State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 9 April 1972


A Collection of Oral History, Traditions and Folk Lore in the La Trobe Library

Libraries are traditionally concerned with the written word, but this article deals with a collection of spoken words — social history, folk lore and oral traditions preserved on tape.
On the whole, oral evidence has been little valued by historians who tend to be ‘tradition bound’ when it comes to source materials, and despite the growth of oral collections overseas particularly in the United States, there has not been any corresponding growth of oral collections in Australian libraries. The expense of collecting and storing oral material is one obvious explanation, but I think that the major one is that libraries tend to respond to scholarly demand, and that as yet this demand is not strong.
Historical ‘evidence’, it seems, is still seen to reside in the printed word, but it seems strange that scholars, especially in the field of social history, should spend so much time burrowing through newspapers, etc., yet ignore the oral tradition. Printed evidence is only the visible tip of a vast iceberg. Moreover, oral evidence captures the mood and spirit of the informant, and says so much more than the written word about what it felt to be present at a particular time in history. Just the way an informant relates a given fact or story is invaluable in interpretation.
There is a real historical need to preserve the voices of the past, so that future generations may come to know better the thoughts of influential men1 and, I hasten to add, uninfluential men too. The ‘common man’ approach is used in some oral history projects already established in America, especially in labour and local and social history.2
In New England some oral history projects have chosen important facets of local history — interviews with policemen who went on strike in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, and explanations of lobstermen on the Maine coast about the technology and economics of lobstering. At least one municipality has installed a tape recorder in the City Hall so that residents may drop in and record their memories of the district. Demarcation disputes have even broken out among collectors, and we read discussions on whether oral history is properly the province of historian, archivist, town clerk or librarian. Richard Bartlett wrote in the April 1969 issue of the Journal of Library History that oral history ‘belongs as a discipline or an accession method, not to historians but librarians’, and libraries in Newark, New Jersey and Indiana State have launched their own oral history projects.3
Recently I thankfully finished indexing a collection of tape recordings which are now in the La Trobe Library. It contains about 150 hours of material including yarns, songs, poems, superstitions, dance tunes, local lore and legend; idiomatic expressions, descriptions of working conditions and techniques, social life, entertainments and games; social attitudes and local history, labour history; riddles and children's play rhymes; reminiscences and the like, which were in the main collected on a round-Australia trip during 1969.
Having long been interested in Australian folk lore I had decided to collect it
on tape during a year's holiday, and so approached the Commonwealth Literary Fund for a small grant, the La Trobe for tapes, and Akai Australia for a taperecorder. In fact I started out only looking for folk lore, but almost immediately I was confronted with the life memories of people ranging from cheerfully frank cattle-duffers to pearling masters, so had to decide whether to collect all this rich and fascinating material or not. Knowing that if I left it, it would be lost, I did the only possible thing — turning the recorder down to its lowest speed for tape economy I took the lot.
Now, two years later, having spent much time working on the tapes, indexing, cross referencing and copying them, I believe that I did even better than I knew, because from this seemingly amorphous mass of talk, patterns have emerged — patterns of living, of thought and belief, of social attitudes, patterns of speech and language, information that has been more often than not hidden from those who might use it profitably.
I myself gained much from the broadening of my field, finding that to understand a people's lore and legend it was essential to understand their life, how they worked, laughed, ate and dressed. I became even more sure than I had been, that a social historian must know how his people sang, the stories they told, how they entertained themselves, their consolations and their heroes, the ways in which they see themselves, their lore and legend. As a result of this year spent in the field I now know a great deal about what it was like to be alive in this country from the 1890s to the present day, and that information is now available to anyone else who will use it.
This collection is of necessity a random one, the only pattern it follows being the pattern of our travels. Where we stopped for a while, took jobs and got to know people we usually have rich collections; where we rushed through, the collection is usually correspondingly thin. When we ran out of time we were in North Queensland, so we did not collect at all in the south of that State or in New South Wales. Tasmania was not visited. But though it suffers from all the limitations of such an approach, it also has the value of a survey.
It reveals the tips of many icebergs and indicates where there are rich deposits that should be mined at depth. It points to pockets of local lore and legend and some fascinating by-ways of history. In some notable areas it gathers together a large and, I think, important body of material, as in the cattle and pearling industries, the field of oral literature, in the history of Nomads Inc. (the Aboriginal co-operative led by Don McLeod of Port Hedland), in the story of life on the Cape York peninsula during the last 80 years, in children's play rhymes and adult games. The entire collection is rich in local idioms and trade terminology.
The late Stan Boyd, of Cooktown, one of the most interesting men I have ever met, spent many hours telling me the memories of a long life spent on and around Cape York, sang songs and played dance tunes learnt from his mother.
I collected songs from the wife of a rabbit trapper living on the Nullarbor and recollections of a man, who from the age of eight, drove a donkey team up the Birdsville track from Marree. I noted that in this central part of South Australia the old-timers have a distinctive way of pronouncing local place names, and that all over Australia where men had lived and worked with Aboriginals they themselves used pidgin English as part of their everyday speech, so that they spoke of being ‘proper cold’ or ‘proper hungry’.
