In early December I spent just over a week in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. I mentioned in my Mount Wellington Descent post that I had the desire to do something a little bit different, I still found myself seeking out the best places to geek out, and though this geek guide is short and sweet featuring only three places, these museums are by far the best places to go to get your geek on in Hobart!
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Entrance free (optional donation)
Located in the centre of Hobart the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery captures the heart of Hobart. The layout of the museum is slightly odd, the main building you enter first holds both the museum and art gallery, whilst the building shown in the photo above is the Customs House gallery. Both parts of the museum essentially house the same set of exhibits: Tasmnian natural history, colonial history and the first Australians gallery.
However the crossover of the two buildings works quite well, as the main museum’s Aboriginal gallery is very old but humble, it is brutally honest about the devastating consequences of the colonisation of Tasmania in a way that other museums weren’t. The Aboriginal exhibit was about the Aboriginals, first and foremost, and explains their history in their own voice, and ending with a presentation of the various traditions, like shell necklace making, which are being continued today.
The second most interesting exhibit in the main building of TMAG was focuses on Antartica, I realised I’m not very good at geography, as I had no idea that Tasmania was the closest landmass to Antartica. The exhibit featured various aspects ofTasmanian studies and expeditions in Antartica and the impact of climate change. I thought this part of the museum was really cool, as I had no idea that Antartica was close to Tasmania, I learned something new and was pleased to learn about this area of Tasmanian history.
The main museum also featured exhibits on Tasmanian wildlife, the history of Australian currency, as well as a special local history exhibition called Shaping Tasmania: a journey in 100 objects. This exhibit was museum wide, and featured artefacts chosen by the public which they felt best represented Tasmania’s history. I particularly enjoyed this exhibit as it gave Tasmanians a chance to showcase their history in their own way, and gave a strong sense of community and historical awareness.
Truth be told, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to museums. The merging of a museum and an art gallery always makes me feel a bit nervous as one always detracts from the other. When I visited Bran Castle in Romania a local fashion designer had had their designs featured in the castle exhibits. Entering a medieval bed room, there’d be a mannequin with a gothic dress stood next to the four poster bed with a placard explaining how the history of the castle inspired the artist,this also happened at Trajan’s market in Rome, though the relation of those dresses to the marble friezes was even more tenuous. I completely understand that art and history go hand in hand, art is necessary to the study of history, but in a museum unless the art is directly related to the historical period covered by the exhibition, I’m not interested. End rant.
That being said, the Tasmanian museum and art gallery got it right, by keeping the two separate for the most part. As you walk through the main building there are art installations hanging from the ceiling, and in the main hall there is a massive fixture combining art and historical artefacts. Only here did TMAG attempt to blur the boundaries between modern art and history, with its very bizarre centre piece which featured part of an antique staircase, that when you stood under it the sound of someone climbing the stairs played, which was very unnerving. The whole thing was very Alice in Wonderland, but other than that the set up of the museum and gallery were kept at a respectful distance from one another.
Moving onto the Custom House galleries, the beautifully preserved building, which still had markings on the wall from when imported goods were kept there, gave each one of the exhibits a vintage charm. There are four floors to the Custom House, including the preserved basement, where the history and function of the building is explained, the basement allows the history of the building to speak for itself.
The gallery on the first floor featured an exhibit on Tasmanian natural history, which featured a smaller collection of taxidermy animals than the one in the main building, I’m not too interested in natural history, and my priority when visiting museums in Australia has been to visit the Aboriginial or convict exhibitions. I didn’t spend much time in the first floor, and not much time on the second floor which was dedicated to colonial Tasmania.
What I was really excited visit was the third floor gallery and the Our Land: Parrawa Parrawa- Go Away! Exhibit, which focuses on the invasion of Iutruwita (Tasmania), and tells the story of the aftermath from both the aboriginal and colonist points of view. I was seriously impressed by this exhibit, as it told the story of early Tasmnian from the beginning of colonisation and explained how things escalated between the aboriginals and the settlers with devastating consequences for the aboriginals and also the wildlife of Tasmania. The whole exhibit was striking and very moving, it is a must see for anyone visiting Hobart.
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)
Entrance (including return ferry trip on MONA ROMA) $50.
MONA, possibly Hobart’s most famous museum, gifted to the Tasmanian people by a Tasmanian millionaire, so many people told me to go and check it out, that I had to go and see what all the fuss was about.
As you may have gathered already, I’m definitely more into museums than art galleries, though to be fair I think I talk myself out of liking art galleries, as I always find I enjoy them once I’m walking around them, and MONA was no exception. I’d been intrigued by what I’d heard about MONA, that the art was shocking, disturbing even and centred around themes of violence, sex and death. When I visited however the art wasn’t as extreme as I’d expected, I’m not easily surprised or shocked by anything, and given I spent my teenage years watching Kriddof videos with my friends, I feel I’m familiar with the more obscure art forms.
That being said I found I really enjoyed MONA, it was different in its own way, and I enjoyed that the museum had a sense of humour alongside taking itself very seriously. The gallery is built into a mountain, and has two main entrances from a set of spiral staircases, from either one of these entrances you then walk around a series of stairs and walkways navigating around the gallery.
The art is mainly modern, and I found I enjoyed the more interactive and technological based art, a particular favourite was the supersymmetry room. This was a long corridor of art inspired by the artist’s time at the SERN Hydroncollider, beginning with three boxes containing plastic balls which moved creating a noise like the sea and combined with a strobe lighting show which made the room feel stormy. Moving on from this there is a corridor set up with computers and large computer screens on either side showing multiple different computerised graphs which appear to create images resembling galaxies and star systems. It’s complex and absolutely mesmerising, and very stunning visually, at one point the computers begin typing out goobledegook, which I interpreted as our being afraid of artificial intelligence one day dominating us. I enjoyed this part of the gallery so much that I watched it twice through.
