Heather is a local freelancer who loves the city in all sorts of ways.
Published February 28th 2012
There are live animal exhibits, and then there are exhibits which show animals in such beautiful, arresting moments they must be snapped. The Australian Museum is holding such expositions this year, with the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year show and its annual Up Close & Spineless. If you want to make a full animal lovers' day of it, there's also Surviving Australia, which presents native animals past and present, preserved insects and birds in other areas, and fossils and recreated skeletons in Dinosaurs. There are also special events and activities for adults and children, from school groups to the general public, with a behind the scenes tour. This museum is a wonderful place where we are reminded of just how big and rich the world is.
Conveniently at the corner of College and William Street, it's a five minute walk from St James station, and a 15 minute stroll from Queen Victoria Building. It's an economic way to spend a day, with adult entry priced at $12 (this includes all exhibits except the Yiwarra Kuju which is aboriginal art), and various concessions and children either free or less than ten dollars. There are also family packages which costs about five dollars more than two adult tickets, with each additional child paying $3.
Click on the links below for a quick review of what to expect.
This year's annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year show includes everything you'd imagine, from beautiful landscape, to slapstick humour, classical poses, and adorable cuteness. Open to amateurs and professionals, the prints are grouped according to theme and age group. It's held in a smaller than average area though, with the mid-sized-poster prints displayed in a mid-sized cinema theatre space. Despite this, you don't feel cramped, and credit has to be given to the interior designer and the photographer's skill which mean you get lost in each and every one of them. Music coming from two screens displaying sideshows of additional gorgeousness create atmosphere, making a small space intimate. Runs until 18th March.
Next door to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show is the permanent exhibition Surviving Australia. Wandering around here feels like you're roaming inside a documentary in the best possible way. There are lit displays with explanations, living ecosystems, close-ups and preserved dragons and sponges. It's a great form of infotainment. Part zoo and museum, tanks of live cuttlefish and frogs, shells for you to stroke, and stuffed extinct mammals are there for you to partake. All the mammals are assembled so well you feel a sense of awe at the long gone power of them. Which becomes a perfect segue to dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs consist of the usual timelines and reconstructed skeletons, both dainty and massive. There are bony fossils for you to rub, and kids screaming at the huge ossified carcasses add to the thrill of the Jurassic Park experience. The timelessness of ancient wildlife in a classic hall is still so meaningful today. The Australian Museum arranges the exhibits in a circular route, so following dinosaurs are their descendants – birds.
Birds, Up Close and Spineless, and More than Insects
Birds, Up Close and Spineless, and More than Insects are all in the same large, shopping centre shaped hall, with lower floors visible from the large oblong banistered hole in the centre. Up Close and Spineless is the tiniest competition I've ever seen. I've seen a high school's HSC art take up a larger space than this.
It's basically just a row of beautiful A4ish insect prints on the small wall. Beautiful and if (like me) you think all bugs are gross, this will definitely give you a fresh, kindlier perspective. It is the teeniest selection of photos though, and only an ardent lover or an irrational hater would (or should) visit just for this cluster.
However, Up Close and Spineless takes place in a splendid long Victorian room. Stuffed birds and anatomical descriptions line the other three walls and the inner bannisters are crowded with collections of insects, butterflies and so forth. You get over fear, disgust and loathing of creepy crawlies and marvel at nature's endless cunning. Same with the birds – they were awe-inspiring and beautiful, if much cuddlier.
At the end of the circuit is Search & Discover, a library made cool with stuffed animals, fossilised resins, and caged animals. Some, like stick insects large and small sometimes come out of their cages to clamber onto you. It's quite fun, with the usual books, computers and free internet. Staff are also there to help search, answer your questions, and reassure you about the stick insect (even if it tried, it couldn't bite you). All in all, it was a good day's outing. I walked out of there reconnected with the larger natural world that I so often ignore and take for granted and I felt so refreshed from looking at such a wonderful world.
I haven't attended a special event, but Australian Museum runs special things for school groups and the general population. School group events are unfortunately just that. However, if you feel left out, you can have a general behind the scenes tour and see the other 99% of this museum's collections. Get blown away and see what researchers and scientists are busily working on, in a $110 (and up) 2 hour tour that includes some of Australia's largest and rarest collections.