Convicts and the Colony

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Jan 04, 2012


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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Thursday, November 3, 2011

We bought a pass a couple of days ago which allows entry into a variety of museums, however only 4 or 5 are actually in Sydney. Making the most of the pass and the discount prices it offers our plan was to hit two museums local to Hyde Park, The Sydney Museum and The Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

We've now visited many a museum and I can identify quickly whether or not I am likely to enjoy it. The things that generally catch my attention are;

1. A specific selling point
2. Clear displays and an obvious route
3. Not too much of a good thing. Museums should be small and not too tiring.

For this reason a couple of days ago I turned down the opportunity to venture into the Museum of Australia, it looks big, it doesnt have a clear indication of what is actually going to display and the subject of 'Australia' in itself can cover pretty much anything. It just sounded too much at the start of the day.

With the Museum of Sydney straight away it is clear what you are going to find out about. The Museum itself is architecturally blended in with the old facades of some of Sydney history but yet contemporary in design. It doesn't seem out of place amongst the flurry of skyscrapers. In the paved area out in front of the museum, a lifted section of pavement displays the founding stones of the first government building in Sydney. Pure history. Not at all aware of what the paved area actually is, we entered the building, flashed our museum geek passes and I slapped an entry sticker proudly on my chest and then with some gusto onto Kate's boob.
the entry hall has a wall dedicated to how the building would have looked with a reconstructed section of the facade. Under foot a few windows peak into the foundations and underbelly of the Government House. On the wall a text box explains that the pavement outside has white pavestones outlining the extent of the government building from 1788. Ahhhhhhh. Now thats pretty cool. Some steel pins outline the original building and the white pave stones show where all the extensions occured over some 60 years before demolition.
The rest of the museum gives some information of the first fleet to travel across to Sydney cove, trying to help understand the objectives of some of the founding preliminaries of the region, and bigging up the city of Sydney in it's modern history. All in all, a good visit and I think we both came out of it not too broken by information, which helps.

After a budget lunch ('Hungry Jacks' or Burger King for those of you not in the know) we headed onto stop 2.

The Hyde Park Barracks Museum in the words of a famous in England at least wood covering "does exactly what it says on the tin", metaphorically speaking. It is just off Hyde Park, it used to be a barracks and now it is a museum dedicated to the cause of the barracks's previous uses.

I liked it's simplicity. I liked the way it had a certain amount of information and repeated it in different ways. This is the only way you ever learn anything. The repetition means that I will always remember that over the course of Transportation, 166 000 convicts were sent to Australia. Under different regimes, some of it was productive thinking of teaching convicts to reform and others believed in treating criminals (who most of which were guilty of very petty crimes) to lashes and severity. Australia wouldn't have been the place it is if the harsher treatment had been inflicted first.
The museum gave a little archealogical room dedicated to how they had pulled up the floorboards to show where rats had stolen clothes and made their nests, lovely. It had a room dedicated to the treatment of convicts and how they lived, and it had a top floor dedicated to how they slept alongside each other in cramped hammock rooms. Nothing too much too stress you out, nothing too informative - just easy. The only thing that slightly raked me (not the traditional use of the word rake, but it works for how the noise seemed to tear across behind my eyes) was an American child who felt the need to stamp and whine and shuffle across the floorboards without any parenting at all. She just stood there and let him get on with it. In a place where you want to be able to hear yourself think a little, the inability of such parents to keep their kids from galavanting should lead them to think maybe they should not be in such a place. Take your kid to a theme park or a pshycologist or something. 

After the child had left the building and the stomping had subsided we continued to enjoy the story of the convicts and the story of the building which has gone from a success to an eyesore to a more recent icon of Sydney. The restoration of the building has been carried out tastefully not trying to recreate everything but leaving some rooms a little decrepid for the reason of allowing you to see the layers of history.

On the walk back through Sydney we were treated to some lovely Spring sunshine as we walked past a department store with an excellent christmas display in the window. Christmas carols being played cheerfully with the nativity scene, and in the next window bikinis and board shorts are the in season item of clothing. I'm not sure I'm comfortable will that.
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