It had been a number of years since I had visited the Australian Museum but I was recently drawn back, attracted by the fact that it was hosting a special exhibition, Trailblazers, honouring Australia’s 50 greatest explorers and because I had a museum pass, bought on a recent trip to Melbourne, which gave me free entry to museum’s permanent galleries.
Since I last visited very little had changed, the old Victorian building still retains its charm – though a new approach and glass entrance hall, pompously referred to as the ‘Museum Walk and Crystal Hall Entrance’, tacked onto the side of the building now somewhat detracts from the exterior look of that side of the building.
In terms of its collection, the first area visited by most people is the beautiful Long Room comprising a ground floor and two balcony levels (latter accessed later). Here, on the ground floor, is an excellent collection of both human and animal skeletons – including the ‘Bone Ranger’, a human skeleton riding a bolting horse skeleton. Do jump onto, and peddle, the bicycle in this area. It is connected to a human skeleton on a similar bicycle which will mimic your peddling – sort of fun and an interesting anatomical lesson for those wishing to partake. My favourite piece in this room, a skeletal man resting in his chair reading a newspaper while his loyal skeletal dog, on a leash, sat on the floor by his chair, was sadly not there on my most recent visit (May 2016). I suspect the politically correct brigade may have intervened, lest visitors over enjoy their visit.
Anyway, moving on, one enters the first part of the museum’s natural history area which is continued on most of the second floor. Across both floors you will find an extensive array of animals – stuffed, pickled, preserved, on pins or otherwise displayed. Of particular note is the dinosaur exhibition and an area focusing on animals, past and present, native to Australia.
The museum has a surprisingly large mineral and gemstone collection, which while focusing on Australian content has samples from around the world. Lots of glitz and colour in here. By the way, the massive gold nuggets are reproductions! The prized part of this ensemble is the private collection of Albert Chapman, acquired by the museum in 1995. The Chapman collection is world renowned for its mineralogical diversity, crystal perfection, aesthetic appeal and high Australian content.
Common to most museums in Australia, the Australian Museum has an Aboriginal section exhibiting a selection of its 40,000 piece collection of Indigenous tools, artworks, adornments and other cultural material.
Not surprising, the museum also has one of the world’s largest Pacific collections and a small (I think it could be larger – personal taste, I guess) selection of Pacific island masks, ceremonial poles, Bird of Paradise head adornments (from Papua New Guinea), bowls, drums, and jewellery is on display.
Last but not least, no 19th century museum would be complete without an Egyptian section. This is taken care of via a solitary mummy located in the corridor by the lifts on either the 1st or 2nd floor – I can’t recall which.
Incidentally, the Australian Museum is the country’s oldest public museum, having opened in 1827.
All in all, while not a massive museum, the museum hosts an interesting and varied display which is well laid out and labelled making it worthy a couple of hours of your time.
On the fourth floor is a rooftop café which can be safely missed as it poorly designed/ laid out and lacks any form of atmosphere – as it did customers on my last visit. That said, it is fine if you want a quick drink or a bite to eat and don’t want to go to the trouble of leaving the museum and returning (as you can do – within the same day). The advertised view is, hmmm, ok but not worth going up for, in itself.
9.30am to 5.00pm every day except Christmas Day
Entrance Cost (2016)
Children under 15 – Free
An additional, and variable fee, applies for special exhibitions.
Various membership options available.
This is my last SYDNEY – CITY – HYDE PARK review.
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