Award-winning historian Deirdre O’Connell comes to Hawkesbury Regional Museum in celebration of NSW Women’s Week

Museum - Deirdre OConnell - Author Talk imageJoin author Dr Deirdre O’Connell when she discusses her book, Harlem Nights: The Secret History of Australia’s Jazz Age at Hawkesbury Regional Museum on Sunday, 10 March from 1pm to 2pm, followed by light refreshments. This is a free event, but bookings are essential via

Harlem Nights was selected as the Non-Fiction Pick of The Week in the Sydney Morning Herald and described by the Melbourne Age as “engaging and imaginative… a vivid snapshot of a national moment that lurched from shameful disgrace to farce”.

The 1920s were a time of wonder and flux, when Australians sensed a world growing smaller, turning faster, and, for some, skittering off balance.

Young working women were taking up city life in record numbers. By shingling their hair, listening to jazz, and dancing with flapping elbows, young women were making themselves modern.

American movies, music, and dance brought together what racial lines kept apart. African American jazz represented the type of modernism that cosmopolitan Australians craved- and the champions of White Australia feared.

Enter the jazz band Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea. Snuck in under the wire by an astute promoter, the Harlem-style revue broke from the usual blackface minstrel fare, delivering sophisticated, liberating rhythms.

The story of their Australian tour is a tale of conspiracy — a secret plan to kick out and keep out ‘undesirable’ expressions of modernism, music, and race, and protect wayward women from themselves.


  • Historian, lecturer, and author of The Ballad of Blind Tom and The World of Crickett Smith (forthcoming). She has a background in environmental journalism and music documentary production and lives in Gundungurra and Dharug Country, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia.
  • Shortlisted for the 2022 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History

“O’Connell relates this shameful episode in meticulous and picturesque detail … a fascinating read.” – The Australian

The Hawkesbury Regional Museum is located at 8 Baker Street, Windsor and is open six days a week.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 10am to 4pm

Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm

Closed Tuesdays

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