Australian Folklore Network
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Curtin University of Technology


Most of this issue of Transmissions is taken up with the discussion paper on the national folklore centre concept. We will be discussing this, and other matters, at the annual AFN Forum next April in conjunction with the National Folk Festival and the National Library of Australia. The National Library has kindly offered to host the Forum.

We also include a number of news items, queries and updates on AFN projects, notably the National Register of Folklore Collections and the Verandah Music project.

As always, please feel free to pass Transmissions to as many people and places as possible.

- Graham Seal


The National library has kindly offered to host the 2003 AFN Forum. Next year the Forum will be straight after the National Folk Festival on Tuesday, April 22, 10-12 in the Ferguson Room.


Three items of interest from Mark Gregory:


Does anyone have info about the following poem please?

The Hungry Mile (author unknown) They tramp there in their legions on the morning dark and cold
to beg the right to slave for bread from Sydney's lords of gold;
they toil and sweat in slavery, 'twould make the devil smile
to see the Sydney wharfies tramping down the hungry mile
on ships from all the seas they toil, that others of their kind
may never know the pinch of want or feel the misery blind
that make the lives of men a hell in those conditions vile
that are the hopeless lot of those who tramp the hungry mile.

The slaves of men who know no thought of anything but gain
who wring their brutal profits from the blood and sweat and pain
of all the disinherited who slave and starve the while
upon the ships beside the wharves along the hungry mile
but every stroke of that grim lash that sears the souls of men
with interest due from years gone by shall be paid back again
to those who drive these wretched slaves to build the golden pile
and blood shall blot the memory out - of Sydney's hungry mile

The day will come, aye, come it must, when these same slaves shall rise
and through the revolution's smoke ascending to the skies,
the master's face shall show the fear he hides behind the smile
of these his slaves who on that day shall storm the hungry mile.
And when the world grows wiser and all men at last are free
when none shall feel the hunger nor tramp in misery
to beg the right to slave for bread, the children then may smile
at those strange tales they tell of what was once the hungry mile.

Notes This poem appears in Merv Lilley's novel "The Channels" (The Vulgar Press 2001). Merv told me he didn't know who wrote it but thought it was from the 1930s.
Answers to Mark Gregory


1. Libraries Losing Australia’s Folklore Heritage
As readers will see from the paragraphs below, the AFN National Register of Folklore Collections project has already borne fruit, if some of it is rather unpleasant! If you could use your contacts to have the following brief item placed in any medium with which you have contact or influence it might help get out the message that there are people who care what happens to the folklore materials our libraries are supposedly preserving.

Where has Australia’s folklore gone?
A recent survey has revealed that some libraries have lost the folklore holdings they possessed twenty years ago. The Australian Folklore Network is currently updating a directory of folklore resources initiated in the 1980s. In that original survey many state, local and institutional libraries indicated that they had collections of folklore materials, such as songs, music, stories and other traditions recorded on paper, film, video or audio tape.

When contacted for an update, an alarming number of these libraries replied that they no longer had such holdings or if they did, no one now knew how to locate them. One State Library simply asked to be removed from the directory.

At a time when other aspects of Australian culture, such as the gateway to Australian Literature, are being digitised and made more widely available, it is dismaying to discover that the riches of our folk heritage, painstakingly retrieved by collectors over half a century, are apparently lost.

How has this happened? Where are the collections that were clearly identified in the 1980s and why do some of Australia’s cultural preservation institutions seem to have such disdain for the nation’s folk heritage?

Graham Seal
Convenor Australian Folklore Network

2. Library Saving Australia’s Folklore Heritage
On a happier note, and to show that most of our libraries are keen to preserve folklore, the National Library of Australia, a long-time supporter of folklore, has indicated an interest in web hosting the Register when it is ready to go.


This project is ready to enter the production phase. Contributors have sent in their materials and these have been collated and edited ready for layout and design, etc. The National Library Oral History and Folklore Branch have been working with co-editor Rob Willis to compile the CDs to accompany the book. Almost fifty traditional performers/groups are represented, from a wide range of musical traditions around the country, including bush, country, island, stringband, old-time, etc. and all manner of fusions. As well as the music and song, there are photographs, poems, yarns, selected transcriptions, and even a recipe for Italian-Australian sausages.


Trad&Now is the new Australian folk magazine covering traditional and contemporary music, storytelling, dance, news, reviews, etc. No 1 is out now. Go to for further details.



This paper outlines some suggested models for a National Folklore Centre for discussion and comment as a preliminary to the mooted 2003 meeting of the Australian Folklore Network (AFN) at the National Library of Australia. As part of the agenda for that meeting this proposal will be discussed and amended as appropriate so that a final agreed proposal can be progressed.

The paper is the product of wide and long-standing consultation with various stakeholders, including members of the Australian Folklore Network through communications in the email publication Transmissions, with individual folklorists and with representatives of various cultural preservation institutions and universities in Australia, Britain and the United States of America.

The paper is to be distributed as widely as possible with input sought from interested organisations and individuals around the country.


Despite the findings and recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into Folklife in Australia (1987) and the publication of numerous books and related resources on the many aspects of Australian folk traditions, there is no central facility for the collection and preservation of folk traditions or for focusing the extensive folklore-related activities that take place around the nation.