Many men had childhood memories which are almost inconceivable to city dwellers, and those who had lived with Aboriginals contributed fascinating examples of attitudes of white men to black men on the frontiers.
Children, of all classes, were found to have an outrageous subculture, expressed in their play-rhymes and jokes, from which they tried to shield their parents, and of which those same parents are often dimly and disapprovingly aware.
The bushmen of the day hardly thought about the rights and wrongs of World War I. My informants made for the nearest town to join up, even offering quite large bribes to doctors who rejected them, because ‘they wanted to be there with their mates’.
A retired pearling master and storekeeper of Broome spent many hours telling me all his memories of the industry and the town, and I also talked to Aboriginals and indentured labourers about their pearling experiences.
What next? Because most of my work was done in the cattle country, I intend to complete a social history of the cattle industry on tape; then perhaps I will work on some major city industry. One fascinating field would be the racing game, with its rich lore, legend and life-style. If oral history and traditions are your interest I do not suggest that you should go around Australia, but that you should work in your neighbourhood or workplace. There is a need for professionals, but room for amateurs too.
I have been puzzled to know how best to write about this collection, and it seems to me now that the best way is to publish an annotated list of informants arranged in geographical (and chronological) order so as to present it in a logical and readable way, and also to publish a subject-index to give some real idea of its scope.
One of the problems with oral material is that its use entails unfamiliar techniques, and until such time as libraries are able to have the material typed (which provides an additional finding-aid, not a substitute for the actual oral material) the information must be sought on the tapes itself.
To make the finding process easier, I have made a shelf-list of contents in the order in which they appear on tape. This runs to 30 foolscap pages of single-spaced typescript and is fairly detailed (List A). Along with this goes an annotated list of informants in alphabetical order, a subject index, and an index of songs, poems and tunes.
The indexes published in this journal (the annotated list of informants and the subject index) are somewhat abridged, and it must be emphasized that the indexes in the La Trobe should be consulted before using the tapes.
In these tapes there are occasional technical lapses. On one occasion two huge bulldozers operated in competition, others were made in a bar when the company was roaring drunk, and throughout the North the fans and cooling systems are ever present. On another occasion the microphone cut out. Had I been interested in presenting a finished work I would have omitted these tapes. I consciously decided to omit nothing, just as I decided not to edit. I am not offering a finite collection or a work of art, but the raw material of history — folk lore, song, language studies, sociology, psychology, music, oral literature and drama to people who I hope will use it.
Wendy Lowenstein

The Informants

  • Coull, Jim, Melbourne, V. Tape 61. Well known in Victorian Union circles, Jim, aged about 70, and the former secretary of the Liquor Trades Federation, was a noted Socialist orator at the Yarra Bank and Red Square, Albert Park, and took part in unemployed workers’ struggles in Melbourne Ports. During the war he took up the collections at the huge political meetings held by the various organisations of the left. He discusses his youth on the Red Clyde, the history of early Australian Socialist groups, Trades Hall politics and the times he contested Melbourne Ports as a socialist candidate.
  • Children, Richmond, V. 59, 60. Because I was very well acquainted with this group they told me all their rhymes, not only those which they would normally recite in polite adult company. I believe that most of these rhymes are known to at least some children in nearly every group I have encountered. All the rhymes collected in Victoria and included in this collection have been used by Ian Turner in Cinderella Dressed in Yella (Heinemann Educational, 1969), a collection of Australian children's play-rhymes, and are classified there.
  • Children, Prahran, V. 59. These rhymes were collected from my own children and their friends in company with Norm and Pat O'Connor. They are good versions, well performed by girls who are older than the usual tradition-bearers of this genre. This unusual state of affairs occurred because they attended a new State High School which was operating in temporary accommodation with limited playground space. There being no room for more energetic games, they reverted to clapping rhymes etc. for amusement.
  • McDonald, Geoff, Melbourne, V. 48. Geoff, aged about 40, was then an organiser of the B.W.I.U. and a keen observer of folk ways of building workers, their traditions, lore and legend, their trade idioms and their social attitudes.
  • Tippet, Roy, Melbourne, V. 54. A carpenter, Roy is about fifty, a romantic Australian and a creator of lore and legend. He has a fund of stories about the building trades. Good for trade terminology.
  • Smith, Alf, Maldon, V. 20, 21, 22, 25. Alf, who is in his nineties, has lived in Maldon. His childhood memories are of life on a poor and unsuccessful selection. He tells of the hold that the local miller had on the selectors and talks of the goldrush days, of social life, Chinese residents, class distinctions, local dances of which he was M.C. for many years, and of depression times. He also sings several songs. He was a carrier for most of his life.
  • Bartlett, Mr. and Mrs. Tom, St. Helens, V. 22. Tom Bartlett is the grandson of successful Western District selectors, and told stories about the goldfields. His wife sang a fragment of ‘The Gum Tree Canoe’ and told of her great grandmother's death in childbirth on Ballarat at the time of Eureka.
  • Kelly, Mrs., Port Fairy, V. 22, 23. Mrs. Kelly, the mother of Tom Bartlett, is about 85; she describes the daily and weekly household routine on a small Western District farm, and the lives of women and girls there, including household equipment, social life and entertainment, side-saddles and horse riding, cooking for shearers and the visits of Indian hawkers.
