Gwenda Beed Davey (b. 1932) was born in Sydney, but her family moved to Melbourne when she was very young. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and Monash University. She first worked as a teacher and school counsellor in the Victorian Education Department and in 1973 she was appointed a lecturer in psychology and ethnic studies at the Institute of Early Childhood Development in Melbourne. In 1985–86 she was a lecturer at the Footscray Institute of Technology. In more recent years she has been on the staff of the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University and the Cultural Heritage Centre at Deakin University.
Davey acquired a knowledge of Australian folk music as a young woman, when she sang and played the guitar with the Victorian Bush Music Club. She became particularly interested in children’s folklore when she joined the Institute of Early Childhood Development and most of her academic writings were on this subject. In 1979 she and her colleague, June Factor, established the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection, which included records of over 10 000 playground rhymes and songs. Davey was a member of the Committee of Inquiry into Folklife in Australia, set up by the Australian Government in 1986. She was awarded a Harold White Fellowship in 1989 to study the folklore collections of the Library and was the first Director of the Victorian Folklife Association in 1992–93.
Davey and Graham Seal edited The Oxford companion to Australian folklore (1993) and they also wrote A guide to Australian folklore: from Ned Kelly to Aeroplane Jelly (2003). Among her books of children’s rhymes and stories are The great Australian pumpkin (1991), Duck under the table (1991), Jack and Jill, a book of nursery rhymes (1992) and Snug as a bug (2005).
Duck under the table (1991)
Snug as a bug (2005)
The Library’s association with Davey began in 1987 when it agreed to supply her with equipment and tapes for her oral history of childhood project. The first tapes were received in 1988. In 1992 the Library acquired the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection, which Davey had assembled from 1972 to 1977. In 1989 the Library engaged Davey as a consultant on Australian folklore and in subsequent years she carried out a number of oral history interviews, as well as working on several oral history and folklore projects. The personal papers of Davey were purchased in 1999.
The Oral History of Childhood Collection comprises 15 interviews recorded by Davey in Melbourne in 1988. The interviews deal mostly with life in the inter-war years, but a few memories extended back to the end of the nineteenth century. The recordings deal with earliest memories, family relationships, houses, schools, games, hobbies, picnics, chores, the impact of the Depression and first jobs.
The Australian Children’s Folklore Collection was recorded by Davey in Melbourne from 1972 to 1977. They feature both children and adults performing songs, rhymes, chants, riddles, verse and playground games. They include children’s songs, rhymes and stories from Italy and Turkey.
The Moe Folklife Oral History Project, which consists of eight interviews, was recorded by Davey in 1995–96. The aim of the project was to document the living folk culture within the city of Moe in the Latrobe Valley of Victoria, focusing on handcrafts, music and dance, customs and celebrations, children’s folklife, foodways and occupational folklore.
The Tradition Bearers Oral History Collection comprises 32 recordings made between 2003 and 2005 by Davey and two other interviewers, and focuses on people with a lifetime of experience working in a particular craft or occupation. They include a farmer, a textile artist, a saddler, an apiarist, a stonemason, a funeral director, a seamstress, a basket maker and an Easter egg painter.
The Children’s Folklore Collection comprises 21 recordings about children’s games made in 2005–06 with children in the schoolyards of three Victorian primary schools. Davey organised this pilot project, although she did not do the interviewing.
Among other recordings made by Davey and held in the Library are interviews with the folklorists Percy Jones, Norm O’Connor, June Factor, Keith McKenry and Graham Seal.
The personal papers of Davey comprise notes for talks, seminar papers, drafts of articles and books, lectures, research files, correspondence, financial papers and publications. There are substantial groups of papers on The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, the Moe Folklife Project, and Davey’s doctoral thesis, ‘Folklife in Australia: Issues of policy and practice’.
The oral history collections produced by Davey are held in the Oral History Collection. All the recordings have been catalogued individually, as well as at the collection level.
The personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 9352. A finding aid is available online.
Carpenter, Carole, Interview with Dr Gwenda Davey, 2000, TRC 4625
Davey, Gwends and Seal, Graham (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993.
Davey, Gwenda, The Haystack That Got Away, National Library of Australia News, vol. 15 (1), October 2004, pp. 18–21.
Davey, Gwenda, Umbrella Feet: Children’s Folklore and the National Library, National Library of Australia News, vol. 16 (12), September 2006, pp. 19–21.