USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘australia’
Customs
Folk Beliefs

Eye Contact

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I heard this when I was in Australia for the summer. It was just before junior year, I think…yeah, that sounds right, but anyway I was at a party kind of near Melbourne and these guys were pouring shots. So I took one and was about to take it and this one guy like grabbed my wrist and was like ‘Wait! Stop! We all need to make eye contact otherwise we’ll all have bad sex for seven years!’ Like that thing with breaking the mirror or something, you know? So we all made eye contact and took the shots and that was that. Weirdly I heard that a ton in Australia, like in Sydney and Cairns and all over. Not just from guys either, like from girls I made friends with and everything. It wasn’t just some gross dude…like, being gross, or whatever (laughter)  I’ve done it ever since. I mean, obviously it’s probably not a real thing, but like, why risk it? (laughter).”

Thoughts:

It seems appropriate that this superstition is prominent amongst young people, a demographic which in all likelihood sees a close connection between sex and alcohol. The ritual itself invokes a certain intimacy; one must look into their companion’s eyes, “the gateway to the soul” before consuming alcohol with them. Since the superstition is present amongst both groups of single-sex, heterosexual friends and mixed-gender social groups, it may not necessarily have much to do with sexual intercourse; the eye contact and intimacy may speak more to the idea that drinking is a social activity and means through which people can develop new relationships.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

ANZAC Day

“ANZAC Day is our Australian day where we acknowledge, um, the sacrifice, I guess, of the Australian soldiers in both World War I and World War II. Um, it takes place on the 25th of April every year. Um… It kind of, it came from- Well, ANZAC stands for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp. And so ANZAC was like the nickname given to like the soldiers who went over to fight in both world wars, but in the first world war, it’s like this really long story about how, um, the Australians got kind of called in to kind of, um, take the heat off another country, I think it was Britain or something. Um, got called in to like take the heat off them and distract the enemy for a bit, but they ended up walking into basically a slaughter. They kind of just off-loaded the boats, they landed, and they all got killed. Like, we learned about this in, like, primary school and high school but like, it’s that kind of thing where like, you learn about it so much that you kind of just tune it out. I’ve never learned the specifics, but like, thousands died, and like… It’s remembered in, like, Australian culture because it was like the first time. It was in the first world war. It was the first time that Australia kind of like proved itself I guess, in a way? Australian soldiers went over there and they kind of um… We were a newly formed nation at the time, so we’d only been on our own, like, independent for about 18 years at that point, and like, we hadn’t really proved ourselves. So we went over there and even though, like, hundreds of men got slaughtered, it’s kind of remembered as a sign of like Australia kind of asserting itself as a strong nation. So like as people who will, um, kind of tough it out, I guess, and that’s kind of what ANZAC Day has come to mean for Australians every year. So the tradition is that on the 25th of April every year, um, not every Australian does it, but like, it’s kind of, um, a lot of Australians do, so I would say like 50% would observe the day, but like everybody acknowledges it, everybody knows what the 25th of April is, but I would say around 50%, 60% get actively involved in the day. I personally do. My family, not all my family does, but me and my mum do. We get up really early, at like 4AM or 5AM and we go to what we call a dawn service, which is where you go to your local suburb, I guess, your city center, your county. So every suburb has kind of like a monument where it has on it inscribed all the names of the men who died during the ways from your suburb. So all the local men who enlisted and died during service are written on the wall, and at the dawn service there’s like, literally thousands of people from your suburb. They gather and usually do an hour-long service where it’s people from like the army, the air force, and the navy, all come to be like representatives of the ANZACS. They also have ex-service men. People, anyone who’s still alive from the first or second world war come as honorary guests. Descendants of the original ANZACS come if they are still alive or still live around here. It’s a nice service. They have speeches and prayers from the different denominations. And they have singing, like some songs usually about God, but just some songs that they usually say were, like, sung on the battlefield. And one of the most important parts of the dawn service for all Australians, and even if you don’t go to the dawn service, you know the sound of, it’s like this horn that they play. It’s a trumpet. It was like the trumpet that they played on the battlefield. It was like the trumpet that roused them to battle and told them it was time to fight. But also it was the horn that they played when the fight was over and basically everyone was dead and they called a retreat, so like, it’s kind of the sound of this horn that signals the start and the end of the dawn service like the one that signaled the end of the fight on the 25th of April, which was when all the men died. It’s usually like a pretty moving service, I guess. A lot of people, like, sing along and join in prayer. Most will also, like, shed a few tears during prayers or speeches because like the sacrifice that the men made on the battlefield made us able to keep Australia as an independent nation, free from enemies invading, I guess.”

