History Week 2017 at SDN

The History Council of NSW’s History Week runs from 2-10 September 2017, and this year the theme is ‘popular culture’.

The Oxford Nursery Song Book

The Oxford Nursery Song Book, Oxford University Press, 1961 (SDN Archive)

We each belong to many communities and contexts. Since our beginnings in 1905, SDN has been influenced by the popular culture of the time. We have experienced many changes in popular children’s books, games, toys, clothing, food, and entertainment. Popular culture in Australia, and its impact on our lives, has certainly changed over time!

For History Week this year, the SDN History and Archive team explored one of the simplest forms of children’s popular entertainment – the nursery rhyme. The popularity of songs for children appears to be universal. Children have always sung and been sung to. In Australia, Indigenous children were sung stories as part of their community’s oral traditions, stretching back over 60,000 years.

The term ‘nursery rhyme’ only came into usage in the late 1700s. Collections of nursery rhymes in English began to be collected and published, among the first being Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (1744), and Mother Goose’s Melody: or Sonnets for the Cradle (1781). The definite origins of many are lost in time, perhaps inspired by folklore, real events, or political allegory.

Nursery rhymes are usually simple poems or songs, often with a rhyme or rhythm. The repetitive qualities, sound patterns and storytelling elements of nursery rhymes help develop young children’s words, movement and imagination, and strengthen bonds with friends and caregivers.

The SDN Archive collection preserves many interesting items that evidence the continued popularity of nursery rhymes. Among these are classic nursery rhyme books, and their lively and vivid illustrations, often with pages now ragged and well-loved.

And then there are nursery rhymes found on old vinyl LPs and cassettes, once accompanying happy times spent dancing and singing along. Published - as well as hand drawn - sheet music harks to a time nursery school teachers played the piano, and lesson plans name the reliable nursery rhymes to engage children in music and movement sessions.

Among the SDN Archive collection is a 1961 illustrated edition of The Oxford Nursery Song Book published by Oxford University Press. In 2015 one of our Nursery School Teachers’ College graduates (1959-61) generously gifted this valuable teaching resource to the SDN Archive. This popular music book was used as part of our College course and in our centres. It contains nursery rhymes and music notation richly supported by black and white line illustrations of enduring nursery characters: Little Miss Muffet, Little Boy Blue, Three Blind Mice, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, Old King Cole, Georgy Porgy, Little Jack Horner and many more.

As cycles of popular culture can be relied on to bring changes, we reflect on how nursery rhymes from childhood often hold warm memories and seem to endure through time. The SDN Archive’s History Week display is open to visitors by appointment by contacting

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