Australian National Maritime

Australian National Maritime Museum

 The first impact of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) is impressive. This is due in no small measure to its unique architecture (left) and perfect setting in Darling Harbour.

Once inside, the same standard is maintained with a series of world-class displays of maritime objects and interactive exhibits. Additionally, the retired RAN vessels, Vampire and Onslow are great attractions while the fully restored barque James Craig is secured close by at the refurbished $20 million Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage Centre. Interactive CD audio tours are available at no extra cost for standard admission ticket holders. There is always something new, it seems, at the ANMM.

The RAN and RN contributed significantly to Australia’s maritime history and this is reflected in the displays, but other endeavours also deserve space and attention. These range from civilian-oriented early whaling days to beach exhibits and even waterfront union contributions. Special interactive areas are set aside for children. One salon includes a display of primitive small craft, chiefly from our islands to the north.

The museum also mounts visiting displays and, importantly, provides exhibitions, leadership and subsidies for museum-related research and displays within Australia and overseas. These included, in 1998-2009:

  • Work with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project searching for Cook’s Endeavour.
  • The Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, the travelling exhibitions Thalassa: Greek Australians and the Sea (in Australia) and the Wreck of the Julia Ann (in the USA).
  • Grants to regional maritime history projects around Australia totalling $30,000.
  • History of the Halvorsen boat builders of Neutral Bay.


Volunteers provide more than 25,000 hours of service time a year. They act as guides and assist with many museum projects. More than 450,000 people visited the museum and ANMM travelling exhibitions in 1998-99, contributing to a gross revenue of $3.44 million, of which only $765,000 is sponsorship money.

ANMM has grown from nothing in a very short time. “The museum is now in its eighth year of operation. Of the millions of people who have visited in person, 30 per cent have come from overseas. Clearly this national institution is functioning very well as a national ambassador,” said Chairman Kay Cottee.

ANMM might not have the large numbers of uniformed staff or the tens of thousands of polished ancient artefacts found in, say, the two-centuries old Spanish Naval Museum in Madrid. Nor does it have the large numbers of sailing ship models of the 150-years old USNI Museum at Annapolis or the big dramatic displays of the 70-year old Barcelona Maritime Museum.

It does, however, have a number of history-making craft, ranging from Australian jet-powered speedboats to their 18-foot mono-hull and catamaran sailboat contemporaries.

Unique attractions

Uniquely, ANMM has an ex-RAN destroyer and submarine and other floating craft open to inspection, with a free audio CD tour. Removed on decommissioning for security reasons, Vampire has her gunnery control console back on her bridge. Onslow looks ready to embark the rest of her torpedoes and sail on her next operational voyage. Her galley still holds well-used baking pans and condiment jars. In the main museum building, there’s even a Wessex helicopter dangling from the roof in the middle of the big RAN static display.

No aircraft carrier?

Observing the popularity of visiting American aircraft carriers, it may be regarded by many as an oversight that an RAN aircraft carrier was not retained and furnished as a museum exhibit. Melbourne was, of course, the first operational aircraft carrier in the world to mount all three of the “modern” design attributes for jet aircraft operations: the steam catapult, the angled deck and the mirror landing sight. The old Essex class carriers, USSs Intrepid in New York, Hornet in San Francisco, Yorktown in Charleston and Lexington in Corpus Christi; are just four of many examples of how popular and self-sustaining such exhibits can be, even in a stand-alone remote site like Hornet’s.

The museum is expanding. “We are immensely proud to have created a facility that defines modern museum practice, opening our behind-the-scenes collection management processes and storage areas to the public who will be welcome to visit. We’re proud, too, of the energy efficiencies designed into it, including passive temperature control and special insulation,” Director Dr Kevin Fewster said, of the Wharf 7 project. This new facility doubled the museum’s floor space and provides a permanent home for the Sydney Heritage Fleet, as well as space for staff, collections, research library, laboratories and workshops that could never be accommodated on the main site.

Largely out of immediate sight, but fundamental to any modern professional museum, are the lectures, research, conservation and publication sections. In January 2002, for instance, there were daily long-running video presentations of the history of the Batavia and her salvage. Since 2000, the museum has also sponsored:

  • A lecture about the great ocean liners and yet another about the Titanic.
  • A “Night in the Navy” aboard Vampire and Onslow.
  • A Batavia video, free to all museum visitors.
  • A Curator’s Tasman Map lecture and a social Australia Day Fireworks party.
  • Charles Darwin’s voyages and ideas that changed the world.
  • Special projects for children and Aboriginal Studies students.
  • Merana Eora Nora – the first people in Australia, from 50,000 years or more ago.
  • A Welcome Wall, listing the names and stories of people who settled in Australia.
  • The Vaughan Evans research library.
  • A quarterly journal, Signals, and
  • An internet Web site:

The Australian National Maritime Museum is a project as good as any maritime museum in the world, and considerably better than most. It is fitting that such a museum should be sited here, in the entertainment centre of a city with such a robust maritime history, however short that history might seem to be when compared with some international standards.

The museum is open daily, except Christmas Day, from 0930 to 1700 (1800 in January). There are a number of options for entry fees. Check the museum’s website for details. Consider family or member rates for large groups and frequent visits.

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