Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

A.L. Lloyd in Australia: Some Conclusions

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

A.L. Lloyd in Australia: Some Conclusions

Article excerpt

The nature and extent of A. L. Lloyd's editing and reworking of Australian folk songs has long been a controversial issue in Australia. Examination of the extant Lloyd papers and a survey of the work of other researchers allows for a critical consideration of Lloyd's editorial practices and also an assessment of his importance for Australian folk song scholarship. These issues are significant ones, both for understanding the nature of the Australian bush song tradition and for its general presentation to the public.


IN some quarters, the English folklorist Albert Lancaster Lloyd (1908-82) was regarded as an expert on Australian folk song. He certainly portrayed himself as such in his various recorded works, BBC radio programmes, publications, and during his Australian lecture tour in 1970. But his expertise, editorial practices, and interpretations were, and have continued to be, seriously questioned by many Australian folk song collectors, most notably the leading collector of Australian folk song, the late John Meredith. (1) This article examines the ongoing controversy over A. L. Lloyd's uses or abuses of Australian folk song and assesses Lloyd's contribution to the study of Australian folk song up to the present, contrasting this with the oddly fruitless search for Australian folk songs undertaken by an English collector who visited Australia during part of the period that Lloyd resided there, c. 1924/5 to c. 1934. This issue is worth revisiting because the allegations made against Lloyd's practice concern, firstly, the professional and scholarly obligation of veracity, and also involve the accurate representation of the character of an important aspect of Australian folk tradition.

In the early to mid-1920s, by one of his own accounts, (2) Albert Lancaster Lloyd came to Australia as a fifteen-year-old 'assisted immigrant'. He found work as a rouseabout (general hand) and labourer in rural New South Wales, particularly around Forbes, Cowra, and the western districts, where he worked mainly in the wool industry. During this period he heard many traditional songs sung by shearers and other bush workers and, being interested in singing them himself, wrote down the lyrics in 'exercise books'--'not to "collect", just to learn them', as he wrote in connection with his album First Person. He says much the same thing in the longest extant account of his Australian experience:

  Indeed, wherever I was, in the relatively densely populated parts of
  the bush like the country round Cootamundra, or in the less populated
  country like that round Condobolin, or in the parts barely populated
  at all, like the back country around White Cliffs, I found that
  station hands and shearers did a lot of singing. A great many of the
  songs caught my fancy, and I wanted to learn them. They amused me;
  some of them struck me by their poetry, some struck me by their tune,
  and I began to write them down. Not at all as a collecting thing--at
  that time, I'd never heard of the business of folk song collecting.
  That was a piece of sophisticated information that I only acquired
  later. So it was entirely to suit myself that I used to write the
  songs down in exercise books. (3)

After a period of possibly as long as nine years, (4) he spent some time in Africa and returned to England in the early 1930s. Here he continued on a remarkable process of self-education and study, begun in the Australian bush, that eventually made him a leading authority on folk music, song, and dance, not only of Britain but also of Eastern Europe.

From around 1956, Lloyd had contact with Australian folklorists Edgar Waters and John Meredith through the enterprise known as Wattle Recordings, established to make recordings of Australian traditional music available to the public. Lloyd was to record an LP album of Australian material for Wattle, some of it from his own collecting in Australia and some from the collections of Australian folklorists, particularly those of John Meredith. …

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