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Brisbane's Best Museums

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by Katie E (subscribe)
A mum who uses adventures and outings around town as an excuse to avoid the housework.
Published April 1st 2013
The ultimate guide to Brisbane's past, present and future
Even though we live in an era where it is possible to access information almost instantaneously with the click of a mouse, there is still something special about being able to see, hear, smell and feel real objects in a museum. Modern day museums are filled with more than just static displays; they offer the opportunity to engage in fun, interactive, educational experiences. They are proof that you're never too old, or too young, to learn something new.

Brisbane is fortunate enough to be host to a great variety of interesting museums, many of which are free to visit. Where else could you experience the smell of a coal-fired locomotive furnace, hear the call of a once widespread species, or feel a plastinated body organ, all in the one city? We've compiled a list of five of the best museums Brisbane has to offer.

1. Queensland Museum & Sciencentre, South Bank

The Queensland museum is home to the largest and most diverse collection documenting the state's rich natural and cultural heritage. Conveniently located within South Bank's cultural precinct, a visit to the Queensland museum is a must-do for visitors new to Brisbane as well as locals. This is the ultimate place to gain an insight into the past, present and future of Queensland.

The museum comprises three levels of permanent and changing exhibitions that are open to the general public (levels two to four). You could explore the state's unmistakable charm at discover Queensland, walk in the shoes of three Victoria Cross recipients when you step inside the courage of men, appreciate Queensland's two distinct indigenous cultures at Dandiiri Maiwar, or marvel at ancient creatures who are our giants of the past. Check out current and future exhibitions by clicking here.

Giants of the Past - Muttaburrasaurus

Level one of the museum is where you'll find the sciencentre. Families with children will appreciate the sciencentre's hand-on, minds-on approach to their exhibits and shows, as visitors are encouraged to be active participants in the learning experience. Special events and school holiday activities can be found here.

Younger children will especially delight in ENERGEX playsaurus place, more affectionately known as the 'dinosaur garden', which is an interactive play space featuring the Queensland museum's iconic dinosaur replicas. Natural history enthusiasts will be impressed by the showcase in the discovery centre, where people are welcome to bring along their finds for identification assistance. Often the museum and sciencentre present specialised activities or guest speakers relevant to exhibits or issues in the state. Rare behind the scenes tours and work experience opportunities are also offered throughout the year.

A Brisbane Icon - QM Triceratops @ ENERGEX Playsaurus Place

Having recently celebrated its 150th birthday by completing renovations, the Queensland museum is well and truly ready to embrace the 21st century. As a place to visit, the Queensland museum and sciencentre excels at providing a fantastic interactive experience that is especially well designed for families. As a resource centre, this organisation provides easily accessible materials (see QM loans based at Hendra) and educational on-line materials.

museum crocodile
A first-hand look at why you should never smile at a crocodile

You're never too young to start learning

Opening Hours: Open daily 9:30am – 5pm, closed Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Open ANZAC Day from 1:30pm.
Cost: Museum is free; charges may apply for special exhibitions.
Entry charges apply to the Sciencentre - adult $13, concession/full-time student $11, child (3-15 years) $10, child (under 3) free, family (2 adults and up to 4 children) $40.
Street Address: Corner of Grey and Melbourne Streets, South Bank, South Brisbane
Further Information: Phone (07) 3840 7555

2. Museum of Brisbane, CBD City Hall

As extensive renovations of Brisbane City Hall near completion, the museum of Brisbane is set to re-open in its new home on level three of Brisbane City Hall, on Saturday April 6th, 2013. The museum of Brisbane cleverly crafts exhibitions which showcase stories of social, historical and cultural significance to the people and places of Brisbane. Exhibits here have traditionally found a way to make the seemingly ordinary appear extraordinary. City Hall's distinctive clock tower and copper dome will soon be spectacularly viewed from the museum galleries. Opening exhibitions will be certain to please the crowds, featuring the iconic Brisbane River, panoramic photography outlining Brisbane city's pioneering history, and the event that changed the city of Brisbane forever – World Expo 88.

Brisbane City Hall
Look into Brisbane's past, Brisbane City Hall, 1959, By Peter Forster CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm
Cost: Free
Street Address: Brisbane City Hall, 157 Ann Street, Brisbane
Further Information: Phone (07) 3339 0800

3. The Workshops Rail Museum, North Ipswich

Technically not located in Brisbane, but definitely could not be omitted from a museum 'best of' list, the workshops rail museum is about a 40 minute drive west of the city. This award winning tourist destination is just the ticket for people interested in all things rail. Located on the site of Queensland's historic rail workshops, after 140 years the workshops are still operational, although on a much smaller scale compared with peak productivity during WWII. Queensland rail's active heritage workshop can be toured in steam shop and blacksmithing tours, which are included in the entry price. This is definitely worth it just for the ride on the rail traverser. Please note that enclosed footwear is required to participate in these tours and safety glasses are provided.

rail museum ipswich
Yesteryear View of the Workshops from the Traverser

Kids are well catered for with the nipper's railway play space, kids craft and workshop area, various interactive exhibits including the diesel cab simulator, and special events throughout the year. Thomas and Friends is usually a popular event during the summer school holidays. To see the full list of events click here.

Little Nippers are Kept Entertained

The range of displays is commendable. The historical aspects of rail life, work and travel have been well documented. The future of rail is also well explained through the use of displays and interactive stations such as those which demonstrate the use of electromagnets in rail. It's not uncommon though to see people mesmerised by the model railway display right through to the largest of exhibits, the decommissioned locomotives.

