Resources and Activities

Why Did Colonial Art Make Australia Look So English?

Sue Rabbitt Roff Article published in Agora 59:1 (2024), 63-67


As early as Level 3 and 4 the Victorian Curriculum suggests ‘examining paintings and accounts (by observers such as Watkin Tench and David Collins) to determine the impact of early British colonisation on Aboriginal peoples’ country’ (p38).  At Levels 5 and 6 students should be ‘investigating the impact of settlement on the environment, for example, comparing the present and past landscape and the flora and fauna of the local community.’ (p42)  Levels 7 and 8 students learn to examine and compare  ‘their accuracy, usefulness and reliability’ (p73) as they ‘analyse the different perspectives of peoples in the past using sources’ (p73). At Levels 9 and 10 they  become competent in using ICT to help ‘identify literal and symbolic features of sources and explain their purpose and inferences’ (p74) and ’evaluate different historical interpretations and contested debates’ (p 84).

Here are some suggestions for how these goals can be achieved, with materials and exercises that can be adapted up and down the Curriculum levels.

LINKS TO FOOTNOTES in Why Did Colonial Art Make Australia Look So English? Agora… 2024

Janelle Evans Painting the unfamiliar: why the first European paintings of Australian animals
so alien to our eyes. The Conversation August 21, 2023

Sue Rabbitt Roff, The Curious Case of the Memetic Marsupial. The Rabbitt Review, January 2021

Sue Rabbitt Roff. Whose Kangaroo Was It Anyway? Pearls & Irritations, December 27, 2020

lastDisp=gall&searchTer =Port+Jackson+Painter&stype=ftext&notes=true&b

The UK Natural History Museum collection of First Fleet art will be online again in November 2023


available online at
century – Port Jackson Painter
Dubourg-sculpt-1813-Field-Sports –

Thomas Watling, A Direct North General View of Sydney Cove, 1794. State Library of New South Wales.
John William Lewin, Kangaroos. The Royal College of Surgeons of England;
John William Lewin, Kangaroos. The Royal College of Surgeons of England;
Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews;
John William Lewin, View from Governor Bligh’s Farm, Hawkesbury, New South Wales c.1806-10;
John William Lewin, The Plains at Bathurst
[River bank, Bathurst?, ca. 1815 / attributed to J.W. Lewin] State Library of New South Wales
James Ward, R.A., An Oak Tree in Richmond Park with a Herd of Fallow Deer Beside It
Chatsworth Park from the Garden. Photograph by Matthew Bullen.
A herd of fallow deer in Richmond Park, Surrey, UK. Nadia Isakova / AWL Images.
Historical Records of New South Wales, 1892