- Making Connections in Folklore -


ISSN 1833-6930


Australian Folklore Network

March 2009



Published for the AFN by the Australian Folklore Research Unit

Curtin University of Technology


This and previous editions also available online at

Folklore Australia














This edition of Transmissions is devoted to information about the Network’s upcoming conference and related events around the national Folk Festival in Canberra this Easter. The full conference program appears below, together with information about Warren Fahey’s Australian Folklore course at the National Folk School immediately prior to the festival.


Graham Seal





An annual conference facilitated by the Australian Folklore Network, the National Library of Australia, the National Folk Festival and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific, Curtin University.


National Library of Australia April 9


Building on the success of the four previous Australian National Folklore Conferences, the Australian Folklore Network, the National Library of Australia and the National Folk Festival will again host a one-day conference immediately before the National Folk Festival.


The conference brings together those involved in collecting, researching, archiving, performing and facilitating folklore in all its many varieties and is a prelude to the National Folk Festival, which also includes a stream of presentations and performances relevant to folklore research.


The organising partners for this event are all involved in one or more aspects of folklore collection, research, archiving and teaching:



The conference brings these interests together, providing an opportunity for participants to discuss at a national level, issues and initiatives in the collection, study and dissemination of Australian folklore.


The conference also contains a number of related events and opportunities, including a lunchtime concert as well as the availability of new publications and recordings.




Conference Program


9.15 Conference welcome and opening


9.30-10.30 Presentation session 1


Nikki Henningham, Gwenda Davey, Jenny Gall and Olya Willis.

‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?’: Recording and interpreting child’s play in the internet age. (Panel presentation)


In 2007, scholars from the University of Melbourne, Curtin University and Deakin University, along with partners at the National Library of Australia and Museum Victoria, were funded by the Australian Research Council to conduct research in primary schools around the nation, in order to record and interpret the meaning of child’s play in the twenty-first century. Trained fieldworkers were to go into schools and collect a new archive of information using sound, visual and textual recording technologies. Previous studies would be used as a platform from which a longitudinal analysis of the data would be launched.


It became apparent very early on that creating this new collection would be a much more complicated process than similar activities were for previous collectors. Quite reasonably, the interests of children as research subjects are given much more attention than they were twenty years ago, let alone fifty years ago. But when two state education departments initially create so many obstacles to the research as to make it impossible to conduct, it seems that the view that it is not safe to involve children in research is gathering support in some quarters. Why, and how has this happened? What are the implications of this for the collection and preservation of children’s folk and playlore?


In this panel discussion, a project administrator, a folklorist with experience spanning four decades in children’s experience and two fieldworkers will talk about the changing research environments, especially with regard to changing technology and regulatory contexts, and how we can adapt to capture information about children in a way that won’t harm them.

Nikki Henningham is the Project Officer for the ARC Linkage Project Childhood Tradition and Change: a national study of the historical and contemporary practices and significance of Australian children's playlore, based at the University of Melbourne. She is also the Executive Officer for the Australian Women's Archives Project and has research interests in the area of women and oral history and the relationship between the keeping of archives and the construction of history. In 2005, she received the National Archives of Australia's Ian Mclean Award for her work in this area.

Gwenda Davey is a Research Fellow in the Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific at Deakin University in Melbourne. She was made a Member in the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the protection and preservation of folklore and folklife in Australia. She is currently a principal researcher for the Childhood, Tradition and Change project funded by the Australian Research Council.

Jenny Gall has been involved with oral history projects for the last 24 years. She has been involved as a field worker in the Childhood Tradition and Change project and is currently the NLA Folk fellow. She has found it interesting to compare archival reminiscences about schooldays with contemporary experiences in the playground.


Olya Willis, a Primary schoolteacher, has been producing school and other themed presentations for over 30 years. Olya has been involved with the recording of Social History and Folklore for the National Library of Australia since the mid 1980’s. She has assisted with the production of themed concerts at major Folk Festivals as well as conducting workshops on music, dance and performance. Having an interest in children’s folklore she has written and produced productions for children, incorporating elements of multicultural music and dance.


Text Box: 10.30-11 Morning Tea




11-12.30 Presentation session 2


Karl Neuenfeldt and Will Kepa

Assembling a Sacred Soundscape: Choosing Repertoire for Torres Strait Islander Community CDs/DVDs


In 2007-2008, 4 community CDs/DVDs were recorded on-location in Torres Strait in collaboration with small island communities, the Torres Strait Regional Authority and the National Library of Australia. This paper explores in general terms the role of music in ‘Ailan Kustom’ and in more specific terms what repertoire Islanders chose to record to self-represent their islands and their localised cultures to the region and mainland Australia.


