Our folk community was saddened this week to hear of the passing of Chris Sullivan, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential folklore collectors. I had an opportunity in 2016 when I was Director of the National Folk Festival to work with Chris when he was awarded the prestigious National Folk Fellowship. Chris had been collecting and documenting Australia’s folk music since the late 1970s and, while I certainly knew of him and his work, it wasn’t until my involvement with him during his Folk Fellowship that I gained a greater insight into the man and the scope and importance of his work.
Chris Sullivan was part of a new generation of folklorists following on from early pre-sound recording era practitioners such as A B Paterson and Stewart and Keesing and the pioneer fieldworkers of the 1950s and 60s. Based in northern NSW the major focus of Chris’s work was on rural Australia and indigenous traditions. At the time of his Folk Fellowship Chris was a PhD research scholar at Southern Cross University working on his thesis, “The Case for an Australian Folk Music Tradition“.
A passionate advocate for greater recognition of Australia’s rich folk music traditions Chris’s Folk Fellowship titled “The good old concertina: Australia’s national instrument”, focused on the repertoire and playing styles of the concertina which Chris described as, “the guitar of the 19th century and the period up to the 1950s, but especially before the First World War.”
Chris Sullivan’s legacy includes major research collections in The National Library of Australia, The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and The National Film and Sound Archive. He was also a Member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
No doubt others who knew Chris better than I will write more extensively about and celebrate his life over the coming days and weeks. Our champions of Australian folklore and music are growing ever thinner on the ground and we are the richer for the work carried out over 40 plus years by Chris.
Vale Chris Sullivan
Below are some links to Chris’s work:
The Chris Sullivan collection held by the NLA consists of 758 items and some 344 hours of recordings relating to Australian folk music. Chris Sullivan Collection NLA