ISSUE 13 - MAY 2004

Australian Folklore Network
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Curtin University of Technology


  11. WHAT DO YOU THINK? (Access and copyright from a folklore collector's perspective)
  14. LINKS


This edition of Transmissions includes a report of the AFN Forum at the National Library over Easter last, together with news of new AFN activities and projects. The usual roundup of news and information is included, together with an article on the subtleties of the collector-informant relationship and related questions of access and copyright by Rob Willis.  

We hope to feature at least one lengthier item in each edition from now on and invite readers to send in submissions for consideration. We are interested in a range of pieces on various aspects of folklore collection, archiving, research, issues (ethics, for example), discussion papers (had a couple of these in previous editions), reviews of books and recordings and reports on fieldwork/research projects. With regard to the latter, we include a preliminary list of projects that AFN affiliates and readers are involved in. Please let us know if you have any to add to the list.  

We also include an invitation to contribute to the AFN's current publishing project - Handmade Nation: Traditional Australian Crafts and Their Makers.  

On a sad note, we have to record the passing of yet another Australian collector, Stan Arthur, also a respected performer and organiser.

Graham Seal


As in 2003, the Forum was hosted by the National Library of Australia. The Convenor presented a brief report followed by discussion on future developments. The main item was a proposal for a national and international folklore conference to be held in conjunction with the National Folk Festival in 2005. A committee was formed, consisting of Graham Seal (Chair and representing Curtin University), Rob Willis (representing the AFN) and Graham Dodsworth (representing Folk Alliance Australia). The NLA supported the proposal and suggested a letter from the committee to the NLA requesting that institution host the conference.

Convenor's Report

Following on from last year's report, the National Register of Folklore Collections was updated and continues to be made available on the web. Such things asre not high profile but vital for research and preservation.  

The AFN's major project Verandah Music was published last November. It is a partnership between the AFN, NLA and Curtin University that has been very successful commercially and in bringing this aspect of Australian folk tradition to a much wider public. We have received a large amount of high level media coverage and a TV documentary based on the book is under development. Especially pleasing have been the many messages from contributors, their families, descendants and communities saying how much being represented in a quality production has meant to them.  

As well as the book, CDS, website and doco, Rob Willis has organised many VM concerts around the country and there has been a great deal of interest from ABC Radio, with interviews and a number of series of VM through Music Deli. We even made national TV on the '7.30 Report'! Once again, these are all valuable ways of taking our message to the broader community.  

Transmissions has continued to be distributed 3-4 times a year, each edition bringing a couple of new affiliates. We now have around 80 Affiliates and Transmissions goes to c. 150 individuals and institutions around the world. Sections of it are also reprinted in folk federation newsletters, Simply Australia, Folk Rag and other folklore-related publications in Australia and abroad. While Transmissions remains a relatively low-key publication it continues to fulfil the valuable function of connecting those interested in various aspects of Australian folklore and folklife and also of spreading the word about what is happening, around Australia and internationally. A special note of thanks here to Valda Low of Folk Australia and Simply Australia who makes sure each new Transmissions is uploaded to its web address.  

The AFN has been in existence since 2002 and has proved its usefulness and potential so far. A number of initiatives are now in development, including:  
Expansion of Transmissions - this publication is clearly fulfilling a need in the Australian folklore community and so will continue bringing news and linking interested individuals and organisations. It will also carry some more detailed articles, reports and perhaps reviews on various aspects of Australian folklore fieldwork and research, whenever these can be made available. We have already started this to some extent with discussion papers on a folklife centre and the ownership of folklore, Joseph Jacobs, etc. While the editor will harass individuals for contributions, this is also an open invitation for readers to submit reports of their fieldwork, research and related topics for consideration.

Email to:


Affiliates of the Australian Folklore Network are actively engaged in a wide range of fieldwork, research and dissemination activities throughout Australia. A selection of recent, current and upcoming projects include:
We'd like to hear from other readers of Transmissions about any folklore fieldwork and research activities they are undertaking.


Located at Curtin University, this unit includes:


"History Detectives is a one-hour magazine format program that looks back at events and personalities in Australian history and throws new light on our past. The show uncovers old mysteries, family secrets, and sets the record straight where truth has become a casualty of time."  

We are constantly looking for ideas and suggestions. The emphasis comes down to detective work, i.e. any story where we can see someone who is actually going through the steps to unravel a mystery, or find a family connection, or discover an object, or what happened to an object, or uncover what happened in a particular place.  CONTACT: JUSTIN MURPHY



  Many of our readers will already have heard the sad news of the death of the noted Queensland collector, singer, organiser, and spreader of folk music Stan Arthur on Wed 14th April in Brisbane - age 78. For a profile of Stan's life and work, go to     


David Engle has arranged to be posted on the Fresno State server three important bibliographies devoted to Anglo-American folk song and ballad.  They include:  
  1. A shelf list of the large collection built by Lewis Becker, both a folk song enthusiast and a bibliophile;
  2. A shelf list of the holdings amassed by Norm Cohen, with its emphasis on American songsters; and
  3. A shelflist of the collection gathered by Murray Shoolbraid, whose interest is primarily in Scots balladry and supporting materials.
As the headnote to the bibliographies reads, no single bibliography is complete.  Taken together, they begin to approach a description of a more or less comprehensive folk song and ballad library.  

