After being shuttered for more than a year for an extensive renewal project, a revamped Hyde Park Barracks reopens to the public on Friday, Feb 21. Over the imposing sandstone building's 200-year history, it has housed nearly 100,000 convict prisoners, immigrant women, and even asylum inmates. It's now a heritage museum telling the story of its former residents, and their impact on the Aboriginal communities around them, through a state-of-the-art immersive experience.
Visitors have 90 minutes to take audio-led, self-guided tours of the space. Through location-activated headphones, they hear soundscapes and first-person narratives taken from diaries, newspapers and other historical records. The cutting-edge experience was created with NYC design firm Local Projects, who are behind the 9/11 Memorial Museum and other big-name projects.
The technology really brings to life the complex history of this UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as its impressive collection of archaeological artefacts. More than 4,000 objects are on display in the new museum, including personal possessions that real people touched, used and wore – all inside those same sandstone walls.
Outside there's another story being told. Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones has used red and white gravel to create a large-scale artwork in the barracks courtyard. Untitled (maraong manaóuwi) features two familiar symbols: the maraong manaóuwi (the Gadigal term for ‘emu footprint’) and the English broad arrow insignia (representing British colonialism) installed across 2,500 square metres of the ground. For three weeks after the museum's reopening, visitors will be able to walk across it, causing the images to blur together and disintegrate.
The Hyde Park Barracks is open daily from 10am-5pm.