Peter Parkhill was a singer in various folk music clubs in Melbourne in the early 1970s when he became interested in the musical traditions of various language, nationality or region-based communities. He became known to many singers and musicians and was invited to their homes and to parties and concerts where there music was played. With some assistance from the Australia Council, he began to record their music and also interviews and has continued to do so ever since. He has produced many programs on these musical traditions for Radio National.
Parkhill is a graduate in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology and has written several scholarly papers on folk music and traditional music. He has at times had academic appointments, but for much of his career he has been a freelance oral historian. In 1993 he was appointed by the Newcastle City Council to carry out an oral history project on the Newcastle earthquake. In 1994-95 he undertook the Voices from Illawarra project for the National Library.
The original collection was purchased by the National Library in 1986. In 1991-93 the Library provided grants to assist Parkhill in recording singers and musicians and further recordings of this kind have been received in more recent years. The Library also helped fund the Newcastle Earthquake and ‘Voices of Illawarra’ projects in 1993-95.
The original collection comprised 222 tapes and cassettes, with over 60 hours of playing time. They were mostly recorded in Melbourne in 1975-83 and include traditional songs and dance music of Turkey, songs and dances of Abruzzi and Compo Basso, Russian songs and liturgical chants, traditional music of Greece, Greek Macedonia, Crete and Syria and Lebanese improvised poetry. There are also yarns, rhymes and songs of rural Gippsland and Pacific Islander music. In 1990 Parkhill added 32 tapes and cassettes recorded in Sydney in 1986-87, including Timorese and Paraguayan music, a Vietnamese music ensemble and interviews with directors of Greek, Turkish and Serbian music and dance organisations. In 1993 further tapes were added relating to Arabic, Persian, Greek, Turkish, Hungarian and South American music.
The collection comprises 46 interviews on 175 tapes with people involved in the aftermath of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. They include a seismologist, an architect, builders, engineers, a demolition worker, social workers, a trade union leader, police officers, fire brigade officers, a politician, councillors and academics and a playwright.
The ‘Voices from Illawarra’ collection consists of 18 interviews on 93 tapes with people who had lived in the Illawarra region from the 1920s to the 1990s. They include a civil engineer, school teachers and language teachers, a trade union official, a retired waterside worker, a retired coal miner, a bush worker and a leader of the Italian community.
Later recordings acquired from Parkhill include interviews with Greek Australian musicians and broadcasters, Australian folksingers, an Australian Aboriginal singer, and anthropologists and musicologists.
The Parkhill Collection is housed in the Oral History Collection. The later recordings have been catalogued individually, but only a small number of the recordings in the three collections described above have been catalogued.
Parkhill, Peter, A familiar air, National Library News, vol. 5 (5), Feb. 1995, pp. 17-21