations as practically the only functioning organisational entities in the Australian revival. It was the Federations and the equivalent Victorian Folk Dance & Song Society, through the now defunct national umbrella organisation, the Australian Folk Trust that coordinated the National Folk Festival over the decades it circulated from state to state each year and before it became permanently located in Canberra in the 1990s. This oversight leads the author to mistakenly claim that the AFT ‘staged’ the National Folk Festivals whereas they (and state folk festivals, such as that of Queensland from which the Woodford Folk Festival developed) were actually mounted by state committees largely, or even totally, made up of members of the respective Federations. This situation was itself the cause of ongoing conflict within and between the various state Federations and contributed to the even more fraught politics between the AFT and the Australia Council, to which Smith does give useful attention. A full history of the Australian folk revival would need to give a good deal of space to the roles of these idiosyncratic but generally effective grassroots organisations.

Other issues that might be controversial are the apparent Melbourne-centric emphasis of the book. This leads Smith to overlook the importance of British migrants forming folk clubs in Sydney pubs and to largely pass over the important contributions of Pact Folk and the Sydney-based Larrikin Records. There is also relatively little on WA, NT and SA, each of which has evolved distinctive regional variations of the folk revival. This is perhaps unavoidable as the usually fragmented and obscure origins of the folk revival mean that what few and partial sources survive are scattered and, in some cases at least, relatively inaccessible, making it difficult for researchers to obtain information. Overall, though, Smith provides the most detailed and knowledgeable analysis yet on the Australian folk revival and it is likely to remain the standard account for a long time.

The book goes on to take a briefer but useful look at country music, providing a chronological overview of its development and an analysis of some influential performers, including John Williamson, Lee Kerneghan, Troy Cassar-Daley and Kasey Chambers. Smith provides a compelling analysis of Chambers’ singing style that convincingly explains her amazing commercial success in Australia and the USA. Apart from these discussions there is little that has not been covered by others in the role of country music, though Smith returns to the genre in his valuable discussions of multicultural music and the relationship between folk, country, rock (mainly in its more folkish forms, such as Paul Kelly) and the latest marketing strategy of the global music industry known as ‘world music’.

In this discussion such matters as accent (American or Australian) and political orientation are addressed and shown to form the fault lines between the folk and country movements. Smith highlights the ironies and contradictions here, with both folk and country exponents claiming a monopoly on being ‘true blue’. Such crude but powerful forms of nationalism that can express themselves, at the extreme, in such apparent trivialities as preferring instruments made of Australian timbers over those made elsewhere, especially in the USA. Similar matters are expressed in different ways for multicultural musicians, for whom the problems and politics of identity centre on ethnicity and cultural maintenance within a dominant Anglo-Celtic culture.

The book concludes with a discussion of the main themes addressed, the ideologies of the musical scenes discussed, including those of Indigenous performers, and the relationship of these to notions of nation. Using Benedict Anderson’s influential formulation of ‘imagined communities’, Smith persuasively argues that the movements all see themselves, accurately or not, as different to and in some cases against the consumer music industry, preferring various notions of ‘community’ to those of celebrity and profit. ‘Folk’ is obviously the most value-laden of these terms and movements, but it also applies to the others discussed, with the possible exception of world music, which is at least as much a fabrication as folk, country, or any other category - an argument I expect Smith would probably agree with.

The author ends with the accurate observation that it is now commonplace for artists from all the scenes discussed to appear together in various forms of ‘crossover’ performances. He says ‘This does not mean that the distinctions between the genres are disappearing into some sort of carnivalesque celebration of diversity, anymore than that the political and social conflicts of Australia can be resolved by putting Kev Carmody on at Tamworth, or Chad Morgan at WOMADelaide. It does show, though, the special contribution these musical scenes can make’. Despite their differences and contradictions, Smith writes, ‘we can learn new ways to think and sing Australian’.

This is indeed one of the powerful positives of community music. While these genres are intimately involved with ideological positions, articulated or not, their practitioners are generally only too happy to join with those of other traditions in making music together. Such activities can do more than bucket loads of government policy to assist harmony in our perhaps increasingly fragmented polycultural nation. As many musicians will tell you, whether it’s rock, folk, jazz, classical, blues, ghana or whatever, ‘it’s just music’.

Graeme Smith’s book is not aimed at achieving social outcomes, of course. It is an important scholarly contribution to our understanding of Australian musical culture and its influence on our past, present and future. Chief among its many strengths is its excavation of the usually unspoken assumptions and positions that motivate and inform the various scenes discussed, especially in the ways they attempt to appropriate and deploy particular formulations of what it means to be ‘Australian’. With the other work that has been published in recent years in related areas, such as Clinton Walker’s Buried Country, the research of Karl Neuenfeldt and colleagues on indigenous music, and the work of Philip Hayward and the Centre for Contemporary Music Studies at Macquarie University, among others, we now have a very good idea of the considerable non-commercial and non-elite music-making traditions of Australia. Perhaps an enterprising publisher might see an opportunity here?

Additionally, for those interested in international and cross-cultural comparisons and connections Singing Australian should be read in conjunction with the various works on the British and American folk revivals, most of which are listed in the extensive Bibliography. One useful additional title would be Invisible Republic by Greil Marcus, a study of Dylan’s basement tapes that places them in the context of the American revival and its Thoreauian roots.

Graham Seal

Malcolm Turnbull has a series of current articles in the magazine Trad&Now, though it focuses more on performers.



The AFA was founded to further the study and teaching of folklore in Australia. It publishes the journal Australian Folklore each year and publishes an e-newsletter edited by Mark Moravec. The current issues includes an obituary of recently-deceased folklorist Bill Scott, an article on storytelling, notices of a number of films on folklore and other relevant news and events. If you would like a copy of the newsletter or to find out more about the Association, contact Mark at .