  • Baker, Charlie, Mannum, S.A. 24. Had a poem of his own about fishing on the Murray.
  • Baker, Bert, Mannum, S.A. 25, 26.
    Bert, who is in his late seventies, is a retired river boat mate. His stories range from river identities to technical matters, floods and changes in ‘bottom end’ life since the barrage was built across the lakes at the Murray mouth.
  • Dodd, Jack, Goolwa, S.A. 26, 27. Born about 1915, Jack comes from a river family, and is steeped in its history. A born story teller and hard case, he talks about ‘bottom end’ characters and fishermen.
  • Anon., Kapunda, S.A. 25. This poem about ‘The Wheatsheaf Inn’ was displayed in the window of a small museum in Kapunda.
  • Ellard, Bert, Glenelg, S.A. 23, 24. We met Bert Ellard at Port McDonnell where he spent his youth. He is an outstanding informant who gave me many dance tunes on the accordion and mouth organ. Now in his mid-eighties, he takes a critical attitude to his own performance. Apart from his tunes he sang one song. Son of a small farmer who used to do some bootmaking on the side, he described life including entertainments, shearing sheds and bush work in the district.
  • Groves, Ted, Quorn, S.A. 29. Aged 65, Ted was about to retire to Adelaide. He learnt to play the saw in England and is the only saw player I have encountered.
  • Kite, Archie, Quorn, S.A. 27. Archie, aged about 70, is now the caretaker of the camping ground at Quorn. At the age of eight he was driving a donkey waggon out of Quorn, accompanying his father who drove another team. He has spent most of his life carting with camels and donkeys all over the Centre, up the Birdsville Track and to the copper mines in the northern Flinders Ranges. Like Spider Willard he employs a distinctive pronunciation of local place names and talks about social life, dances, loading camel teams, eye troubles and bush dentistry.
  • Kite, Joe, Quorn, S.A. 29. Joe, who is Archie Kite's brother, resembles him little. A very bent man of about 65 years, he sings the songs of Hank Snow with an almost religious devotion and writes his own songs in the same style. He sang us two or three, but we found it difficult to pin him down to a further session.
  • Manning, Jack, Quorn, S.A. 27, 28, 29. Jack, since deceased, was in his eighties. He had been a drover up into Queensland and worked with camels, and had a deadpan way of telling hilarious yarns. He had a very short poem about camel drivers.
  • Willard, Harold (Spider), Quorn, S.A. 27, 28, 29. Spider was with the Government camel teams and also worked as a navvy on the building of the Trans-.continental line. He and Jack Manning discussed dancing, the railways, droving and carrying, aboriginals, bush cookery, Irishmen on the railways, and he also played dance tunes on the accordion.
  • Hockley, Fai, Madura, W.A. 29. The wife of a rabbit trapper on the Nullarbor, Fai sets the words of poems written by another rabbit trapper friend to country and western style tunes. She sings one here, and also yodels.
  • Vickers, Bert, Perth, W.A. 29. Bert is a writer of English birth, aged about 67 who worked as a wool classer in the north. He talks about various folk characters and shearing shed life, bush preachers and nicknames.
  • Children, Perth, W.A. 29. The songs and rhymes are similar to those collected in Melbourne. Their parents listened, and corrected their pronunciation or warned ‘Not that one!’ I have found it impossible. to collect the full range of play-rhymes when parents are about.
  • Gratte, Stan, Geraldton, W.A. A poultry farmer and former railwayman talks about the Ambania Ghost whose
    appearance he witnessed, about local aboriginal tribes and cannibalism.
  • O'Malley, Ned, Geraldton, W.A. 32, 33. Ned, an erect man born in 1887, has a very good memory. Born on the Greenough Flats where his parents lost their farm in the great floods, he speaks with a very slight Irish brogue. He is illiterate although his sisters went to school. He reminisces about life as a child, bartering farm produce, dances and dancing, family life, women's work, ghost stories, the lead mines, and is especially interesting about the ‘Bootenal Light’, a phenomenon to which all ‘old hands’ in the district swear.
  • Pass, Harry, Geraldton, W.A. 33, 34. Harry, then aged 79, still worked full time for Geraldton Council, was Clerk of Course at the racecourse and was active in the football club. A member of a pioneer family, it is almost impossible to get him to stay in one place, and on the only occasion I succeeded there were two huge bulldozers working a few feet away. His description of the family butcher's shop, and his mother's life was fascinating. He worked on the wharf and was a drover. He discusses droving life and the nicknames of drovers, social life, entertainments, racing and football, the local Afghan population and bullock driving.
  • Criddle, Mrs., Geraldton, W.A. 34. Born about 1890, Mrs. Criddle is an authority on the district and talked about her childhood, women's life, midwives, dancing, weddings, household equipment, etc.
  • Richards, Ray, Kalbarri, W.A. 37, 38. Born about 1920, Ray, a male nurse from Perth, was holidaying on the Murchison. He told some good army yarns and gave his childhood memories of a small farm near Perth.
