Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

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Policies and Actions


National level agency/organisation dedicated to preservation and promotion of traditional/folk performing arts

- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
AIATSIS is an independent Commonwealth Government statutory authority. It operates under the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 1989 which repealed the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Act 1964. AIATSIS is Australia's premier institution for information about the cultures and lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

- National Library of Australia
In accord with its national heritage responsibilities, the National Library of Australia produces, collects and preserves recorded interviews and other forms of oral history which will meet the documentation, research, publication and exhibition needs of the Australian research community. Since 1960 the Library has developed a collection of more than 4,000 hours of original recordings. Originally recordings were acquired from pioneering collecters, however in the 1980s the Library commenced an active field recording program, working in association with well-known collectors. The Library also has an extensive and growing collection of material documenting Australia's performing arts history, from the earliest days of the colony of New South Wales to contemporary productions. The National Library of Australia's collection of original Australian folklore field recordings is managed through its Oral History and Folklore Branch (formerly known as the Oral History Branch). The Curator of Music has additional responsibility for collecting, interpreting and promoting the music and dance components of the Folklore collection.

Prominent NGOs working in this field

- Folk Alliance Australia
The FAA exists to foster and promote the folk community and the folk arts. These are traditional, contemporary and multicultural folk music, dance and spoken word performing arts in Australia. FFA seek to advance organisational and individual initiatives in these areas through education, advocacy and professional and field development.

- Victorian Folklife Association
The Victorian Folklife Association is dedicated to the protection and promotion of the cultural heritage of the people of Victoria, in particular, to those informal, unofficial aspects of our heritage which are folklife.

Brief chronology-history

One of the earliest Federal government inquiries into Indigenous intangible heritage concerned the exploitation of traditional Indigenous culture for commercial gain, and resulted in the Report of the Working Party on the Protection of Aboriginal Folklore (1981). More recently, Our Culture: Our Future, a Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights (1998) was released. This report recognises intangible heritage rites, including literary, performing and artistic works (songs, music, dance, stories, ceremonies, symbols) technical and ecological knowledge, and documentation in archives, films, photographs, tape and all forms of media. This heritage is seen as a living heritage, for which new forms may be created in the future.

Traditional/folk performing arts were further promoted by the National Museum of Australia in 2001 through the 'Tracking Kultja : the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Festival'. The Museum recognised that it could assist the continuity of oral traditions, by creating spaces for cultural practices to be performed, and facilitating cross cultural understanding. The theme "living cultures and sharing cultures" affirms Australia's Indigenous peoples have inherited an ancient past and are innovative and resilient. Tracking Kultja provided an opportunity for over 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people representing 50 Indigenous communities and 20 Indigenous businesses from across Australia to share their cultures with more than 8500 visitors. The program included ceremony, dance, pop music, films, storytelling, markets, bushtucker, workshops and demonstrations.

The National Library of Australia acquired its first major collection of folklore field recordings in 1960 when it acquired the John Meredith Collection. From time to time throughout the 1960s and 1970s further materials were acquired from other pioneering field collectors such as Wendy Lowenstein and Warren Fahey. In the early 1980s the Library's collection began to grow rapidly with Meredith's return to collecting. In the same period the Library also successfully sought to acquire the few major formed collections existing at that time. In recent years collectors with active links to indigenous performers and communities have joined the Library's network.

Australia's non-indigenous 'folk-life' received national attention in the lead up to Australia's bicentennial year (1988), at which time the Federal government commissioned two publications: Folk-life and the Australian government: A Guide to Commonwealth activities and resources (1985); and Folk-life: Our Living Heritage, a Report of the Inquiry into Folk-life in Australia (1987). The latter report examined the nature, diversity and significance of Australian folk-life, and the institutional and other arrangements for safeguarding it. The National Museum of Australia has also collaborated with the Australian National Dictionary Centre to develop an exhibit and publish three books which record words and phrases peculiar to the Australian vernacular.

Legislation in this field

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies ACT (1989)
The ACT is applied to:
­ Research of Indigenous performing arts
­ Collection and preservation of records relating to Indigenous performing arts
­ Dissemination of research
­ Collection of materials

Category/types of performing arts

Traditional Indigenous ceremonial songs, music, dance, body painting, ceremonial painting, ceremonies, and production of sculpture.

Non-Indigenous and multicultural intangible cultural heritage includes oral traditions such as rhyming slang, poetry, joke and story telling, as well as songs, music and dance.


Published - MURA: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collections Catalogue. Web browser interface to collections found at

Published online: National Library of Australia's online catalogue contains descriptive records for all items in its Oral History and Folklore Collection at

Published in print - Committee of Inquiry into Folklife in Australia. 1987, 'Folklife: our living heritage', Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Published in print and online – Research Guide by Merilyn Minell. 2003, 'A Nation's Imagination: Australia's copyright records 1854 – 1968', National Archives of Australia.

Audio・visual documentation collection

Lawson Crescent ACTON ACT 2601 AUSTRALIA
Form of documentation: Photographs, Slides, Audio cassette, Film reel, Video cassette, Compact disc, Digital audio tape, Digital video disc, CD-ROM

National Library of Australia
Form of documentation: Photographs, Slides, Audio cassette, Film reel, Video cassette, Compact disc, Digital audio tape, Digital video disc, CD-ROM

Aspects of traditional/folk performing arts in education

While specific subjects vary between States and Territories, each school at the primary level studies a variety of arts strands including dance, drama, and music that incorporates aspects of traditional/folk performing arts in achieving education outcomes.

Data provider

Mr Paul McInnes
National Programs
Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
38 Sydney Avenue, Forrest ACT 2603 Australia