You could easily spend the day here, so here's a few tips to note. There is a large cafe on site; however, there is also a nice shaded area where it is enjoyable for a picnic lunch. If you don't deal well with the heat, don't go on a hot summer's day. The heritage workshops are literally large sheds which were designed irrespective of the sub-tropical climate. There are smaller areas within the workshops which are air-conditioned which would provide some relief. Queensland school children who attend during school hours are admitted free of charge and teachers are admitted free of charge with proof of occupation all year round. On busy days make sure that you are at the tour meeting points well before departure as numbers are limited.

Opening Hours: Open daily 9:30am – 5pm, closed Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Cost: Adults $20, children (3-15 years) $11.50, children (under 3) free, concession $17, family (2 adults and up to 4 children) $59.
Street Address: North Street, North Ipswich
Further Information: Phone (07) 3432 5100

4. Queensland Maritime Museum, South Bank

Queensland's maritime history is represented at the Queensland maritime museum. In Brisbane's early years as a fledgling colony, the people were largely dependent on the river for maritime transport of freight and passengers, so there is a colourful story to tell. The present-day museum site is actually on the South Brisbane dry dock which serviced Brisbane for almost a century. Viewing highlights include navigation, shipwrecks, lighthouses, model ships, marine engineering and iconic vessels such as the HMAS Diamantina. School holiday activities are usually also provided for children. Past events have included a celebration of pirate week as reviewed on weekend notes by Michelle MacFarlane.

The location of the Queensland maritime museum makes it the perfect venue to add to a day at Southbank. Southbank parklands is right next door, where you could have a bite to eat while watching modern day maritime transport on the river. Keep the maritime theme going by catching a city cat, ferry or the free city hopper to arrive and depart.

Queensland Maritime Museum
Queensland Maritime Museum, By Rodw (Own work) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Hours: Open daily 9:30am – 4:30pm, closed Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Reduced hours ANZAC Day.
Cost: Adults $12, children $6, family $28 (includes 2 adults and up to 3 children under 15), pensioners, seniors and students with card $11.
Street Address: 412 Stanley Street, South Brisbane
Further Information: Phone (07) 3844 5361

5. UQ Museums: art, anthropology, antiquities, physics, medical history, anatomy, earth sciences, and zoology

The University of Queensland is home to a number of specialised museums. Five are open to the general public. The art museum, anthropology museum, antiquities museum and physics museum are all located on the St Lucia Campus, which is easily accessible by public transport (bus, city cat, city cycle via the Eleanor Schonell Bridge). The Marks-Hirschfeld museum of medical history, located at the Mayne medical school at Herston, is also a Brisbane-based UQ museum. Opening times vary, some require appointments, but each displays some very special artefacts unique to their discipline. If you are currently a UQ student you should definitely make the time to visit each of these if only once. Visitors to UQ could add these to their itinerary for a day trip to the St Lucia campus. The earth sciences, zoology and anatomy departments also host fascinating museums relevant to their discipline, but are usually reserved for special tour groups and UQ open days. See below for relevant information for each of the UQ museums that are open to the public.

UQ art museum
UQ Art Museum, via flickr by the University of Queensland

Art Museum

The University of Queensland's art collection is Queensland's second-largest public art collection, so it comes as no surprise that their exhibitions are diverse. Lovers of contemporary art in particular will appreciate pieces on display here.
Location: James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre, University Drive, St Lucia campus
Telephone: (07) 3365 3046
Admission: Free; 10am - 4pm 7 days a week. Closed public holidays

Anthropology Museum

This museum contains a significant collection of ethnographic material, mostly relating to indigenous Australian cultural groups, but also Pacific Island, African, South-East Asian and Chinese cultural groups.
Location: Michie Building, Level 1, St Lucia Campus
Telephone: (07) 3365 2674
Admission: Free; 11am–4pm 7 days a week. Low-cost group tours can be arranged by appointment.

Antiquities Museum

The RD Milns antiquities museum contains a variety of classic and ancient history artefacts. Greek, roman, and egyptian civilisations are the main focus of exhibits.
Location: Michie Building, Level 3, St Lucia Campus
Telephone: (07) 3365 2191 (Director) or (07) 3365 2620 (Office
Admission: Free; 9am–5pm weekdays (telephone first, or call at the Office in Room 712). Low-cost guided tours and workshops can be arranged by appointment.

Marks-Hirschfeld Museum of Medical History

For those people with an interest in health, this museum contains a significant collection of medical memorabilia, medical and surgical instruments.
Location: Mayne Medical School, Herston Rd, Herston, Brisbane
Telephone: (07) 3365 5423 (Museum Officer)
Admission: Free (by appointment)

Physics Museum

Optical, electrical, acoustical and other scientific equipment (many of which date from the University's first year of teaching in 1911) are on display in the UQ physics museum. More modern yet obsolete items are also on display including spiral slide rules, a computer card punch and sheets of computer magnetic core memory.
Location: Parnell Building, Room G73, Ground Floor, St Lucia Campus
Telephone: (07) 3365 3369 (Curator) or (07) 3365 3414 (Office)
Admission: Free; open 1–2pm Thursdays during teaching weeks.
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Why? To explore Brisbane's past, present and future by museum-hopping around town.
When: See individual museums for opening hours.
Where: Brisbane City, UQ St Lucia, North Ipswich
Cost: Free or low-cost
Your Comment
Just a head's up; Museum of Brisbane is no longer located at the address listed.
It's now located on Level 3 within the City Hall (King George Square).
by the_f (score: 0|2) 2331 days ago
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