  • Fry, Mrs. Mamie, Geraldton, W.A. 34. Mrs. Fry, born about 1905, was a bank manager's daughter, and as a girl shared her social life with the children of the district's ‘best’ families. She convincingly describes a way of life which did not survive the depression. It was a grandiose existence adorned with English governesses, imported clothes and frequent trips to that ‘home’ which was so much more accessible to Geraldton than was the East of Australia. Dances, and tennis parties, special trains and education are remembered.
  • Clarke, Jack, Geraldton, W.A. 30. A sober witness, Jack who is in his late seventies, had been a horse carter working for his father. The sheer hard work of life in a small country town, life on a small farm, bartering produce in the absence of money, women's life, sandalwood gathering, and working in a hardware shop are also discussed.
  • Patten, Mrs., Geraldton, W.A. 32. The daughter of Ned O'Malley, aged about 60, Mrs. Patten worked as a servant on New-marracarra and describes the stately life there. She talks of station life, the depression, and reports a possible recent sighting of the Bootenal Light.
  • Callaghan, Jack, Geraldton, W.A. 35, 36. A clerk in the Loco Sheds at Geraldton, aged about 40, Jack grew up in a railway family at Mullewa. A notable hard case and yarn spinner, Jack also writes poems about the job. (See Australian Tradition, 12/69, 12/71, 6/71.) He tells many yarns about local identities, and the railways, and is an informant who would repay considerable attention.
  • McCasker, Peter, Geraldton, W.A. 35. Peter, who is about 70, is more noteworthy for the stories told about him by Jack Callaghan than for the material on the tape. A famous railway ‘character’, he talks about railway characters and about
    cattle-duffing on the Canning Stock Route.
  • Whitworth, Archie, Geraldton, W.A. 30. About 30 years of age, Archie is the Clerk of Courts and tells some good stories about policemen, and also fishing yarns, especially about the crayfishermen on the Abrolhos Islands. (See Australian Tradition, 12/69.)
  • Wilton, Mick, Geraldton, W.A. 29, 30. Mick, in his seventies, played dance tunes on the accordion and told some tales about the district.
  • Anonymous Ex-Servicemen, Cue, W.A. 20. Two army poems: the first refers to an incident when one Australian Division returning from action were called drunkards in the press. The second is called W.X. Unknown.
  • Daniel, Paddy, Cue, W.A. 20. A stockman in his middle sixties and a celebrated local rider, Paddy discusses picnic race meetings and dances, singing to the cattle, and the Bootenal Light.
  • Thompson, Nulla, Meekatharra, W.A. 36, 37. Nulla is a former boss drover who employed Aboriginal ‘boys’. Crippled as a result of a camel accident in childhood, he lived a normal bushman's life and has ridden winners in picnic races. He epitomises the ‘flash’ drover, but his stories of educating ‘native boys’ are discounted by Aboriginals who knew him, and who say he was talking tough. He describes the droving life and sings one song.
  • Barker, Watty, Murchison House Station, Kalbarri, W.A. 35. A part Aboriginal of great dignity, Watty was born on Tamala Station and walked to Murchison House with his mother as a small child. Illiterate, he spent many years as a fencing contractor until he was ‘caught by the tax’. He talks about Murchison House station life.
  • Drage, Jack, Kalbarri, W.A. 38. Jack's father owned Murchison House and he grew up there. He speaks of his childhood, life in Northampton, dances, bush entertainments and Aboriginals on the Station.
  • Pepper, Tom, Shark Bay, W.A. 41. Born about 1900, Tom is an Englishman who came to the Murchison about 1916 and has worked on the coast since as shearer, dogger, and now as station manager. He found the wreck of the Zuytdorp. An authority on the district, he gave me some of his own poems, descriptions of pearling at Shark Bay, tales of the nearby mining fields and sly-grogging there, and of blade shearing on the Murchison.
  • Children, Pt. Hedland, W.A. 42. These children lived in the Pt. Hedland Caravan Park. Their mother also emerged to say, ‘Not that one’, every time they got to the less polite rhymes.
  • McLeod, Don, Pt. Hedland, W.A. 39, 40. McLeod is a controversial figure in W.A. A white prospector, born about 1905, he helped organise the great strike of Aboriginals in the Pilbara after the war, and has since led the members of Nomads Incorporated, who have wrung a poor but dignified living out of their prospecting operations. These tapes contain much of the story of Nomads Inc., and of the district, as well as McLeod's own philosophy and life story, and his battles with authority. They may not be used without my permission. McLeod was the hero of Y andy, a novel by Donald Stuart and a poem by Dorothy Hewett, ‘Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod’.
  • Kennedy, Bert, Broome, W.A. 25, 49-54. Bert Kennedy, born in 1883, was a storekeeper, agent and pearling master, and has lived in Broome since the early days of the century. He is a sober, reliable yet humorous informant and his outstanding contribution ranges over the entire field of Broome life and the pearling industry. The same subjects come up again and again but not repetitiously. His is the point
    of view of a humane member of the local ruling class, a lugger-owner, family man, employer of coloured labour and secretary of the Master Pearlers’ Association. An outstanding informant.
