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History Illuminated recalls halcyon (or not) days gone by

Revellers throwing back hastily poured schooners at the so-called Dozens Day in Swansea in 1985 would have had little idea they were contributing to Lake Mac’s long and lively history.


But fast forward 35 years, and that’s exactly what has happened, with images of the partygoers set to feature in a ‘Lake Macquarie’s Found Photographs’ talk on Thursday 10 September as part of the 2020 History Illuminated Festival.

The festival’s week-long program includes discussions, lectures and presentations on historical fiction, fact, research and writing, covering military, Indigenous, social, medical and local history and featuring some of Australia’s top historical writers and academics.

Lake Macquarie City Council Community History Officer Judy Messiter said the Dozens Day photos were among a collection purchased from the former Sydney Morning Herald image library.

Eventually banned due to complaints about “drunkenness, vulgarity and nudity”, Dozens Day was held at Swansea on December 12 each year, with attendees challenged to drink a dozen beers between noon and 1pm.

“Recent history can be just as fascinating as historical accounts from our more distant past,” Ms Messiter said.

“The Dozens Day photos – the people in them, the fashions on display, their actions and their expressions – are testament to this.”

Other History Illuminated highlights include a Wednesday 9 September talk at Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre with local pop icon John Paul Young and acclaimed author Jeff Apter, exploring the life and times of Easybeats front-man George Young.

Other authors to feature throughout the week include Ed Tonks, Mark Dunn, David Dufty and Mark Dapin.

Historian Michael Bennett will present a Saturday 5 September talk at Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre, delving into the history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, while author and journalist Scott Bevan will talk at Rathmines Theatre on Thursday 10 September about the lake, its history and its characters.

"More importantly than me speaking, I hope the audience will share their stories about the lake and the role it has played in their lives,” Bevan, author of the recently released book, The Lake, said.

“After all, Lake Macqaurie is a vast reservoir of history and legends, of the arts and the environment, and this beautiful body of water has helped shape how we see ourselves.”

The festival kicks off at Rathmines Theatre on Friday with a 1940s-inspired evening including live music, food and a presentation by community history expert Dr Peta Belic, titled ‘History: what is it good for’.

Manager Arts, Culture and Tourism Jacqui Hemsley said the diverse History Illuminated program aimed to surprise, inspire and inform.

“History Illuminated pulls back the curtain on our history – both good and bad – and shows us how we got to where we are today,” Ms Hemsley said.

“Exploring it, appreciating it and learning from it might help us make a better future for everyone.”

History Illuminated events will be held at Rathmines Theatre, Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre and the Toronto, Charlestown and Swansea Lake Mac Libraries branches. All events will be run with COVID-safe precautions and bookings are essential.

Go to for more information. History Illuminated is presented by Lake Mac Libraries and NSW History Council.

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