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Two Canberra Museums in Half a Day August 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Travel.
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The Australian War Memorial

Canberra has some great free museums, and two of the best are the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia.  After spending the morning at my personal favourite, the science museum Questacon (which imposes an entry fee), we decided to blitz through both the War Memorial and National Museum in the next four hours.

It had been more than a decade since I last visited the War Memorial, considered one of the great war museums in the world.  Everything from the design to the layout to the collections are all top notch and you don’t have to be a war or history buff to enjoy looking through the massive collection of Australian war memorabilia throughout the ages, from the colonial period all the way to present day.  And it’s not just photos, videos, medals, letters, clothes and weapons.  The museum is huge enough to house planes, tanks, submarines.  The incredibly detailed dioramas with all those little toy soldiers were my favourite.

The view from the front of the memorial

On the outside, you can get a fantastic view of Parliament House from the front entrance, and apart from the museum there’s also the marvellous Commemorative Area, which includes the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Commemorative Area

It’s the type of place that can take you a whole day or more if you want to look at everything slowly and take it all in (as you would), but given the time constraints we did the ‘short tour’ that barely traversed all the highlights.  It was good enough.

After the War Memorial we drove down to the other side of town, where the National Museum of Australia is situated.  I attended a conference there a few years back (lamest thing ever — a bunch of young lawyers pretending they knew something about the law) but didn’t get the opportunity to look through the the exhibits.

The kind of weird stuff you'll see outside the National Museum of Australia

The National Museum definitely has one of the more unique designs of any museum I’ve been to, though the inside is more standard.  We sat through a rotating theatre and checked out the numerous exhibits through a strangely confusing circular path.  It’s not as exciting as say the British Museum or the Louvre, but considering the short history of colonised Australia (there is of course a section on indigenous history), the National Museum actually has a lot of stuff to offer (including a pretty cool gift shop).

Like the War Memorial, you’d probably need close to a full day to enjoy all the exhibits at the National Museum, so again we did the speedy tour and skipped a few sections.

Both museums are fantastic because they are well maintained and have a wealth of information.  Perfect for children and those who would like to learn a little more about Australia.

Check out the websites (click on the links above) for more information.

I love Questacon! August 19, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Technology, Travel.
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I’ve always loved science museums.  In fact, a visit to a science museum as a child may have prompted me to tell everyone that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.  Having the worst science teachers (one threw a metal dust pan that narrowly missed a student’s head) and performing poorly in science during my formative school years (I was told to stand in a corner after tracing light rays on the table instead of my workbook during an optics experiment) quickly put those dreams into a permanent coma.  But my passion for science museums remains alive.

And so during our recent trip to Canberra, my number one must-visit was Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre.  Questacon is located at King Edward Terrace, home to a bunch of other galleries and museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Australian Democracy, and is adjacent to Parkes Place, which is where the High Court of Australia current sits.  By the way, Australia’s highest court of law is a dump.

Questacon is undoubtedly designed for curious children, but that didn’t stop me and many other adults from trying out the 200+ interactive exhibits across the 8 galleries in the museum.  The layout is uniquely designed.  You start off on the first exhibition hall on the top floor, then slowly make your way down the circular walkway through the various halls until you reach the eighth and final one on the ground floor.  Reminded me a little of the astoundingly good aquarium at Osaka (Kaiyukan), which has a similar design.

Burn your shadow onto the wall!

For us, we started off with a dry ice show in one of the theatres on the ground floor (there are a few throughout the day, and this one was supposed to be the best), which was very cool.  I learned a few things and was surprised by how many children were willing to volunteer to answer questions they clearly did not know the answer to.

The famous free fall slide!

I’m not going to bother going through all the exhibits they had — you can check them out for yourself at the Questacon website.  For me, the coolest were the ‘Perception Deception’ gallery (especially the ‘phantom limb’ — that was freaky!), the ‘Awesome Earth’ gallery (where you could experience earthquakes and massive lightning strikes) and the ‘Sideshow’ gallery (like a free theme park with those rotating clowns, roller coaster simulators and a six-metre free fall slide!).

The only clowns that don't scare me...ok, maybe just a little bit

Questacon was a lot of fun.  It was hygienic too, with free hand sanitizer pumps in every gallery.  We went during school holidays, so there were a lot of kids (though I imagine not as many as there would be on the weekend), but the good thing is that as an adult you can just shove them out of the way.

Questacon is open 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day
Adults $20, Concession $15, Children (4-16) $15, Family (2 adults+3 children) $60 + $7 for each additional child. 

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