Our goal is to facilitate a revival of traditional Tasmanian country dance music and the dances that were done to these tunes. The almost lost music of rural Tasmania and especially the Huon Valley had been played in apple sheds, shearing sheds, community halls and in living rooms from the 1840s through to the 1950s before finally being displaced by imported idioms heard on the radio and through recorded mediums. Until the 1940s and 50s, 'Home Made' music had provided the basis for social and cultural life in the Huon and throughout Tasmania's semi-isolated rural communities.
Reviving local traditions
The Tasmanian Heritage Fiddle Ensemble was created to to reinvigorate this tradition. In particular it is intended to train very young musicians to become familiar with a corpus of musical pieces rooted in their own unique regional traditions and to perform these at Tasmania's principle Festivals and cultural events. As well as a focus on youth the broader Heritage music project entails a host of activities. These include the collection, transcription, publication and teaching local music and dance.
Importantly we encourage elderly local bush musicians, now in their 80s to perform their rare tunes both alone and with some of the State's youngest musicians.
We are trying to revive a number of uniquely Tasmanian show dances. These include, the Huon Valley's own Broom Dance, The Frog Dance an extremely athletic dance from the North and East of the State that looks like a cross between Cosack dancing and Irish Step dancing and a local form of clogging or tap dancing.
The major regional styles of Traditional Tasmanian music are The Golden Valley style, The Huon Style and The Cape Barren Style though other areas such as the West Coast, The Fingal and the Smithton area had strong musical cultures.
Cultivating pride in a local identity and over-coming the 'Cultural Cringe'.
In his largely autobiographical novel, writer, Martin Flanagan, has his major character remark, "Tassie's dead, there's nothing here". The book tells of a young Tasmanian who feels a void be it cultural or spiritual in his homeland and spends years traveling to other places in search for what he senses is missing at home. His family had ancestors who had come from Ireland and much mythology had been passed down about the place. When Martin's central character gets to Galway Bay he is struck by the fact that it is just another place, with a bit of sunlight shining on a mud-flat. The latter part of the book has the central character finally awakening to the riches he had in his home environment back in Tasmania.
n autobiographical writing by Tasmanians since the early part of the 20th century versions of this sense of one's one place being empty of meaning occurs over and over. The reasons for this are simple. The majority of Australians and Tasmanians settled in coastal areas, kept strong links with the old country and saw new waves of cultural influence as always emerging from the outside world, usually Europe and the USA.
If Australia had a cultural cringe then Tasmania had it two-fold.
For people living in remote regions of Tasmania, however, people learnt to make do culturally. If there were instruments around and space to dance you got the neighbours around and had some, "sport" as it was called in the Huon.
In Apple Sheds, lounge rooms, shearing sheds and local halls tunes that stretched back to the 18th century mixed with more recent imports that were beaten into new rhythms in order to fit the old dance steps. Between 1840 and 1950 Tasmania had its own form of rural dance or bush music. The tunes passed from neighbour to neighbour, generation to generation and town to town. Gradually they changed and took on a unique local flavour.
After the era of good radio reception the American and English Musical Industry machines swamped our airways with new fashions in music. The young came to see the old music as out-dated, as Grandad's music, and looked elsewhere for sources of entertainment and culture.
By the 60s there was no new generation taking up the old music and dance traditions and they died out except in the homes of some of the older players who have preserved quite a lot of this tradition.
The picture at the right depicts legends of traditional Tasmanian music Edie and Paddy Dawson of Franklin on button accordions and Eileen Mc Coy on fiddle performing at the Tasmanian Heritage Concert Cygnet Folk Festival 2003.
Reversing the Fracturing of Identity
As globally dictated trends came and went the sense of a lack of a local cultural identity grew. For the Huon valley, the virtual collapse of the apple industry in the 1970s destroyed one on the economic bases for community. Many locals began to leave the valley in search of work. So began an exodus of youth that continues to the present. Despite its physical beauty it has been easy to think of the Huon as a socially and culturally dead or at least derivative region. This image is not helped by a mass media which raises our young on trends, music and images from elsewhere.
By presenting an attractive and educational package of music and dance from our own region we hope to engender a lasting pride in the legacy of our local traditions.
Tasmania can learn from Overseas examples of Cultural revival.
One of Tasmania's mistakes is to think that they are the only place to have experienced this combination of economic decline and a loss of local cultural identity. Others have experienced this and have made astonishing revivals in which their local musical traditions have been revived, valued and have become the basis of strong culture and tourism based industries. The Shetlands, Ireland, The Hebrides, the Bayou area of Louisiana in the USA and Canada's Cape Breton have each, through the work of a handful of revivalists, brought almost vanished local musical and dance idioms back into life. In each of these cases these revivals have seen the young in these regions now growing up with a renewed sense of their identity and a sense of belonging to a place with a strong cultural uniqueness. There is an intrinsic value in such a rooted sense of identity, but it also has real economic benefits. The young may still leave but will feel that there is something more solid for them to return to, a home of the spirit and not just a place. The global tourist looking for something unique to the regions that they are visiting will be delighted by true cultural difference and celebrate the fact that each destination does not merely offer the same bland package.
The revival and development of our local Tasmanian music and dance will lay the basis for a strong cultural and tourist industry and will entice the diaspora to return to their rediscovered roots.
Central to our brief is to encourage young players to embrace their own local traditions and to develop performance skills appropriate to the presentation of this music. Many young musicians of The Tasmanian Heritage fiddle Ensemble have gone on to become excellent musicians capable of performing in a variety of genres while retaining a pride in their roots.