24 March 2018

The only guide you'll ever need to the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum

Some people mark the end of their treatment for cancer by going to Disneyland or swimming with dolphins. I celebrated the end of my treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome by visiting the Reserve Bank of Australia museum. Don't hate me cause you ain't me.

You may not even have known there was a museum at the Reserve Bank of Australia HQ, which is on Martin Place in the Sydney CBD, bucking the trend of Australian government entities being based in Canberra. I didn't know there was a museum there, until I happened to be walking past after completing treatment at the Sydney Hand Hospital and saw the small sign proclaiming the existence of a museum. I decided to go in and take a look. I figured somebody should.



I neglected to take a camera to capture my experience in the full, rich detail it deserved, so photos are from the Reserve Bank Museum website. It was less busy when I visited. Considerably less busy. In fact I was the only person there, and the nice but not overly friendly lady behind the desk look slightly startled to see me (although people often look slightly startled to see me, once including John Cleese. But that's another story). She walked me in, explained the layout and exhibits, and told me there was a university group visiting from Sweden I think it was? and I was welcome to join there tour if I wanted, but I'm sure none of you will need smelling salts to learn that I decided I'd have a look around for myself.


The museum is dedicated not to the economic history of Australia in general, with all its panics, crashes and housing bubbles, but to the history of Australian currency manufacture, a very specific and odd focus, considering Australian money is printed elsewhere - at Cragieburn in Victoria, for those of you playing at home - and one that may well be rendered completely redundant by technology in a few years. They do not give out free samples, although I'm sure every Dad whose ever visited asks.

Image showing a £20 note

For history buffs or those who like to reminisce fondly about old money, the museum is interesting enough in a low grade sort of way, with chronologically organised displays ranging from a brief and unsatisfactory paragraph about the barter system in traditional Aboriginal society; through rum currency; shillings and pence, the introduction to decimal currency (Menzies wanted to call the Australian monetary unit the Royal, I learn with very little surprise) and on to the bragging rights to our world leading polymer currency. I never did find the Swedes, but I did run into a class of bored and unhappy 12 year olds being lectured by a museum guide about the introduction of polymer currency, with the new $5 featuring a portrait of the Queen "...of course this was in 1992, when she was considerably younger". "Well, we've all lost some bounce since then", I chimed in helpfully, but receiving only blank looks, I decided it was time to call a halt to my brief new career as assistant docent, and moved on.

I was pretty much done with the museum after about fifteen minutes, but didn't want to leave quite so soon. When I visit these niche museums, I'm always worried that if I leave too soon, I'll hurt the staff's feelings. You walk past the guides on your way out, and feel you've let them down somehow. "I'm sorry, you've got a great little museum here, but it's just not what I'm looking for right now." But I was hungry and tired, and decided I was going to have to make a break for it. Luckily on my way out the nice guide lady was busy with actual Reserve bank staff, so I was able to leave without upsetting anyone, unless they read this guide, and I'd like to think I'm actually encouraging people to check it out for themselves.

The Reserve Bank of Australia Museum is located at 65 Martin Place, Sydney, and is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays and NSW bank holidays. The author traveled on an Opal and has this weird itch on the back of her knee.

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