What has lived with us, entertained us, travelled with us and symbolised Australian aspirations, only to end up gathering dust or even at the tip? It’s not the car, or the washing machine, or the sewing machine… it’s the piano!
Before electricity brought us the gramophone, the radio and eventually TV, the piano was central to family and community life in colonial Australia. It brought Australians of different ages and backgrounds together, offering solace on remote stations, comfort at the fronts of war, and joyous entertainment at weddings and parties, on ships and trains, in hospitals and prisons. An upright piano in the nineteenth century home, with its iron frame, candelabra, carvings, polished surfaces and ivory keys, was a machine, an instrument and a key member of the household that conveyed potent social meanings: prestige, education, class, leisure, national identity and intergenerational relationships.
From the arrival of a square piano at Sydney Cove in 1788 to the resurrection of derelict heirloom pianos in the streets of twenty-first century Melbourne, A Coveted Possession tells the curious story of Australia’s intimate relationship with the piano. It’s an insightful, beautifully illustrated multi-stranded cultural history that reveals the material, social and political worlds in which the ivories were tinkled, the shifting aspirations embodied by this instrument and the way it came to fulfil powerful educational, social and spiritual purposes.