 

This was a very solemn piece to collect. The source spoke about ANZAC Day with a lot of respect. She knew a lot of the history and wanted to pay respect to the people it honors. It’s a great idea, I think, much like our Veteran’s Day. I feel like ANZAC Day is far more personal than Veteran’s Day, though. Americans don’t particularly do anything on Veteran’s Day, where as it seems Australians have organized a lot to do on this day. They must have a different kind of respect for their armed forces. They also have far less people in their country, so that might be why it’s more personal. Whereas for us, we have thousands of veterans. It’s not quite the same. We also sort of treat it as just a day off of work or school rather than a day that’s actually dedicated to a certain group of people.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Melbourne Cup

“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”

 

I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.

Humor
Initiations

The Drop Bear Prank

“We’ve got a koala bear, which is one of the laziest animals. I don’t know where the tradition came from, but we tell tourist that koalas will drop down from trees and attack people. We like to tell tourists this to scare them. We like to “take the mickey” (make fun of) with people who have never been to the bush before.”

According to the informant, the drop bear is the name of a common prank that is pulled on tourists who have never been to Australia before and are unfamiliar with what life in the country is actually like. Because many of these tourists are afraid of the many poisonous animals that can kill them in the Australian wilderness, Australians like to intensify these fears for their own enjoyment by warning tourists that carnivorous koalas (otherwise known as drop bears) like to drop from trees and viciously attack anyone below. Angus claims that this prank is considered truly successful if a tourist returns home still believing that drop bears exist.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. While Angus does not know where he learned this prank from, he does know that it is a reaction to the stereotype that Australians live on land that is highly unsafe. Australians instead want to be known as a fun loving group of people. Angus believes that this prank helps them spread this image.

This prank is intriguing because it reflects the Australian value of being viewed in a positive light. It is clear that they resent the view that Australians do not live on safe land. What this prank allows them to do is allow foreigners to discover an image that better suits them. When people finally realize that drop bears are not real, that is when they are finally able to see what the Australian lifestyle is actually life.

For a complex example of the drop bear prank, look here: Janssen, Volker. “Indirect tracking of drop bears using GNSS technology.”Australian Geographer 43.4 (2012): 445-452.

Legends
Musical
Narrative

The Waltzing Matilda Song

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

The Walzing Matilda is a popular folk song that is well known throughout Australia. The story is about a man camping alone out in the Australian wilderness by a pond. Seeking companionship, he finds a wandering sheep and puts it in his food bag. The man who owns the land where the camper is staying on soon arrives with three officers, demanding that the sheep be returned to him. Instead of giving in, the camper jumps into the pond and drowns himself. His ghost stays by the pond, hoping to spend time with anyone who walks by. According to the informant, the song is an iconic Australian piece of folklore that is recognized by all Australians. It is often sang at celebrations and large group gatherings, as it unifies all Australians together.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. Angus learned the song from a children’s music album that he enjoyed listening to as a child. Many artists have covered and recorded this song over the years, so he believes that it is nearly impossible for an Australian to have never heard the song. He loves the song because it represents a different time period in Australia, where people walked across the land with few belongings and slept under stars. For Angus, this song evokes a strong sense of national nostalgia that all Australians can relate to.

Because Australian is a nation that was erected after taking over Aboriginal land, it is curious to see folklore that was created by Australians themselves instead of by the natives. Because the Aboriginals have such a rich history of folklore, it would be easy to simply reappropriate it for Australian audiences so that they wouldn’t have to make any folkloric pieces for themselves. Songs like this prove that this is not what occurred, however, as their lack of Aboriginal influence shows that Australians did create folklore for themselves.

