Stepping Back In Time: A Trip to the Australian Museum

Rain is one of the best sounds in the world and I’ve enjoyed today because of it, not despite it. We had been planning a trip on the ferry to Manly for the day but after opening the curtains and seeing how grey and miserable it looked, we decided against that and opted for an indoor activity instead. To be honest, after yesterday it wasn’t looking hopeful anyway so it wasn’t really disappointing and since we’d missed out on the museum then, I was looking forward to having a look around it today.

IMG_5362So, after waking up at 9:30, quickly rushing to get ready and make the most of the last half an hour in the lovely room, we made our way to the reception to check out and start the day’s fun. Annoyingly, the other people had woken up earlier than us and had proceeded to slam doors and lockers so it hadn’t been the best start to the day but I was determined to make the best of it and got to ready to leave.

Standing outside the hostel it soon became clear that the weather was a bit of a pain. We had wanted to walk down to Circular Quay and then get a bus back to The Maze Backpackers where we’re spending the next two nights but it was raining a little bit too hard. I was all for walking and getting wet as I really enjoy that but thinking sensibly, it wasn’t worth drenching everything and risking damaging things. Instead we opted for a taxi and after Codie managed to stop one driving past, we piled in and escaped the rain. For some reason the taxi drivers here don’t seem to really know where anything is as each time they’ve asked for an exact address to put in their sat nav. Perhaps they’re fairly new to Sydney but it’s not as easy as using one at home; there they seem to know everywhere and I’ll definitely appreciate it more from now on!

After a short trip and $15, the car pulled up opposite the hostel and we climbed out into the pouring rain. It seemed a lot of money but I do think it was worth it really.  The streets were so packed and the buses looked it too so I can imagine it would have taken ages and we would have been quite cold by the time we’d got back. We checked back into a twin room, it didn’t seem worth paying almost the same amount for a dorm, and headed upstairs to throw down our things and prepare for the day. I really do wish that this hostel had a lift as a couple of times I’ve had to throw myself out of the way of people heading at some speed down while we’ve been going up. When you’re already trying to stay balanced, it’s quite a challenge! I felt a bit like Goldilocks when we made it to our room(s). The first was a little bit damp and there was even water dripping down the wall so we ended up having to move to another which smelt of cheese. Codie likes to think it’s cheese and onion crisps but we both know it’s probably something more sinister like cheesy feet. Still, I didn’t fancy moving again, unlike Goldilocks, so we opted to just put up with it instead.

IMG_5279Following a trip to Coles for food, a little sit down and a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich each, we made sure we had our waterproof jackets on and headed out into the pouring rain in search of the Australian Museum. I know I’ve mentioned it many times already but I really love walking in the rain and so the 10 minute walk just seemed to fly by. Part of me wanted to just wander around Hyde Park across the road from it for ages and I was very tempted to jump in a huge puddle we walked past at the side of the road but I think I would have got a bit too wet then. Hmmm. It would have been a shame if I wasn’t even able to enter the museum after looking forward to it for ages, especially when they were so picky about you going in with raincoats and wet things. When we got inside it we had to leave our coats hanging on a barrier thing dripping wet before we were allowed to get in so I can’t imagine they’d have been too happy if we’d have arrived soaked through. After hanging them up, we wandered across the beautiful old looking hall and paid for our tickets. With our ITYC cards (actually useful for a change!), we were able to get in for $8 each as opposed to $15 so that was really great. A cheap day out with lots to do is always welcome and I hope we’ll be able to find more things like it.

The first thing we came to was a glass cabinet apparently showcasing a real life Hobbit; a little skeleton with normal sized feet. The remains of the little human, thought to have been female, were discovered in a cave in 2003 by an Australian-Indonesian archaeological team and it was identified as being a completely new species named homo floriensis. Although it wasn’t the “real” skeleton and was just a cast, I found it really interesting to see just how similar her features are/were compared to humans and even more so when I read that they’re not even related to our ancestors. Not only this but with modern humans arriving in Indonesia about 60,000 years ago and homo floriensis living there about 35,000, it’s quite cool to think that they could have met each other at some point. I’d love to know how that meeting went! Some scientists think that the hobbit  is an ancestor and that this particular specimen simply suffered from some sort of disease that causes dwarfism. Others say that further studies have shown that that’s quite unlikely but either way, it was still very interesting to have a closer look at an ancient human and a hobbit!

Once we’d had a little look at the little skeleton, we headed off through a door into the Mineralogy Collection room, full of rocks and minerals. I couldn’t believe that previous visitors had complained on Trip Advisor about the layout of the building and it’s general appearance; I thought it was beautifully done and looked like a proper, old fashioned museum, just the way I like it. We walked past the tall glass displays filled with rocks, minerals and gemstones from all over the world, though most were from Eastern Australia, and admired the bright colours and intricate patterns produced completely naturally. I managed to spot my birthstone, Rose Quartz, although it wasn’t quite as impressive as the bright red crocoite crystals or the deep purple amethyst. My particular favourite was a very light grey with long, silver points through it which looked a lot like pins and needles had been poked through it though I can’t remember what it was or where it came from annoyingly.

