National Library of Australia


Children's folklore

Children's folklore is one of the most ancient of continuous traditions, and may be divided into two main sections - the folklore OF children, and folklore FOR children.

The folklore of children - children's own lore - includes the playground rhymes, games, chants, counting-out rituals, taunts and insults which are passed on from one 'generation' of primary-school children to another, usually in the school playground. This well-known rhyme which accompanies a hand-clapping game was recorded by Helen O'Shea in Ecklin South, Victoria, in 1989:

Mary Mack, dressed in black,
Silver buttons down her back.
She likes coffee, she likes tea,
She likes sitting on a blackfella's knee.

Children's own lore is transmitted from child to child, whereas folklore for children is passed on from adults to children, who in turn pass it on to their children. It includes nursery rhymes, bouncing or 'dandling' games, traditional fairy stories and family sayings such as the enigmatic 'wigwam for a goose's bridle'. Like some incomprehensible counting-out rhymes, such as Eenee meenee macka racka, there is an element of mystery in some rhymes told to children, such as the baby game recorded by John Meredith in Nyngan, New South Wales, in 1985:

Jabey jeebey jibbjihoy
Jibbiji dooby poorey;
Hikey pikey crikey sikey
Chilli go wallaby doorey.

There are two other aspects of children's folklore - folklore ABOUT children, and a fourth dimension where children might be considered apprentices in the folk culture of their communities. Folklore about children includes sayings such as Spare the rod and spoil the child, or If you tickle the baby's feet you'll make it stutter - sayings which express folk beliefs or opinions about the nature of childhood and child-rearing. Folkloric apprenticeships range from weighty matters such as First Communion and ritual circumcision, to learning traditional folk songs and dances, and domestic practices such as table manners, how to lay the table, light a fire, or predict the weather. There has been little attention paid by field collectors to either of these lesser-known aspects of children's folklore, and there are only a few examples in this survey, such as John Marshall's recording of folk beliefs at Finley High School in New South Wales and Peter Parkhill's recordings of Turkish, Cretan and Macedonian children performing folk songs and dances.

The National Library of Australia's collections of children's folklore also include many examples in languages other than English. For instance, Gwenda Davey recorded the Spanish-language nursery rhyme Arroz con Leche (Rice and Milk) in Melbourne in 1975, and adapted it into English as follows:

Rice and milk,
I'm going to call
On my senorita
From Portugal.
I'll kiss her once,
I'll kiss her twice,
And feed her nothing
But milk and rice.

This survey of children's folklore recordings in the National Library is arranged according to the work of individual collectors, and a brief biographical note is included. The children's folklore listed here is often only a small part of the work of the collectors listed, which includes many other aspects of Australian folk culture.

All recordings in the Library's Oral History Collection are given a TRC (Tape Recording Collection) number, and these are identified here. The conditions under which the public may use the recordings are also noted, as 'Access Conditions'. Dates and places of recordings are included where available.


There may well be many other examples of children's folklore among the National Library's sound-recording collections which have not been uncovered by this researcher. Fish trout, you're out has been a survey carried out over some years, and completed in the year 2002. It should perhaps be considered simply as a work in progress.

Copyright  |   Privacy  |   Contact us