Death or Liberty, the screen adaptation of the history of political rebels and radicals transported as convicts to Australia, toured to the UK and Ireland in November 2016. The documentary is adapted from the book Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788-1868, written by Associate Professor Tony Moore from the School of Media, Film and Journalism.
It screened to full houses in London, Dublin and Wales with lively panel discussions and workshops. According to Moore, “As well as extensive dramatisation of characters, battles and daring do escapes, the documentary emphasises the media of protest and political activism, such as journalism, poetry, cartoons and especially songs, which were crucial for mobilising movements for democracy, human rights and decolonisation, and ensuring that those transported to Australia for their actions were not forgotten.”
English legendary troubadour Billy Bragg and Irish singer-song writer Lisa O’Neill performed pieces from the documentary based on lives of the political convicts transported to the Australian colonies in the late 18th and 19th Centuries.
Billy Bragg, who is Musical Director of the film, noted that music was an important way that the messages of political movements are remembered and communicated, and by which the emotional aspect of struggles and sacrifice, like passion, sorrow, and hope, are conveyed to inspire new generations. The musical performances and interaction with the audience will thread through the film, as an important part of its narrative.
Bragg told ABC Radio, “they [The British government] were trying to get rid of these people and sent to the other side of the world where they couldn’t be heard any more, realising if they were hung, drawn and quartered for treason they’d become martyrs. I don’t think the Crown realised it was seeding the colonies with a bunch of crazy radicals. You can see links between what happened with transportation here in Tasmania and at the Eureka Stockade, the early achievement of democracy and universal suffrage ahead of what we had in the UK. Many of the people who were sent, the Chartists, the Welsh, Irish, French Canadians, Americans had an impact.”
Listen to the full interview with Billy Bragg: