Sydney, Australia is rife with museums and art galleries. There’s the Australian Heritage Fleet, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Conservation Resource Centre, the Discovery Museum at The Rocks, the Justice and Police Museum, the Macleay Museum, the Museum of Australian Currency Notes, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum, the Pylon Lookout, the Sydney Tramway Museum, the Sydney Observatory, and the Jewish Museum, to name a few. Normally I am not much of a museum aficionado but my friend, Jane, insisted that the Art Museum of New South Wales was not to be missed.
For $2.90 I hopped on a bus from her house and asked the driver to call out the stop for the Art Museum. He deposited me at the foot of an imposing fortress that was undoubtedly a museum, however as I was climbing the stairs I realized that I was at the Australian Museum, which was featuring an exhibit called “100 Years of Australia Through the National Geographic Lens.” Oooh, tempting! But I decided to stick to my original plan. I pulled out my map and discovered that the way to the Art Museum would take me through Cathedral Square and into The Domain, a huge expanse of park that undulates gently between the Botanic Gardens and Woolloomooloo Bay (don’t ask me to pronounce that one because I can’t – I’m still trying to correctly say the name of the town of Cairns). I walked through the Aquatic Center, passed statuesque St. Mary’s Cathedral, and entered the Domain, following a dirt path through rolling lawns and soccer fields toward the Art Museum. It was a typical winter day, with crisp temperatures and lots of sunshine. The late afternoon sun saturated the colors as it began its descent behind the downtown skyscrapers. On my left was a view of the city, with Centrepoint Tower poking above the trees and acting as a directional beacon. On my right were the east side communities of Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, and Kings Cross.
The Art Museum is an imposing colonnaded building. Just the outdoor sculpture that surrounds it is worth a look, but since admission is free the inside bears a visit as well. It contains a respectable collection of the Old Masters and 20th century artists, including a good collection of Picasso sketches, but what was most interesting was their collection of Aboriginal Art. One piece in particular caught my fancy. In the center of the entry hall stood a Hills Hoist – the old fashioned crank-up clothes line that looks like a big metal umbrella. Carved and painted wooden Australian Fruit Bats hung upside-down from every available inch of clothes line, looking eerily real as they swayed almost imperceptibly in the draft from a ceiling vent. The ground beneath the bats was covered in small round discs about the size of poker chips, painted to resemble bat excrement, which, as a museum monitor told me, is what fruit bats do best – they defecate. The The Hills Hoist is the quintessential symbol of the white Australian settler; even today many people still have one in their backyard. The symbolism of the sculpture was unmistakable and powerful. Unfortunately, photography of any of the native art is prohibited because the Aboriginals say the whites have taken too much from them already, however I offer a photo of the Hills Hoist on the roof of my friend’s apartment building and you’ll get the general idea.
When I had thoroughly investigated the Art Museum I hopped in a taxi for a quick ride to Potts Point, where I was to meet Jane for dinner. Since I was an hour early I wandered around the neighborhood and discovered the El Alamein Fountain in a small plaza surrounded by office buildings, shops and restaurants.
We dined at The Opium Den, a delicious Thai restaurant (be warned if you go here that they accept only cash) and I told her about my day at the Art Museum. “The Art Gallery of New South Wales,” she corrected. “If you say museum they’ll think you mean the Australian Museum.” Ah, so that’s why the bus driver left me off where he did…..
Note: Check out this very thorough post at Mindful Travel by Sara for more information about what to see and do in Sydney.