Arts: DAVID DE SANTI, Illawarra Folk Club president and Wongawilli founder
One day they’ll write a folk song in praise of David de Santi.
For more than a quarter of a century, De Santi has been the unassuming powerhouse behind the folk music revival in the Illawarra.
After 28 years of running the Illawarra Folk Festival, first at Jamberoo and now at Bulli, De Santi has helped build the four-day event into the biggest folk festival in NSW, as well as the largest volunteer-run festival in Australia.
On top of this, he celebrated 25 years of the Wongawilli Bush Band, the Wongawilli Colonial Dance Club and the Wongawilli Colonial Dancers.
Almost single-handedly, Wongawilli has ensured the promotion, preservation and continuing vitality of Australian folk music, song and dance developed from European settlers.
‘‘They were vital,’’ Rob Willis, folklore collector at the National Library, said.
‘‘They turned the whole thing on its head by the way they approached it, by the way they presented it.
‘‘You had the performance of the band but then you had the recordings that they made, which went worldwide.’’
Before Wongawilli, bands were playing Irish or Scottish music (if they were playing anything folk at all) and passing it off as something from Australian history.
‘‘It wouldn’t have happened without David,’’ Bush Band lead singer Graeme Murray said.
‘‘He puts so much effort into everything he does that you can’t help being caught in the tide.
‘‘He’s like a brother if anything.
‘‘We have spent a lot of time together and had unusual sleeping arrangements at different festivals.’’
De Santi has no doubt about Wongawilli’s place in the world.
‘‘It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but there is certainly interest, in Australia and around the world, in music that is of a traditional nature.
‘‘It gives you an essence that says ‘this is what we are about’.
‘‘It’s not really my past, but I thought it was worth fighting for.
‘‘These are songs that could have died.
‘‘I want to make sure that, in generations to come, people will be able to say: ‘That was a song that they used to sing in the Australian bush’.
‘‘If it hadn’t been done, it would have been a tragedy.’’
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