Dance and music in colonial Australia

As explained in Valentine’s Day in colonial Australia early Australian newspapers show that the traditions of Valentine’s Day were celebrated by Australian colonists, at least, as early as 1825 — about forty years after the British arrived in Australia to start a settlement of convicts and guards.

This celebrating of St Valentine’s Day seems to fit neatly with research done by Heather Blasdale Clarke, a dance teacher, and historian who has been studying the role dance played in early colonial society. According to Heather:

Popular culture was quickly established in the colony and this included music and dance for the common people. Visitors to the colony in 1820s reported on the large number of public houses where dancing took place and a French visitor remarked on the “excessive” amount of leisure time the convicts enjoyed.

Heather makes the point that this runs counter to earlier, influential, accounts of convict life in colonial Australia, which emphasised the brutality of transportation such as Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life.

If you want to know more about Heather’s research you can read about it, in this article, she wrote for the ABC, Australian convict life made more bearable by colonial dance and music. Heather has also established a really appealing website Australian Colonial Dance, where you can find lots of information about the history of music and dance in colonial Australia.

 

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