Revisit Canberra: The National Museum of Australia | HerCanberra

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Revisit Canberra: The National Museum of Australia

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Typical of a travel brochure, many of our iconic Canberra attractions are really only ever visited by locals when family or friends come to town.

As was the case for Bethany Nevile recently. Having only ever visited places such as Telstra Tower, the National Library and the Lakes for school excursions, complained about being dragged to them as a kid, or realising she had never actually ever checked them out, Beth decided to make a re-visit and live it list—for Canberra that is.

Over the last few months Beth has revisited iconic landmarks around the capital and rediscovered tourist attractions that are often forgotten, (the ones we’re all guilty of driving by each day without giving a second thought). But this series will hopefully inspire you to revisit some of Canberra’s institutional treasures with new eyes, fresh enthusiasm and the determination to reinvigorate an appreciation for the city you call home. 

When it was opened in 2001, I was awed by the architecture of the National Museum of Australia.

I first visited in primary school, with my Year 6 class, and we all loved running up and down the hill with the big orange loop, which I now know symbolises the Uluru line, and touching all the moulded walls (some of which are words in Braille). The museum’s bright, vibrant and earthy colours were unlike any building I’d seen before. It was exciting and and it felt very inviting.

uluru loop

I recently went back both with some kids and alone, which gave me two very different experiences. Most of my childhood memories of the museum were of Kspace—the downstairs kids’ area where you can create a vehicle or house from the future using touch screens.

After your futuristic masterpiece was complete, you and your group went into a theatrette, put on 3D glasses, and watched everyone’s rockets flying around complete with a snapshot of your face. Back in the early noughties this technology was extremely cool, and I was intrigued to see what my young friends would think of it. I was sad to learn the original Kspace had closed last June knowing that when it reopens in mid 2015 it will be dramatically different.

The new Kspace does sound promising however, the museum says it will ‘involve visitors building their own robot to travel back in time to a mystery place in Australia’s history’, so I will definitely have to revisit to try that out.

In Kspace’s absence there is a special museum trail set up for children, but as my friends’ kids had plenty of energy to expel we spent a lot of our visit running around the Garden of Australian Dreams, the vast outside space in the middle of the museum.  The area is set out as a conceptual map of central Australia, with the word ‘home’ emblazoned across the area in a hundred different languages. The website says one step is equivalent to travelling 100km across the actual country’s landmass, so that afternoon we covered a lot of ground.

We also experienced Circa, the 16-minute visual presentation in a small, moving amphitheatre. Circa is located to the right when you first enter the museum’s galleries, and it is an excellent place to start your tour. Circa shows you highlights from the museum’s collection using images, film, sound and music. I won’t spoil it by giving you all the details, but Circa really is a multi-sensory experience that moves you through time and history, and peaks your interest for all the treasures the museum holds.

garden 2

Without the children I had some time to properly explore and appreciate the many varied exhibitions.

The National Museum is a museum of social history and it provides real snapshots into different times, places and people throughout our country and its history. The hall you enter through is vast and light, and contains big screens showing elements of the exhibits, as well as some items on display (right now they’re all particularly big objects), plus the shop and cafe (which has some lovely lake views).

The permanent galleries include Landmarks, Journeys, First Australians, Eternity, and Old New Land. Landmarks is a good place to go to after Circa as it also provides a broad look at Australian social history that gives you a real sense of place, with different exhibits showing what life is like in different regions as well as eras. Journeys takes a look at Australia’s connection with the rest of the world while First Australians is a large gallery dedicated to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Old New Land considers people and environment, and how our connection with the land is continually evolving.

The Eternity exhibit is one of my favourite parts of the museum. I love reading and hearing about other people’s stories and the Eternity gallery gives you insight into various people’s lives, from famous figures like The Wiggles and Mary Donaldson to everyday Australians and how they fit into and help shape our country.

spirited

There are several other exhibits currently on show including Spirited- Australia’s Horse Storywhich runs until March 2015 and contains artefacts covering Australia’s long history with horses (entry fee). Within the First Australians Gallery, early drawings from the Warlpiri community in the Northern Territory will be on displau until next May to help celebrate the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies‘s 50th anniversary. In the Torres Strait Islander gallery, Lag | Meta | Aus  features ‘artworks, objects and stories that reflect the Strait’s history and culture from the mythological past to the present’.

All are well worth checking out while on display.

The National Museum of Australia stands as a testament to Australia’s history, cultures and stories, and remains a unique Canberra attraction for locals and visitors alike.

The essentials

What:  The National Museum of Australia

Where: Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula

When: Open 9am to 5pm daily (except Christmas Day)

Admission:  Free, although fees may apply for some specific exhibitions

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