 

Legends

The Legend of Ned Kelly

“Ned Kelly came from a very poor family. There are many stories about him and his exploits. The main story is that the police always gave him a hard time. One day, a police officer called Fitzpatrick turned up and was having a go at Ned Kelly’s sister. He tried to defend his sister. It ended in a fight the policeman, which meant that Kelly and his brother had to run away and become outlaws. This forced them to turn to a life of crime to sustain themselves. They started always robbing from the rich people. They would then go back to their community and share the money they stole. Eventually, two others joined him, and they became the Kelly gang. The police hired special trackers to find hunt them down. The gang soon got cornered in this town called Glenrowan. They knew they would get cornered, so they build armor for Ned to wear to protect him from the police’s gunfire. All the gang members were shot and killed except for Ned, who was captured. He was tried and hung for robbery and murder since he had killed some cops. He died very young. Allegedly, his last words were “such is life”.”

The legend of Ned Kelly is one that is often retold all over Australia. During the late 19th century, Ned was a real criminal and outlaw who rebelled against the British forces that had been ruling over Australia by stealing from them and distributing their money to the lower classes. There are many stories that Australians enjoy telling about him, but probably the most famous concerns the suit of armor that he wore to protect himself. The original suit still exists today and is held in a museum in Australia.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. Angus read story of the Kelly gang as a child in an Australian folklore book that had been written for children. He feels that people enjoy the legend because it is a truly fun story that is an integral part of Australia’s cultural history. Many, including Angus, see Ned as a national hero because he is a symbol of the fight against the tyrannical British government.

The story of Ned Kelly perfectly exemplifies the reason why some outlaws can become local legends and heroes. Although Ned Kelly and his gang did kill innocent people and steal property that did not belong to them, their battle against the British forces was interpreted as a futile but courageous stand against their oppressive government. His stoic death only cemented his position as a cultural icon. Because the Australian people had been suffering so much at the time, it is likely that they were seeking a source of strength and hope to make their days easier. Clearly, they found their source in Ned.

For more research on Robin Hood characters (including Ned Kelly), see Seal, Graham. “The Robin Hood principle: Folklore, history, and the social bandit.” Journal of Folklore Research 46.1 (2009): 67-89.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Fruitcake on Christmas

This informant is a student at USC.  His dad’s side of the family is Australian, originally colonists from England.  I asked him if his family did anything uniquely Australian.  At first he said his dad didn’t bring many Aussie traditions or practices over to the US other than his accent, but then he was able to tell me about a Christmas-time tradition that his grandparents had held for generations.

Every single Christmas my Aussie grandma makes fruitcake.  The shit is really gross and I don’t know why anyone eats it so after I tried it I had to ask why she makes it every year.  First she laughed and said she really does like it, but then she told me what she knew about its historical significance.  Apparently when England was colonizing Australia they used to send these fruit cakes over with people on the ships because they lasted longer than regular cakes. But those were plum cakes, which were boiled and the fruitcakes that my grandma makes are baked so it’s not really the same.  I’m not really sure how they got associated with Christmas but that’s how they got to Australia.  My grandma literally makes her fruitcake like a month before Christmas because the fruit has to marinate or something.  I have only been Christmas there twice, but I still can’t believe my dad and all the other Aussies there actually eat it.

So it looks like these cakes originated as travel treats for the colonists and maybe stuck around after that to remind the colonists of home and the long hardship they endured to make it to Australia.  In modern day fruitcake is probably just taken for granted and generally enjoyed by the masses during the holidays.

Myths
Narrative

Bobbi Bobbi

This story was collected from a friend who is very interested in creation myths. He heard this while visiting Australia from a native there. It came up because we were in the middle of talking about how there were different myths about the origins of man and the creation of the world. It was very light-hearted. It was in no way a serious discussion. However, in comparing the different stories, he thought this was interesting because it was both exceedingly “random” and otherwise amusing. It also explains why boomerangs are so particular to Australia. He was very amused by it, so he felt the need to tell me this story that he had heard.