It is argued that cultural capital accrued most readily via the use of sacred music as a culturally reinforced means of both artistic expression and emic connections to individual island communities. The process was also informed by displays of fluency in traditional languages or adherence to the performance practices of evangelical Christian denominations. Along with detailed description of the project the paper speculates on some of the socio-cultural, religious and political reasons that may have informed the choice of repertoire.


Karl Neuenfeldt is a music researcher, producer and performer with a particular interest in Indigenous music in Australia and recording studio practice and aesthetics. In 2008 he completed a Research Fellowship at the National Film and Sound Archives exploring the music and films of Torres Strait and Torres Strait Islanders. Karl is currently an Associate Professor at Central Queensland University.

Will Kepa is a Torres Strait Islander producer, audio engineer and musician with connections to Iama/Yam Island. He has a Diploma in Music from Far North Queensland TAFE and has been involved with numerous recordings and performances including TSI community CDs/DVDs, Arts Queensland projects and Seaman Dan, Tribe of Jubal, Cygnet Repu and the Briscoe Sisters.



Warren Fahey

Interpreting Australian Traditional Songs and Ballads for the 21st Century.


In 2006 Warren Fahey set out on an ambitious journey to record a treasury of Australian song including many songs never before recorded. He also wanted to re-interpret, with new arrangements, many of the songs familiar to the national collection. The songs range from convict transportation ballads through to songs of pomp and circumstance from the 20th century. ABC Music will release his 10 CD set (with over 250 tracks) at the National Folk Festival which aims to raise awareness of Australia's traditional repertoire, the importance of collecting and research, and the endless possibilities of musical interpretation. He will discuss the project, his approach to selecting material, arrangements, the recording sessions and the behind-the-scenes story of producing and marketing such a large scale project in a climate where entertainment is generally seen as a disposable commodity.


Warren Fahey has been around the block once or twice. He claims to be a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks and Dingo University. He has a long and prolific history of collecting, researching, writing about, recording and performing Australian bush and city songs and folklore. His Australian Folklore Unit, established in the mid-1960s, is at www.warrenfahey.com This year ABC Music will release his 10 CD set 'Australia: its folks songs and bush verse' - tracing the history of song and verse through Australia's history - from rare convict ballads to songs about sport and romance.



Charlie McMahon

Lost in transportation. How didjeridu in its contemporary uses has gained spiritual meanings not evident in traditional Aboriginal lore.

With its use beyond Arnhem Land, the way didjeridu is played now is very different to traditional didj practice and ideas about of its traditional role are different to the didj lore of traditional players. In particular it has assumed spiritual significance that didjeridu does not traditionally have among 'new age' didj players and many contemporary indigenous players. Notable are the ideas that didjeridu is a sacred instrument or sound and taboos about who can play. From my 50 years playing experience and extensive touring here and over seas, I have some insights on the transformation.


In the indigenous arts book Kaltja Now custodians of traditional didjeridu lore from Maningrida NT expressed concern over misrepresentation and appropriation of didjeridu, but the elders complimented Charlie Mc Mahon for inventing 'complex and interesting new ways of playing ...' Charlie recorded the first didjeridu based contemporary music album in 1984, invented and manufactures the pitch shift didjeribone, devised the didj horns concept and most recently invented the face bass for recording didjeridu from inside the mouth. In 2008 Zero G released internationally Rhythm Organism, an audio software pack with 800 of his didj samples.


Text Box: 12.30-1.30 Lunch and concert in the Library foyer  
organised by Rob and Olya Willis.
‘Women’s  Music’




1.30-3.00 Presentation session 3


Mark Gregory

The discovery of Industrial Song and the evolving definition of Folk Song


This paper argues that the evolving ways of defining folk song over the last 100 years show a close relationship to folklorists acceptance of industrial song and industrial lore or labor lore as areas they can properly study. In Australia we have a particular history in that the lyrical compositions of bush workers were the major focus of the folk revival. In the United States or Britain much of this material would likely have been passed over in the eagerness of folklorists to save the remnants of ancient ballads in places least affected by industrialisation. The English folklorist AL Lloyd showed a keen interest in industrial song in Britain and found the folklorists dismissive of industrial song, which they couldn't fit into Cecil Sharp's rural centric 1907 definition of Folk Song, or Francis James Child's understanding of Balladry. Something had to give and that turned out be the definition of folk song itself.


Mark Gregory came to Australia in 1960 and joined the folk song revival in Sydney. His interest in Industrial Song was whetted by being a member of the Radiation Quartet along with Chris Kempster, Jeannie Lewis and Mike Leyden. In 1968 he organised a workshop titled "Industrial Songs of Britain" at the early national folk festival in Melbourne. In 2007 he completed his MA "Sixty Years of Australian Union Songs" and in 2009 his Union Songs web collection came second in the vote for the "Labour Site of the Year".