IMG_5296After completing a lap of the geology section of the museum, we wandered down the stairs and entered the domain of the skeletons. If museums are judged on how good they are depending upon how many skeletons they have, then this museum was brilliant. It had an Africa ostrich, a mammoth, various fish including a marlin, turtles, lions, giraffes, a whale, pythons, crocodiles and even a human skeleton riding a horse skeleton! I particularly liked the scene depicting a human sitting on a chair reading the newspaper with a dog by his side, a bird in a cage and a cat chasing a rat behind him all in skeletal form. It’s strange to see what your skeleton would look like in normal situations like that as it’s not very often you get that opportunity although after carrying my bag around for ages, I’m pretty sure that mine’s a little bit more out of alignment! We walked around this area for a while, exploring all the different bones and being freaked out by a cat skeleton (they don’t look half as cute without skin and fur) until Codie found a machine type of thing which showed you what your skeleton looked like whilst cycling. It was strange to see movement like that because unless you have X ray vision, you don’t really get to see that either. Very strange indeed. I wanted a go as well but there was a little boy who was looking very excited about it and I didn’t want to disappoint him. Instead we moved on to some more animal bones and then proceeded to move on to the next section of the building.

IMG_5315Upon leaving the skeleton room, we suddenly came across a section called “Armour” which had a display of different animals equipped with…armour. Of course there were turtles and tortoises there, human designed armour and a porcupine however the animal which stood out to me the most was the humble hedgehog. Yes they’re equipped with sharp spines and know to roll into a little, spiky ball if danger approaches but the most amazing thing about this stuffed one was that it didn’t actually look much like a hedgehog at all. In fact, even there hadn’t been a sign next to it with it species name on, I would probably have said it was a hedgehog but not a European one! I’ve seen a few in the garden and even tried to rescue a couple of injured ones and they’ve never looked like that before. This one looked very shocked and as though if you offended it in any way, it might pounce on you; it had that sort of posture and the crazed expression. Poor Mr. Hog. At least the echidnas were doing alright, as alright as they could be being stuffed and all, one was even rolling about on his back. I enjoyed seeing their little tubular noses and giant feet up close and not wriggling about as the last time we saw one, it was too busy snuffling for ants to pay us any attention or even look up much. Obviously seeing the animals alive is always much better but having the chance to see them clearly is still really interesting and I really enjoyed this section of the museum.

2.1422378319.meNot long after this, after having a little look at an female Egyptian mummy and the world famous Alan …….. gemstone and mineral collection, we approached my favourite part of the whole thing; the discovery section. It was amazing. All the animals in there were real (but stuffed) and you could touch them so long as you were careful and as soon as we walked in, I made a beeline for a kangaroo. It was strange getting to touch one with you not being able to get close to live ones, as with all wildlife really,  and so once I’d had my photo taken with him I wandered off to stroke a koala, several possums, lots of wallabies, an echidna, a goanna, a couple of birds of prey, a quoll and a beautiful feral cat with a rodent in it’s mouth. In some places they even had live animals which I thought was a nice touch as it broke away from the morbidity of the place and allowed you to see some of Australia’s wildlife whilst it was still alive, pre stuffing stage. At one stage, Codie didn’t believe me that a skink, a bearded dragon and a pinecone lizard were real and breathing until one wiggled and began walking away. It did make me laugh as he was convinced that they were stuffed and seemed really surprised when it moved! I wasn’t laughing for too long though because once I’d spent a bit longer with the animals, including a very tattered looking rabbit and draws full of various insects and arachnid specimens, we found ourselves looking at live stick and leaf insects in a big tank. Now initially this was fine, I was quite happy that they were on the other side of the glass wandering about pretending to be sticks and leaves and I was amazed at how well camouflaged they were. I used to have some stick insect pets when I was younger and they creeped me out a bit then so it was a relief to be able to get close without being climbed on. Well, that was until the curator opened the back of the tank and pulled out a branch with a big, female, spiny leaf insect clinging to it. I have to say, it was intriguing to be that close to her as I’d never seen one like it before though when we were initially asked to hold the branch, I couldn’t help but say no. All sorts of questions flickered through my mind.  What if she climbed on me? What if she climbed on me and I flicked her onto the floor? What if she climbed on me, 2.1422378319.ari-with-a-stick-insectI flicked her on to the floor and then squashed her? It wouldn’t be her fault and I wouldn’t want to kill her by mistake just for moving a bit. Hmmmm. I wasn’t sure at all until another woman held the stick and I, somewhat surprisingly, found myself asking to have a go too. I wasn’t expecting the weight on the branch at all, she had definitely been eat a few too many leaves but other than that, it wasn’t scary or creepy at all and I liked being able to see her even more closely. She was actually quite a cute little thing. The curator said that they used to let people handle the insects but when it resulted in legs being pulled off or insects being killed, they had to stop it. Good really, they’re not doing anyone any harm and it’d be such a shame if they were injured or killed just for being themselves and moving a bit. I mean, I know they’d freak me out again but I don’t think I’d volunteer to have one on my hand!  Carefully passing the branch back over and watching the leaf insect reenter her house, I wondered how many stick insects there were in the tank; every twig seemed to be alive and wriggling! There wasn’t too much time to ponder though as we were led over to a tank containing a different type of leaf bug and these were even harder to spot. Apparently there was four in there but they had to be shown to us before we could see them. Amazing really. I wish I could be that well camouflaged sometimes, it’d get me out of tidying up! Eventually, Codie convinced me it was time to leave this section and we headed out of the door and discovered the dinosaurs.