Long ago, Australia existed in a time known as the Dreamtime. The people there did not have much food to eat, so they were constantly hungry and in need of more food. The god in the sky, Bobbi Bobbi the Rainbow Snake decided to take pity on them and help them acquire the food they needed in order to survive. He tried to help them out by creating large bats that flew around for the people to eat. Unfortunately, he did not consider that the bats would fly far too high for the people to reach. As a result of his carelessness, Bobbi Bobbi decided that he had to help out the people once again. He tore out one of his ribs and gave it to the humans, teaching them how to throw it so that it would hit the bats and return to them. This became the first boomerang. Eventually, humans began to kill the bats left and right because they were able to do so with their newfound weapons. However, they eventually began to get greedy. They wanted to peer into the heavens, because earth was not good enough for them. And so, throwing the boomerang into the sky, they tore the sky apart and made the heavens visible to mankind. Now they thought that Bobbi Bobbi would be angered by this, so they had the excuse that they only opened the heavens because they wanted to thank him. However, they forgot the problem associated with throwing a boomerang at the heavens to tear it open. It came back to them later. Anyway, Bobbi Bobbi was too shocked by this that he didn’t react in time to stop the boomerang. Consequently, they were torn apart because they were unable to catch the boomerang on its return path. As a result of this entire mess, Bobbi Bobbi was very disgusted by man’s petulance. As a result, he forsook them and decided to never again help out mankind.

This was an interesting insight to Australian beliefs. Especially because it involves a boomerang, which seems so much like a very modern invention. Instead of acknowledging it as a modern invention, it indicates that it is an item that is associated with a god. It also has the very traditional message to not attempt to reach the heavens, or else the punishment that will occur will be devastating. It is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. It also maintains the stereotype that humans are foolish in the presence of gods, and that their ingratitude will take away whatever blessings they received to begin with.

Musical

Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped out by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang and he sang as he waited by the billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang and he sang as he waited by the billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda is a famous Australian folksong from the outback about a workman sitting by the riverbed. This version from the informant is much shorter than some other versions. However, this change is what makes it folklore. The song was “originally” written by A.B. Patterson, but since then it has been appropriated by may people and turned into a folksong. The song is held dearly in Australia. They have even created a Waltzing Matilda Centre and a Waltzing Matilda day. (http://www.matildacentre.com.au) I found another longer version of the song on this website as well, at http://www.matildacentre.com.au/the-song.

The informant learned this Australian folksong back home in primary school and when growing up. He can’t remember the first time he heard it. However, this shorter version is all he remembers. When he moved to America, he brought this folksong with him and taught it to his children and wife. Thus, he spread the song across the globe. The informant says that the song means a lot to him, because it reminds him of his home and his heritage. There isn’t much in America that celebrates Australian culture, so little ditties like this one serve to reaffirm his Australian roots. Furthermore, he says that the song is pleasant to sing and to listen to. It has a cheerful tone.

I also like this song, and I have heard it before. It’s fun to sing. I looked up the song online and was surprised to find the the real meaning is not about a man by a river singing to his lover, Matilda, like I originally thought. Instead, Matilda refers to a specific type of bag, and the song is about a man who hunts a sheep and then drowns himself to avoid being arrested. (http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858856415/) However, I still like the song and it still reminds me of my ties to Australia. There are people who assert that the song is a protest song against the law, and others who believe that it is just a song with a sad narrative. I think it could probably be both, because even if it wasn’t written with protest in mind, people could still appropriate it as a song of protest. I also think it’s interesting that such a sad and graphic song is regarded so highly by the Australian population. It shows the power of romantic nationalism.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Three Dog Night

Transcribed Text:

“A three dog night, which as far as I can tell, means like, harsh, like probably cold night. Comes from dog sledders, when they were traversing the wilderness. A three dog night would be a night where you would have to like cuddle up with three of your dogs to be able to stay warm for the night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and he does not recall where he first heard this piece of folklore. It is a saying that is normally only used in extremely cold weathered countries where sled dogs and freezing temperatures are the norm. It has a literal meaning behind it, where in these extremely cold areas, people would huddle and sleep with their dogs in order to stay warm for the night. A three dog night is an especially freezing night, because a person doesn’t need one, or two of their dogs to stay warm, but needs three.

It is said that the band Three Dog Night is named after this saying, where one of the vocalist’s girlfriend heard the phrase being used in a documentary about Australian Aborigines. However, there has also been debate about the saying originating with the Inuits. This search unable to trace back to a single point indicates how the original source was lost and this saying has now become like many other pieces of folklore; with no one author.

Annotation: The Australian band Three Dog Night formed because the vocalists girlfriend heard this piece of folklore about indigenous Australians.

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