One museum. Check! One art gallery. Check!
Recently I found myself in Sydney with a day for myself. So how did I spend the day? Sydney possesses some rich cultural institutions. Therefore, as a history aficionado, the choice was clear. A museum in the morning and an art gallery in the afternoon (Of course!). While two such institutions in one day isn’t a record for me, I wasn’t complaining.
The morning’s destination was the Australian National Maritime Museum, located at Darling Harbour. I entered full of anticipation. I left three hours later, exhausted but happy.
From the outside, the Maritime Museum is striking for several reasons. The building is huge. I mean, huge (Did I say it was huge?). The building looms over Darling Harbour, which is no mean feat as Darling Harbour is dominated by large buildings.
Darling Harbour is also dominated by the fleet of museum ships moored alongside the Maritime Museum. The ships include the former HMAS Vampire (a destroyer that served with the RAN between the 1950s and the 1980s), the former HMAS Onslow (a submarine) and a replica of HMB Endeavour (the ship commanded by James Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific, in which he charted parts of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia). On the day of my visit, there was also a replica of a Viking longship as part of an exhibition on Viking culture from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.
I was in heaven.
I’m an old fashioned museum goer. I like stuff. Lots of stuff. And the Maritime Museum has lots of stuff, so I wasn’t disappointed at any time during my visit.
I started with the Viking exhibition. I saw the obvious things – swords, jewellery, and tools – because such things survive. So much about what we think we know about the past comes from the physical artefacts. However, a society is more than bricks and mortar, weapons and high fashion. As with most modern museums, the Maritime Museum offers interactive exhibits. One of my favourites included the online games to ‘dress’ a Viking. As with any society, ‘clothes maketh the man’. This was no less true for the Vikings. Based upon matching clothes and personal possessions to an individual, the player could quickly learn the difference in dress favoured by men versus women, boys versus girls, warriors versus farmers and thralls (slaves). And that telling the difference based grave goods alone is not always easy. A lesson in history, sociology and fashion all in one.
Before I left the exhibition, I even got to make my mark – by writing my name in Viking runes.
In Part 2 of this Three Part series, I will talk about visiting some of the ships of the Maritime Museum.