  • bin Goffa, Abdul, Broome, W.A. 45. Doola was born about 1900, and was an indentured labourer in the pearling industry coming from an island in Portuguese Timor. He was finally trapped in Broome by World War 2. He talks of the pearling industry, the Broome Riot and sings the songs of his native island (Australian Tradition, 9/70). These may not be recorded elsewhere.
  • Djaiguin, Paddy, Broome, W.A. 43, 44, 45. Born about 1883 and educated at Beagle Bay Mission where he was taken by a strategem, Paddy is an elder of the Yaoro tribe and the most knowledgeable man in Broome about ‘tribal business’ available at the time. He sings non-sacred songs to tourists and is used to anthropologists, etc. One of the few Aboriginals who worked in pearling, he talked about the industry, Beagle Bay, and the chain gangs on Broome roads, and of a local folk hero, Kennedy, and his spectacular escapes from custody.
  • Edgar, Tom, Broome, W.A. 42, 43. An Aboriginal in his sixties, Tom talked about naked diving days and the shocking loss of life and health of his people. He sang songs (Jabbi).
  • Chi, Jim, Broome, W.A. 54. The son of a Chinese who came out to the Eastern States goldfields and later became a pearling master at Cossack, Jim, who is in his sixties, works on the wharf. Drove the first taxi in Broome and ran his father's café. His mother was Japanese, and Jim speaks Japanese. He was interned during the war and on returning found all his possessions had been destroyed. He tells of his father's life, his family and the early pearling days.
  • Rowe, Paddy, Broome, W.A. 42, 43. A part Aboriginal, born about 1910, Paddy sings songs, particularly jabbi, a sort of contemporary comment song (Australian Tradition, 12/69). He also talks about local Aboriginal life, station life, food lore and wartime Broome.
  • Perry, Mrs. Jean, Sole's Circus, Broome, W.A. 58. The daughter and granddaughter of circus-owning family, Mrs. Perry is committed to the circus as a way of life, rather against her better judgment. She discusses circus life, traditions, people, and the trip ‘Across the Top’ they had just made, and regrets the Australian lack of appreciation of circus as an art form.
  • McDougall, Les, Sole's Circus, Broome, W.A. 57, 58. The advance manager of Sole's, Les was himself a former performer. He has spent most of his 60-odd years in circus and talks about its various aspects.
  • Perry, Mick, Sole's Circus, Broome, W.A. 57. Uncle Mick to all at Sole's, comes from a circus family himself and talks about training performers, etc.
  • Charles, Al, Broome, W.A. 43. A part Aboriginal in his twenties, Al sings songs of the Hank Snow variety.
  • Bennett, Joe, Broome, W.A. 42, 43. Joe, an Aboriginal who lives at Beagle Bay, worked as a drover for some years with Frank Wilmington.
  • Petrie, Professor Helmuth, Beagle Bay Mission, W.A. 46. Professor Petrie and his wife, anthropologists from Cologne University, have spent several periods at Beagle Bay Mission. He defines jabbi, and describes the making of one (Australian Tradition, 12/69).
  • Hazlett, Sam, Palm Springs (near Halls Creek) W.A. 1, 56. A prospector and contractor, Sam, now in his late fifties, has retired. He epitomises the independent bushman, refuses to ‘work wages’,
    and was one of the few we met who resembled the open-handed, homespun philosopher, battler stereotype. His stories range from his childhood in the wheat belt, through the centre as a prospector and the Eastern Goldfield, W.A.
  • Drinkers, Timber Creek, N.T. 1. An unexpected windfall. Everyone was drunk but us and we were suffering from heat exhaustion. However, there is part of a good poem.
  • Taylor, ‘Squizzy’, Daly River Crossing, N.T. 3. ‘Down on the Daly River O’, a song which gained some currency among the soldiers in the north. The original recording of Taylor (now deceased) was made by Robbie of Wooliana and copied from his tape. (See R. G. Edwards, The Overlander Songbook, Rigby, 1971.)
  • Judge, Bob, Daly River Crossing, N.T. 2, 3. Bob is in his seventies and lives in a spartan style. He understands what folk lore is and why it should be preserved and knows much about the Centre and North. He has sent some of his stories to the La Trobe Library (Australian Tradition, 12/69, 5/70, 9/70, 12/71). He talks of bush tucker, prospecting, cattle duffing, taking a rise out of people, railways, Borroloola and ‘Down on the Daly River O’.
  • Meaney, Jack, Adelaide River, N.T. 2. Jack who is in his sixties has been in the Top End since the twenties. His recollections cover droving, small farming, horses and their diseases, the ‘Gilruth Blight’, the Army in the north, missions and the Chinese.
  • Guard, Jack, Georgetown, N.Q. 3, 4, 5. Jack's party piece is a song called ‘Three Black Crows’ which is clearly related to ‘The Twa Corbies’ and ‘The Three Ravens’. Jack sang two other songs and his reminiscences covered the life of an outback mailman, bush town jobs and cattleman. (See Australian Tradition, 5/70.)
  • Wallace, Bob, Georgetown, N.Q. 5. A retired stockman in his seventies, Bob told stories of local characters, feats of endurance, horses, Aboriginals, brumby shooting, etc.
