Buvette Masthead

Revisit Canberra: Questacon

Bethany Nevile

Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are to live in Canberra with so many cultural institutions on our doorstep. 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). 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.

I have always held a special place in my heart for Questacon. Having lived here in Canberra for much of my childhood, I have visited Canberra’s National Science and Technology Centre countless times, including for my 10th birthday. My recent revisit was of course educational, but also very nostalgic and, as Questacon always is, simply good fun.

I should say here that my companion and I are both adults in our mid 20s, so we kinda stood out at Questacon when we visited in the school holidays – but nevertheless we had a great time. It’s a place where the big kids at heart can hangout and have fun too!

We bought our tickets and walked up the ramp, entering the galleries at the top (opposite to how I remembered) but this meant we started with Gallery One and Perception Deception.

Spread across two exhibition spaces, Perception Deception is full of of little games, activities and displays based around various optical and mental illusions, which has you second guessing everything you see, hear and touch. Our personal favourite was the Velvet Hand Illusion, where rubbing your hands across several vertical wires made them feel soft to the touch.

There were lots of 3D and other images to test your eyes and countless fun, interactive and highly tactile experiments. Each display explained how the illusion worked and offered up some questions to think about. While the Questacon website gives some idea of the displays on offer, it’s not unless you experience Perception Deception yourself that you can truly answer questions like: ‘Do you see the same yellow?’ or ‘Can you pick up the robot?’.


Not far from Perception Deception is Awesome Earth, an exhibition I have truckloads of memories about.

When I was younger, I’d loved the earthquake house, which had scared me just a little when the room shook, books fell off the shelves and a crack appeared in the wall (looking back, not quite so scary now). Sadly this is now gone, but as a I learnt from my revisit, Questacon is working to update, not eliminate.

In its place is the newly opened Earthquake Lab, where you enter in small groups and build structures out of the blocks provided, then see if they can outlast several differing levels of earthquakes. I learnt some interesting facts, particularly related to building on liquefaction, but here represented by corn.

While it didn’t have the gimmicky charm of the earthquake house, the lab is pretty good substitute. In Awesome Earth, we also discovered the caged lightning – a Tesla Coil that is activated every 15 minutes (although I did see some kids excitedly counting down from 11.05 to 11, and then looking sadly confused).



I’m not going to try and explain the science behind it, but the caged lightning is very dramatic to behold and definitely worth timing your trip through the area to see. Some previous elements of Awesome Earth, such as the Tornado Shack, are now retired, but there are lots of new exhibits to take their place, all demonstrating the sheer power of the planet. Very cool.

As we moved our way down the spiral ramp that separates Questacon, my friend and I stopped off for several highlights. One came from the ‘Q Lab’, which is best for kids aged seven and up, and has plenty of Questacon staff pitted at different displays, ready to demonstrate and answer questions. We played a strange multi-level version of Tic Tac Toe and had a lovely lady named Bree show us different kinds of sand under a microscope.

In Wonderworks — an exhibition dedicated to colour, light, sound and symmetry — we watched unique pictures drawn with the Harmonograph (always a favourite), posed in a room to make you appear bigger or smaller, and made strange music from the light harp.

Downstairs H2O, a permanent exhibition, let us experiment with water (it is easier to pump water than pull it up. Trust us). We even stopped by a dinosaur-themed puppet show, The Lizard of Oz. Although we were slightly older than the target demographic, the show’s tongue in cheek look at Australia’s dinosaurs was great (particular shout out to performer Lara and her successful attempts to involve the parents!).

I knew I’d be feeling particularly nostaglic when we reached the bottom of Questacon.

I remember being in primary school and incredibly excited when the Sideshow exhibition first opened, all about the science of the circus.

There was the guillotine (only brave enough to try that one once), the free fall, Track Attack the roller-coaster simulator, the thing I cant really describe where you sit on spinning chairs and threw balls (if you remember it you know what I mean) and more.

The sad news is that Sideshow is no more, the good news is that [email protected] is plenty of fun instead.

The FreeFall is still there, and Questacon have added other exciting and adrenalin inducing activities.

Questacon Café

Questacon Café


Our favourites were the Disgustoscope, an infinity mirror that turns your face into a kaleidoscope (gross); cross hockey, where you try to beat a robot at air hockey; Batak, where you can test your reflexes and try to beat your friend; and Whoosh, where you send neon scarves whizzing through a network of tubes (we played with that one for a long, long time). Overall, [email protected] was great and does look incredibly schmick, but I did really miss the wonders of Sideshow.

After lunch in Questacon’s cafe and a browse through the shop, we headed outside for one last play with the Granite Ball (refreshing fun to keep in mind during summer) and then back home. We had a great few hours at Questacon, and there were still things we didn’t get to try — there are lots of shows we missed that were on throughout the day — and if you have kids aged zero to six  (we begrudging admitted we are too old), Mini Q is definitely worth a visit.

With the arrival of school holidays this week, now is the perfect time to head back to Questacon, whether you have children to entertain or you’re just a big kid at heart.

The essentials

What: Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre
Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes
When: Open daily, 9am to 5pm
How much: Adults $23, Concession $17.50, Child (4-16 years) $17.50, Family (2 adults + 3 children) $70, Children under 4 are free.
Web: www.questacon.edu.au


Bethany Nevile

Bethany Nevile is a Canberra local and recently graduated from the ANU with an honours degree in English Literature. She loves op shopping, baking, binge reading, live music, theatre, trashy TV and thinks there is always room for dessert. More about the Author