I loved the Far Out, Brussel Sprout books when I was a kid. Do you remember them? They stood from the other children’s books because they were filled with all the cheeky rhymes and sayings that kids actually used in the playground, rather than the sterilised stuff that teachers and parents wanted us to read. These books were compiled by Dr June Factor, writer and folklorist, and founding editor of the journal Play and Folklore.
Play and Folklore is devoted to recording and discussing what children do when largely free of adult direction or control—their colloquial speech, songs, games, rhymes, riddles, jokes, insults and secret languages. Established in 1981, it has been published online by Museum Victoria since 2001 and the April issue just released celebrates the journal’s 30th anniversary.
Paper football made from newspaper was constructed at Carlton North Primary School in the mid-1980s. Footballer Peter McKenna describes playing with a newspaper footy as a child in the 1950s in the April 2011 Play and Folklore.
Image: Jennifer McNair
Source: Museum Victoria
Dr June Factor and Dr Gwenda Davey began publishing the then-titled Australian Children’s Folklore Newsletter out of the Institute of Early Childhood Development that later became part of the University of Melbourne. Keen observers of children, Dr Factor and Dr Davey began collecting and preserving their folklore in the 1970s. This became the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection (ACFC) which they donated to Museum Victoria in 1999. In 2004, it became the first MV collection to be placed in on the prestigious UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register.
Slingshot made from a tree branch, circa 1980-1983. Found on the steps of the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew, by Dr June Factor. It had been left there by children who often used the empty car park as a playground at weekends. In the background are index cards used by Dr Factor to record children's rhymes.
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria
Deborah Tout-Smith, Senior Curator of Cultural Diversity, is the curator for the ACFC and oversees the production of Play and Folklore. “Children’s folklore is amazing repository of cultural information. In the past a lot of study into children has been adults looking at children [whereas] children’s folklore is a cultural world children themselves preserve and articulate,” said Deborah. “June Factor pointed out that information is handed on between children and never enters the adult world. Sometimes we see remnants of old ideas and practices that have disappeared in the adult world but still continue in children’s folklore.”
The study of children’s folklore has been important while researching the newly-opened exhibition at the Immigration Museum, Identity: yours, mine, ours. “We find the roots of prejudice in the ways children start to notice difference,” explained Deb. “There are distinct phases of understanding that can end up hardening into prejudice, or can become part of embracing difference.” Both the ACFC and Play and Folklore capture children’s culture from around the world and while they have a distinctly Australian flavour, they include the layers of influence from migrant children over the decades.
Play and Folklore archive (1981-current)
Collections Online: Australian Children's Folklore Collection
Infosheet: Australian Children's Folklore Collection