- Making Connections in Folklore -


Australian Folklore Network


December 2009


Published for the AFN by the Australian Folklore Research Unit

Curtin University of Technology

ISSN 1833-6930


This and previous editions also available online at

Folklore Australia






In this 30th edition of Transmissions we bring our usual roundup of news, information and contacts from the wide expanses of Australian folklore, and beyond.

The AFN’s 6th National Folklore Conference takes place on April Fool’s Day next and is well in hand, as reported below.

The account of the WA Folkife Project 2004-2009 is a good example of how links between fieldworkers, libraries and universities can foster the collection, preservation and dissemination of traditions from a wide variety of community groups.

Another project by an AFN member is the Sydney Folklore project ( carried out by the indefatigable Warren Fahey. This provides an example of a different but no less fruitful approach to gathering and disseminating the traditions of a large urban community.

We’d like to present details of other fieldwork and research projects by AFN members, so please send them in.



Planning proceeds for the 6th of these conferences organised by the AFN in conjunction with the National Library and the National Folk Festival. The 2010 conference will take place on April Fool’s Day (April 1) and is already shaping up as another fascinating look at current research, fieldwork and dissemination of aspects of Australian folklore. 

A couple of presentation opportunities remain for 20 minute papers on any aspect of Australian or Australian-related folklore. If you would like to submit a proposal for consideration, please contact Graham Seal at




Part of this important American collection is now available for online listening.

D. K. Wilgus and Wayland D. Hand established Folklore studies at UCLA, and together founded the Folklore and Mythology Program in 1965. Wilgus was a folksong and ballad scholar, indefatigable fieldworker, and renowned authority on Anglo-American folksong, "race" records, and "hillbilly" music. He directed five folk music festivals at UCLA. He was Chair of the Folklore Program for 17 years.  Many of the field recordings of American and Irish folk music in this collection are his or those of David Evans, one of his students (a noted authority on blues). This collection was originally part of the Folklore and Mythology Department, but in Fall 2002 was acquired by the Ethnomusicology Archive.

Digitization of the field recordings was made possible by a generous grant from the Grammy Foundation.  And we are currently working on a new two-year Grammy grant to finish digitizing the entire collection.To listen to recordings from the collection:



Imagine 30,000 singers and a 300, 000 audience giving voice to traditional song together. It happens in Estonia. Read a Journal of Folklore Research review of the book that investigates this singing nation at


Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War. By Jonathan Pieslak. 2009. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 216 pages. ISBN: 978-0-253-35323-8 (hard cover), 978-0-253-22087-5 (soft cover). Read a Journal of Folklore Research review at



The latest – and 52nd – edition of ‘Play and Folklore’ from the Australian Chidlren’;s Folklore Collection is now available online through Museum Victoria at:



This music project is primarily interested in the traditional social dance music of England - where it came from, where it went to, who it travelled with and where it is now.



The *NFSC Portal for Journals* has launched a new initiative -- *NFSC Books and Monographs*. This is novel attempt to create a platform to publish online books and monographs related to the discipline of folklore. In the absence of an equivalent software for publishing books and monographs online we have customized the Open Journal System for this.

You can now view *Simon Charsley*'s book '*Madiga and Dalit: Exploring the Heritage*' online. Discussions to publish more books are under way.
We are happy to extend this facility to scholars worldwide dealing with folklore. Interested scholars can contact

*NFSC Portal for Journals* already hosts 18 Journals including *Indian
Folklife* and *Indian Folklore Research Journal*. Visit
<> for more information on the journals we host.



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. Funding and recording equipment is supplied by the National Library, with the Folklore Network and the Folklore Research Unit providing background, contacts, general facilitation, institutional support and general hosting. Rob and Olya Willis carried out the fieldwork, recordings and documentation of the collected materials, including photographs, some video and indexing. These materials are deposited in the National Library of Australia and in the Western Australian Folklore Archive in the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library at Curtin University.

The fieldworkers produced a substantial body of important 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 National Library and Curtin University.

The first year of the project took place in Perth, Fremantle, southwest WA and the Pilbara. It led to the documenting of Ukrainian and Swiss musical traditions, including yodelling. The now-retired country music pioneer performer, Rick Carey was also recorded during this trip, as was Rock & Roll historian John Dubber. An important counter-tradition concerning  the outlaw Jandamarra (‘Pigeon’) was documented in the Pilbara, together with indigenous children’s play traditions. Fifteen extended individual and group interviews, some with video of group performances, were completed.

In 2005 the fieldworkers spent a week recording the musical, food, religious and handcraft traditions of the Perth Greek community. Dr John Yiannakis, then a Research Associate at Curtin University, facilitated most of the contacts for this phase of the project, working through the Australian Folklore Research Unit.

The second 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 turned up substantial manuscript and photographic materials. The project was assisted substantially by Mr Stephen Smith, then Director of the Australian Regional Research Unit at Curtin University.

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.

The 2006 phase of the project involved an investigation of the oral history and traditions of the Western Australian whaling industry, including Cheyne’s Beach Whaling Station, Albany (now Whale World). Some elements of this activity were a follow-up to a joint project conducted by NLA and the State Library of WA in the early 1990s. This year, the fieldwork also involved the WA Irish community music, song, dance and other traditions, child migration and migration traditions from Persia, Iran and India. A concert of music and songs from the sheet music collection of the State Library of Western Australia was also recorded. A total of nineteen extended recordings were made.