Keith McKenry


Click Go the Shears: the making of an Australian icon.


‘Waltzing Matilda’ aside, ‘Click Go the Shears’ is probably the best known Australian folk song. But where did it come from? It is time now to draw back the curtain and reveal the song's chequered history, one of intrigue and skulduggery amongst a small interconnected community of folk song collectors, performers and publishers.


Keith McKenry is a lapsed engineer and environmental scientist, an escaped bureaucrat and now a semi-skilled farm hand, folklorist and poet. He also is Director of Fanged Wombat Productions. His most recent book is Australia’s Lost Folk Songs. A former Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia, Keith presently is writing a social history of the beginnings of the Australian folk music revival and a biography of John Meredith.



Jenny Gall


Picking up the threads: exploring the depth and diversity of Australian women’s folk music in the collections of the National Library of Australia.


This presentation will describe the process of selecting women, selecting which collections to work with and dealing with collectors about their materials. It will also explore hand-written music manuscripts in the Mss collection and linking field recordings to published music.


Jenny Gall is a practitioner and academic researcher of folk music. In 2007 she was awarded an ANU Vice Chancellor’s Grant to visit the Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen University to present papers based on the role of women in Australian folk music at the 37th Ballad Conference of the Kommission für Volksdichtung and at the Women’s History Network conference. She was awarded the National Library’s Folk Fellowship in 2008 to research and present women’s music from archived field recordings. This research will be published on CD and performed at the National Folk Festival by a selection of international and national performers of note.



Text Box: 3-3.30 Afternoon Tea




3.30-4.30 Open Discussion Session 4.


Conference attendees will have the opportunity to discuss the range of papers presented and issues arising from them.Text Box: Conference Organising Committee

Graham Seal – Centre for Advanced Studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific, Curtin University (Convener)
Kevin Bradley – National Library of Australia
Rob Willis – Australian Folklore Network 
Mark Cranfield – National Folk Festival







            Booking now open at http://www.folkfestival.asn.au/program/masterclasses/


            A three day course preceding the National Folk Festival

            April 7 National Folk School – day sessions

            April 8 National Folk School – day sessions

            Special evening program: Down the Track With Henry Lawson. Themed concert with Martyn Wyndham-Read, Bill Gammage, Warren Fahey and guests at the National Library of Australia theatrette.

            April 9 National Folk School at the National Folklore Conference.


            The two-day sessions on the 7/8th April will explore Australian Folklore and Folksong looking at a wide range of subjects including:


            An overview of Australia folk songs and ballads. Who wrote them, why and how were they circulated.

            Signposts of folk song.

            A survey of major historical ‘signposts’ and the songs they produced including the convict system, goldrush hysteria, emigration programs, the wool and beef boom era, Federation, unionism, Depression, Australia at war and 20th century life in the cities.


            The collecting of bush songs. The role of Banjo Paterson, early songsters, the 1950s revival, major collecting programs, role of the national institutions, folklore today.

            What happened to the big ballads?

            Exploring the remnants of British and Celtic ballads and lyric songs in the Australian tradition.


            The sound of the bush. A session on the interpretation of bush songs. Is there a right and wrong way to sing a bush song? The role of bush bands, singer songwriters etc. The role of the record industry in the folk process including Wattle, Larrikin and the ‘do it yourself’ brigade.

            What survives?

            Folklore today. What is it and where is it?


            The role of individual singers, bands, songwriters, publishers, the Internet and beyond.



            The course will spend the day (9th April) at the National Library of Australia as members of the audience at the National Folklore Conference. Join some of Australia’s most eminent folklorists as they discuss fascinating aspects of our culture. Warren Fahey will be presenting a paper on his 10 CD set ‘Australia: Folk Songs & Bush Verse’ explaining how the project came to life and the trials and tribulations of such a project in the 21st century. Lunch provided.


            Warren Fahey is a folklore collector, social historian, author, broadcaster and performer. 2009 celebrates his 40th year collecting and performing. He has been honoured with the Order of Australia, Advance Australia Medal, Centennial Medal and the Bush Laureate Lifetime Achievement Award. He claims to be a graduate of the Dingo University and School of Hard Knocks. He is a regular lecturer on folklore with the Worker’s Educational Association and the University of the Third Age. He performs with The Larrikins and has a unique repertoire of bush songs, ballads, yarns, poems and stories that bring Australian history to life.

            Learn more about Warren’s work at www.warrenfahey.com