The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks is a cutting-edge museum that brings Sydney’s past to life through a series of innovative and immersive experiences.
Built in 1819 by convict labour under the commission of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the Hyde Park Barracks were originally designed as a place to house up to 600 male convicts.
The Barracks, over time, have also been an immigration depot, asylum, law courts, government offices hospital and mint. It is now a museum and cafe and one of 11 Australian convict sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Hyde Park Barracks reopened in February 2020 after an $18 million renovation. The new experience at the Barracks allows visitors to authentically experience life in the past with a series of immersive activations and groundbreaking audio technology.
Allow at leat 90 minutes to experience the full guided audio tour, which involves an audio device and attached headphones. There is very little written information around the Barracks, so the best way to enjoy the experience and take away as much as possible is by following the audio tour.
The tour takes visitors around the various parts of the Barracks and gives a mixture of information, recreated sounds and stories of the people who found themselves living here for a time.
There is no need to look for numbers on walls to press “play” in this tour – the clever technology senses when the visitor leaves one room and enters another so cuts off the section it is playing from one room and starts on the next as soon as it is entered. It makes for a seamless and easy experience.
There are over 4000 original artefacts on display throughout the tour, from the 100,000 personal and precious fragments that were recovered from beneath the floorboards during the first renovation of the Barracks.
These are items that had been left behind or stashed for safekeeping by convicts, women and court workers now tell a riveting story of life in the Barracks. As visitors walk through the audio tour, the stories of these artefacts become the voices of people, bringing their experiences to life in a sometimes confronting fashion that can’t be looked away from or ignored.
The Aboriginal history of the barracks is also brought to light and life as part of the renovation, with the complete story of this piece of Australia’s history finally being told.
Coinciding with the reopening of the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Living Museums and the City of Sydney’s Art & About program are presenting untitled (maraong manaóuwi), a major site-specific installation by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones in the courtyard surrounding the central Barracks building.
This mesmerising installation looks at the symbols of the emu footprint and English broad arrow as a way of understanding history and cultural relations. There are over 2000 symbols covering the 2500sqm of the HYde Park Barracks courtyard, designed to be churned up and destroyed underfoot as visitors engage with it.
The bathrooms have also been renovated and now visitors have access to brand-new bathrooms that include a large family room with change table and nursing chair.
The new disabled toilet includes a shower.
Accessibility was an important part of the renovation, with the aim to make the new experience accessible to all people abilities.
A new elevator was installed inside the three-floor Barracks central building, plus a series of ramps and courtyard matting that makes it easy for wheelchairs to traverse the gravel courtyard.
Two additional audio tours are in development. One for families that gives a more kid-friendly version of the tour and one that provides an accessible tour through the experience.
Queens Square, Macquarie Street Sydney
Phone: +61 2 8239 2288
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
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Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!