The European settlers who came to Australia after 1788 brought their own popular or folk traditions with them, traditions that were then modified by local conditions.
These traditions were not uniform across England, let alone Great Britain or the European continent. Because the composition and timing of European settlement was not uniform across Australia, the ethnic and cultural mix across the country was far more varied than we realise today.
These regional variations are poorly understood, partly because regional as opposed to local history has suffered from neglect over many decades. This neglect compounds a bigger problem, one inherent in the nature of folk traditions themselves.
Today we live in a world saturated with recording devices of all types, with media of all types, with multiple forms of entertainment. There is constant competition to get just a slice of our eyeballs, just a bit of our ears, just a bit of our already overcrowded hours.
The folk tradition is very different because it is an oral and demonstration tradition, one in which knowledge and skills in things such as song, dance, music or children’s games pass directly from person to person.
This makes it hard for folk traditions to grow or even survive. Around the world languages are in decline, entire cultures are being lost. In Australia, much of the detail and texture of folk traditions, European as well as Aboriginal, has been lost because no one wrote it down, no-one saw it as important. By the time their importance was recognised, it was too late.
In the US with its many states and longer colonial history, regional variations in culture and folk tradition are well recognised. In Australia, they are not.
The popular Australian bluegrass festivals such the Byron Bay Bluesfest sit there like blobs upon the landscape with almost no interconnection with the surrounding area beyond the economic.
I am not knocking them. I value their contribution, they are part of modern New England. But I do wonder listening to the many Radio National programs about these festivals why it is that I now know more about the music of Northern Appalachia than I do about any Australian region?
I have obviously opened up a very large topic. It is also one that I am especially ill-equipped to deal with given that I am not musical, while my attempts at dancing can best be described as catastrophic. In fact, I make British Prime Minister May look positively professional!
Still, over the next few columns I thought that I might share with you a little about New England’s folk culture just to open the topic up. You might be surprised at just how much there is.
Jim Belshaw’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org . He blogs at
http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and
http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)