Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

City of Treasures

Hello, treasure: the Australian Museum’s glass replicas of diamonds including the Orloff and the Koh-I-Noor. Photo: Stuart Humphreys.

Barry Divola, City of treasures: where to find Sydney’s most amazing objects, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2017

Imagine how far you would have to go to see the ugliest animal on earth, an ancient ivory inlay that was cleaned by Agatha Christie and a tumour that has grown teeth and hair.

As it turns out, not far at all.

All of these objects – and many more that will make you go, “wow!”, “ah!” and “ew!” – are right here in Sydney’s museums, galleries, archives and collections. You just have to know where to look. But where to start? Fortunately, we’ve done the legwork for you. (Objects are on permanent display unless otherwise noted.)

The ugliest animal on earth

On the upside, he has his own popular Facebook and Twitter accounts, his face adorns T-shirts and he is a film star (check him out as an edible alien in Men In Black 3). On the downside, he got all that attention because he has been voted the ugliest animal on the planet. Even his name is inelegant; he’s called a blobfish or a fathead sculpin and is affectionately known as Mr Blobby. This particular specimen was found more than a kilometre under the sea off the coast of New Zealand in 2003. Visit and try to turn that frown upside down.

Where? Australian Museum, 1 William Street, Sydney, australianmuseum.net.au. To view on a private tour, contact Visitor Services on 9320 6000.

The bondage jumping castle

What do you get when you cross a Gothic cathedral with a jumping castle and a sex shop? Play 201301, a sculpture by provocative Chinese artist Xu Zhen that weighs almost a tonne and is suspended a metre above the floor. It’s constructed from black leather and an assortment of BDSM implements including whips, chains, studs, spikes, buckles, gags and dildos. From a distance it looks like a fantasy-land castle from the set of Game of Thrones. Up close it’s more confronting, which was exactly the artist’s intention; he wanted to comment on dominance and submission in the contemporary art scene. And, in case you’re asking, no, you can’t go jumping around in it.

Where? White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale, whiterabbitcollection.org. Appearing as part of Ritual Spirit, August 30-January 28.

The deadly walking stick

It’s April, 1915. A man arrives in Wagga Wagga by the evening mail train and takes a room at a local hotel. Something about his behaviour makes the hotelier suspicious, so he calls the police. At 2am they knock on his door and search the room. When they examine his walking stick, they discover that the handle is detachable and conceals a six-chambered revolver with a steel six-inch stiletto in the centre. The man, Theodore Mickel, who was born in South Australia to German parents, turns out not to be a threat to the country, which entered World War I eight months before. He’s just an eccentric with a concealed weapon and is let off with a warning. But he loses his walking stick.

Where? Justice & Police Museum, corner Albert and Phillip Streets, city, sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/justice-police-museum

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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