Sulllivan, Christopher Daniel: The case for an Australian folk music tradition

Christopher Daniel Sullivan

The case for an Australian folk music tradition, PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, 2020 (available on open access, including music files)

Using new and more comprehensive sources this thesis re-interprets the evidence for an Australian folk music tradition: the post-1970 field collections (>90% of recordings), newspaper references (1803—1950), newly searchable and accessible through online databases. By taking this approach and weighing the new evidence, it is argued that the native-born identification was the significant societal shift, however, it was not exclusively male, nor exclusively the product of the frontier, but was formed in towns and small-scale farming communities, and subsequently spread along-with the expanding land-based frontier.

A community-based origin for cultural production displaces the centrality of the masculine, frontier hypothesis interpretation of Australian folk song and re-opens important questions regarding transplanted music, demographics, occupation, and gender.

In addition to this key finding a number of new arguments are advanced: two main centers of influence are indicated: Sydney and Tasmania; the maritime/littoral frontier is proposed as an important contributing factor in shaping musical culture; the farming communities of the Hawkesbury region were the single most influential group, in which non-conformist and Protestant English, Scottish, and Northern Irish influences predominated; vocal composition was not the product of social class, as has generally been believed; a longstanding African-American musical influence is indicated; women are well represented, as carriers of balladry and instrumental music, and of the domestic tradition; Indigenous traditions developed in parallel, with reciprocal two-way borrowings, and shared identification.

While the collected music reflects the transplanted legacy, the motivating force behind that cultural assemblage is the apparent determination to create new traditions to suit the ‘new’ country — native identification in concrete musical form. Relevant comparison is found in the scholarship of Northern Ireland, England, and areas of North America. The characteristic vocal melodies derive from a half-dozen Northern Irish come-all-ye/street ballad tunes. English melody and form are characteristic of some vocal types.

The range of variation found in the vocal music is roughly comparable to that found elsewhere, but not to the same degree, or frequency. The influence from popular music is innate, conditional within the creation-of-new traditions concept, and not seen to negate underlying cultural process. The 1890s literary-nationalists were part, only, of a more widespread and longer-standing celebration of popular idiom — not central to it, as was projected by and through the 1950s folk revival. (Thesis abstract)

More on Chris Sullivan and his work. He was National Folk Fellow 2016. There are regrettably few items on the Honest History website to do with Australian folk music. Use our Search engine with the term ‘folk music’.

30 October 2021

Click here for all items related to: ,