2.1422378319.ari-with-a-koalaTo reach the Prehistoric section, first we had to wander through another rectangular area the same as the mineral section, and had the chance to look at some of the birds and insects inhabiting the continent. I found getting to see a cassowary and an emu up close and next to each other really interesting as I was able to compare them and see just how similar they are. I doubt that happens very often when they’re alive! We didn’t spend too long here as Codie was getting impatient and wanted to leave so I had a little look at everything very quickly as we walked past. I have to say though, seeing the cormorants and pelicans and all the other birds we’ve seen throughout our trip so far stuffed and behind glass definitely didn’t have the same impact as seeing them flying or fishing. I suppose that’s quite obvious really, alive is definitely always better, but I’d enjoyed my time in the discovery section so why not here? Perhaps it’s because these ones were all trapped behind the glass whereas they looked like they were having fun with people, as much as they could do anyway, but I’m not entirely sure. It was a weird feeling so I was quite glad when we walked through the doors and were suddenly dwarfed by the giant skeleton of a Jobaria.

IMG_5389As sauropod dinosaurs, Jobarias were plant eaters living between 164 and 161 million years ago. Their necks extended to 22 metres and they were able to rear up to 10 metres on their hind legs and here this lone specimen simply towered over the rest of the hall. It was very impressive to see, then again dinosaurs always are, and I found it really strange to think just how old these bones truly were. Standing next to him was an equally impressive dinosaur, despite lacking the height, who looked as though he was about the reach out and grab something. Dinosaur skeletons always seem to though, they always look prepared and as thought could just stand up and leap out of the room at any moment which would be quite a shock! I tore myself away from staring at these two and we walked down the line of bones, stopping to admire a stegosaurus and a model of Minmi Paravertebra which Codie had his photo taken with. Just like the other complaints I’d read on Trip Advisor, I completely disagreed with one that said that the room was dimly lit and the dinosaurs were overlooked. It certainly wasn’t the case at all, they were clearly the pride of the museum and if the room was lit with bright white lights as some people had suggested, it just wouldn’t have the same atmosphere. The dim, red and green light cast shadows over the room along with the creepy sounds made you feel as though you were in another world with them which just added to the awe of seeing it all. I think some people just complain for the sake of it.

IMG_5380Doing the loop of the artefacts we looked at skulls, teeth and bones and a T-Rex who looked like he just wanted to eat us. As we were looking at him, the joke about him having little arms and not being able to make his own bed popped into my head and I had to stifle a laugh in the otherwise quite room. Hehehe. Codie had a quick go on the touch screen game but it didn’t work so we moved on to having our photographs taking with our heads in the mouth of a model T-Rex head. It was a bit of a struggled trying to get a photo not dominated by shadow as Codie insisted on sticking his head as far in as possible but I got one in the end. As we were leaving I spotted my favourite dinosaur ever, the archaeopteryx, still flat and submerged in stone behind a glass case. Ever since I read about them in a book when I was little, these small 150 million year old reptiles have fascinated me so to see the smallest one ever one was really cool.

Sad to see the end of the dinosaurs, we made our way into ‘Surviving Australia’ and straight away I found the cutest looking thing ever; a stuffed wallaroo. I’d heard of these before but for some reason had thought that they were extinct so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that this is not the case at all. In terms of their size they’re a cross between the kangaroo and the wallaby, hence the name, and we think we might have seen one before on the Great Ocean Road. Of course, I’ll have to check their distribution but it seemed too big for a wallaby and too small to be a kangaroo so it just makes sense! I carried on exploring the room and found Codie staring at an extinct Australian Marsupial Lion. They’re such weird looking creatures, not very lion-like at all, which is probably because they were actually marsupials and not big cats. It’s such a shame that so many interesting creatures like this can no longer be found roaming the country but I suppose that’s nature. Unless of course it’s happened due to human activity like plastic in the water and things like that. That’s not natural at all.

