well well, one step at the time

Pic of Ally by Alex

So, it happened, after 11 years of conservative government, which took Australia through an array of incredible obscenities:

March 2: John Howard defeats Paul Keating to become prime minister, ending a record 13 years of Coalition opposition.

May: Resists public pressure to apologise to Indigenous Australians over the European settlement of Australia. He expresses “deep sorrow” to the Australian Reconciliation Convention but maintains that “Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies”.

April: The Howard government backs Patrick Corporation’s attempt to introduce non-union labour to Australian docks.

October 3: Mr Howard is returned to office, despite promising to introduce a goods and services tax, or GST, (which he had previously pledged to “never, ever” implement).

July 1: Goods and Services Tax (GST) is introduced.

August: MV Tampa, with hundreds of asylum seekers on board, is refused permission to enter Australian territorial waters. During the lead-up to the election, Mr Howard famously declares: “We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances under which they come.”

September 11: Mr Howard is in Washington when terrorists kill thousands in coordinated attacks on New York City and Washington DC.

October: In the lead-up to the federal election, Mr Howard repeats claims that asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia have thrown children overboard. After the election, military and intelligence sources refute the claim, and two Senate inquiries find the claim to be untrue and that the government knew this prior to the election.

November 10: Mr Howard is returned again, after the Coalition records the biggest swing to an incumbent government since 1966.

October: Terrorists attack the popular Kuta district of Bali, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians. Mr Howard places a renewed emphasis on national security.

March: Mr Howard commits Australian troops to support the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. The deployment divides Australia, millions march in protest against the invasion.

April 25: Mr Howard makes a surprise visit to Australian troops in Iraq, highlighting the difference between himself and Opposition leader Mark Latham, who had promised to bring Australian troops home by Christmas.

May: Celebrates 30 years in Parliament.

October 9: Mr Howard wins an historic fourth term in office, despite the Coalition trailing Labor in all major polls at the start of the campaign. During the campaign, Liberal Party advertising promises to keep interest rates at 30-year lows. The Coalition is returned with an increased majority, and the first government Senate majority since 1981.

December 21: Mr Howard overtakes Bob Hawke to become the second-longest-serving Australian prime minister after Sir Robert Menzies.

February: Government under pressure following revelations a mentally ill German citizen and Australian resident, Cornelia Rau, has been held in detention for nine months. A subsequent inquiry finds that mistakes by the Immigration Department have led to the wrongful detention of more than 200 people.

July 1: New Senate comes into effect, giving the Howard government control of both houses for the first time.

December: Anti-terrorism legislation comes into effect. Under the laws, state and territory police are given extra tracking powers and are able to detain terrorism suspects for up to two weeks without charge.

March: Mr Howard celebrates a decade as prime minister.

The government’s WorkChoices industrial relations changes come into effect. The changes rein in unfair dismissal laws and give employers more power when they negotiate contracts with their workers.

June: The Howard government announces an ‘intervention’ plan to tackle child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

September: Mr Howard chairs the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders forum in Sydney. Highlights include a $35 billion natural gas deal with China, a deal to sell uranium to Russia, and the Sydney declaration on climate change.

November: Mr Howard announces that, if re-elected, he will hand over to Mr Costello within 18 months to two years.

November 24: Mr Howard concedes defeat to Labor leader Kevin Rudd in a landslide federal election.

December 1: Maxine McKew formally declares Bennelong a Labor seat, ending Mr Howard’s 33-year grip on the seat.

(freely adapted from the ABC Online site)

Now, the Government changed, hailing policies which people like you fought for in the past decade: indigenous rights, environment, education, health, public transport, stop the war for oil, stop the forced detention of asylum seekers, create a welcoming country for all… We’ll see.
In the mean time you started a self-directed residency at The Australian Museum, where you work as a casual, precarious worker as dictated by the new way of understanding employment in the western world.
A self-directed browsing through their library and reference area.
Bit by bit, in your lunch time, you sieve through their holdings. The past week you found Folklife: Our Living Heritage 1987

On 26 March 1986, the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment had announced the establishment of the Committee of Inquiry into Folklife in Australia. The minister appointed to the committee Hugh Anderson (folk publisher and scholar of ballads); Gwenda Davey3 (folklorist of early childhood and lecturer on folklore); and Keith McKenry (folk musician and folk poet). This world-traveling and consulting group tabled its report, Folklife: Our Living Heritage on 14 August 1987, covering the designated tasks of surveying in some depth:

1. The nature, diversity and significance of Australian folklife.

2. Existing (institutional) arrangements for safeguarding that folklife and the need for new arrangements for (a) collection, documentation and dissemination of folklife materials; (b) support/development of folk arts, etc.

It had agreed not to report on traditional Aboriginal ceremonial and belief but to address such other aspects of Aboriginal folklife as: craft, contemporary folklife, both urban and rural; and the present intertwining of Aboriginal folklife with that of other communities within Australian society.

