Dancing in Fetters exhibition

Such exciting news to share – we have received Major Federal Funding for a National Tour of the exhibition ‘Dancing in Fetters: the culture of convict dance’, based on doctoral research undertaken by Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke. Funding of $129,465 by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia programme enables the exhibition to tour nationally from late 2021 through to 2024 to seven museums!  There will be a mix of public programming including concerts, workshops, and education pack and interactive videos.

Contact Dr Clarke on 07 3289 4708, email dancinginfetters@gmail.com for further comment or interview.  Exhibition partners include Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology and Bush Traditions. Please keep up to date on the tour with our Instagram account @dancinginfetterstour

We wish to acknowledge the traditional lands across which the tour takes place, and recognise the importance of music and dance in the First Nation culture.

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.

Follow our posts on instagram

Find tour dates

Explore our stories

Some surgeons actively encouraged dancing.
In the colony, the popular culture of dance could not be suppressed. Discover the stories>>