Museum of Sydney

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Quick Review

Located on the bottom floors of an impressive, massive, and recently built (last 15 years) high-rise office building, the Museum of Sydney tells the history of the city of Sydney, Australia.  From its significant location to its succinct but well-rounded presentation of Sydney history, the museum is a must-visit for those seeking an orientation to Australia’s largest metropolis.

Although the museum has three floors, the third floor houses the majority of its exhibitions.  The centerpiece is a large one room gallery whose walls tell the story of people who played a key role in shaping Sydney through each of its eras. Early influencers were political leaders: governors and judges.  Later influencers were engineers and architects. The most recent influencers were activists.  Panels tells their stories and describe their contributions to Sydney; related cases either showcase their accomplishments or valued belongings of these influencers.  In the center of the room is a massive table that tells the history of Sydney, illustrated with reproductions of photographs, illustrations, and paintings.  Although presented chronologically, each era is characterized by a theme and some themes cut across the eras.

A side gallery off of this main one tells the story of the early European settlement of Sydney from the perspective of the aboriginal population displaced by it.  The wall panels present a chronological-thematic story; a massive case in the center of the room shows aboriginal artifacts.

Two other galleries on the floor house temporary exhibitions.  During both of my visits, the temporary exhibitions presented photography.

A small exhibition on the second floor shows replicas of the eleven ships that brought the first European settlers to Sydney (and Australia), and a quick story about the trade routes that helped transform Sydney from a penal colony to a trade center.  It also tells the history of earlier buildings on this site, with a full-scale model of the building that sat on the site from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s.

A glass floor near the main entrance on the first floor provides four views of an archeological dig that preceded development of the office tour—and explains why the museum sits on this site; it housed the original government house of the Sydney colony.  The skeletal remains of a dog are the creepiest; the findings from a privy (a pre-cursor to a toilet) the most bizarre.  Outside of the main entrance are some markers about the original government house, as well as a sculpture.

The strength of the museum is its brief though thorough presentation of the history of Sydney.  Its limitations include an over-reliance on words on panels to tell the history of Sydney on the third floor; some visitors might perceive of this as a book on a wall (or, in this case, table, too).  The museum also seems to lack a significant collection of artifacts; I saw more at an interpretation center in the historic Rocks neighborhood.  The museum also fails to provide a geographic orientation to the city; it would be nice to see a map of greater Sydney and see how it developed over time.

But as a visitor with limited time in Sydney and an interest in how this city became the community that it is, this museum more than filled the bill.

Fast Facts about the Museum
Type of Museum: History, civicHighlights of the Permanent Collection: Replicas of the eleven boats in the fleet that brought the first permanent British settlers to Australia; Aboriginal art and tools; memorabilia of significant moments in Sydney history; replica and artwork of the original government house; and archeological remains of the first government house for New South Wales (this modern museum designed by an award-winning architect is built on the site of that government house).

Notes about Special Exhibitions: Seem to focus on specific aspects of urban life, especially contemporary urban life.

Special Amenities: Great gift shop; cafe.

Admission Discounts: Seniors, children, students.

Issues to Consider When Visiting: One hour to an hour and a half is sufficient, even if studying the exhibition labels in depth.




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