  • O'Shane, Patrick (Tiger), Holloways Beach, N.Q. 5, 17. A well-known wharfie militant in his late fifties, he is actively interested in the advancement of Aboriginals and islanders. He tells very good yarns but seldom into a tape recorder. He worked on stations and the wharf in W.A., tells tall tales, and talks about Aboriginals, station work, wharf work and terminology.
  • Neilson, Otto, Cairns, N.Q. 5, 6 (since deceased). An erect old man in his eightties, Otto, a wharfie, told stories about living and work in N.Q. especially on the wharf and railways. He had many good stories, songs and poems (Australian Tradition, 1/70).
  • Long, Sam, Tolga, N.Q. 14-17. A famous roughrider in his early seventies, Sam has recently retired from a small cattle property. Physical toughness is an outstanding part of his make-up; the story of how he made it to hospital on his own feet while suffering from acute appendicitis is memorable. His ability to create unwritten literature is unique, and his reminiscences cover the whole gamut of a man's life in N.Q. He also contributes a popular poem, “My Brother Ben and I’, and some songs. An outstanding informant.
  • Jock, Cairns, N.Q. 5. Jock, a Cairns pensioner, told a local version of the story behind the Carlton Brewery's advertisement ‘I always has one at 11’.
  • Dingwall, Jock, Hartley's Creek, N.Q. 7. A former wharfie in his early sixties, Jock is a one-man band (Northern Folk, No. 1) playing for dances on several instruments. His contribution is almost all dance tunes of varying vintages.
  • Bojack, Harry, Ravenswood, N.Q. 17,
    18. A frail old man born in 1888, who had grown up in Ravenswood during the gold rush, Harry gave me several interesting poems (Australian Tradition, 6/71), many local reminiscences of carting wood to the mines, running the mails, etc. He also discussed games, entertainments and sports including Mumble the Peg.
  • Ryan, Mick, Cooktown, N.Q. 7. Now in his seventies, Mick was reared by a local Aboriginal tribe from birth, and has had his autobiography published by Jacaranda. He talks about Aboriginals, a bushman's philosophy, religion, etc.
  • Boyd, Stan, Cooktown, N.Q. 8-13 (since deceased). Stan, one of the most interesting people I have ever met, knew what I wanted and was delighted to be asked. The Cooktown Museum which he created is a monument to his unfailing interest in everything about him. His childhood was spent on the goldfields of Cape York, and in fact apart from some years spent in the sheep country, his life was spent in bush work on Cape York, and he is acquainted with every aspect of it. Characters, nicknames, idioms, customs, women's life and skills, the Chinese, the war, living in the jungle, conflicts with the Aboriginals, social life and entertainment, are all covered in detail as well as the time when as a six-footer he enrolled in the first grade at Nudgee College. He played the mouth organ and the accordion and gave me a number of old jigs, step dances and reels. He also sings some previously uncollected songs and describes bushmen's games and diversions specially Mumble the Peg. He wrote for the North Queensland Register and gave me some of his poems. Natural history was another interest, and his scrapbooks are now in the Cooktown Museum. (See Australian Tradition, 5/70, 12/70.) An outstanding informant.
  • Aboriginal Road Worker, Mount Molloy, N.Q. 11. A part Aboriginal who talked briefly about the ‘Act’ and missions.
  • McLelland, Ron and Kruger, Dave, Ravenswood, N.Q. 18. A bar-room collecting session which unexpectedly yielded useful material, specially old time sentimental songs, and a poem.
  • Stainkey, Alf, Townsville, N.Q. 18, 19. A retired cattleman born in 1891, Alf started off with a selection at Julia Creek. He plays the accordion but not on this tape, and is an extremely good story teller.
  • Drover's Wife (anonymous), Townsville, N.Q. 18, 19. This woman in her late middle age was Alf Stainkey's housekeeper. She had spent her life on the stock routes with her husband and children and describes droving, etc.
  • Blackmore, Sam, Ayr, N.Q. 19, 20. A former resident of Ravenswood, Sam, aged 65, was about to retire. He has a pleasant voice and sang several songs and told stories about claim jumping and N.Q. life.

Subject Index

  • Aboriginals 3, 11, 12 and army 2; chain gangs 44, 45; clashes with whites 10, 56; in cattle industry 13, 18, 39, 40; in droving 37, 42, 56; escapees 8, 10, 44; gambling 14; hard heads 42; heroes 8, 44; as contractors 35; legends 44; missions N.Q. 11, W.A. 43, 44, 45, 48; medicine 44, 45; in pearling 42, 43, 45; place names 16; in police 13, 44, 45; songs — country and western 43; jabbi 42, 44, 46-8; on stations 5, 19, 35, 39, 40, 42; strikes 39, 40; wages 35, 39, 40; women's 13; white baby reared by tribe 7; white men's stories about 30, 32, 35, 36. See also Racial Attitudes.
  • Animals’ Ailments, treatment 1, 2, 15.
  • Army in North 56.
  • Asians in Australia ‘Afghans’ 31, 33; Indians 22, 30; ‘Koepangers’ 49. See also Chinese, Japanese.
