A Geek’s Guide to Melbourne 

For the past 10 days I have been staying in Melbourne, gazing up at skyscrapers, visiting Chinatown and admiring the awesome street art. Melbourne has so much to offer backpackers and tourists alike, and it did not disappoint on the geek front.

Immigration Museum 

Standard entry: $14

This was the first museum I visited and I was so impressed by it that I think anyone visiting Melbourne should definitely check it out! The museum is spread across two floors which makes it feel quite small considering the fact it’s set in the old Customs House which is a big building. I find it odd that the Immigration Museum didn’t make it onto Time Out’s Museum Guide, and when I was researching museums to visit in Melbourne it wasn’t prominent online, it definitely deserves to be more popular than it appears to be.

As a backpacker on a Working Holiday visa it was interesting to visit a museum dedicated to the history of people coming to Australia, as it made me aware of how I am just one of many people who has chosen to visit this country. Coming from England, Immigration is seen as an issue, it’s a buzz word used by the media to sell tabloid newspapers and scare people on the daily. Needless to say I felt some trepidation visiting the Immigration museum, as I wasn’t sure what to expect. However the museum dealt with the complexity of immigration from multiple perspectives: cultural, political and socio-economical. It was tasteful, responsible, thought-provoking and at times brutally honest in representing various aspects of Australia’s history of Immigration.

The exhibits were innovative, and most had interactive features, I particularly enjoyed the section looking at the different processes of travelling to Australia through the ages and for different classes. Starting with Irish immigrants in steerage, through to post-war steam liner crossings. This was followed by the section looking at the history of  Immigration legislation in Australia, and the application process, the most interesting part was having a go at the dictation test which I failed miserably at. The dictation test was used by Australian Immigration authorities to test an applicant’s fluency, it was used in the 1930s and involved listening to paragraph of text being read out which the applicant then had to write out word for word. Shockingly the authorities would sometimes test applicants in a language that the applicant had no knowledge of, for instance a man from Eastern Europe was made to take the test in Gaelic, unsurprisingly he failed.

Another feature I liked was the community exhibit, when I visited this was “Our Odyssey- Ithacans in Melbourne”, mainly because they drew on their classical roots, but also because I had no idea that Melbourne is home to the largest Greek community outside of Greece!

My visit to the Immigration Museum was eye-opening, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to understand Australian history.

Melbourne Museum 

Standard entry: $14

The Melbourne Museum has a reputation for being one Australia’s best museums, and it certainly lives up to the hype!  First things first, it has a forest in it. Yes you read that right, the museum has a forest in it. When have you ever visited a museum with a forest in it before? I never had until I visited Melbourne Museum, making it the coolest Museum EVER!!

The second most impressive part of the museum was the First Australians gallery which made Sydney’s Australian Museum First Australian gallery seem lifeless by comparison. The First Australian gallery was tasteful and engaging, allowing visitors to walk through the history of Aboriginals in Australia from the beginning of their history, the impact of colonisation on their livelihood, through to the present issues faced by Aboriginals  and their commitment to maintaining and educating others of Aboriginal history and culture.

The rest of Melbourne Museum is dedicated to natural and technological history, the museum is vast and you definitely need to spend a whole day there , if not two, to see everything. I didn’t manage to see the whole museum, and I am strongly considering visiting again before I leave Melbourne.

Old Melbourne Gaol 

Standard entry: $25 (includes entry to gaol and optional ‘Watchhouse experience’).

Continuing my quest to visit every historical site connected with Australia’s convict history, I decided to pay a visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol. This was the most expensive museum I visited in Melbourne, and honestly I don’t think it was worth it.

I quite enjoyed walking around the gaol, one of my favourite films is The Green Mile and it felt a it like walking around the set of the movie. The museum is well laid out, starting with the reason why the gaol was built and looking at the stories of some of its earliest convicts, including their death masks! The area of the gaol where executions took places has been restored, and the cell next door explains the ‘art of hanging’ in graphic detail.

Aside from the expected morbid nature of the history documented in the gaol, and the gaol building itself. The museum felt lacklustre, the display boards are old and make the exhibits appear tired, for the price of entry I’d hope that the curator considers updating the displays.

The most interesting part of the museum was the portion dedicated to the gaol’s most notrious convict – Ned Kelly, in particular the recovery of his remains from the jail yard, some of which were stolen and have only recently been returned to Kelly’s relatives who performed a proper burial for him hundreds of years after his execution.

