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All Things Folk at the National Library

All Things Folk at the National Library
Explore National Folk Festivals and the National Library's folklore collections online
15 April 2020

Bring all things folk to your living room and explore the folklore collections at the National Library of Australia. You can also relive the excitement of previous National Folk Festivals and associated events by listening to all the recorded proceedings held by the National Library of Australia.

Sing, dance, laugh out loud and celebrate all things folk with the extraordinary variety of folklife and folklore material recorded by Rob and Olya Willis. From the concerts of Paul Joseph or Frank Povah and Chris Cruise, to interviews with Gary Shearston and Tracy Coster, the Rob and Olya Willis Folklore collection is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

Craig Mackenzie, Portrait of Paul Joseph performing and being interviewed for the Rob and Olya Willis folklore collection at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, 21 April, 2011, nla.cat-vn5720434

Mr Willis was a protégé of Australian folk music pioneer John Meredith—the founding member of Australia’s first bush band, The Bushwhackers, who helped form the Australian Folklore Society and the Bush Music Club.

With the help of his wife, Olya, Mr Willis has continued John Meredith’s tradition in collecting material that would otherwise have remained undocumented.

Mr Willis said, ‘People from all walks of life have been recorded. Many were amateur, self-taught musicians who only entertained in their own region. Some were better known. Multicultural, traditional folk, Indigenous, Early Country, Gay and Lesbian songs, activism, bluegrass, are but a few areas recorded. Many of these are online and were well received at the Festival.’

Samuel Cooper, Portrait of Ruth Shepherd and Jen Wurst interviewed at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, 8 April, 2009, nla.cat-vn4707210

The Rob and Olya Willis Folklore collection holds a wealth of rich folklore interviews and recordings. Since 1992, Rob and Olya have also produced themed presentations at the National Folk Festival based on the Library’s collections.

The incredible John Meredith collection features over 100 singers, musicians, writers, storytellers and informants, including Sally Sloane, Jack Luscombe, Frank Hardy, Alan Marshall, Jack Lee, Duke Tritton, John Manifold and Bill Scott.

Dating back to the 1950s, the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore collection includes a rich and diverse array of interviews with and recordings of Australians from all walks of life. With more than 53,000 hours of recordings in the collection, you can listen to stories of both triumph and heartache told by the people who lived them.

Craig Mackenzie, Les and June Bruton playing with Kevin Bradley during a recording session at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, 4 April, 2012, nla.cat-vn6180290

A strength of the folklore collection has been its reflection of Australia’s multicultural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. A rich example of this includes the Manuel Casha Maltese folklore music project which features Zansu Vassallo and Alfie Xuereb and Salvu Farrugia playing Ave Maria on guitar and Mike Magrin and George Bartolo playing Guitar Prejjem and France Falzon songs

The Norm O’Connor folklore collection includes a wide variety of folk material from Aboriginal Australians in the 1960s. Some wonderful highlights include Anne Mason and Cyril Lindsay who were recorded playing gum leaf and Aaron Briggs who was recorded at Barmah and Sophie Briggs who was recorded at Cummeragunja performing folk music.  

The National Library of Australia is collecting ephemera and archiving websites to capture current events. We preserve today what is important tomorrow.

The National Library of Australia is currently closed to the public, but our collections are searchable online through the Oral History collection, the Catalogue and Trove.