Imagine being a convict, torn from your family, friends and everything you knew, and sent to the other side of the world. Nothing would be familiar, but the popular culture of music and dance would provide a way to forget your cares for a while and feel as though you belonged.
When we think of convicts, we don’t tend to think of music and dance, but dancing was an integral part of everyday life and one of the most popular forms of recreation in the early colony. Convicts danced to escape the drudgery and harshness of their existence. It provided social cohesion, a sense of belonging and cultural identity in a strange new land.
The fear of transportation was intended to act as a deterrent — convicts were not supposed to be having a good time! Some in authority thought dancing was good for health and “tranquility of mind” while others viewed it as an evil passion and wanted it banned. Later, people sought to forget the ‘convict stain’ and memories of the convict culture were erased.
Convict lives were so closely monitored, it has been possible to unearth a multitude of stories about their culture from such unlikely sources as police reports.
Our exhibition presents this lost heritage.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia funding. Exhibition partners include Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology and Bush Traditions.