Our visit to the Powerhouse Museum was one of the highlights of our recent trip to Sydney. I’ll be up-front about this: my boys love technology. When they were younger we regularly visited Seattle’s fine Woodland Park Zoo but as they got older and (loudly) voiced their preference in selecting family activities, the Pacific Science Center won their vote hands down every time.
I knew that if I was to have any hope of convincing them to come with me to the famous Taronga Zoo or extremely popular Sydney Aquarium I would need to start our “proper” sightseeing in Sydney with something which they would really enjoy. The Powerhouse Museum seemed to fit the bill perfectly. At AUD$40 for all of us, it also ended up being the best value for money of all the attractions we visited. We spent three very enjoyable hours at the museum and would have spent even longer there had I not goofed up our lunch plans – but more on that later.
I think I’ve been to enough science and technology museums to judge that the Powerhouse Museum really has a fantastic set of exhibits. The exhibit space is well organized, well labeled and with a good balance of interactive versus observational material. We spent most of our time in just two exhibits: Cyberworlds and Experimentations.
My weary travelers were grumbling about having to go to a museum when we made our way into the Cyberworlds area at the start of our visit. The video of Ada Lovelace taking Charles Babbage forward through time to see the effects his Difference Engine had on the world was fun – if the acting was more than a little hokey – and held my children’s attention from start to finish (about 10mins) without a single fidget (remarkable!). Following on to learn about Alan Turing and his work in deciphering the German Enigma codes during WWII was an easy transition. CAM, having just read Turing’s biography as a school project was particularly intrigued.
The rest of the Cyberworlds exhibit has interactive stations where visitors can play with digital photography – including adding sounds and image effects to a mini-movie – and large displays on the history and use of digital control systems, in traffic management for example. There are also plenty of items cataloging the evolution of the devices we use to interact with technology. My kids fell over themselves laughing when BigB spotted “Mom’s funky keyboard” (a Kenesis Contoured) on display.
We continued into the Experimentations area. This exhibit area is made up of multiple rooms of interactive exhibits covering light, radioactivity, magnetism + electricity, chemistry, taste, smell and chocolate (my favorite). It seems to me that many science and technology museums present technical material in bright playful colors and short, punchy sentences – with little meaningful detail. Not so in this area of the Powerhouse Museum. There’s plenty of detailed information on many of the exhibits especially in the section on radioactivity. Because of this, Experimentations was perfect for my older children and indeed, we spent nearly two hours just in this section ending by playing with the Motoman shown above. When BigB danced along to the Moto’s robotic disco moves I couldn’t help laughing but CAM, in true teenage style, was mortified by his brother’s antics.
By this stage, it was well past lunch time and tempers were starting to fray. I had checked in advance and verified that there was a kid-friendly cafe on site. What I totally neglected to consider was the fact that kid-friendly food in one country is not always the same as kid-friendly food in another and try as I may, my super-food-fussy boys would not be convinced that the “tasty cheese toastie” advertised was really a toasted cheese sandwich. The vernacular in Australia borrows heavily from British Isles’ English which was fine by me, but not so much for my barely-over-jetlag American children. I should have just packed some peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
And so our visit to the Powerhouse Museum came to a rather abrupt end but, based on even this partial visit I’d still highly recommend it as an excellent Sydney family activity.
Information on planning a visit to Australia.