Established in 1827, the Australian Museum was the country’s first major collection of natural artifacts. First opened to the public in 1857, the Australian Museum is Sydney’s premier offering in the arena of Natural History.
Spread over three floors, the architecture alone is worth a visit. The sandstone Greek-style porticos invite the curious of all ages. The neo-classical building houses artifacts from Australia, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the Pacific region. There are first-rate exhibits in mineralogy, insects, birds, reptiles and a host of other areas.
Not surprisingly, the dinosaur exhibit is ever-popular. There are several imposing skeleton specimens. But there are more modern reptiles as well, including their descendants, the birds. Cockatoos, lyrebirds, honeyeaters, bowerbirds, Emus and others. There’s even a Night Parrot, one of only 24 such specimens in the world.
The museum has several educational tools that entertain as they enlighten. Come find out how birds acquired hollow bones and why they developed feathers. The skeleton samples, too, provide an excellent overview of the structure of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.
The Insect Gallery houses a wide variety, including some distinctive poisonous creatures found only in Australia. Here visitors can find out just how venomous is the funnel spider and why another is called the Australian Upside-Down Fly.
Kids will get a thrill out of learning about Australia’s 300 different kinds of snails, along with seeing blood-sucking leeches, scary scorpions and hairy spiders.
But the non-threatening part of the collection is just as interesting. The museum’s butterfly specimens are among the most diverse and beautiful found anywhere.
Visitors can spend time profitably exploring the non-living world as well. The Albert Chapman Mineral Collection is small by New York or London standards, but there are many gems here (pun intended).
Collected from all over the world, the highlights are the Australian minerals. Unique, as the country itself is, the Albert Chapman also has several computer displays that provide in-depth information about the specimens.
An adjunct to the Albert Chapman is the Planet of Minerals exhibition where visitors can learn about the rocks native to Sydney Harbor (technically known as Port Jackson).
Students of all ages can explore how minerals and rocks are formed, how the Earth has changed over the eons, what meteorites are like, and what forms limestone caves or volcanoes.
The exhibition features a 4.2 billion year old zircon found in Western Australia, along with opals and an entire Gem Vault full of precious stones.
As you would expect from an island so closely tied to the sea, there is also an extensive array of shells and other fossils from the native waters.
Be prepared to spend the day, or come for multiple visits as there is far too much to see in one outing.
Parking is pricey, so visitors may want to take the train and exit at Museum Station or St James Station. The George Street bus is another low-cost, low-hassle alternative. Get off at Town Hall and walk up Park Street.