The history of folklore collection, research and preservation in Australia includes the long involvement of community organisations such as the Bush Music Club and the Victorian Folk Music Society, among others, the work of individual folklore collectors dating back to the 1950s, the most notable of whom was the late John Meredith, and the intensive interest in folk-related activities demonstrated by the large numbers of people who regularly attend folk festivals and similar events around the country (c. 200 00 pa).[1]

A number of specialised archives have also been established by Australian folklorists, the earliest being the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection, now part of Museum Victoria. The only state and general folklore archive in the country, the Western Australian Folklore Archive, was established at Curtin University in 1985. The National Library Oral History program (now the Oral History and Folklore Branch) has also incorporated folksong and music into its collections.

There are a number of university-level teaching activities in folklore, notably at Curtin University of Technology as part of the Australian Studies Program, at the University of New England and the Graduate Diploma in Australian Folklife established by Curtin and Monash Universities and run primarily through Open Learning Australia. A journal, Australian Folklore, was established in the WA Folkore Archive in 1987 and continues to publish from the University of New England.

The Australian Folklore Network (AFN) was established in 2001 and is convened and coordinated through the Australian Folklore Research Unit (AFRU) at Curtin University. It connects and coordinates the activities and interests of folklore collectors, performers, administrators, researchers and individuals with an interest in folklore, also initiating and maintaining projects such as the National Register of Folklore Collections, various publications and related operations.

There is therefore a substantial based of scholarship, collecting and archiving and community involvement in various facets of Australian folklore. Building on this extensive and long-lasting grassroots and institutional basis it is time to propose the foundation of a National Folklore Centre, facility for coordinating, connecting, resourcing and supporting the many folklore activities mentioned above. What form should such a facility have?


Views about the need for, structure and function of and location of any national facility for Australian folklore vary considerable. One view is that there should be a fully resourced research, collecting and archiving institution that would conduct research and publish the results in various formats. Such a facility may, or may not be attached to an existing cultural institution such as the National Library, or perhaps to a university. The weight of opinion in this respect was towards a stand-alone facility with its own funding.[2]

Another view expressed lies at the opposite end of the spectrum. As there is already so much activity across the country of the kinds outlined above, perhaps there is no need for a central facility. This argument points to the vibrant community activities associated with festivals and various folklore-related organisations and enthusiasts, notes the various collecting activities taking place and the development of scholarship and teaching in Australian folklore and suggests that these simply need focussing and coordinating.

The weight of opinion is also that any centre – comprehensive or basic - should be a stand-alone, independent facility, enabling the development of links with other relevant institutions as required, including cultural institutions, government (federal, state and local) educational institutions, community organisations, etc. The breadth and diversity of folklore and folklife, including behavioural, expressive and material forms of cultural expression and activity is felt to be a potent argument for autonomy.

Without debating the pros and cons of these views, which both have validity, this paper proposes a middle-of-the-road model for a national facility, as outlined below.


This paper proposes a standalone national folklife centre to coordinate, resource and connect state, regional and local organisations (archives, libraries, societies, etc.) and individuals (collectors, etc.) involved in the collection, preservation, dissemination and/or teaching of folklore/life.

This centre would not in itself be a research or archiving operation but provide a focus and facility for such activities around the country, ensuring that local and regional collected material remain in areas where they belong (wherever possible) and encouraging further collection, archiving, dissemination, performance, teaching and related uses of folklore.

The NFC would coordinate and support the activities of relevant bodies and initiatives (though they retain complete independence in their operations) in positive ways:

A primary and ongoing task of the NFC would be the development and maintenance of a distributed catalogue of folklore collections and resources that would be accessible online.

The NFC would also encourage the development of educational materials based on Australian folklore collections.

The NFC would also act as a consultant to federal, state, local government. and education, etc. and would seek opportunities for additional income through applied folklore/life activities in relation to cultural tourism, education, cultural development, etc.

The NFC would also give Australia focal point for representing the country in folkloric matters internationally.

The NFC would have a board of expert advisors drawn from the ranks of festival organisers, community organisations, academia, performers, etc.

It is important to note that many of these activities already exist in embryonic form:

The NFC would have the initial task of drawing these together into a consolidated and active network, while assisting each to pursue their own ends and activities through provision of advice, expertise, resources and facilities.

One issue that did arise in discussion was the necessity for a national facility to be located in Canberra. It was observed by a number of people that for practical, symbolic and political reasons all national cultural institutions and agencies are located in the capital. However, it was also noted that while this may have been appropriate and probably unavoidable in the past, the development of new communication technologies suggests the possibility of alternative locations. Whether this is desirable is matter for further consideration though it may be relevant to point out that a national facility along the lines discussed in this paper has been mooted in Western Australia in relation to the Peel Regional Research Strategy and it is possible that other states/territories may take the opportunity to develop centres with a regional focus but a national reach.


One significant advantage of a decentralised model is its economy and efficiency. By harnessing the energy of the many activities already in existence, the national centre could maximise its impact and value.

Without going into detailed costings, a centre along the proposed lines would require the following staff, resources and facilities:


This paper has given an outline of the various views that have been expressed about an appropriate model for a national folklore centre. It puts forward for discussion a model that sits somewhere between the extremes of a fully featured national institution and the current ad hoc and fragmented situation. The proposed model is economically efficient, organisationally streamlined and takes advantage of existing activities and initiatives. It is therefore achievable in the current and foreseeable circumstances.


Graham Seal
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Australia Research Institute
Curtin University of Technology
October 2002