A priority for us on trips back to Australia is soaking up as much culture as we can. After we’ve caught up on the newest restaurants, we can be found in museums and galleries catching up on the latest exhibitions. Some of the best museums are in Melbourne, so here’s our best Melbourne museums.
Melbournians like to think that Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital, yet all of the country’s major cities boast world-class museums and galleries. Let’s not forget Sydney is home to the Opera House, the wonderful Art Gallery of NSW, and the country’s best theatre and dance companies. Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, and Darwin also have impressive museums.
Still, Victoria’s capital is home to some compelling educational and cultural spaces – we especially loved ACMI, where we saw the David Bowie show last week, and the engaging Immigration Museum.
Here’s our guide to the best Melbourne museums.
Best Melbourne Museums for Absorbing the History and Culture of the City
The Melbourne Museum
A museum of history, the natural environment, ethnography, and culture all in one, this is easily of the best Melbourne museums and is a must for families. Home to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the First Peoples exhibition is reason enough to visit, for its excellent introduction to Aboriginal languages, interactive celebration of identity told through stories handed down from generation to generation, and the wonderful section Many Nations, which has almost 500 artefacts and a hands-on activity area for kids. Like most Australian museums, tickets are expensive for foreign visitors at $14 for adults, however, a bonus is that children enter for free.
Located at Federation Square, the excellent Australian Centre for the Moving Image or ACMI is another of the best Melbourne museums, hosting temporary shows, such as Bowie, which we saw last week, but it’s also home to a fantastic permanent exhibition on the history and development of Australian cinema, television, and digital culture. They also offer a fascinating programme of film screenings, performances, discussion panels, and creative workshops. The permanent exhibition is free to enter and can easily consume a couple of enjoyable hours, which is great news for those in Melbourne on a budget. However, the touring shows like Bowie are expensive and can get terribly crowded, so are best booked ahead, online – reserve tickets for the morning slots to avoid the families with strollers.
This compact museum to Melbourne’s history of immigration and multicultural community is located in the old Customs House and is arguably one of the best Melbourne museums. Displays use a combination of personal stories, mementoes, family photos, archival images, historical documents, video, and interactive media to explore the journeys and lives of refugees and immigrants who settled in Victoria, and the contributions they have made to Australian culture and society. My Russian grandparents and mother were European refugees who spent their early months in Australia in a displacement camp, so I have a personal interest in immigration history, however, a visit here for anyone is timely considering the state of the world at the moment, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Australian government’s appalling treatment of refugees and the embarrassing horror that is the detention camp on Nauru. Make sure to save time for the Discovery Centre on the ground floor, where you can track your family’s migration history.
The Chinese were some of Australia’s earliest immigrants, arriving as far back as the colonial period, during the Gold Rush, and again in recent years as students, professionals, and tourists. The Chinese-Australian community has left an indelible mark on the country’s development, landscape, society, culture, and cuisine and is another of the best Melbourne museums. Every Australian capital city has a Chinatown, every town a Chinese restaurant, and almost every home a wok. The permanent exhibition at this petite museum in Melbourne’s Chinatown examines Australia’s Chinese heritage and its profound influence, while temporary shows might celebrate Chinese art or explore aspects of history, such as the current exhibition Queensland Dragon: Chinese in the North – a century ago Chinese migrants comprised 30 percent of that state’s population.
More Heritage Museums
If you like the sound of the Immigration Museum and Chinese Museum, you might also enjoy a few more of the best Melbourne museums for exploring the city’s multicultural history: the Hellenic Museum covers Melbourne’s Greek heritage, which dates to the colonial period (some Greeks arrived as convicts, others as early settlers and gold miners); the Jewish Museum examines Melbourne’s Jewish roots, the diverse background of Jews in Australia, and contribution of Jewish culture; and the Museo Italiano, which charts the history of early Italian-Australians, with a virtual experience covering the journey that many of the immigrants made and the impact of Italian culture on Australians. After a visit here, you’ll understand our obsession with drinking good coffee.