The bibliographies -- with perhaps a few more devoted to specialized fields yet to come -- are posted as an aid to students of folk song.  The books themselves are not available for loan nor for sale.  

The bibliographies will be found at:  

- Ed Cray


The broadband revolution strikes! As a consequence:


There's a new site in cyber space for anyone interested in Australian folklore, history and music.

Designed by Valda Low of Simply Australia and Mountain Tracks the site tracks Warren Fahey's 35 years of work in folklore, recording and performing. For the first time Warren's extensive recordings (housed in the National Library) have been transcribed and made available to the public. This has been a huge job and Warren now admits to being 'the fastest two finger typist in the East'. Loads of collected songs, poems, ditties and lore.

The material has been filed under the various informants with background by the collector. There's some photographs too. You will also find the first instalment of the Folklore of Sydney project where Warren has already unearthed some fascinating material including many new songs. Also on the site is a history of pioneering group, The Larrikins, and a guide to Warren's recent archival donation to the National Library of Australia.

Divided into several sections, with over 4000 individual items, the collection includes many items on the early days of the folk revival including posters, leaflets, badges, car stickers, concert programs, folk club advertisements, festival programs - from the early 1960s onwards. There is also material from Folkways, Larrikin and Warren's extensive performance and recording career including over 20 years as leader of The Larrikins. Correspondence files on Wattle Records plus original Wattle recording booklets and radio scripts will complement the Library's existing collection on this pioneer label.

What do you think?

Access and copyright from a folklore collector's perspective

by Rob Willis
reprinted with permission from the ASRA journal 'Australasian Sound Archive

Over my 22 years of recording folklore and social history the requirements for gaining access conditions for field recordings have changed considerably. From those early years of grabbing my home cassette recorder from the shelf to later having the use of professional equipment provided by The National Library of Australia the obtaining of access conditions has evolved. It has progressed from non-existent, to free and easy and now mandatory.

When I first started making recordings around my hometown of Forbes neither the interviewees or myself were concerned about future usage of the material. My priority was to collect the memories before these people died and they knew and trusted me. Filling in a form never occurred to me.

I started collecting with John Meredith, who is Australia's premier folklorist, in the mid 1980's and travelled and recorded with him for many years. At no stage during this period can I remember ever getting a signature on an accession form. My friend and colleague Kevin Bradley who also travelled with Meredith can also vouch for this. Kevin actually took forms with him on a couple of trips and got them signed. Meredith's point to me was that what we were doing was based on trust and he couldn't be bothered 'buggerising around' with forms. I have spoken with NLA staff and asked if this lack of formal access has caused any problems. Luckily up to this point in time there has not been a concern, due mainly to the type of material (folklore) that Meredith recorded. However there would be no potential problems at all if the appropriate forms had been completed. When I started recording on my own accord with The National Library about 1994 and was not under John's umbrella, we were introduced to a suitable form for the collection of folklore. The Library did consult with the field collectors of course and my comments were similar to those of Meredith - 'we have to keep it simple' - and they did. This is the current folklore access form for NLA and we basically have three parts with several options to each part.

Allow researchers to listen to the tape/tapes (or read a transcript from it/them)
      YES    /    NO      /     SUBJECT TO MY PRIOR APPROVAL

Allow researchers a copy of the tape/tapes (or transcript) for their personal use
      YES    /    NO      /     SUBJECT TO MY PRIOR APPROVAL

Allow copies to be made for the perpose of publication or broadcast
      YES    /    NO      /     SUBJECT TO MY PRIOR APPROVAL

There is also a space for special requests and other relevant details

In my mind this works well for the type of material I collect and the range of people I record. However over my collecting career I have also been involved with other more complex access forms. The very sensitive 'Bringing Them Home' project was an example. This particular project was based on oral history interviews with those involved with the separation of Indigenous people in Australia and as can be imagined there were many sensitive and demanding interviews - demanding on both interviewer and interviewee I might mention. These forms were more complex and involved and required more explanation.

In recent times I have also been producing radio programs for the ABC and have come into contact with their forms, which are relatively simple and require little explanation.

So what is my procedure signing up the interviewees for access? Of course this will change with individual so I can only relate what works for me on most occasions.

The first thing I must say is that I tend to call my discussions with the majority of people I meet as 'having a yarn' rather than 'performing an interview'. By the very nature of who I talk with and the material I collect, informality is the basis for a good relationship. To walk in to a sleeper cutter's house in Baradine as 'the man from the National Library' and present them with the conditions and paperwork for the interview first up would just not work. I am a stranger who has walked into their lives wanting to talk with them about their past memories and so a relationship and trust has to be established.

Also on occasion I am referred to a potential interviewee while in an area and I am 'going in cold'. We are both meeting for the first time and I am asking them to relate their life story.

