A Little Bit of Culture – Hitting the Sydney Museums

I can get lost in museums. Spend hours roaming the hallways looking at art work, taking part in interactive exhibitions, trying to fill my brain with newly acquired knowledge or just enjoying the peace of it. Even if I don’t understand all of the contemporary art I still feel slightly more civilised for the outing. Sydney’s museums, at least the ones I visited, are not quite large enough to get lost in but they are fun, interactive and there are a good few to cover! Over my two and a half weeks in Sydney I hit five different museums or galleries.

I began with the ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES. It is on the edge of the Botanical Gardens containing examples of classical, colonial Australian pieces to modern and contemporary and Aboriginal artwork. This was my first taste of Aboriginal art work and I was captivated. It is so colourful, so precise and detailed without looking precise and yet detailed at the same time and most tell some sort of story. They are beautiful. Sol Lewitt’s exhibition ‘Your mind is exactly at that line’ was my next favourite. He was a pioneer of the conceptual art movement in America during the 60’s and the exhibition spanned his 40 year career.

My next hit was the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. I went twice. The first time I went with two friends, one of whom I think came out of kindness so it was a flying visit. The second I went a bit slower and took the time to attempt to understand some of the more abstract instillations.

The HYDE PARK BARRACKS MUSEUM was one of my favourites. The site is on the UNESCO world heritage list and is one of the most important of the 11 convict sites. Walking through its walls and the exhibition you get an amazingly clear image of what life was like for the people who arrived on the shores of Sydney. It opened in 1819 as housing for the convicts who worked for the government. Over the years it housed up to 50,000 convicts. It then changed into a hostel for orphan girls escaping the Irish Famine and the female immigration department, and later to an asylum for aged and destitute women. It’s final incarnation was of courts and government offices. On arrival, along with getting a quick introductory tour, Mariah and I also picked up the treasure hunt for kids with things we needed to search for while we went through the museum. So off we went, searching for clues, trying out the hammocks where the convicts would have slept and playing dress up. As you go through there are costumes representing the different parties who would have stayed in the Barracks over the years. We of course tried them all on!

THE STATE LIBRARY itself is a beautiful old building. The entrance has a map of the world engraved on the floor and reading room is your classic library – oak tables, spiral staircases, moving ladders and walls of books. It also houses a permanent exhibition on the upper level containing old maps, a beautiful globe, sketches and a beautiful original of Geoffery Chaucer’s works from 1532 which is worth perusing. In the annex between the original building and the new library have a visiting exhibition space. When I visited, they were hosting the WORLD PRESS 2014 Exhibition. This had just opened when I went and was photography from around the world about any and every subject from sports to nature, animals, human destruction, terrorism, witchcraft and everyday life. The pictures were stunning, haunting, moving, beautiful, incredible and in some cases terrifying. Growing up around a photographer, I learned how to admire how pictures come together and have always easily fallen under the spell of a good photo and these were no exception. On a side note, the library cafe also has a scrumptious brownie.

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My final museum was COCKATOO ISLAND. A whole island to explore which includes some nice looking bars with great views, sleeping quarters or tents if you want to stay over night on the island and at the time a contemporary art exhibition. My tip for visiting the island would be to rent the audio guide. We took a map and wandered around but there is not enough information to explain what you are looking at or where you are. Cockatoo Island , like the Barracks, is one of the convict sites and on the UNESCO world heritage list. It was opened as a prison and quarry in 1839 to help with the over crowding on Norfolk Island and stayed like that until 1869 when it changed to a girls reformatory school and then later to a boys industrial school and reformatory. Finally, it became a working dockyard and during the war the official Commonwealth Naval Dockyard fitting destroyers, and building submarines.

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