The Library’s Oral History and Folklore collection records the voices that describe our cultural, intellectual and social life.  

Among those interviewed for the over 55,000 hours of recordings are performers and creative artists, some of whom feature in the Library's On Stage exhibition.  

Robert Helpmann

A man with beard, moustache and long eyebrows looks over his shoulder off-camera.
Rennie Ellis, Sir Robert Helpmann, Melbourne, 1972, nla.obj-145149146

Actor, dancer, choreographer, artistic director—Sir Robert Helpmann (1909–1986) did it all.

Born in Mount Gambier, South Australia, in the 1930s he found success with the Vic-Wells Ballet in London. He starred in two of the great 1940s films: Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and The Red Shoes (1948), the latter of which he also choreographed.  

Helpmann was named Australian of the Year for 1965, the year he was appointed co-artistic director (with Peggy van Praagh) of the Australian Ballet. 

Listen to Sir Robert Helpmann interviewed by Hazel de Berg

Peggy Van Praagh

After Edouard Borovansky died, British dancer and teacher Peggy van Praagh (1910–1990) was invited to be artistic director of his ballet – The Borovansky Ballet.  

In 1962 she became the Australian Ballet’s inaugural artistic director, a position she held until 1974 (and again in 1978). Praagh was stubborn and plain-speaking, with an ambitious vision for the company. 

Listen to Van Praagh interviewed by Hazel de Berg

Kristian Fredrikson

Sketch showing costume design featuring a long cape, blue and brown patterns and regal detailing.
Kristian Fredrikson (1940–2005), Costume Design for the Character of the Duke for Melbourne Theatre Company’s Production of The Revenger’s Tragedy, 1975nla.obj-509653896

Born Frederick John Sams in New Zealand, Kristian Fredrikson (1940–2005) designed costumes and sets for Australian ballet, theatre and opera companies.  

He was passionate about ballet and formed a productive artistic partnership with choreographer Graeme Murphy, the long-time artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company. In an oral history recorded with the library, Fredrikson said: ‘Graeme is like some magic thing that happened to me in my career’. 

Listen to an excerpt from Fredrikson’s interview with Michelle Potter in the Esso Performing Arts Collection: 

17 January 1993 Interview

Irina Baronova

Irina Baronova (1919–2008) was one of the youngest members of the Ballets Russes when it toured Australia in 1938–39.  

In an oral history recorded by the Library in 2007, she recalled what she remembered most: ‘The reception we were getting and the amount of people that came on the pier to see us off, people from the audience ... That was so touching … we never experienced [this] anywhere else’. 

Listen to a different excerpt from Baronova’s interview with Michelle Potter in the Esso Performing Arts Collection:  

28 August 1994 Interview

Doris Fitton

Dark photograph of a woman posed in a long dress and jewellery.
Portrait of Dame Doris Fitton, founder of the Independent Theatre, Sydney, ca. 1930s, nla.obj-138048795

Doris Fitton ran Sydney’s bold experimental Independent Theatre for 47 years.

In an oral history recorded by Hazel de Berg, she said: ‘When I started the Independent Theatre in May 1930, I had two objects. The first one was to present the world’s best plays as well as we possibly could, and the other objects was the development of Australian talent’. 

Hear the full interview

The Bushwhackers

A group of performers play varied musical instruments atop a raised stage to a large crowd.
The Bushwhackers at the Smith Family event, Sydney Showground, 1955, nla.obj-147277128

Folk historian and musician John Meredith was a major figure in folk music in Australia. In the 1950s he was a founding member of the folk group The Bushwhackers, which had an enormous influence in Australian folk music.  

His extraordinary collection of recordings, manuscripts and instruments is held by the Library.  

Listen to The Bushwhackers perform 'Click go the Shears'

Ruth Cracknell

Perhaps best known for her role in the much-loved television series Mother and Son (co-starring Garry McDonald), Ruth Cracknell (1925–2002) was a versatile star of the stage.  

In 1977 she debuted her one-woman show Just Ruth, which she co-wrote with David Williamson and Alex Buzo for the South Australian Theatre Company. She played multiple characters in a series of sketches. 

Listen to an excerpt from Cracknell’s address at the National Press Club:  

31 March 1989 Interview

On Stage is showing at the National Library of Australia from 4 March - 7 August 2022.

Explore the exhibition online