Freedom Then, Freedom Now

Freedom takes many forms. Some countries cannot guarantee freedom from hunger, while arbitrary detention, religious and racial discrimination are practised throughout the world, sometimes even mandated by governments. For example, many Aboriginal residents were forcibly removed to missions from the 1890s to 1960s. Even when they were granted permission to leave, a government agency could still decide who they could and couldn’t associate with.

Exhibition dates: 5 May 2017 - 19 November 2017

Queensland was the last Australian state to grant its Indigenous population the right to vote in 1965, three years after they were given the right to vote in federal elections.

As Australia’s second largest state, Queensland has a complex history. Once heavily reliant on agriculture and mining, the state’s economy now also relies on tourism and other service industries. The rise of Queensland as the winter escape for ‘southerners’ has had a significant influence on Queensland as the home of the bikini and a place to party, especially on the Gold Coast, today the largest site of Schoolies Week celebrations.

The exercise of freedom depends on many factors including your income, age, gender and where you live. Working class families in the 1950s could afford a block of land and become owner builders.  Today few low income earners can save the deposit to buy a house.  Wealthier people are free to choose where they live and where they travel. The motor car and the aeroplane promises freedom of movement, but only if you can afford it. And if you get caught in the traffic jams endemic of south-east Queensland, you are not always free to move.

Some freedoms, including freedom from the spread of disease, require, with vaccination, the restriction of individual freedom for the greater good. Others freedoms, including gambling and drinking alcohol, are a perfect example of the ‘double edge sword’ conundrum: excess in either can damage more than the individual, just as passive smoking endangers us all.

This exhibition explores freedom in Queensland, concentrating on life since the Second World War through eight themes:

Vote and Protest

The Queensland Parliament granted women the right to vote in 1905, ten years after South Australia embraced woman’s suffrage, and three years before women got the vote in Victoria. But neither male nor female Indigenous Queenslanders had the right to vote; they were deemed not capable of exercising such a right. 


Today, dress in Queensland can be quite casual, but until the 1960s, most women going into ‘town’– whether in Brisbane, Toowoomba or Townsville – would complete their outfits by wearing a hat and gloves. Male professionals, especially in banking, real estate and the law, still wear formal suits but the suit is usually shed the further north you go.

Drink, smoke 'n gamble

In the 19th century, a legal or illegal tavern was often the first structure built in a new settlement, especially on the gold fields. Most of Queensland is hot in summer, so workers looked forward to a beer or three at the end of the working day. Gambling took the form of card games and two up, both informal and illegal. 

I do

Until 1999 the majority of marriages took place in church. Priests and Ministers were licenced to conduct the ceremony. Some religions did not approve of mixed marriages. 

Too rude for Queensland

Censorship has a long history. Usually imposed by a government agency, it is regularly used in times of war, and to prevent publication of details that might prejudice a trial. But most print items banned in Australia have been found to allegedly offend community standards.

A Home of Your Own

In the 1950s about half of all houses in Australia were owner built. Land on the fringes of cities and country towns was relatively cheap and there were few extra costs, especially if the roads were still unpaved and sewage connection unavailable.

On the road, in the air

Before the coming of mass car ownership in the late 1950s, most people, including children and the elderly, walked or used public transport to get to school, to work, to shop or to go for a holiday.


Compulsory vaccination for tuberculosis and polio has seen these two diseases almost disappear in Australia. A small minority of people regard compulsory vaccination as an infringement of their freedom, but the vast majority see collective good outweighing individual objections.