Given Darling Harbour’s maritime history it is very appropriate that Australia’s national maritime museum should be located here.
The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) can be roughly split into three parts – the permanent galleries, special exhibitions and a collection of ships, boats and the like, outside and on the harbour itself. In addition to the exhibits the museum has a souvenir shop and a couple of eating options though there are many more (better) eating options within metres of the museum.
The permanent galleries (from which all the attached pictures are taken) are divided into a number of sections and trace Australia’s maritime history from early Aboriginal links to the sea, through the history of the exploration of Australia by Dutch, French and British explorers and the subsequent immigration by sea of people from many nations. On the military side, exhibits explore the history and current operations of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during peace and war along with the maritime bond between Australia and the United States.
Accordingly, it is no surprise that the galleries are filled with model ships/boats, navy memorabilia, nautical equipment, figureheads, pictures and the like. Everything is well laid out and the labelling is excellent. In addition to these things a couple of more unusual exhibits caught my attention – two sets of murals, one depicting Australia’s working class history from the 1800s to WWII and beyond and the other linking Australian (ANZAC) heroism in WW1 with the famous Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club. I have written a separate review on each of these murals.
To the rear of the main building, but still part of the museum’s permanent galleries, is Wharf7 – easily recognisable by the big red 7 on the building. In here is a collection of dinghies, skiffs, speedboats and rowing shells focusing on fun on Sydney Harbour.
In terms of special exhibitions, as these regularly change I won’t linger on them. Suffice it to say I have greatly enjoyed a few special exhibitions at the museum including ones on the Titanic, the Vikings and Antarctica.
Outside, in the water is the museum’s collection of historic vessels all of which can be admired, for free, from the boardwalk. This boardwalk is a public right of way though the way signage, etc is arranged you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The largest of the moored vessels, 3 ex-Navy vessels – a destroyer, submarine and a patrol boat – together with a replica of the tall-ship HMB Endeavour and the James Craig, a fully restored 19th century barque ship can be boarded at an extra (high) cost. See my separate reviews on the ANMM’s historic vessels – The Big Boats and The Little Boats.
Also under the jurisdiction of the museum is the interesting Welcome Wall and the AE1 Memorial on which I have written separate reviews. These are accessed via the boardwalk referred to earlier. The lighthouse adjacent to the museum forms part of its permanent collection and again I have written a separate review on it – the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse.
Notes on my attached photographs:
1. Prison Ship York – Used to transport convicts from Britain to Australia between 1820 and 1854
2. Figurehead from HMS Nelson – The Nelson was a familiar sight in Sydney between 1868 and 1891 when it served in the Victorian colonial navy
3. Part of the section exploring early Aboriginal association with the sea
4. Lens of the old Tasman Island Lighthouse and a suspended Naval helicopter
5. Boat made from beer cans. Boats made from beer cans compete in the annual Beer Can Regatta in Darwin, Northern Territory. This regatta is very much worth seeing if you are in Darwin at the time… In an earlier life, when I lived in Darwin, I used to assist the the construction of these boats by emptying the beer cans!
Given some complexity and in the interest of clarifying what you can see for free and what you have to pay to see/do I will comment on ticketing more than I would normally do. Generally, in Australia, national museums (and most of them are in the capital, Canberra) are free to enter – though special/touring exhibitions attract a fee. The ANMM does not follow this model and indeed its model changes from time to time.
As at June 2016:
Entry to museum’s permanent galleries and its ‘under 5 play zone’ in the main building was free. In the recent past access to the permanent galleries cost A$7.50. The current free entry may be due to the fact that part of the display space is being refurbished so don’t be surprised if there is an entry free when you visit.
Entry to special exhibitions was A$20 (concession A$12 and children to 15 free)
A BIG Ticket which covers the above and entry onto the museums fleet of historic vessels and the ‘Action Stations Experience’ was A$30 (concessions A$18, children under 4 free and those from 4-15 A$18 – Family ticket – 2 adults and up to 3 children A$75). Note that the James Craig and the Endeavour regularly go to sea and may not be available for boarding when you visit. Check before you buy your ticket!
Remember, if you do not want to actually board the vessels you are perfectly entitled to walk along the boardwalk between the main building and the vessels and admire them from the boardwalk for free. I feel A$30 is a lot to pay just the board the vessels but reasonable if you are also interested in the special exhibition on at the time of your visit and make a day of it. You should allocate at least half a day to derive maximum benefit from what is one of Sydney’s best museums.
9:30am – 5:00pm (6:00pm in January) every day except Christmas Day (25 December). Last boarding time for Vessels: 4:10pm
Address: 2 Murray St
Directions: Darling Harbour
Phone: (02) 9298 3777