Museum of Sydney guidebook
Opened in 1995, the Museum of Sydney is a modern museum on a historic site. It’s a place with many layers and meanings.The site of the colony’s first Government House built 1788, it was also the point of first contact between the Gadigal people of Sydney and the British exiles arriving on the First Fleet. Today this place remains a symbol of 1788, a turning point in history.
The museum’s evocative displays interpret the archaeological remains of first Government House, and explore stories about Sydney past and present. Exhibits focus on the pre-1788 character of Sydney, its history during the lifetime of first Government House 1788-1846, and the continuing stories of Sydney’s people and places, as it has developed into the metropolis it is today.
FIRST GOVERNMENT HOUSE PLACE
Preserved beneath the forecourt of the modern museum are the historic remains of first Government House 1788-1846. A giant granite paver in the centre of First Government House Place is elevated at an angle to reveal the footings of Governor Phillip’s 1788 house.
Above ground, the plan of the house is delineated on the granite paved surface with steel studs marking the location of the 1788 residence, and white granite pavers showing the evolution of the building with additions and changes made by 9 successive governors. The front of the house extended into present day Bridge Street.
Edge of the Trees Sculpture
From the edge of the trees the Gadigal people watched as the strangers of the First Fleet struggled ashore in 1788. We can only imagine what their thoughts would have been. This sculptural installation by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley symbolises that first encounter. Richly embedded with materials and language, the sculpture evokes layers of memory, people and place.
First Government House
he Museum of Sydney is built on the site of the earliest foundations of British colonialism in Australia. Here Governor Arthur Phillip built first Government House in 1788. It was to be home, office and seat of authority for the first nine governors of New South Wales until it was demolished in 1846. In the 1980s archaeologists exposed the remains of the house, and by 1995 the Museum of Sydney opened to interpret this symbolic place and the ongoing story of Sydney.
Entry, Calling to Come
The soundscape in the glass entry cube of the museum is a modern poem based on the original diaries of First Fleet astronomer William Dawes, which document conversations with his Aboriginal companion Patye. These intimate cross-cultural exchanges, born in the crucible of colonisation, still have poignancy .
This giant video spine spans the height of the museum, linking the contemporary city of Sydney with its elemental beginnings. Sydney's harbour and distinctive yellow sandstone continue to shape and define the city: from the rocky cliffs that line the harbour to the labyrinthine sandstone cuttings and monumental civic buildings that remind us of the city's origins.
The full-scale recreation of a section of the facade of first Government House incorporates some of the building materials retrieved from archaeological excavations of this site. The video inset in one of the windows conveys the dramatic and contested story of the house – its life and death, archaeological digs and the mighty battle over its future, leading to the birth of the Museum of Sydney in 1995.
The remains of first Government House’s drains and privies are exposed below the floor. Also displayed is a selection of relics, ruins and rubbish from the house retrieved by archaeologists in the 1980s.
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Sydney has been a busy trading port for over 200 years. By the 1830s it was an ocean town – a bustling, multicultural, commercial port visited by ships travelling the world trade routes. The trade wall features goods available in Sydney shops and streets of the 1830s as advertised in the daily papers of the time.
First Fleet Ships
In 1788, after more than eight months at sea, the First Fleet landed, transporting some 1500 people to set up a new penal colony for Britain at the far end of the earth. Here they met with Sydney Aborigines, whose numbers then roughly matched those disembarking. This display explores the journey, arrival and first contacts of this fleet’s largely unwilling human cargo.
Inspired by the 19th century mania for collecting, this modern installation is a collector’s chest of the musings of artist Narelle Jubelin on the archaeology of first Government House and the Rocks. Each drawer opens to tell its own story through objects, images and words.
A venue for films, conferences, seminars, and lectures. Check the daily program of films about Sydney.
First Government House was the seat of authority and offices for the first nine governors of New South Wales from 1788-1845. This display presents stories of the official and private lives of the governors who resided in first Government House.
Whether fact or fiction, stories are the essence of human interaction. In the early days of the colony, with so many people arriving or passing through Sydney, stories of new experiences and exotic places abounded. Within this gallery you will explore aspects of Sydney’s past through conversations and tales based on real historical events and characters
LEVEL 3Viewing Cube
From this vantage point, you can still glimpse the harbour which once dominated the view from first Government House. In the forecourt below, steel studs and white granite paving trace the memory of first Government House 1788-1846. The steel studs represent Governor Phillip’s original building, the white granite traces the additions by later governors.
This gallery honours the history, culture and survival of the Gadigal clan on whose land this museum stands. The video montage Eora, by Aboriginal filmmaker Michael Riley, evokes the continued vitality of Aboriginal life in Sydney, taking us on a journey that retraces the steps of the Gadigal through sites and memories to their dreaming. The word Eora meant ‘people’ in the language of the local people.
Cities are collective enterprises, reflecting the decisions, dreams and lives of innumerable citizens, past and present. This display recounts the stories and legacy of ten individuals who through intellect, determination and passion, had a dramatic influence on Sydney’s natural and built environment.
A venue for changing exhibitions about Sydney