  • Broome, W.A. 23, 42-7, 49-55, changing appearance 50; crime 51; depression 53; gambling 53; horse racing 52; identities 52; miscegenation 53; Riot 43-5, 49; South East Asia — contacts 50, 52, 53; shipping 53; in war 52. See also Aboriginals, Chinese, Japanese, Pearling, World Wars, Racial Attitudes.
  • Building Trades, attitudes to migrants, bosses, unions, socialism, etc. 55; craft pride 48, 55; foremen, nicknames, slang, strikes, traditional jokes, yarns 55; State differences, traditions 48, 55.
  • Bullock Drivers and Bullocks 27; swearing 33; yarns 16, 22, 23, 31; voking up.
  • Bushmen, philosophy 1, 3, 14; and money 1, 3, 11, 14, 22, 32; skills 11, 23, 24, 37, 41.
  • Bushrangers, the Kenniffs 17.
  • Cameldrivers and Camels 3, 8, 11, 15, 27-29, 31-33, 36, 56; with Govt. teams 28; loading up 27, 28; yarns 27, 29.
  • Carrying 3, 8, 11, 15, 21, 22, 30; boilers 28; with donkeys, camels 27; harness 22; identities 30; to mines 8, 20, 21, 22; pack-horses 8, 9, 12, 15; charges 13, 17; trucks 8, 20; yarns 8, 20, 22, 23, 27.
  • Cattle and Cattlemen, cattle's habits 29; bangtail muster 11; dress 9, 16; duffing 2, 5, 10, 11, 15-17, 19, 21, 35; decline jobs 56; gear, ropes, etc. 14; heroic tales 4, 5; horses 5, 14; jobs 16; lore and legend 13; N.Q. 5, 8, 9, 11-13, 16; rushes 14, 19; singing to 20, 33, 37; station work 14; stock routes 27, 56; unbranded cattle 19; wages 13; watering stock 36; yards 14. See also Aboriginals, Drovers.
  • Cemeteries 31, 33-5, 52, 54.
  • Childhood 1, 8, 10, 21, 30-34, 36, 38.
  • Children's Play Rhymes 29, 41-2, 59, 60.
  • Chinese 12, 14, 21, 26, 30, 41, 52-54; goldfields 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 20.
  • Circus 6, 57-8.
  • Class Attitudes 4, 5, 21, 37, 45, 48, 61.
  • Clothing 16, 22, 37.
  • Cooking, Bush 2, 11, 14, 16, 27. See also Food, Bush and Domestic Equipment.
  • Dentistry, Bush 9, 27.
  • Depression 21, 23, 61.
  • Dingo Hunting 16, 27, 41, 56.
  • Doctors, Midwives 33, 34.
  • Dogs 14, 15, 16, 21.
  • Domestic Equipment (Home and camp) 9, 11-12, 14, 15, 20, 22, 23, 33; buggy wheel tables 11; camp ovens 14, 27, 33. See also Cooking, bush and Food, bush.
  • Donkeys and Mules 27, 30, 56.
  • Drinks and Drinking 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 20, 28, 36, 38, 45, 56; beer costs 27; breweries 25, 33; D.T.’s 15; gimlet trick 11, 18, 20; pubs 33, 36; sprees 16; sly grog 41.
  • Drovers and Droving 2, 3, 5, 8, 29, 33, 35, 36, 37, 56; Birdsville Track 27; Canning Stock Route 3; cattle 35; food 33; identities 29, 33, 34, 35, 37, 56; plant 9, 36; yarns 14; sheep 19; stealing grass 37; women 19, 37. See also Cattle.
  • Dust Storms 27.
  • Entertainment. See Social Life and Entertainment.
  • Family Life 22, 23, 32, 41.
  • Farmers, Selectors N.T. 2, 7; Q. 18; S.A. 27; Vic. 20, 21, 22, 23, 25; W.A. 32, 33, 38.
  • Fish and Fishing 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 30.
  • Floods 3, 19.
  • Food, Bush 2, 9, 12, 27; damper, etc. 14, 15, 18, 28; dried meat 20; rations 15;
    goat 16; possum 16; turkeys 18.
  • Funerals, Bush 15.
  • Games 13; Mumble the Peg, etc. 16, 17; children's 13.
  • Gambling 6, 14, 26, 31, 32, 37, 44, 53.
  • Ghosts 31-34, 44.
  • Girls, Gibber and Goats 5, 9, 27, 28.
  • Goats 5, 14, 18, 35.
  • Gold 56; Q. 4, 8, 11, 14, 16; Vic. 20, 21, 22; W.A. 30, 31, 56.
  • Good old days 21, 22, 31-33, 34.
  • Heroes 4, 5, 44.
  • Horseracing 20, 34, 36, 37, 52.
  • Horsemen and Horses 2, 5, 8, 9, 12-15, 20, 22, 28, 30, 34, 37, 41; breaking 14, 36; brumbies 14; pack horses 15; vehicles 10, 11, 14, 56; stealing 17; harnessing teams 22.
  • Irish 1, 10, 32; police 1; on railways 1.
  • Japanese, in Geraldton 33, 34, 36, 38; in pearling 43, 44, 50, 52, 54.
