Think you know Sydney? Australia’s best-looking city has some pretty amazing cultural hotspots that you may not have even heard of, let alone hit up yet. Here are five of the best museums, galleries and exhibitions in town. Soak up the culture guys. Soak. It. Up.
#1 The Nicholson Museum
Where: University of Sydney, Manning Road, Camperdown
Strictly speaking, the Nicholson Museum isn’t an “undiscovered” museum – it’s Australia’s oldest University museum. Having said that, in no way is visiting it a stuffy, uppity experience. In case you’re not a student at the University of Sydney, have never seen the signs saying “cool shit this way”, or aren’t a Lego aficionado (yep, there’s a model of ancient Pompeii made out of 120,000 individual pieces) then here’s the low-down.
The Nicholson is an antiquities museum that covers Ancient Egypt to Greece, Cyprus to the Middle East, Rome to the U.K., and everything in between. Highlights include the exhibition Death Magic replete with mummy coffins, a giant 3000-year-old carving of a cow-eared goddess (that some later egomaniacal pharaoh wrote his-god damn name on), an inscribed block bearing the name’s of Tutankhamun’s Dad (Akhenaten) and his step-Mum Nefertiti (mmm, topical), and of course, a miniature Lego Pompeii. Interestingly (or disturbingly for some) there are also some Ancient Egyptian human remains on display.
There’s also a Damien Hirst-like cow’s head in a box to visually replicate an Ancient Egyptian curse that saw people cutting off a cow’s head, saying some nasty stuff to it and chucking it in a river. I mean, whatever means necessary to get back at your enemies, right? There’s also an exhibition dedicated to the Etruscans: a somewhat elusive culture that pre-dated those pesky Romans.
#2 The Brett Whiteley Studio Art Gallery
Where: 2 Raper St, Surry Hills
This gallery is a must-see housed in Whiteley’s old Surry Hills studio and home, just a three minute walk from Bourke Street. There you’ll find rotating exhibitions and context for a lot of his most famous works. They’ve replicated how his studio would have looked mid-work in the upstairs space: a fantastic mess much like Francis Bacon’s manicly organised studio.
Given the opening hours (10 – 4pm, Friday to Sunday) you’ll have to hit up the gallery on the weekend. We suggest you grab a coffee on Crown Street beforehand and meander down the alleyway until you arrive in Whiteley heaven. Once there, you can rifle through the books Whiteley was reading, the CDs he was listening to and drink in his sculptures and paintings – y’know, get a real sense of the man behind the art and his influences.
#3 The refurbished First Australian’s and Wild Planet galleries at the Australian Museum
Where: 1 William St, Sydney
Entry: $8 for concession, $15 for adults
Again, not that the Australian Museum is undiscovered, but these new exhibitions are well worth your time. Garrigarrang: Sea Country delves into Australia’s first cultures from along our coast-line and their spiritual and cultural connection to the ocean. The exhibition’s strength comes from the Indigenous perspective it showcases, instead of the colonial natural history approach. Another highlight is the works on display by contemporary Indigenous artists in the gallery.
Since you’re at the Australian Museum anyway, you should definitely check out the Wild Planet exhibitions in the old foyer off of College Street. If the zoo is just too damn far away this is the perfect place to check out over 400 animals – some extinct, some native, some purely crazy. Plus, if that scene from Dances with Wolves with the bison hunt strangely speaks to you, then you’ll definitely want to check out the bison in this exhibition. Similarly, if the closest your eyeballs have ever come to an American Eagle is watching re-runs of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, then boy is life looking up for you.
#4 White Rabbit Gallery
Where: 30 Balfour St, Chippendale
The guiding principle behind White Rabbit is to share contemporary Chinese art with Australia and the world. The current exhibition Paradi$e Bitch, running until February 7, 2016, is dedicated to the Chinese notion of paradise in whatever form – the traditional, the Communist, and the modern. A particular highlight of the exhibition is the abandoned dance floor on the ground level where you’ll come face-to-face with the harsh reality of a drunken night out. It might even be cathartic.
White Rabbit always has well-thought out, provocative exhibitions of which there are two a year, with one show taking over the gallery at a time. It’s a good opportunity to really immerse yourself in the exciting and diverse world of contemporary Chinese art. Maybe you’ll even stay for tea and dumplings in their amazing cafe too.
#5 The Macleay Museum
Where: University of Sydney, Manning Road, Camperdown
The Macleay is a natural history museum, much smaller than the Australian Museum but no less important. It’s got some proper old-school architecture and dark wooden cases, not to mention some weird and wonderful animals and objects.
There’s a wonderful exhibition called Written in Stone which showcases the awesome breadth of Indigenous stone and glass tool production from right across Australia. The exhibition poses the question du jour: “With so much of our lives and experiences being captured by digital technology, what will remain of us in a thousand years’ time?” You might feel a little bit poorly about your reliance on your iPhone after checking this one out.
(Lead image: White Rabbit Gallery)
Sarah Little is a Sydney writer who spends most of her time studying a Masters at Sydney Uni and drinking in various disreputable bars.