© Warren Fahey
This, of course, is a difficult question to ask for in the over two hundred years since the establishment of the European settlement, and over a hundred years since the golden era of ‘bush’ songs, the world has shifted and the world of entertainment has taken a quantum leap.
I have never liked the descriptive ‘Australian folk’ because folk music has connotations that do not sit comfortably with our young country and the types of music that have evolved. There’s an old adage that says; “line up ten folklorists and ask them for a description and you’ll get ten different descriptions.” – the same would apply to a description of our traditional music.
Readers should refer to my detailed article on the use of descriptive names in the Australian folk revival for at least some directions.
If we use the phrase ‘traditional music’ one direction would be that this music, or at least the story songs and ballads, tell us of our communal history, primarily our emotional history. Like the traditional music of any society these songs cover an extremely wide sweep of subjects. In our case we could pinpoint most areas of our history – he bush, Australians at war, Australia during the lean times, Australian sport, etc and find songs that were created around these events or people.
I have often said that these songs are keys to our national identity and without understanding the past we have little chance of understanding the future. There is also the reality of these songs being cultural landmarks, which help us define ourselves in an increasingly global environment. We are under continual attack by cultural imperialism, notably American cultural influences. And as a relatively small country (in population) and an English-speaking one at that – we simply can’t avoid it. What we can do is continually remind ourselves who we are and why we are a unique culture. Traditional songs can play a role in this process.
Useful sites on Australian folk music are:
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