After this, the museum becomes a bit disjointed, particularly with the cells which discuss the role of the gaol in World War II, which just contained display boards with stories about soldiers alongside examples of prisoner graffiti, which I would have liked to have seen in the cells, not on a display board.

The $25 I paid to access the museum included the opportunity to participate in the ‘Watchhouse experience’ where you could experience ‘being arrested by a grumpy police officer’. I visited quite late in the afternoon, and decided against taking part in the experience, it seems to me that the gaol is aimed at attracting families and school groups, which is fair enough from a business point of view.

Ultimately I would not recommend visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol, for me the novelty of walking around a gaol wasn’t enough to warrant paying the entrance fee. I think it really depends on what you want from a museum, personally I was disappointed by the gaol.

Victoria Police Museum 

Entry: ‘Donate by gold coin’ (suggested donation of $1 / $2).

After being disappointed by the gaol, I was excited to see what the Victoria Police Museum had to offer. Located within the current Victoria Police Headquarters, it’s a small museum made up of a set of simple yet sophisticated exhibitions exploring the history of crime and law enforcement in Victoria.

The museum included a section on the infamous Ned Kelly,  a convict who planned to ambush a police train in order to over throw the authorities, naturally the museum presented the Ned Kelly revolt from the perspective of the policemen involved in the case. Ned Kelly is quite a controversial figure in Australian history, some view him as a hero, whereas the Police museum presented him as a villain.

For such a small museum it handled the broad range of history in interesting ways, the touch of blunt Australian humour in the drinking driving display lightened up a rather bleak area of history, whereas the display dedicated to the Russell Street bombing was powerful and sobering.

I was really impressed by the variety of exhibitions in the Victoria Police Museum, and whilst it may not be the best museum I’ve ever visited, I think they’ve done a really good job at creating a museum which leaves visitors with a better understanding of Australian law enforcement from the establishment of Melbourne as a city to the present.
Shrine of Rememberance 

Entry: Free (Optional Donation).

I hadn’t originally planned to visit the Shrine of Rememberance, however after making friends with a girl at my hostel, we devised the geekiest day out in Melbourne, starting with the Shrine of Rememberance.

The monument commemorates all the Australians who lost their lives in war, and is attended to by veterans who are on hand to talk to visitors and explain the design of the building and the scenes depicted in the friezes. Walking around the great hall of the shrine, visitors are able to look at books listing the names of the Australian war dead from World War I.  Visitors then have the opportunity to visit the balcony, where you can see a great view of Melbourne, and can also visit the crypt.

The Shrine’s education centre, is basically a museum dedicated to Australia’s military history and this what what impressed me the most. I didn’t know much about Australia’s military history before I came here, and from visiting the museum. I was able to learn that Australia had fought in a lot of wars due to it being part of the British Empire, as well as fighting with America against Japan.

Although the exhibits in the museum were very simple, this worked in its favour to make the overall experience of visiting the shrine powerful, it made London’s Imperial War Museum look ostentatious.

Obscure Historical site: Cook’s Cottage 

After visiting Mrs MacQuarie’s chair in Sydney, I was on the look out for another quirky historical site to visit and  when I saw Captain Cook’s Cottage on the map I thought I’d found it. I thought ‘Oh cool, I didnt’t know Captain Cook lived in Melbourne!” … He didn’t.

When I looked up the cottage on the Internet, I found out that the cottage was actually the home of Captain Cook’s parents in Yorkshire, England. The cottage was bought by an Australian who had the cottage deconstructed, brick by brick, and then had it rebuilt in Fitzroy Gardens.

I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty crazy to me! You can pay to visit it and are able to dress up in Victorian clothing, I didn’t pay to get in, as I found it a bit strange to have an English cottage placed in the middle of an Australian garden. In fact, I announced to my friend that I was disqualifying it from the Geek Guide because of how tenuous it’s link to Melboune is.

So there you go, a run down of places to geek out at in Melbourne, some are out of this world, others were better than expected and a couple are downright weird. Whatever you’re looking for you’re bound to find it in Melbourne!

Geeking out in Australia? Let me know the best places you’ve visited, or if you’ve been to any of the museums I’d love to hear about your experience below!

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