Wednesday 20 July 2022

From the Archives - Collected dance memories

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Information collected &/or published by BMC about dancing outside the cities in the 19th & early 20th centuries, before the bush music revival.

Jig Dolls, Mr & Mrs White of Blacktown, article by David Johnson
This article was written by David Johnson and originally published in Singabout #58, December 1986, p. S1. Photographs are by Bob Bolton.

The beautifully crafted dancing dolls in the photographs were made by a farmer by the name of Charles Mill, probably when he lived on the South Coast of NSW in the 1890s. They were made by carving solid cedar blocks and finished elaborately in the style of the “Minstrel” shows that regularly toured the country at that time. He referred to them as “Mr. and Mrs. White of Blacktown”.

... The dolls were shown to us by the maker’s daughter, Miss Pearl Mill. Miss Mill explained that her father played the concertina for the regular round of “house parties” that made up the social life of many of the small towns on the South Coast where the family lived, at the time. However the dolls were never used in public performances and only rarely shown to the family. Charles Mill played for the Lancers, the Waltz Cotillion and the Alberts, among other dances, and all without reading a note of music. The popular American tunes such as Marching Through Georgia, Battle of Gettysburg, Old Black Joe and Take Me Back To Old Virginny were all played in strict dance time ...


... Sometimes we had dances at our new home, and they were great fun; people came riding for many miles, and usually slept at our place afterwards - mostly on shakedowns. We had no piano, but the music of Herb's accordion was more stirring to me than the greatest of Sydney's dance orchestras is now. Yogi played the fiddle, and kept one foot tapping so the time would be right. A fiddle it was, and Yogi would not understand what you meant if you called it a violin. Yogi, was a quiet, friendly, musical old aboriginal ...

Many city people have the wrong impression about dancing in the country; there are no picture theatres, concerts, bridge parties or night tennis clubs in the outback country, so that dancing is the only form of public evening recreation, though a country person's steps may not be quite as up to date as those of one living in the city, it is my considered opinion - having experienced both - that the average country resident is a better dancer than the average city dweller ...

Source: O'Reilly, Bernard - Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong. Brisbane, WR Smith & Paterson Pty Ltd, 1962, pp. 84-85
Born in 1903 to a pioneering Irish-Catholic family, Bernard O'Reilly spent his first twelve years in the secluded Kanimbla Valley of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. The family then moved to the wild and largely unexplored McPherson Ranges in southern Queensland.

emails between David England (Snake Gully Bush Band) & Bob Bolton, 29/1/13

On a recent visit to the Northcliffe (WA) excellent town museum we found this accordion and dance list. A nearby box contained additional dance titles. The area around Northcliffe had been a prosperous timber area and the bush dances were well attended.

Bob - The "Dance Board" looks like it was a fixture in whatever local hall hosted the town's dances ... and there were 'boards' for all the repertoire so the MC could set up the whole dance program in advance. The selection looks like ~ mid 1930s ... before the playing by live musicians started to be replaced by playing (mostly imported ...) records .... or, somewhat later, tuning in to dances in the larger country towns, which were broadcast live, complete with the caller's direction - and played out in smaller dance halls through primitive amplifiers!

Mulga Wire no. 9, Feb 82, pp.S1-2. The Country Dances by Barbara Gibbons - Singleton 1950s & early 60s, band with 2 accordions & a violin, Old Time dances - Barn Dance, Pride of Erin, Canadian Three-step, etc. a couple of old "country dances" (folk dances) left over from an earlier era & Jimmy Miller, Little Brown Jug

Mulga Wire no. 72, April 1989, pp. S1-S4 - review by John Meredith of Collector's Choice, by Peter Ellis ... This book calls into question some of the assumptions of those who attempt to present something as authentic without understanding the real nature of these traditions ...

subject - Re: Ammo Boxes of Bob Bolton's 35 mm film files from (~) 1970 - 1974

date - 2/6/14, 10:05 am - extract

The other cassette recordings ... particularly Pat's Grandmother at 101 years (with memories of dancing in Tasmania ... before she married in the late 19th century and with no later memories to confuse the issue - as her husband did not dance ... / as well as the 1970s cassette of John Kell - especially his reminiscences of his family "band" of the 1920s ... down round the Barallier region south of Sydney and - in west of Mittagong ... are all worth listening to ... and, possibly, transcribing!


From the Archives - Interview by Bob Bolton with John Kell about his family's music and dance history

SHIRLEY ANDREWS Obit by Lucy Stockdale
In the 1950s she was a member of the Unity Dance Group, started by Margaret Walker, and performed dances from Australia’s early days. This group undertook the choreography and dancing in the musical, Reedy River, which was the first attempt to use Australian folk dance and music in the theatre. When the Victorian Bush Music Club asked the Unity Dance Group to assist with research into Australian traditional dancing, Shirley, as a member of both groups, volunteered for the task. Shirley found through this research that her assumption that Australian dancing was based on the very early English, Irish and Scottish dances brought out here was incorrect. Rather, Australia followed the latest in overseas fashions with quadrille sets, in particular, and couples dances, accompanied by the popular music of the day, being rapidly taken up here and forming the main basis for Australian traditional social dancing (or Colonial dancing as it has become known). In 1962, as part of her research, Shirley accompanied well known pioneer Victorian folk collectors, Pat and Norman O’Connor and MaryJean Officer to Nariel to collect and record from the Klippel family. This began a lifelong connection with Nariel and she traveled there for New Year almost every year since.

2 songs about Shirley
Phyl Lobl - The Pride of the Land A thank you song to honour Shirley Andrews who gave a life of service to Science, Aboriginal Welfare and more noticeably gave European Australia back its dance heritage. She introduced dancing into the National Folk Festivals circa 1968 and continued uncovering and teaching dances until the week she died in 2001.

Bruce Watson - The Three Lives of Shirley Andrews
My introduction to the folk scene was through dance, and I had the privilege of learning 'colonial dance' from Shirley Andrews OAM. At that time I didn't realise that as well as being the Australia's foremost authority on traditional social dance in Australia, she was also a driving force behind the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal rights, as well as being a bio-chemist who made a significant contribution to the treatment of bi-polar disorder. The tune for this song is the Mudgee Waltz, a traditional Australian dance tune that Shirley danced to many many times.

The Arrival of Dancing in the Folk Scene
by Shirley Andrews.
Speewah, no. 1, March 1997, p.18

The Arrival of Dancing in the Folk Scene,
by Shirley Andrews,
Speewah, no. 1, March 1997, p.19

Mulga Wire, no. 43, June 1984
Mick Markhan, Yearbon, Sth Qld, 1984
It's been a hard life, but I've seen some fun.

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