This report preferred term ‘Folklife’, which related ‘more directly to living culture’ as its main designation of the field, following recent American and UNESCO practice, and argued that folklore/folklife – the terms were used inter-changeably – . . . performs many important social functions related to group identity, release of cultural tensions and ambivalences, entertainment and education (Folklife 1987: 65).

It also produced its own definition of folklife: Folklife is a tradition-based and/or contemporary expressive culture repeated and shared within a community, and accepted as an adequate reflection of its cultural and social identity. It embraces a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, mythology, legend, ritual, pageantry, language, literature, technical skill, play, music, dance, song, drama, narrative, architecture, craft. Its expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction.

The Committee rejected the hitherto prevailing Anglo-Celtic tradition as the sole focus (Folklife 1987: 140, 170, etc.) and expressed positive interest in all immigrant materials, however difficult of collection.

The document was to some degree at the mercy of the input groups, more than 150 in all. This makes the un-indexed text hard to read as it endeavours to specify the needs of such areas as dance, music, bushcrafts, musical instrument making, song writing, union/street theatre, National Trusts, Ethnic Community Committees, Museums of many kinds, (State4) Libraries, or such distinctive activities as the Tamworth Country Music Festival (Folklife 1987: 41).

This report has been largely ignored in the political and funding areas since.
Those were the times leading-up to the Australian Bicentenary (1788-1988) since invasion. Those where the times when a genuine and political driven reshaping of identity was fostered.
All of that goodwill went amiss in the years that followed.
You have some problem with the report, as it mainly focuses on Dances, Music and Costumes. The only mention of Languages as rightful folkloric expression is limited to the Anglo-Celtic tradition of Yarns and Ballads (traditional Aboriginal Languages where left out to be dealt in a more comprehensive study) and it dismissed food in a mere chapter.
What is interesting and directly related to this Weedyconnection blog is how any acknowledgment of multi-ethnic relationship with the environment got mentioned in two chapters of 1 only page each: Gardening (Folklife 1987: 54) and Folk Medicine (Folklife 1987: 55).

Now, you understand this report was compiled exactly 20 years ago, yet in the chapter Foodways (Folklife 1987: 53):

There has been a revolution in Australian eating habits as the results of immigration after the Second World War. There has been a proliferation of restaurants offering food of every conceivable nationality, and many of their patrons are of nationality other than that of their owners.
Many Australian have adopted ethnic cuisine […]

…ethnic cuisine? What the Australian cuisine would be then if not ethnic? Aint we all of some ethnicity?

In the chapter Gardening though (Folklife 1987: 54), there is a deserved acknowledgment of the role of ethnobotanical knowledge in carrying on cultural identity:

Gardening is without doubt one of the most commonly practiced form of folklife in Australia, and in many ways one of the most truly flolkloric. The domestic gardener rarely attends schools or classes (though this exist). […] Gardening skills are usually learnt by imitation or observation, or by family instruction. Books can be consulted as reference, but most is learnt informally, or by trial and error.

In the chapter Folk medicine (Folklife 1987: 55) the lack of research is finally expressed:

An ancient and diverse tradition which survives in Australian folklife is folk medicine, whether herbal or otherwise. We received little information about folk medicine, but enough information exist to establish the vitality of folk medicine in Australian life.

The chapter only mention briefly the role of Chinese medicine, the oldest non Anglo-Celtic migration, dating back to the 1800’s.

So, the report. Even if it had some faults (you’re quick to point them out) still was a good step forward, developing a number of recommendations to establish:

  • An Australian Folklife Centre, to provide a national focus for action to record, safeguard and promote awareness of Australia heritage of folklife;
  • An australian folklife Grants Scheeme, to be administered by the Australian Folklife Centre, to support urgently needed folklife collection, research and documentation, and the maintenavnce of traditional arts and craft skills within communities;
  • A National Collection of Australian Folklife, under the control of the Australian Folklife Centre, to give identity and stimulus to the development and conservation of folklife materials within the national collections;
  • A Folk Arts Committee within the Australian Council, to provide needed expertise and advice in relation to folk arts support; and
  • A Folks Arts Program, under the control of the Folk Arts committee, to provide more adequately within the programs of the Australian Council for the particular needs and circumstances of the folk arts.
  • Great ideals, but unfortunately the recommendations by the committee look pretty much aimed at tailoring for themselves a secure job within the government, with plenty of money to spread about as they wished.
    In this context it must also be said that since then there has been an enormous amount of work done by the various Cultural Community Development agency (see here and here). Still, if building a comprehensive community means to paint a mural or produce a festival of traditional dances then we keep rolling in the same mud, “funny dances, funny accents, funny food”..
    Yes you would love a response from this posting.

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