The reality of being a parent meant that I haven’t been able to attend all of the Discovery Events provided by our local tourism industry as part of the Human Brochure experience. I had been very keen to attend the event at the National Portrait Gallery, but had to enjoy it through the photos, posts and tweets from other ‘humans’ who attended. I also missed a night tour of the National Botanic Gardens – but did discover that such things exist, and am keeping that outing up my sleeve for one weekend with the children as something a bit different to do!
The next event that I was able to attend was one where I was allowed to take the children. The boy has been quite on edge recently so I was very unsure how a public outing would go, but was very pleasantly surprised. The outing was a night time tour of Cockington Green, a miniature world based on one with the same name in England, and of the National Dinosaur Museum. This is where I have to confess that I had not visited either of these places during either of my periods of living in Canberra, and that I thought they would be a bit ‘naff’ I was happy to attend as a treat for the children but was not really expecting very much from them. I am happy to report that I was wrong! Very wrong! (And look – my admission of ‘wrongness’ is even in writing as proof that it does happen sometimes!)
Our group started at Cockington Green, and after two of the younger and single ‘humans’ decided that they needed to adopt a child for the night, in order to fit in, my boy was renamed ‘Jamiroquai’ and ‘adopted’ by them for the night. Against all my predictions he behaved beautifully for them! (of course!) I have since had a conversation relayed to me where he said “Excuse me adopted-mother, I need to have a conversation with you.” On reflection, giving him two adults who were just interested in him was the perfect ploy to guarantee no stress! If only I could magic them into other scenarios on a regular basis!
The detail on the miniature exhibits was impressive, as were the humorous additions such as an outhouse with an open door showing someone reading the paper on the toilet, and two figures who, on closer inspection, turned out to be Freddy Kruger and the Chainsaw Massacre-ist (or whatever you call the main character of the horror movie!)
We also had a train ride around which gave us a different perspective, but to be honest the highlight for all of us was having the chance to speak to the model makers themselves. The time, attention to detail, and ingenuity they show is amazing and hearing their stories about how different pieces came to be was very interesting. Again, the privilege of being able to have the ‘inside story’ and the personal touches that it brings really made the experience very rich. The whole site is a family business, started after a trip to a miniature village in Cornwall, and the owner/guide for the evening was telling us that he had just returned from his first trip back to that site in the week before our visit. He had been a child with his parents for the first trip, and this trip was about 40 years later, so he had been fascinated to see what they had translated into the Canberra version, and the differences that had developed along the way. Of course the kids were most impressed by being allowed to have a free icecream at the end of that tour!
We then walked across the road, crossing paths and swapping places with the other 50-odd ‘humans’ and ‘children of humans’ who had started at the National Dinosaur Museum. I had met the curator, Phil, at the Human Brochure launch event, so knew that he was personable and had worked at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, but really didn’t know what to expect. It had been billed as a ‘torch light tour’ so my kids were thinking ‘Night at the Museum’ and that was in fact one of the first questions Phil was asked. He responded by saying that the animals wouldn’t come alive, but that he would bring them alive with his stories. He wasn’t lying. His knowledge, delivery, humour and timing held the whole audience enthralled.
The eldest chick had tried to get out of attending the evening, thinking she was too old (at eleven) for such things. She loved it! There was enough interesting scientific information to get her attention, and enough humour to capture her imagination.
The artist-in-residence also enjoyed it, and loved working out puzzles and finding that her answers were correct. She has been studying geological formations at school so was fascinated with the fossils in particular.
As for the boy? He was in his element! He found another child equally as interested, and they declared themselves the ‘experts’. It was really a very fascinating night out, and a place that I will be taking the chicks to visit again. The range of exhibits was amazing – fossils, bones, dinosaurs that come alive on sensors (and give middle-aged blue haired bloggers a fright) and objects that can be touched and interacted with.
The next ‘discovery’ event that I attended was another where the children could also attend. This time it was the Royal Australian Mint, where all the coins in Australia, and quite a few around the Pacific, are made. Although the staff here put on a wonderful evening, this one did not go quite as smoothly for us. The boy was hyped up and wanting to amuse and entertain everyone and was escalating all evening to the point that I thought we were about to see one of his melt-downs. Luckily (?!?!?) the eldest chick fell ill and we had to leave in a hurry.
Before we left we did get to see the robots on the factory floor (a huge highlight), hear ghostly tales from the CEO, and hear of forgeries and the history of currency in Australia. We also were able to press our own $1 coin as a souvenir which was a great way to end the tour. I think I would like to go back without a hyped up child, and without a crowd, and just wander slowly through and take in all the exhibits, as there were some really interesting things to see, if you weren’t trying to head off a child who was asking whether the robots could become weapons in the hands of psycho killers, telling the CEO how to deal with his employees (suggestions that included machine guns and money) and hugging the story teller who was meant to be a statue.
In between trying to calmly control the boy I did learn some interesting things. I had always assumed that the Mint produced our bank notes as well as our coins. Turns out that I am wrong (again!!). Not only are the notes produced by a different agency altogether, the responsibility for producing notes and the responsibility for producing coins are managed by two separate branches of government – one through the Reserve Bank and one through the Department of Treasury. Another of those great bureaucratic anomalies that has historic significance, but perhaps not a great deal of economic efficiency in this day and age?! It was also interesting to hear that the Mint has to produce a certain number (that my brain has already lost unfortunately) of coins each year in order to maintain the number in circulation. I think it was around 300,000 a year that disappear – down the backs of couches, in the bottom of bags, etc. That is quite a lot of money when you think about it that way!
The highlight was definitely the robots – so I am going back for a visit, even if it is just to see them again!