The 14th International Oral History Conference, will be held at the University of Technology Sydney from 12 – 16 July 2006.  It is hosted by the International Oral History Association in collaboration with the Oral History Association of Australia.  Sub-themes include archiving memory, fire and water, island stories, memory and community, places and buildings, pleasures of memory, political pasts, remembering the land, sharing/passing on beliefs, stories in translation, talking to ourselves, teaching and learning.  The Conference languages are English and Spanish. 

The Conference will be preceded by Master Classes with leading international oral historians on 11 July 2006.  The topics are:  the creative aspects of memory;  preparing oral history interviews for publication;  interpreting oral history interviews; and oral history in the digital world.  There will be post-conference tours to Canberra and its collections or to Maitland and the Hunter Valley, social gatherings, cultural events and performances.  The first 100 paper abstracts are on the conference website.

Further information :  Paula Hamilton, Faculty of Humanities, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway NSW 2007, Australia,



The Merry Country Dance Book by Peter Ellis is available for $35 through Mary Smith (03)5442 1153 or 91 Retreat Rd Bendigo 3550 or postage varies according to postal code.

It is accompanied by a number of CDs (with a few yet to come, covering quadrilles, waltzes, polkas, etc. performed by the Wedderburn Oldtimers Orchestra, Gay Charmers, Dancing Pennies and Emu  Creek bush Band.

The Merry Country Dance double CD vol 1 & 2 is $25, plus postage and package. The other CDs include 3 doubles of Quadrille Mania, vols 1 & 2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6. These are $20 a double.

There is also a couples dance triple CD, The Waltz, Polka and all kinds of Dances, which is $30.

All dances described in the back half of the book, Merry Country Dance are cross referenced with CD and track details to match out of the above mentioned series.

This innovative project maps the Soundscapes and Rhythms of the sugar industry in Bundaberg, combines them with drum compositions inspired by these sounds and with images (video and still) of the industry and environment. The drum pieces that drive the sequences were composed and performed by Dane Costigan. Sweetsounds is comprised of a CD and DVD, each of the eight tracks tells the story of one step in the production of sugar. Additionally, the DVD has an extra 50 minutes of oral history surrounding the industry. Available for $20.00 from Wendy Smith , Faculty of Informatics and Communication, Central Queensland University, Locked Bag 3333, Bundaberg 4670 Queensland. Ph: (07) 4150 7048 Email:

[NOTE: Cheques or money orders should be made payable to Bundaberg media Research Group]

Traditional singing legend Danny Spooner has released a new CD of traditional and contemporary whaling songs, with performance and notes enlivened by his own experience as a whalechaser.  From  at $20.00 + $2.00 AUD postage.



We have obtained stock of the book and CDs Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition from the publisher and can now offer it as a special to AFN subscribers at the much reduced price of $35.00AUD + post and packing. Please contact if you would like to purchase copies.




Australian Children's Folklore Collection, Museum Victoria
Beth Sowter
Bill Scott
Bill Wannan (dec.)
Bob Bolton
Brian Dunnett
Brian Shepherd
Brian Wilkins
Bruce Cameron
Bob Rummery
Bush Music Club
Campbell Irving
Chloe Roweth

Chris Kempster
Chris Woodland
Chris Wright
Christina Mimmocchi
Cliff Hanna
Colin McJannett
Dani Rocca
Danny Spooner
Dave Hults
David De Santi
David Mulhallen
David S Azzolina
Dawn Anderson
Dieter Bajzek
Don Brian
Folk Alliance Australia
Graham Seal
Gregan O'Leary
Gwenda Davey
Hugh Anderson
Ian Russell
Jan Orloff
Jason Roweth
Jenny Gall
J D A Widdowson
Jeff Corfield
Jim Low
John Harpley
John Low
John Marshall
J S Ryan
June Factor
June Nichols
Karl Neuenfeldt
Katie Andrews
Keith McKenry
Kel Watkins
Kevin Bradley
Les Montanjees
Luisa Del Giudice
Mark Cranfield
Mark Gregory
Mark Moravec
Martin Chatfield
Martin Goreing
Maureen Seal
Mike Martin    
Moya McFadzean
Museum of Childhood, Edith Cowan University
Noris Ioannou
Olya Willis 
Patrick Watt
Peter Ellis
Phillip Ashton
Philip Hayward
Phyl Lobl
Robert Smith
Rob Willis
Roger Hargraves 
Ron Brown
Ron Edwards
Ruth Hazleton
Sandra Nixon
Steve Bullock
Steve Gadd
Susan Faine
Terry Clinton
Tony Suttor
Top End Folk Club
Valda Low
Vic Orloff
Victorian Folklife Association
Warren Fahey
Wendy Corrick
Western Australian Folklore Archive



National Register of Folklore Collections

Folklore Australia – resource base

Australian Folklore Research Unit – Australia Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology

Simply Australia - Online magazine of folklore and social history

National Library of Australia Oral History/Folklore Archive

Trad&Now – Australian Folk Music magazine

Play and Folklore- Australia’s journal of children’s folklore

Graduate Diploma in Australian Folklife

Moonlit road – traditional tales and associated lore. An excellent American website that uses spooky folktales to interest the young, and not-so-young, in folklore. Have a squiz if you dare at:

Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition - A joint project between the AFN, Curtin University and the National Library of

Folklore Weather Forecasting – well worth a look.

Also Weather Forecasting and Folklore at

Useful Ballads link

Warren Fahey’s folklore site