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-The Project



© Warren Fahey


The Project


When I made the big step to concentrate full time on folklore (ten year’s ago) I realised I would also need to produce outcomes that could help pay the bills. I have always been good at what has become known as multi-tasking, and, in my case, this has meant steering my various folklore projects to some sort of usually unpredictable financial outcome. None would work financially as individual projects however a grant here, royalty payment there and a few concerts and tours seem to bring in enough to keep the dingoes from the door. I mention this because so many different organisations, especially educational, media or governmental bodies call upon my services assuming I am paid ‘by someone’. I have always responded positively to most requests as I see this as part of my duty as a collector. I guess I live by the ‘what goes around, comes around’ karmatic rule. That said, I did apply and get two art’s grants to specifically encourage me to continue the Folklore of Sydney project. The first was a grant from the City of Sydney Cultural Fund with the support of the then Lord Mayor, Lucy Turnbull, and the City Historian, Dr. Shirley Fitzgerald. The second was a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. The latter being what the Council calls a ‘matching grant’ (although of a lesser amount it was dependent on an outside body, in this case the City of Sydney, being a partner. Both grants made the work viable and were (obviously) very welcome. The main point here being that there is now a precedent open to other folklorists in other cities.

One of the key factors of any grant-funded venture is the outcome. Both my funding bodies were aware of my history in producing books, radio programming, compact discs and concerts and these, of course, were my main listed outcomes. They did not place any specific conditions on the grants other than the City of Sydney requesting three performances or talks based on the results. These were eventually fulfilled with presentations to the Sydney Historical Society, Sydney Mechanic’s School of Arts and the Kings Cross Library. Mind you, they were only three of hundreds I have given over the past years. 

The expressed outcomes included the obvious research and documentation of a selected list of specific subjects which would be used in the preparation of a book, DVD and/or on my Australian Folklore Unit website, plus a program of concerts and talks based on the material. Because of the nature of my style of collecting some of the specified subjects were not covered simply because of lack of time and resources. Others were either noted or expanded because folklore collecting tends to be rather haphazard in that one subject can lead into another. I have stated many times that collecting and researching folklore is similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. I’d also suggest it’s also like Snakes & Ladders as one slides in and out of research fields.

Three of the most significant outcomes were not planned. By coincidence by the time I commenced the project I had also commenced work on recording a large number of Australian songs and bush verse for a planned anthology. Although the original series contained a large number of Sydney-related songs, I was able to add new material to the mix. Many of the songs were from early newspapers and magazines and, obviously without tunes, so the challenge arose to provide appropriate musical settings to these songs. This enabled me to bring to life some songs about neglected aspects of Sydney’s musical history. Examples would be ‘The Flying Pieman’, ‘When Dally Kicked the Goal’ and a song about the 1879 ‘Sydney International Exhibition’. See some Sydney songs. ABC Music issued the series as Australia: Its Folk Songs & Bush Verse in 2009, and in 2010 ABC Books will publish the accompanying book containing song verses, music notation and background notes.

The second, and most unexpected outcome, came in the form of an invitation to participate in the 2010 Biennale of Sydney. I had gathered quite a collection of maritime folklore and specifically about Cockatoo Island. The project, a multi screen installation to be housed in the Island’s convict barracks, will feature a considerable amount of material sourced during my Folklore of Sydney project and offer visitors an opportunity to see rare archival images married to equally rare traditional songs from the NLA Folklore & Oral History Collection (including songs collected by John Meredith, Norm O’Connor, Bob Michell and myself).

The third outcome is performance related. As readers will appreciate, a good deal of my manuscript and newspaper research took place at the Mitchell Library. The State Library of New South Wales will celebrate the Mitchell’s Centenary in 2010and once again my recycling approach to collecting will be involved. I will be presenting three themed concerts: ‘A Convict’s Tour of Hell’ (the life and work of Frank ‘The Poet’ Macnamara)), ‘True Patriots All’ (newly sourced material on convict broadsides) and ‘’Billy Barlow’s Troubles in Australia’ (newly sourced material on emigration and pioneer settlement)