Another museum, this one’s a dud.

November 13, 2006 at 11:36 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Sydney, Travel | 1 Comment

Apparently I’m not one for museums, at least not museums two weeks in a row, particularly when the day is sunny and bright or when the museum is a little dull, or really quite dull. Of which museum do I speak? The Hyde Park Barracks of course.


While the museum could have offered more, could have been more it ended up being a below average establishment. If it were free then I would suggest looking into it as you’re walking through the inner city. However, in this case the $10 entry fee is too much and even the free Sydney Morning Herald doesn’t make up for the lack of stimulation. Now that I’ve made my opinion abundantly clear let’s discuss the why of it.  

First off upon entering the museum you’re permitted to walk around in one room as an introduction before having to pay. This room basically allows you to look down into some of the excavations and in the glass cases you can see some of the things they’ve uncovered. Wow! Stimulating and thought provoking! On the plus side at least they’re being up front about the ‘quality’. As this is a Historic Houses Trust building the attendants restrict the consumption of water (on a hot day) and once again I must presume that this to protect the artifacts in the glass cases from the damage that water may do to the…glass. The first floor had, what I believe is a temporary-long standing exhibit on convict settlements throughout Australia. It was kind of interesting seeing differences between the prisons and the levels of punishments handed out. There were a couple of interactive screens but nothing was particularly eye catching. The second floor had displays on the experience of women particularly those that came over freely when the Barracks were used as an immigration center for young women. I assume this is for school groups and children but you can also dress up in ‘period’ clothes – just don’t drink any water! This floor also housed information on the Catholic experience as only Anglican priests were permitted with the first fleet. I’m not Catholic but I did find it interesting especially the development of St Mary’s. However I found the Jewish Museum’s exhibit on the same matter better presented. The floor had some other things but nothing of particular note, just more “stuff we dug up”.  

The top floor shows prison life. ‘That speaks for itself’. How did they show this? By having two of four rooms filled with hammocks – obviously to show numbers, another room had some computers for finding out about a possible convict past with a tablet outlining the punishments for various crime. Life for petty theft seems a tad harsh.


The last room was basically empty. It had cut outs on the side each with some sort of blurb – that may have given some sort of anecdotal history, which would be good – however, the ye olde text was difficult to read. Of course that could be my own problem but any foreign speaking tourist would have a very hard time. Apparently, the purpose of the room was to permit a soundscape of all these conflicting voices. Granted I couldn’t hear them at the far end and by the time I’d gotten to the other they’d stopped and were never very clear or informative.   Outside there were a few bits and pieces. One of which is some of the old courts that according to the flyer only moved in 1979. It’s a bit hard to believe that these were being used for so long. 

Given the number of Irish convicts sent to Australia there was also a memorial the Irish famine. 

According to the web site there are some other things but they’re only open during the week. Oh well. For those more interested practically everything had an information panel but for the lazy like me you can easily get by with the summary panes.  

You can give the barracks a miss. Realistically you should try and make your way to one of Australia’s premier convict settlements such as Moreton Island or Port Arthur. If you can’t and are really interested in the topic or insanely bored then by all means, otherwise this deserves a big miss.

Sidebar. I am not trying to dismiss the archaeological experience and I do believe it is useful in understanding a period. However, I don’t believe lining everything up in cases – even with information – is the most conducive to learning and appreciation. I’m not going to say I have answers but rather than being dismissed as a complainer I will offer that greater interactivity or context setting – even if only through the use of personal histories, or ‘characters’ that pop up throughout the history would be beneficial or at least entertaining. Even if that entertainment is through a cynical eye roll!

1 Comment »

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  1. Dear whatsit,
    Lazy you certainly aren’t but what on earth does your comment above mean? viz. “given the number of Irish convicts sent to Australia there was also a memorial the Irish famine”.

    Pity about the title for this post but i spose any publicity is better than none.

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