The next part I really enjoyed was the exhibit inspired by the concept of artists using special apparatus to assist drawing and painting images, I had stumbled on the showing of Tim’s Vermeer in the afternoon and had caught the last ten minutes of it. Afterwards I went back to the part of the gallery relating to the use of a ‘comparator’ to aid drawing and painting, and was able to have a go at sketching the Girl with the Pearl Earring, I couldn’t believe how using the comparator aided my drawing. The comparator works by allowing you to see the image as though it’s projected on the piece of paper, and so it feels as though you are tracing the image. I got really into it, as I found I really picked up on the details and the shading in the painting. I visited this part of the gallery quite late, and was able to draw this just before closing…
I spent a long time taking in the art at MONA and found I wasn’t as taken in by the oil paintings as I was by one piece which was simply a chair with a bowl on it with two goldfish swimming around a kitchen knife, or the piece where buzz words from the news fell in water droplets from the ceiling (featured photo for MONA). I tried and failed to get a selfie with that piece.
Overall I enjoyed MONA and I would say it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in Hobart, even if you don’t consider yourself a gallery person, I certainly don’t consider myself one, but I was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s worth visiting just to go on the MONA ROMA ferry, which are pretty wacky, when the ticket service says ‘sit on sheep’ for standard journeys they’re not joking, there are actually model sheep you can sit on and I did on my journey to MONA.
I got to take in the views of Hobart from the ferry and it was stunning! Outside the gallery there is a trampoline with bells attached to it which visitors can jump on, and I even gave it a go, it was a lot of fun!
Standard entry $37
As soon as I landed in Hobart, Port Arthur was the first place I wanted to visit, so naturally I left it until my penultimate day to go there. On checking in at the hostel I had asked what was the best way to visit, as I was keen to organise my visit myself, however I was told there is only one bus service that runs to the area, and that was a school service running at 7am and only one bus returning at 7 at night.
I had no choice but to book a tour, and in the end I decided to go with Under Down Under, as their tour included a visit to Richmond, the Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and the Blowhole. On reflection I wouldn’t book this tour again just because I would have preferred a tour which gave me more time to walk around the entire site. This tour was perfect for those who wanted a whistle stop tour of Tasmania’s historic sites, but for me the priority was seeing Port Arthur and I don’t feel like I got to experience it as much as I’d have liked.
Port Arthur is pretty much the Pompeii of convict history, it was the largest convict settlement in Tasmania, founded by Governor Arthur who felt the natural harbour and layout of the site made it perfect for a penitentiary. The prison began as a timber mill, and grew over the years to house convicts, guards and freed convicts, eventually becoming a large settlement. It was the place where re-offending convicts from Australia were sent, and was home to some of the most hardened criminals.
On entering the site you are given a lanyard, to show you’ve paid entry which I thought was ironic, and a playing card with a convict on it.
The visit begins with a walk around the small museum connected to the entrance, which provides a good overview of the history of Port Arthur and is largely directed at children. Now I don’t have a problem with this, the more time I’ve spent walking around museums on my travels, the more I’ve found myself spending time look at what museums offer kids. At the end of the day, a museum’s aim is to get visitors to engage with the history, and hopefully spark curiosity which leaves them wanting to learn more.
This is where the convict playing card comes in, as you walk around the museum you follow a trail according to the suit and colour of your card, and eventually discover the identity, crime and fate of your convict.
Childish maybe, but I found this fun and quite innovative, it was a good way of making the history of Port Arthur interactive, and allowed you to learn about the convicts who lived there, who for a long time were purposefully forgotten.
Moving on from the museum, there are walking tours held throughout the day, as well as ferry trips which take you to Port Puer (where juvenile convicts were held) and the Island of the Dead (the offshore graveyard, where convicts and guards were buried). The walking tour provided is excellent, and my guide in particular was very entertaining. There is so much history to Port Arthur from its humble beginnings, to its development into Australia’s largest convict settlement, to the place it has in the history of prisons and the model of punishment and rehabilitation used there.
If anyone reading this studied Crime and Punishment for GCSE History, Port Arthur is the place where a lot of the early punishments and prison models were tried out. For instance the site includes a separate prison where new convicts were brought and held in solitary confinement for the first month of their sentence. It even had a specially designed chapel where convicts were kept separate from each other during church services.
I had one of those moments where I realised I was in Australia, whilst visiting the Seperate prison, weird as that might sound. Wandering around the prison, I was taken back to Year 10 when I studied about how the English sent their convicts to Australia, that was the only bit of Australian history I knew. Australia meant nothing to me then. It was a distant land, that had been used as a rather radical and random solution to Britain’s desire to find an alternative to the death penalty. It was a module I studied for an exam, and yet six years later I was stood where it all happened. Sixteen year old me could never imagine that!
(Here I am in Port Arthur)
All in all I’m really glad I visited Port Arthur, and would definitely suggest that anyone interested in getting to the heart of convict history, should pay it a visit. The site is huge and it could easily take a full day to visit all the different buildings, but it’s so worth it, the location and the history are both stunning. They even have a database where you can look up and see if any of your relatives were sent to Port Arthur!
That’s all for my Hobart Gek Guide, I hope it helps anyone looking to get to the heart of Tasmianian history figure out where to go when visiting Hobart. Any one of these places would be a great place to start!
Thank you for reading
Visited Hobart or geeked out recently? Let me know what you’ve been up to below..