In 2007 Rob and Olya Willis and Graham Seal presented aspects of the WA Folklife Project fieldwork at the Fairbridge Festival, with a particular emphasis on child migration. A further six interviews were carried out, mainly follow-ups to the previous year’s Irish and child migration traditions, as well as one on World War 2 prisoner of war songs.

No fieldwork was conducted in 2008, but in 2009, the fieldworkers visited twice. In June, in conjunction with the ARC Linkage project ‘Traditions of Childhood’, they spent a week at Geraldton Primary School to document children’s playground traditions. The following week they visited Geraldton and Kalbarri for  interviews with members of Nunda community regarding oral traditions of their Dutch shipwreck ancestry, together with other local folklore. These interviews were carried out in conjunction with an ongoing Curtin-led research project on the pre-1788 European settlement of Australia.

In August, the fieldworkers spent two weeks in Perth and Fremantle interviewing Australian submariners, the creative arts community, folk revival performers and local newspaper proprietors. Nine extended interviews were recorded.

Full details of interviewees, recordings, indexes, photographs and video may be accessed through the Oral History and Folklore section of the National Library of Australia and the WA Folklore Archive, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Curtin University, Perth.

Graham Seal, Rob Willis and Olya Willis - October 2009.

NB: The WA Folklore Archive is in the process of being incorporated into the collections of the John Curtin Memorial Library, where it will eventually have an enhanced and more visible website. In the meantime, the existing website is still available at


by Graham Seal

The appearance of a book about Cape Barren songman Ronnie Summers, prompts some reflections on Australian music traditions.

Ronnie’s music combines blues, Cajun, Irish and country influences into a distinctive Cape Barren style that embraces such apparent diversities as nineteenth century schottische tunes, the Carter Family, the Cape Barren Island Football Song and his own compositions. Ronnie – and the community of Cape barren musicians of which he is a part – take these various influences and meld them into a distinctive regional style and repertoire.

A number of other books, articles and recordings have also revealed strong and distinctive musical fusions in places like Lord Howe, Pitcairn and Norfolk islands, the music of Torres Strait recorded by  Ron Edwards, Karl Neuenfeldt and Nigel Pegrum and Darwin string bands  researched by Jeff Corfield, to mention only some. Ongoing fieldwork by Rob and Olya Willis has identified a strong fusion of British (Irish and English) indigenous and country music in the Nulla Nulla region of NSW, an area that produced, among other country performers, Slim Dusty. There are no doubt plenty more known to probably only a few collectors and many more yet to be discovered.

This work combines to give us a broader understanding of Australian folk music as being almost entirely the ‘bush ballad’. Bush song and music is a vitally important element of our musical heritage, derived from mainly British oral and broadside ballad traditions, heavily influenced by the Kiplingesque adaptations of writers like Lawson and Paterson, among many others. It was also heavily influenced by American popular music of the nineteenth century, probably transmitted largely through travelling minstrel shows and similar USA-based or inspired entertainments that toured extensively here. It is an important musical genre of the past that may even still be important among some agricultural and pastoral communities.

But it is clear now bush music is very far from being our only folk musical genre. (And even within that field, broadly defined, there are many still-to-be fully researched elements, such as the role of women’s music-making, particularly with the piano, as demonstrated in Jennifer Gall’s recently completed PhD thesis).

We can now appreciate Australian traditional music and song as a probably very great number of regional styles and repertoires characterised by at least three identifiable elements:

Many of these influences have not come directly from the many migrant groups who have arrived here since 1947, but from advances in technology, including recording, radio, TV, film and the internet. You no longer need to be Irish to play any particular style of Irish fiddle (probably you never needed to be, but being brought up in such a musical tradition was a very strong factor in learning that style. Now anyone can learn it and sound just as ‘authentic’). The global recording industry invention of ‘world music’ has been another important influence, particularly through the burgeoning music festival scene that includes such eclectic events as Womad and the Woodford Festival, among others.

The overall picture that emerges from this is of a diverse, rich and frequently interacting cornucopia of musical styles and genres that go to make up what we might reasonably call an Australian folk music tradition. The second important point here is that, as with all healthy folk traditions, music is continually changing. While tradition is often thought of and described as ‘hidebound’ or conservative it is also a mechanism that allows for gradual change, if within relatively constrained parameters. This is how musical traditions have always evolved and adapted, and how they always will as long as human beings are doing the playing.

SELECT REFERENCES (many of the following have accompanying CDs, either attached to the book or available separately.
Edwards, R (comp), Some Songs from Torres Strait Rams Skull Press, 2001
Gall, J., ‘Pianos in the Bush: The historical role of regional music-making in developing Australia’s cultural identity’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2009
Hayward, P 2002, Hearing the call: music and social history on Lord Howe Island, Lord Howe Island Arts Council, Lord Howe Island, NSW.
Hayward, P 2006, Bounty chords: music, culture and cultural heritage on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands, John Libbey & Co, Eastleigh, UK.
Neuenfeldt, K & Magowan F (eds) Landscapes of Indigenous Performance: Music and Dance from Torres Strait and Arnhem Land, Aboriginal Studies Press Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra 2005
Seal, G & Willis, R (eds), Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition, Curtin University Books, Fremantle, 2004.
Smith, Graeme Singing Australian: A History of Folk & Country Music, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2005
Summers, R and Gee, H., Ronnie: Tasmanian Songman, Magabala Books, Broome, 2009.