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History unchained – Life in Irons takes us on a journey to Brisbane’s colonial past

History unchained – Life in Irons takes us on a journey to Brisbane’s colonial past

There’s no nice way to put it – colonisation is brutal. Most of us are aware at least on a base level of our country’s history, but there’s a lot more to the story than a bunch of criminals getting shipped off to a country that was actually already occupied. From its prisoners to our First Nations people, the Moreton Bay penal colony changed the lives of many – not to mention the course of history. Museum of Brisbane is taking us back in time with Life in Irons, an exhibit that shows what life was like on both sides of the fence.


At this point in history, literal time-travel isn’t possible – but Life in Irons is pretty damn close. The exhibition is giving a voice and face to the past by creating an immersive experience that transports you back to one of the most fascinating (and scary) times in Brisbane’s history. Through research, documents, artwork and performance, a landscape has been pieced together – and through experiencing that landscape we are able to better understand how our city came to be as it is now.

The Life in Irons exhibition is made up of a whole host of official documents and historical objects complemented by artwork commissions and performance. Acclaimed artist and Queenslander Danie Mellor created new works specifically for the exhibition, exploring impacts of colonisation in his signature style. His works are joined by a map of Aboriginal campsites in Moreton Bay, researched by historian Ray Kerkhove, which strikingly illustrates how the penal settlement sat like ‘an island in Aboriginal lands’. The museum has also worked closely with historians, actors and graduates from the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA) to record 23 personal accounts of life in the penal colonies – from commandants and convicts to children and Aboriginal leaders. International sound artist and Brisbane’s very own Lawrence English was commissioned to create a soundscape that resonates throughout the exhibition space, adding another layer to the multisensory experience.

Want to take a look at life on the other side? Life of Irons opens at the Museum of Brisbane from this Thursday May 17 and it’s free to view. For more information, head to the Museum of Brisbane website.

To find out more about what’s on in Brisbane, head to our Event Guide.



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