  • Labor, movement 61; Party 61.
  • Language, Terminology, Idioms, see various occupations, localities, etc.; in List A idiomatic expressions are indicated by quotes.
  • Mailmen and Mails 3, 4, 5, 8-10, 16, 17.
  • Mateship 56.
  • Millers 20, 22.
  • Min Min Lights 20, 31, 32, 33.
  • Mines 2, 3, 9, 27, 30, 31, 32, 35, 39, 40. See also Gold.
  • Money, attitudes to 11, 14, 37; bartering produce 30, 32.
  • Murray River and Tributaries 25, 26, 27; Bottom End 26; identities 25, 26, 27; islands at mouth 26.
  • Music and Musicians 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 27-29, 34, 37, 38, 41, 49; musical saw 29.
  • North Queensland 6, 11, 12, 14, 16-18, 20; Cape York 8, 11; Pine Tree massacre 9, 10; identities 9, 10, 13; Wenlock 10; Thursday Island song 12.
  • Northern Territory 2, 3, 12; during war 2.
  • Pearling and Pearls 9, 12, 44, 45, 50, 51, 54; accidents 49-54; Aboriginals 45, 50; Cossack 43, 50, 54; culture pearls 54; divers, diving 44, 50-54; dredging 41, 43; hurricanes 44, 45, 52; identities 43, 51-54; indentured labour 45, 46, 49-54; ‘Koepangers’ 45, 46; lay-up season 45; marketing 50; pearls, shell, etc. 51-53; racial discrimination 45; stealing 50, 53, 54; wages, conditions 46, 50-54. See also Aboriginals, Broome, Chinese, Japanese.
  • Police 1, 28, 30, 37, 56; attitudes to 1, 7, 17; politics 4, 61.
  • Prices 8, 10, 12, 21.
  • Pronunciation 4, 29, 33, 37, 56; place names 14, 28. See also Language.
  • Queensland. See North Queensland.
  • Racial Attitudes 2, 3, 5-7, 10, 18-20, 23, 25, 31, 35, 37, 38, 41-55, 56.
  • Railwaymen and Railways 2, 6, 28, 32, 35; drinking 35; loafers 36; towns 35; trade unionism 35; Transcontinental Line, building 27, 28.
  • Religion, Salvation Army 29.
  • Roads 22, 56.
  • Sandalwood Industry 30, 31, 45.
  • Schools and Schooling 6, 8, 22.
  • Shearers and Sheep 23, 27, 28, 29, 31, 41; blades 31, 41; champions 41; Speewa yarns 31; strikes 24, 26, 27.
  • Sheep Stealing 2, 19.
  • Sickness and Remedies 8-10, 14, 15, 34; eye troubles 27, 37; infectious diseases 8, 34; Malaria 2, 8.
  • Social Life and Entertainment 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 21, 22, 27, 28, 33, 34, 41, 50, 52. See also Games, Sport.
  • Socialist Movement, identities, history 61.
  • South Australia, Goolwa 25-27; Kapunda 25; Port McDonnell 23, 24;
    Quorn 27-29.
  • Sport 13, 14, 25, 27, 28, 33, 41. See also Social Life.
  • Squatters and Squatting 11, 14, 31.
  • Stealing Stock, see Cattle Duffing, Sheep Stealing, Cattle, Drovers, etc.
  • Station Life 2, 27, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35, 37, 41.
  • Street Calls 9.
  • Swagmen 2, 29, 32.
  • Tobacco 12, 14, 18; Chinamen's cigarettes 14, 18.
  • Town Life 4-8, 15, 30, 33, 34, 37.
  • Trade Unionism 21, 24, 27, 32, 48, 55, 61; strike breaking 5.
  • Travel, bicycles 18, goldfields 9, 10, 11, 14.
  • Victoria, Maldon 21; St. Helens 22; Western District 22.
  • Wages 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 21, 24, 27, 30, 30.
  • Western Australia 1, 29, 41, 46; Abrolhos Island 30; Gascoyne district 29, 35; Geraldton dist. 20, 29-38; Hall's Creek dist. 35, 38, 41; Murchison dist. 38; Nul-larbor Plain 28; Pilbara dist. 39, 40; Shark Bay dist. 41. See also Broome, Cattle, Pearling, Shearers, etc.
  • Wharf Workers 2, 5, 6.
  • Women's Life, N.Q. 8-10, 12, 17, 19; Vic. 22; W.A. 28, 30-33.
  • World War 1, attitudes to 8, 14. See also Broome, Pearling.
  • World War 2 2, 20, 46, 47, 56, 61. See also Broome, Pearling, Northern Territory.
  • Yarns, Stories. See various subjects, localities, industries and consult List A.


J. W. Wilkie, ‘Postulates of the Oral History Centre for Latin America’, Journal of Library History, No. 2 (Jan. 1967), p. 53.


Studs Terkel, Hard Times; an oral history of the Great Depression, Pantheon, 1970.


C. T. Morrisey, ‘Oral History and Library History — opportunities for Librarians’, Journal of Library History, No. 4 (Oct. 1969), pp. 341-6.