Bound for South Australia!

So far I haven’t managed to write much about how I’m actually spending my time in this first year of my PhD. Rather predictably I’m doing a lot of reading, and from what other students have told me, a fair amount of writing for my first year. However in May, I’m bound for South Australia for a two month field and archival research trip! While there were many different mining communities across South Australia and within other Australian colonies, Cornish migrants were particularly concentrated in the northern Yorke Peninsula towns of Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo – otherwise known as the ‘Copper Triangle’, or ‘Australia’s Little Cornwall’ – and that’s where I’m going at the start of my visit. If you zoom all the way into the map below, you’ll spot some giveaway Cornish street names in the three towns:

In the first month I’ll be going to Kernewek Lowender, a biennial festival of Cornish culture that started in the mid-1970s. I’m really looking forward to this as it’s a gathering for Cornish people not only within Australia, but also from Cornwall itself and across the diaspora. I’ll be doing field research, ie. attending and documenting events, interviewing musicians and performers – but I’ll also be visiting museums and heritage centres. By combining lots of different data and documentation, I’ll be able to build up a real sense of how Cornish music, identity and community was perceived and performed here. The second month I’ll be in Adelaide, spending time at the state archives, libraries and even more museums.

To prepare, I’ve been researching the Cornish in South Australia, when they arrived and where they went, and what they did when they got here. I’ve also been looking at how Cornish identity has been expressed and performed over the past 150 years. The Cornish Association of South Australia – the oldest Cornish Association in the world! – is a particularly interesting group for me; formed in 1890, the group was originally for ‘Cornishmen and Sons of Cornishmen’ – but now membership is open not only to people born in Cornwall, but anyone who has an interest or love of Cornwall, or who is a Cornish speaker. The CASA continues to be active in Kernewek Lowender and I’m looking forward to meeting their secretary, Noel Carthew, who I’ve been in email contact with about this PhD for a long time now.

I suddenly thought I should write this post after hearing ‘Bound For South Australia’ a popular shanty, sung by the Oggymen at Kernow in the City – very apt, since I’d just had the news that this research trip was definitely going ahead!

This version is by the Fisherman’s Friends, Port Isaac’s famous shanty group. From what I can tell, there’s not a particularly Cornish – or South Australian – historical link to this song. However, you hear it in pubs around Cornwall; perhaps it’s popular with Cornish singers because Cornish migrants flocked to South Australia after big copper discoveries in the colony, and we’ve come to associate the two.

I have my nerves, but I’m also very excited. It’s amazing that almost as far away from Cornwall as it’s possible to get, Cornish heritage is still important and it’s still being celebrated! While I was at Kernow in the City the other week one of the performers said ‘you’re all Cousin Jacks up here’ – and it actually made me realise that since I’m involving myself in a diasporic community in London, this fieldwork trip isn’t such a leap from what I’m doing now. It was amazing to hear ‘Bound For South Australia’ live – it was the first time I’d made the link between the song and my own trip. So I suppose in a sense, I’m following in the footsteps of Cornish migrants a hundred and fifty years and more ago, although I’m searching for the music of the Cornish themselves, not copper.

So – that’s my exciting upcoming trip. I’d love to hear from anyone who has been out to KL or who have visited other Cornish communities overseas! And I’d also love to hear from researchers (in any field) who have undertaken field and archive research trips in Australia or other international destinations – how did you decide where to go, and how long for? What did your research involve?

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