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This book is a surprisingly engaging microcosm of Sydney’s history from 1833 through the lens of the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Art, mainly drawn from its archives. Garry Wotherspoon provides a thorough overview of an institution that was influential at various stages, and a history that is timely and needed. In piecing together this history, Wotherspoon delves into a broad range of primary material archives resulting in a well-illustrated book demonstrating a deft use of original records.
It is an unusual lens through which the changing social and political history of Sydney may be viewed, but Wotherspoon makes the topic illuminating for a broad readership. The author captures the social and intellectual ideas that formed the basis for the establishment of the School of Arts, the transformative power of education and its ‘civilising power’ in the former penal colony.