The other factor is that the majority of the people I am talking with are older and are often quite nervous in the beginning about what is happening. They need to have confidence and trust with me in a very short time. Luckily I have never had any problems with this and many amazing stories have emerged in a relatively short time. Sometimes these stories are quite sensitive about personal, wartime or other issues that have happened in their lives, some never spoken of before.

So what about the documentation?

I always advise people when I start that a form will be signed at the end of our yarn so that they can decide how the material will be used. The funny part about it is that when we get to the formality of the paperwork and I read through the form with them 90% or even more will say, "what do you think? - What would you do?" Even after making it clear that the decision is theirs alone, the same question is asked again. In all cases I will explain each section of the form again and most people will grant open access.

The first two questions regarding access for research and provision of recordings for research only are usually straightforward and mostly left open. The third question regarding publication or broadcast can sometimes be tricky and I must admit that I have guided the person into closing it on occasion.

Even though there would possibly be some advantage at a later date to broadcasters or authors (myself included) in having open access to these stories, I can often see potential problems from either a family or other perspective. There has been a trust built between us during our talk and I cannot walk away from this - and if there is any doubt I will recommend that publication aspect be closed. Even during the aforementioned 'Bringing Them Home' project advice was sought from me for recommendation. But at no time during this project did I knowingly influence any access decision

Another interesting example of people seeking my advice on access conditions is a continuing series I have been working on for some time 'The Child Migrant Oral History Project' which involves interviews with kids (now adults) who were bought to Australia under various church and government schemes often suffering physical and sexual abuse within the institutions. In many cases I am the first person they have told these stories to - and now they want the world to know. I always leave the access conditions up to them but if they still want a final decision I will err on the side of safety and recommend closing the access for publication and broadcast. They still want ME to make that decision for them.

As mentioned previously there is space for special requests on our access form. I use this to note any material that was composed by the interviewee and could be the subject of copyright. I do this as a matter of course as, again, the majority of people say to me "do what you like with it, anyone can sing/perform it". They really do not mind who uses the material that they have composed.

I have found that we are increasingly being offered tapes of people who the family or friends have recorded some years previously and the interviewees have since died. This is now becoming a major avenue for collecting valuable material. I carry equipment with me to transfer from cassette to digital in the field and usually have a separate access form signed by a member of the family. On occasion after I have visited, a tape will arrive at my house, out of the blue, with the comment "do what you like with this Rob". Even last week a tape arrived of an old fiddler (b1907 d 1985) with some amazing material on it. The family who sent it to me just said to use it as I saw fit. What do I do with this?

So in the majority of cases the scenario is one of trust. They have trusted me with their life stories and songs and have enough confidence in me to tell me these stories. They also trust me enough to ask for a decision on how the material is to be used. I really had not reflected much on this aspect until writing this paper, and it is a bit daunting. Many of the people I have spoken with have become personal friends and I only hope that I have lived up to that trust.

- Rob Willis - May 2004



  This is the second title in the Australian Folk Traditions series published through the Australian Folklore Network (AFN) and Curtin University Books. It will follow a similar style, structure and approach to the very successful first title, Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition (2003).  

Handmade Nation will present a selection of folk crafts, arts and skills traditional in Australia, including:  


As with Verandah Music, there will be an emphasis on the bearers of the traditions. Articles on each bearer/tradition will be c. 1000-1200 words and will be illustrated by one or more photographs demonstrating some aspect of the craft and the craftsperson in action.  

The aim is to present c. 50 individual crafts and their makers within the context of their communities, with an emphasis on the continuity of the traditions featured.  

We seek a range of such traditions practised by men, women and children from a diversity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  

There will be an overview Introduction written by the co-editors (Graham Seal and Rob Willis), together with reference and other scholarly documentation at the back of the book. A CD or DVD may also be included, depending on cost and availability of suitable material.  

We now invite collectors to contact us if they have material that might be appropriate.  

Contributors will receive a share of royalties from the book.  

Please contact Graham Seal  08 9266 3234 or Rob Willis  02 68512687, 0427911962


Alan Musgrove
Australian Children's Folklore Collection, Museum Victoria
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 (dec.)
Chris Woodland
Chris Wright
Christine Mimmocchi
Colin McJannett
Dani Rocca
Danny Spooner
Dave Hults
David De Santi
David Mulhallen
Dawn Anderson Dieter Bajzek
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
Karl Neuenfeldt
Katie Andrews
Keith McKenry
Kel Watkins
Luisa Del Giudice
Mabel Kaplan
Mark Cranfield
Mark Gregory
Mark Moravec
Martin Chatfield
Martin Goreing
Mike Martin
Moya McFadzean
Museum of Childhood, Edith Cowan University
Noris Ioannou
Olya Willis
Patrick Watt
Peter Ellis
Phyl Lobl
Rob Willis
Roger Hargraves
Ron Brown
Ron Edwards
Ruth Hazleton
Social Science Department, Aranmore Catholic College
Steve Bullock
Steve Gadd
Susan Faine
Terry Clinton
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.
Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition A joint project between the AFN, Curtin University and the National Library of Australia.
Folklore Weather Forecasting - well worth a look. .
Weather Forecasting and Folklore

Graham Seal
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Australia Research Institute
Curtin University of Technology
May 2004