IMG_5401

This exhibition also contained some live animals like a baby crocodile which was patiently sitting on a log, some lizards, a snake and couple of small, blob like green tree frogs. As nice as it was to see them, another welcome break from stuffed animals, just like before it was much better to see them in the wild and I really hope I get the opportunity to do so again before we leave the country. The highlight of this bit for me though, wasn’t the whale skeleton hanging above the marine section it’s intricate bones carefully put back together, it wasn’t the inquisitive looking stuffed possum or the naughty looking feral cat, it wasn’t even the giant crocodile model stretching across a long table. Nope, it was none of those things but the bum of a wombat sticking out of a fake burrow. It was so comical looking which I think attracted my attention to begin with but it was also nice to see how the bony plate defence mechanism in it’s backside was used. We’d heard about it on Magnetic Island but the wombat there, Harry, was quite a sleepy little thing and obviously wasn’t in danger so we didn’t get to see it happen. Here, however, the replica showed it perfectly and I could see how being crushed by a plate like that would hurt!

Nearing the end of our museum trip, I walked into an aboriginal area to read and learn more about the area. We’ve seen quite a few artefacts now in various different places but with Australia being made up of lots of different colonies, each area is different and equally as interesting. This particular exhibition showcased the Gadigal people as the museum lies on their land. It was lovely to read a message from the two elders of the community welcoming people to their country and really amazing to see canoes, hunting equipment and beautifully designed headdresses. I spent some time soaking it all up and examining all the details of different Unfortunately at this stage, Codie was more than impatient now and was tired and ready to leave so once I’d made sure I’d had a look around everything and we’d sat down in a cave and listened to part of a story, it was time to go home.

As we walked out of the Aboriginal exhibition and into the main hall once again, I was drawn to two things; the giant whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling and the gift shop. I’ve got no idea what attracts me to gift shops and leaflets but it’s inevitable that I end up in one unless I show amazing will power. Whilst Codie disappeared to collect our now dry rain coats, I slowly walked around it looking for cheap little souvenirs and things that wouldn’t weight me down so much but sadly there was nothing and I was dragged away. Grrrrrr. I love a good souvenir so it was a very disappointing time although it was nice to see that there was a little girl who’d just bought a little glass bottle full of precious stones and was utterly delighted with them. I remember getting something very similar once on a holiday to Scotland so when she ran off to show her family, tripped over a carpet and sent the bottle flying and smashing all over the floor, I felt so sorry for her. It’s happened to me many times, with the amount of gift shop purchases it was going to happen, so I also understood how horrible it was when she was shouted at for trying to pick bits up off the floor. Obviously people were only trying to stop her cutting herself but it’s never nice when you’re already upset. It wasn’t the best way to end our museum visit but all in all it had been a good day and once I’d mourned for a huge cuddly toy cassowary which I just wouldn’t be able to get home, we headed back outside to face the rain.

IMG_5418During the first bit of the walk back to the hostel, the rain held off which meant that we were able to see more of Hyde Park and look up at the trees without having to squint to avoid the water drops. It looked really nice, more so when it was dry(ish), and if I hadn’t been so tired and hungry, I would have loved to have had a little wander around it. Instead we found our feet walking us in the direction of Hungry Jacks where Codie devoured a BBQ sausage burger and I munched on some yummy fries. Unfortunately, in the short time we were in there, the heavens opened and it began to throw it down once again and much harder than before. In fact, I took a photo of our view from the “restaurant” as it reminded me of being at home so much! Once we’d finished eating we carried on our walk now getting quite wet, though the waterproof jackets were definitely helping, and eventually made it back after a little look in a bargain shop. I really want a mug I saw in there as it makes you look as though you have an emu’s beak when you drink from it but I’m not sure we can carry much else. Grrrrrr.

Getting back to our lovely, cosy room and having a nice, dry sit down was such a nice feeling that I struggled a lot to get up again. That’s why I like about the rain; you can really appreciate being warm and snug afterwards and enjoy the wet whilst you’re in it. There’s also no other noise better than rain on a roof so it was a bonus being able to listen to it on the corrugated metal sheeting outside the window. In the end, we forced ourselves up and made our pasta and mince tea, then had our hot showers and headed to bed. We’re up early tomorrow for a trip to the Blue Mountains and so I’m really hoping that the rain holds off or we might not be able to see much. I’ve really enjoyed today, I really love learning about history and nature so a combination of the two is always fascinating to me. Now I’m hoping we’ll find another museum to visit before we leave or I’ll to scout them out in the UK. I might just do that anyway….

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