Saturday, 12 August 2017

Ron Edwards – Folksong as Propaganda

Folksong as Propaganda.

Songs among ordinary people are used as a form of entertainment, but when used in the tourist industry, (or by any Government agency or big business) they are used as propaganda.

No selection of songs put together by either government or business will ever be a true sample of what people sing or used to sing, no matter how genuine the individual pieces might be. Because the pieces will always have been chosen for the purposes of one form of propaganda or another they will only show the one side of the coin that the compilers wish to be known. By the same token most of the sources consulted for my index also show an imbalance of one sort or another, because each editor has started off with an idea of what type of items they wished to present as a typical collection.

For instance take a collection such as Meredith's two volume Folk Songs of Australia, undoubtedly the best and most unbiased collection published. Although collected in roughly the same area (though at different times) from the same sort of people the volumes are quite different in the character of their contents. Volume two contains a much higher percentage of dance tunes than volume one, not because there were fewer dance tunes about when the first volume was prepared but because during the two decades that separated the volumes Meredith, like many other folklorists, came to realise the importance that dance has played in our traditional music. Some collections have been put together from a political viewpoint, while others set out to illustrate only the songs of one group, such as servicemen.

One critic has suggested that this present index lists too many songs that he does not consider as "bush songs" which only goes to prove that even the critics wish to have our folksongs conform to a certain pattern, and would like to censor or cull them out to fit their own preconceived ideas. This of course was the secret of the success of the folksongs that were arranged and presented by the late British folklorist A.L.Lloyd. He knew what urban Australians were looking for in bush songs, and so he took the songs from the mouths of bush people and re-wrote them in a laconic, hard-bitten style that sounded more genuine than the real thing. Not that I am criticising him for this, because his popular arrangements served the purpose of opening the doors to our genuine folk song to many people.

Why Do It?

Perhaps at this stage it would be appropriate to discuss why I should spend so much of my life preparing a vast assemblage of abbreviations, notes and numbers which few people are likely to ever own or even wish to consult. The how part is easy to explain. The production of an index of this size and limited interest is doomed from the outset to lose money and my accountant tells me that the 1988 printing of this index lost the equivalent of ten months average wages.

Fortunately the story is just the opposite with my series of books on traditional crafts, and it is the money from the continuing sale of these that has allowed me to pursue the folly of this new and much larger index. Apart from the money, the preparation of such an index takes up a huge amount of time, frequently the production of half a page of notes on one song will take a whole day.

For this reason I began getting up at 5am every morning, weekends included, for three years, in order to get in a few hours work on the index before beginning my work on other books. But as the number of volumes produced grew larger so did the time I spent daily on the job, so what had begun as a few hours in the morning gradually grew until it was 5am to 5.30pm every weekday, and the early morning hours on the weekends.

So that was how I did it, but the why is a different matter. Certainly it was not for the use of other folklorists, there are so few that it would be easier to phone them up individually than write a book for them. To give you some statistics the Australian Folklore Society, of which I am currently President, has only about 25 financial members. The only other organization devoted to our folklore, the Australian Folklore Association, at present exists in name only and is, at the time of writing, striving to attract back some financial members.

I think I really did it in the hope that one day our children, fed on a diet of American culture, may one day turn and look back to see what made Australians what they are, or were, and this work will provide a stepping stone on the way.

Ron Edwards, June 1994.

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