HOT: Meet the Museum Expert, Melbourne Museum, Carlton

Melbourne Museum’s regular Meet the Museum Expert series is a fascinating way to hang out with the museum’s scientists and learn about the museum’s work behind the scenes.

During the winter school holidays our family meets the Invertebrate Palaeontology Collection Manager Dr Rolf Schmidt to get some really cool insights into his team’s research and management of the museum’s fossil collections.

The session runs for two-and-a-half hours and is divided into four parts, with about 20 people in the room.

In the first part, Rolf gives a presentation on his role at the museum, and the world of fossils. It takes a pretty talented communicator to hold both adults and kids for nearly half an hour, and Rolf nails it. I’m fascinated, Mr 8 hangs off every word, and while Mr 5 needs to spend part of the time sitting on my knee, we get through with just a few whispered words of encouragement. That’s cool: The museum makes it clear that this series is designed for families with children six and up. Rolf’s really good with handling the questions and observations that the kids in the group throw at him.

Meet the Museum Expert Melbourne Museum

Part two dispenses with the theory and lets us get hands-on, splitting into small groups and searching for actual fossils in 15-million-year-old rock. It’s a beautifully designed activity, because it allows everyone to make a start: it’s easy enough to spot some of the fossils that Mr 5 has no worries getting involved, but a four-page line-up of potential finds means that I’ve got to get a bit stern with Mr 8 when the half-hour session ends, because he desperately wants to keep searching!

Rolf’s very approachable nature means the kids don’t hesitate in asking him for help, and, honestly, Mr 8 picks up the differences between all the types of fossils far more quickly than I or the other adult in our group are able to do.

Meet the Museum Expert Melbourne Museum

Part three then takes us upstairs, where we get a peek behind the scenes to see a bunch of fossils that aren’t on general display. Apparently this ability to go backstage is pretty new and something that the powers-that-be are fairly cautious about, so we get a pretty stern warning about touching stuff (and bags are left behind in a locked cupboard, lest anyone attempts to pilfer a dinosaur leg!). Some of the stuff back here is really special, almost mind-bogglingly so, given its age and historical value.

Most of this area is eyes-on-hands-off, yet Rolf manages again to engage all comers, getting down to the kids’ level so they can get a really good look at the items.

Finally, we head back to the public area for a guided tour through the museum’s ever-popular 600 Million Years and Dinosaur Walk exhibitions, replete with a few tales about how some of the collections came to be (seems there is at least one very canny and persuasive palaeontologist at Melbourne Museum!).

We’re given a cool insight into which of the displays are real, which ones are cast from real bones, and which ones are just modelled on real discoveries. Mr 8 and I enjoy trying to guess the origin of each display from the clues we’re given; Mr 5 is starting to fade a little (the subtleties of museum curation are a tad beyond him after nearly 2.5 hours), but there’s still enough going on to keep him going until the end.

Meet the Museum Expert series runs periodically and is generally suitable for adults and families with children over 6 years. Given Mr 5’s experience, I think the age recommendation is suitable, even if your under-5 child is the world’s biggest dinosaur fan. Note that children must be accompanied by an adult with a paid ticket and bookings are essential.

Click here for more things to do inside Melbourne Museum including the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery and Museum Playdates

Click here for more Places to See Dinosaurs in Melbourne

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text el_class=”thon-hot-tips-panel”]HOT Tips:

  • If you’ve been to Melbourne Museum before, you’ll probably know the drill: There’s good bus and tram access, Parliament station isn’t too far away, and there’s a big car-park downstairs (although be prepared to pay a bit). There’s also a pretty decent cafe on-site (but, again, be prepared to pay).
  • I got a bit confused about where to muster (we spent a bit of time in the museum proper before the activity). For those already inside the museum, meet just inside the spot where they check your tickets (between the ticket sales area and the Rainforest Gallery); those who aren’t going into the museum first can meet outside the paid area at the door to Activity Room A (near the escalators that go down to IMAX). But don’t do I I did and stand outside the internal door to Activity Room A (although I wasn’t there long before some very helpful and clever staff member alerted me to the error of my ways).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


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About Simon Pollard

Simon is full-time father of two boys, aged 8 and 4, who lives in Melbourne’s inner west. He is a former journalist and editor across newspapers, magazines and digital media, and enjoys sport, travel, and chocolate - sometimes all at the same time.

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