The Museum of Sydney shows up on most lists of the best things to do in this Australian city. And it should. This is the best place to get a brief, accurate, and authentic introduction to both Sydney and how modern Australia happened. Take the tour for an excellent introduction and then take the time to explore both its fixed displays and the temporary exhibits that make this museum exceptional. Earlier in 2018 Ruth and I saw a truly fine show called “Underworld” in the Museum of Sydney. It has since closed. It consisted of mugshots and biographies of many mostly petty Caucasian criminals. This was historically interesting because when Australia was a European colony in the 17th century most of the immigrants were, like Sweeney Todd, considered riffraff in their own countries, mostly England, and were shipped to the end of the world to be forgotten about. The upcoming show “How Cities Work” that opens in December sounds like another winner. It claims it will explore Sydney’s secrets.
The Museum of Sydney is especially authentic because it was built on the site of the first New South Wales Government House and ruling class residence, and the ground beneath it was carefully examined by archaeologists before construction began. Much of what they found is on display, and it’s a considerable amount because colonists used to dump refuse and then cover up those roof tiles, broken plates, and discarded bottles. They even found rock specimens from a mining museum that was once on this spot.
The first European Governor of Australia, Arthur Philip lived here as did the next 8 Governors including William Bligh, the ship commander of the Bounty who was the victim of a mutiny. He was Governor of New South Wales from August, 1806 until January, 1808. This site was the center of the early colonists social and political life and the place of 1st contact with local Aboriginals, the Gadigal people, including Bennelong of the Wangal clan who graciously gave Governor Philip an Aboriginal name, Wolawaree.
I most enjoyed 2 areas of this thoroughly delightful attraction: models of the First Fleet ships and the Trade Wall. The First Fleet from England in 1787 consisted of 11 ships that left from Plymouth for an 8 month and one week voyage to Australia. There were 1,500 people aboard, including 732 prisoners. Two of the ships carried naval personnel, 6 contained unwanted, so-called criminals, and 3 were full of supplies and food for the long trip. I imagine the passengers had feelings similar to the first colonists who will be heading for Mars. The Trade Wall, another permanent exhibition, shows goods from all over the world that were available in Sydney before relative self-sufficiency occurred. They include cocoa beans from Central America and tobacco and corn from the United States. This is an original and fascinating display idea.
If you get to know this museum, you will better understand Australia and its chief city, Sydney.
That’s Bennelong, Governor Philip and an Australian robber above.