As the natives say, the ANMM is chock-a-block full of things to see and do, all relating to Australia’s relationship with the sea. The contents are no big surprise, considering that 90% of the descendants of European ancestry that settled this island live within about 60km of the shore.
The structure is reminiscent of a lowered, scaled-down version of the Sydney Opera house with its sail motif. And a well-chosen architectural theme it is, given what’s on display.
The six galleries making up the museum, and the contents outside as well, offer everything from figureheads and model ships to brass hardware, antique racing yachts to the jet-powered Spirit of Australia. The latter has held the world water speed record, for going on 30 years. Another award winner, the double scull Barcelona used to win the Olympic Games gold medal is there as well.
A recent addition, the USA Gallery, houses artifacts from the Smithsonian and elsewhere from the United States.
An open-air section offers several vessels tied up at the wharves nearby the museum, including a WWII destroyer and the HMAS Vampire, a Royal Australian Navy destroyer. There’s an Oberon Class submarine from 1968 as well as the lightship Carpentaria from 1917. A merchant ship, the James Craig, built in 1874 is housed there, too.
Not all the works are original, but even the replicas are fascinating. Captain James Cook’s ship Discovery has been re-created and has recently returned after an 11-year voyage around the seas.
Another, the Endeavour, has also recently come home after a trip to Melbourne. Entries from the captain’s log are available on the website.
Visitors can get a feel for what life was like on the convict ships that sailed from Britain to Australia. They can see how Australia’s first submarine fought at Gallipoli in WWI. Tourists can see a Vietnamese refugee boat that carried its passengers all the way to the shores of Australia and a racing cutter from 1888.
James Craig, an iron-hulled, square-rigger is open to visitors. Carefully restored over the last 20 years it still sails the harbor from time to time.
The history of Australia goes back much further than the landing of Captain Cook’s ship at Port Jackson, however. The museum also has many displays depicting how the native Aborigines traded with their Asian ‘neighbors’.
There are videos and guided tours that both educate and entertain along with photographic exhibits and computer games. Kids can find out how a lighthouse works with a hands-on display of the lens and light mechanism.
The ANNM is located at 2 Murray Street Darling Harbour. Visit www.anmm.gov.au for details on hours and admission prices. Basic admission is free, but there are varying charges depending on which and how many ships you want to explore.