Australia’s convict history to be showcased in UK

A Monash Arts-led program documenting Australia’s convict history has been chosen to participate in The UK/Australian Season 2021-22 (The Season), with the theme of “Who we are now?”

The Season, which starts in September, is a collaboration between the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is a unique artistic program of more than 200 live and digital events, marking the largest ever cultural exchange between Australia and the UK.

Associate Professor Tony Moore is Head, Communications and Media Studies in the School of Media, Film and Journalism.

Monash’s contribution, Conviction Politics: The Convict Routes of Australian Democracy, is led by Associate Professor Tony Moore from the School of Media, Film and Journalism.

Conviction Politics is a four-year Australian Research Council Linkage Project, first awarded in 2019.

It is distinctive for its interdisciplinarity and strong digital media approach, bringing together media and historical studies experts with information technology and design scholars from Monash's innovative SensiLab to produce interactive data visualisations and immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences of our convict past.

In late October, the project will launch officially as a Transmedia Hub at Monash’s Caulfield campus in its Media Lab, featuring the project’s findings to-date, a screening of three short documentaries, music, a panel discussion and data analysis presentation linking the 160,000 men, women and children transported to Australia as convicts with collective action to assert their rights.

Working with production company Roar Film and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the project will produce 100 mini-documentaries and a travelling digital exhibition. For the first time, the rich archive of heritage and audio-visual histories of the 3,600 reformers and protesters sentenced for political offences who had impact in both Britain and Australian colonies from 1788-1868 will be presented to the public.

“This project traces convicts’ relevance to the evolution of modern democracy, the union movement, and improved working lives of people in Australia and the UK through to the twenty-first century,” said Associate Professor Moore.

“This rag tag bunch included journalists and political activists accused of sedition, as well as industrial and rural protesters, trade unionists, rebels and revolutionaries, many of whom became reformers, media influencers, agitators and even government leaders in their place of exile.

“The Hub will utilise an innovative approach including annotated archival discoveries, a sequence of 100 short documentaries, and music performance, a travelling exhibition, all using cutting-edge digital media to reveal and refresh the innovative protest media developed by reformers and protestors of the past."

By analysing digitised convict records, Associate Professor Moore and his team have revealed that the mass of 164,000 ordinary convicts were from the earliest decades of the Australian colonies engaged in collective action for better pay and working conditions, through strikes, refusals to work and eat, mass escapes and even mutiny and forming unions as early as the 1820s.

As part of The Season, the project will be also showcased to a UK audience at the People’s History Museum in Manchester in November, with documentary screenings, a demonstration of the Hub and a panel discussion to take place.

Upon its completion, Conviction Politics will have mapped the political impact and collective labour resistance brought to Australia by these convicts and its findings will also be housed in an online hub featuring 100 smartphone-friendly mini documentaries; an interactive atlas of convict songs, poetry, novels, pamphlets and art; educational resources; and materials for a travelling digital exhibition.

“This project seeks to reveal the forgotten champions of the rights modern Australians take for granted, and bring Australia’s history to life for the next generation,” Associate Professor Moore said.

Conviction Politics: Investigating the Convict Routes of Australian Democracy was awarded $757,205 over four years, with a further $310,000 contributed by the project's industry partners, including screen production house Roar Film, the NSW Teachers Federation, The Union Education Foundation, Tasmania Archive and Heritage Office, museums, archives and universities from Australia, the UK and Ireland.

Read more about the project at Monash Lens.