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	Image: Delia Falconer

Sydney: Tales of sunlight and shadow

A ten-part lecture series with Delia Falconer

In the Art Gallery Society’s new ten-part Learning Curve series, author Delia Falconer takes us on a tour through the city’s fascinating characters and hidden places, from its eighteenth-century beginnings to its present as a sprawling global destination.

Delia will focus on the dynamic force of storytelling, exploring how we each attach our own feelings about place to stories and theories of the past, in order to find our own place in the city.

In addition to uncovering Sydney’s stories, these lectures will range across art, archives, film, psychogeography, literature, philosophy and history, especially the rich vein of contemporary historical writing about the colony’s first years.

Image: Delia Falconer

Various Fridays, 10.30am and Saturdays, 11am in 2012
See listing for dates

Full series: non-members $400, members $290
Per lecture: non-members $45, members $35

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


Become a member

Link above is for subscription booking.

Saturday series online bookings close Friday 4.30pm prior to each lecture.

Ticket price includes entry, lecture notes, coffee during intermissions and a glass of wine after each session.

Lectures and lecturers subject to change.
No transfers between sessions.

Three full working days (Mon–Fri) notice is required to qualify for a refund. All refunds attract an administration charge of 25% of the ticket price(s) with a minimum charge of $5. With subscription tickets there are no refunds for single sessions, unless a session is cancelled. Not negotiable.

Duration 2 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Proudly sponsored by
Arab Bank Australia

Haunted city

Sydney’s most loved poem is Kenneth Slessor’s elegy to a young man who drowned in the harbour. This may be a city of sunshine and frivolity, but on the other side is a constant theme of sadness and darkness. This lecture, an overview of the series, approaches the puzzle of the city’s double nature, one that can be accounted for in part by the physical and philosophical turbulence of its foundation. A close reading of Slessor’s Five Bells introduces the idea of the postcolonial uncanny.


Saturday 11 August 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 17 August 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

The moon, the stars

While manning the observatory on the point that now bears his name, First Fleet officer William Dawes worked with the Eora on his “language notebooks”. Lost until 1972 they offer a precious window into the lives and language of the Sydney people. But other clans had different names for moon and stars, which reminds us of the complexity of this place pre-settlement. Tracing Bennelong’s story, we discuss the harbour as not only a meeting point between black and white but between different indigenous cultures. We also look at the challenge of reading early colonial accounts, which depict a world already profoundly transformed by contact.


Saturday 18 August 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 24 August 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm


This week we meet three intriguing visionaries. One of the city’s most cherished eccentrics, the “Eternity Man” Arthur Stace, wrote his copperplate graffiti on the streets for thirty years. Reverend Frank Cash wrote bizarre “parables” about the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Pop artist Martin Sharp has been obsessed with Luna Park for decades and describes the fatal 1973 fire as “a major religious event in the history of Sydney”. We consider how the opposing forces of beauty and destruction have shaped, and continue to shape, the city.


Saturday 25 August 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 7 September 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

You find it ugly, I find it lovely

Domesticated or wild, bloody prison or home, young city or old soul – some of Sydney’s incarnations seem to have more of a hold over its imagination than others. Why do we remember the hidden colonial Tank Stream and not the great Victorian-era Garden Palace, destroyed by a huge conflagration? Was the convict era really so savage? To address these questions we trace the city’s imagination back to its eighteenth-century beginnings — in particular, the great divide between those who have always wanted a tidy, modern city, and those more at home with its wild side.


Saturday 8 September 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 14 September 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

Suburban dreaming

Sydney is a city of suburbs, yet we remain strangely dismissive of their past while making a fetish of the harbour. Drawing on contemporary history writing, this lecture challenges the idea that nothing happens in suburbia, revealing it instead as a site of intensity, change and, quite often, willful forgetting. We also ask if the old territorial division of Sydney into north, south, east and west still holds.


Saturday 15 September 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 21 September 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

Faces in the street

Whose city? This lecture throws a spotlight on some of the city’s characters, including Mei Quong Tart, Joseph Cindric the “Trolley Man”, and Juanita Nielsen. We look at their contemporary and posthumous contributions to the evolving and shifting “story” of Sydney; each made a different claim on the city and the idea of what kind of place it could be.


Saturday 22 September 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 5 October 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

Online bookings for Saturday’s lecture close Friday 21 September 4.30pm


Since long before the television franchise, Sydney has been obsessed by its “underbelly”. This week, we tour through all things underground, including the Tank Stream, disused under-harbour mining tunnels, subsumed graveyards, the toxic afterlife of heavy industry, and the drowned valley beneath Warragamba Dam. And, of course, we discuss Sydney’s lively criminal history, using archival crime scene photographs.


Saturday 6 October 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 26 October 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

Literary Sydney

From Watkin Tench’s memoirs to Patrick White’s Castle Hill and Fiona McGregor’s Mosman, we take a tour through the rich literature of Sydney and ask, is there such a thing as a Sydney sensibility or aesthetic? We also look at the history of Kings Cross as a centre of literary Bohemia.


Saturday 20 October 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 2 November 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

A city of one’s own

Historian Grace Karskens suggests that much of indigenous Sydney’s “female geography” appears to have been lost, though it probably focused on the harbour and waterways. In this lecture we focus on Sydney as a space for women, from Barangaroo to Louisa Lawson and the women of Hunters Hill who initiated the city’s first green bans. We also look at the work of indigenous women in maintaining indigenous weather knowledge.


Saturday 27 October 2012 11am – 1pm

Friday 16 November 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm

Thinking cities

In an era of rapid globalization, is it still meaningful to speak of the character of any individual city? Is it possible to think outside the increasingly narrow stories a city tells about itself? In this lecture we examine the development of Sydney as an international city. We also discuss the process of writing a “city book” – the author’s experience and the inspiration of other writers.


Friday 23 November 2012 11am – 1pm

Saturday 24 November 2012 10:30am – 12:30pm