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5 Unique Exhibits at the National Museum of Australia

Home > Canberra > Exhibitions | Family | Free | Museums | Rainy Day | Lists
by Sue W (subscribe)
New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published November 3rd 2016
See Phar Lap's heart, Captain Cook's magnifier & much more
The National Museum of Australia is located in Acton, overlooking the scenic Lake Burley Griffin. The museum holds the entire story of Australia, with thousands of significant objects on display from over 50,000 years ago to today. The museum has the world's largest collection of Aboriginal bark paintings and stone tools, with many on display for viewing. It can take hours to walk around this vast building, exploring exhibits that literally cover everything that has ever happened in Australia - with stories you know and hundreds that you don't. With three floors of fascinating and unique exhibits to explore, the following is a quick list of just 5 of my own personal favourites. Which ones will be yours?

1/ The Architecture of the building itself is impressive, with a 30 metre high orange ribbon that sweeps and curves over the front entrance. For many people it looks like a roller coaster, however it it is called "The Uluru Line" and the end of it points in the direction of Australia's red centre. The building itself is based on a theme of knotted ropes, symbolically tying the stories of Australia together. Also on the side of the building there are large mounds representing braille, with words spelling "Mate", "She'll be right" and "Sorry", just to name a few. See here for more details.

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The Uluru Line and braille on exterior walls of the museum


2/ Phar Lap's Heart can be found tucked away on the ground floor in the Landmarks Gallery. Phar Lap was a famous race horse in the 1930's and won 37 races from 51 starts during the Depression era. He famously won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, however after winning a race in America in 1932 he suddenly died. His body was then tested for the cause, with his heart returned to Australia for further analysis. He had been poisoned with arsenic, with the culprit still a mystery. The display has interactive slides so visitors can compare the size of his heart with the average thoroughbred horse heart - Phar Laps was 1.5 times bigger. See here for more details.

3/ Captain Cook's Magnifier can be found on the first floor in the Australian Journeys exhibition. It was used by Captain James Cook on his third and final voyage of the Pacific. The small magnifying glass was held in a tortoiseshell mount and housed in a silver capstan-style case, which is also on display. Captain Cook travelled close up the Australian and New Zealand coastlines mapping the landform accurately and used this magnifier to adjust the settings on the sextants. After Captain Cook's death it was bought by Astronomer William Bayly, then passed down the generations until it was offered for auction in London and bought by the National Museum. See here for more details.

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Be astounded of the size of Phar Lap's heart. See Captain Cook's magnifier up close.


4/ Convict Love Tokens can be found in the Journeys Gallery and reflects a time when convicts left their loved ones back in England to be transported to the other side of the world for their crimes. To give loved ones something to remember them by, it was common for convicts to smooth down a coin and inscribe words, poems or pictures onto the coins as a keep sake in case they never returned. Read the declarations of love and heart-felt pain on each coin. See here for more details.

5/ The World Trade Centre Australian Flag
was recovered from the basement of the World Trade Centre after the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th, 2001. It is believed it was used for ceremonial purposes at the Marriot Hotel next door, which crumbled to the ground after being hit by debris when the Trade Centre collapsed. The New York Police Department Emergency Services Unit presented to the flag to the Australian Consul in 2004, and it was donated to the museum on return to Australia. It is quite moving to view this ripped and torn Australian flag, which survived the tragic events that day, almost fully intact. It is found in the Museum's Journeys gallery, along with belongings of Australian Yvonne Kennedy, who died at the Pentagon on that world-changing day. See details here.

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Convict Love Tokens and Australian flag from the World Trade Centre


What I personally enjoy about the Australian National Museum is the wide range of stories inside its modern walls. One minute you are reading about the story of the Tasmanian Tiger and looking at a skeleton, the next you are looking at rows of fake eyeballs and marvelling in this advance in Australian medicine technology. It is the range of stories that is so surprising. Some will grab your interest more than others, but all of them will astound. Also when you walk outside to the Garden of Australian Dreams, you can walk over a map of central Australia where one step equals 100km's of this vast land.

Above are just 5 unique exhibits to view whilst at the National Museum of Australia, however the Australian story has thousands more to tell. Enjoy the journey back through Australia's past. It is a journey that will stay with you in your heart and thoughts, long after you leave.

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Explore the many areas and exhibits of the National Museum of Australia


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Take a walk on the Garden of Australian Dreams

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Why? Learn about what makes Australia, Australia.
When: 9am - 5pm daily
Phone: 02) 6208 5000
Where: National Museum of Australia, Lawson Cres, Acton ACT 2601
Cost: Free entry
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