Dancing in Fetters exhibition colonial clothing

Exhibition explores convict dance culture


The Redcliffe Museum is currently hosting a new interactive exhibition about Australian convict dance called ‘Dancing in Fetters – The Culture of Convict Dance’.

Colonial songs and music
Visitors to the ‘Dancing in Fetters’ exhibition can immerse themselves in musical history by listening to songs from colonial times. Photo: Aaron Goodwin

The free exhibition focuses on the culture and dance that was brought over from Europe during the early settlement of Australia, by free settlers and convicts alike.

Moreton Bay Regional Council developed the exhibition in partnership with dance historian Heather Clarke.

Ms Clarke is an Australian colonial dance expert who is completing a PhD at QUT on the subject of social dance and early Australian settlement.

“Nobody has ever really explored what people did in their spare time in those times and my research shows that dance was a major form of pastime, especially for convicts or lower order citizens,” she said.

Ms Clarke said the styles of dance that the European settlers and convicts brought to Australia have similarities with contemporary forms of dance.

“[The styles] included English country dance, which is a more sophisticated version of the bush dance, as well as forms of step dance, tapping out rhythm with their feet, which was popular among male convicts wearing chains,” she said.

Ms Clarke said she believed both the exhibition and her own research broke down stereotypes about colonial convicts, as well as putting modern dance in perspective.

Dancing in Fetters exhibition colonial clothing
Redcliffe Museum’s ‘Dancing in Fetters’ exhibition shows the type of clothing that would have been worn during colonial times. Photo: Aaron Goodwin

“The exhibition helps break through the stereotype of convicts living horrible cruel lives,” she said.

“The majority led normal lives in community housing, using dance to immerse themselves in the culture of the settlement.”

“In addition, I believe the social form and aspect of dancing has dropped out of modern life, especially in pubs and clubs where dance is mainly of an individual aspect.”

Ms Clarke said she encouraged people to enjoy the exhibition, which was interactive and provided a wealth of historical knowledge.

“The exhibit is a great way to rediscover lost knowledge and how it applies to the present,” she said.

“It’s interactive with videos showcasing the styles of dance and even gives people a chance to try out the dances themselves.”

Redcliffe Museum volunteer Joe Creek said the exhibit was one of the quirkier ones he’d seen at the museum.

“It’s definitely a bit different, but it still holds much historical benefit for our community,” Mr Creek said.

The Redcliffe Museum’s ‘Dancing in Fetters – The Culture of Convict Dance’ exhibition is open every Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm until November 18.

For more information head to their website.

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