Australia in the 1880s

The Heidelberg School

The Heidelberg School of painting became famous at this time. It was a group of artists whose distinctive landscapes were painted in the en plein air style (a French term that means 'in the open air'). The painters included Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin. Their subject matter emphasised themes of the 'nobility' of labour and ordinary work, especially of the bush pioneers. In August 1889, they held an exhibition at Buxton's Gallery in Melbourne. They had painted on the backs of cigar boxes, using the modern Impressionist techniques of capturing fleeting moments of daylight. Their work caused controversy and attracted criticism from established critics and dealers of the time.

A plaque commemorating the first meeting of Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin with Arthur Streeton in 1886

A snapshot of 1888

  • January
    • Non-Indigenous Australians celebrate 100 years of colonial settlement.

  • May
    • A demonstration against Chinese immigration takes place outside Sydney Town Hall and a month later an Intercolonial Conference on the Chinese question is held.
    • In Queensland, Thomas Glassey becomes the first trade union candidate in any colonial parliament.

  • December
    • The Centennial International Exhibition opens in Melbourne in the newly built Royal Exhibition Building.
    • Henry Lawson's first story, His Father's Mate, is published.
    • The women's magazine, The Dawn, begins publication with editorials by Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, and advocates voting rights for women and divorce law reform.
    • It also included household hints, a short story and poetry as well as fashion news. Established by Louisa it was prepared and printed by women.


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