Hang on to your hats, boys and girls… I paid to go to a museum today.
That’s right. Instead of visiting one at least ten free museums in Sydney, I handed over legal tender to go to the Australian National Maritime Museum.
In fairness, many of the exhibitions are free but I wanted to visit one looking at Bligh’s reputation, the WW2 display and I’m a sucker for sea monsters… or dinosaurs.
Plus I quite fancied a 3D movie.
So I willingly handed over 35AUD to visit.
Was it worth it?
For history geeks and pub quiz fans, definitely.
For anyone entertained by small children squealing (possibly in delight, probably in terror) at the impressive realism of 3D dinosaurs leaping off the screen into the cinema above their heads, absolutely.
Yes, I am well aware that I have an evil streak. It’s about a mile wide.
First, I wanted to see the ships in the harbour outside and it turned out that my timing was impeccable… it was the last day I could see the replica of Endeavour – it sets sale tomorrow.
The claustrophobia inducing HMAS Onslow was my first port of call… what play on words… having never been on a submarine.
Either an essay in cramped living and working conditions or an ode to space saving efficiency, 68 men lived and worked on the HMAS Onslow with 22 working in the control room at a time.
I’ve stayed in hostels with more room than this.
Australia, one of the volunteers explained, supplies the US and the UK with non-nuclear submarines as neither country builds their own.
And the volunteers are what made visiting the vessels a fabulous experience. They’re knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibits at the museum.
Many are ex sailors and several are retired and volunteer here to do something useful with their time. One told me that he commutes three hours each way to volunteer two days a week here at the museum.
As a result of listening to the guides’ stories I spent almost two hours on the submarine, the HMAS Vampire (whose badge, quite frankly just makes me think of Batfink) and the Endeavour.
There are other ships too but, after New Zealand I still seem to be following Cook’s voyage so I wanted to have a look at the Endeavour.
If I thought life was crowded on the HMAS Onslow then the Endeavour required extreme tolerance for crowds.
There were over 90 crew on board: 50 sailors because around half of them would be dead by the time the ship returned… except in this case, Cook didn’t lose any crew to scurvy because he insisted they are sauerkraut and for over two years in the Pacific, their diet was supplemented by fresh fruit and vegetables… twelve marines/soldiers, eight midshipman, eight cabin boys, six scientists and six officers.
Though a beautiful ship, and this is a faithful replica, life was cramped. Below deck, you’d be ok if you were less than four feet tall.
James Cook and Joseph Banks were both 6ft 3inches. Neither of them fit into the bunks in their rooms.
Banks didn’t even fit into his cabin. His dog slept in it instead. Banks’s hammock was slung in the main room which was where the scientists had their daily meetings.
Despite Cook’s approach to maintaining his crew’s health, around one third to half of them died of dysentery and malaria at Jakarta when they took on infected water. Along with them, all of the scientists except Banks.
The Endeavour was a beautiful ship. What happened to it?
It was sold, its name changed and it ended up as a troop supply ship during the American war if Independence. One of the volunteers told me that fragments of a ship sunk, by the British, to block the Newport Harbour from French supply ships may be the Endeavour.
And what was the rest of the Museum like?
Exhibitions on Australia’s wartime experience, the people who came here as a result of the wars and the naval history were excellent.
One of the free exhibits is a chance to Kay Cottee’s yacht. At the age of 31 she was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe solo.
She sailed with Ted for company having discussed with a psychologist how best to avoid hallucinations in her loneliness. She wrote that ‘imaginary guests would not be entertained’ and so talked with the giant teddy bear.
Apparently he became quite sarcastic.
The paid exhibitions – focusing on reviewing whether Captain Bligh was a hero or a villain, the wartime homefront experience but especially the sea monsters display – were all worth the fee and presumably part of that income supports the rest of the Museum.
I spent around six hours there which was far longer than I expected to be there. There is so much to see and the additional tours and conversations with the volunteers made this a very rich and absorbing experience.