[1] Seal, G. The Hidden Culture: Folklore in Australian Society, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989; 1992, chpt. 1.

[2] Lowenthal, D., The Past is A Foreign Country and The Heritage Crusade


see the bibliography for this discussion

Who Owns Folklore

a discussion paper by Dr Graham Seal


National folk cultures have usually been collected, preserved, celebrated and studied as aspects of culture and society. In Australia we think of, for example, the extensive bush ballad tradition as an element of a large and diffuse, but definitely identifiable part of our history, national consciousness and cultural expression. There is a considerable body of scholarly, literary, artistic and other treatment of such traditions as aspects of national cultural expression and identity.

But this body of frequently intangible but definite expressions, artistic and material has rarely been thought of as a national resource with an economic as well as a cultural value.
Is it possible - and desirable - to establish a basis for valorising, conserving and developing Australian folklore of place in the same way that environmental, built and moveable heritages are valued, conserved and developed for the national benefit?

Many of the legal and conceptual problems associated with indigenous culture as intellectual property also apply to non-indigenous, informally transmitted heritage. While these matters have received some attention, there has been little discussion of the situation regarding the broader field of folklore as cultural property.

This paper raises a number of issues related to such concerns with the aim of stimulating discussion among those with an interest in folklore. It covers the need to record folklore, folklore as an economic resource, the question of 'public domain' and 'community right' and some of the issues involved. Needles to say, these matters are addressed from the perpective of a folklorist rather than a legal expert. Nevertheless, the matters broached are relevant culturally as well as economically and legally.



Because it is fundamental to many forms of human practice and expression, folklore provides an insight into the most powerful motivators of social groups. Its close relationship to sense of identity and belonging imparts shared meaning to the lives of individuals and projects an otherwise intangible sense of the uniqueness of the experiences, practices and expressions of the social groups to which individuals belong. [1]

The collection, preservation, study and uses of folklore has many benefits. These include: