During my recent trip to Melbourne, I was invited along to a new attraction in the city: The Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery. It’s a part of the long-established Melbourne Museum and is designed to appeal to children aged from birth until five years of age.
I simply had to accept the invitation for two reasons. Firstly, I simply love museums and frequently take my kids to the Natural History and Science Museums in London. Secondly, numerous mum bloggers have explored and written about the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery. examples include this one, from Danielle, who writes Bubs on the Move and this one on the Tot Hot or Not blog. I, however, was the first dad blogger to be invited along.
Truth be told, I found this quite amusing. Here I was, a pommie, 12,000 miles from home and the first dad blogger to formally check out this new attraction. I couldn’t help thinking it was rather like Australia participating in the Eurovision Song Contest!
Let’s get back to the Gallery itself. It opened in December 2016 following a AUS$5.8m (£3.6m) investment and significant testing with children, parents and learning and play specialists. It is named after a well known Australian philanthropist who made a very significant donation to the project.
The aim was to produce a space for kids where they could have fun and learn through play from birth until the age of five. There is a significant point to this: apparently there is a shortage of attractions in Melbourne for kids under the age of three so this was an attempt to redress the balance.
There was also a desire to produce a space suitable for modern families. By that I mean all different types of families: nuclear, single parent, stay at home dads, stay at home mums, foster families and inclusive of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
I made a short video while I was visiting the Gallery. I’ve embedded it below. Please do click on play to see what I thought of it.
When walking into the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery, you pass a quieter area designed for younger children and a replica of a train tunnel because, as we all know, kids love trains. There are seats around the outside of the quieter areas so parents and carers can look on and watch as children make their way through tunnels and use age appropriate toys.
You also pass a ginormous buggy park and I was very impressed at the way every single stroller was pushed in place at precisely 45 degrees. I dread to think what happens to anyone that doesn’t park their buggy properly.
A very popular attraction for the young kids is the Camouflage Disco. In this area, shapes, animals and patterns are projected onto the floor. The area is surrounded by mirrored walls, adding to the effect and the children seemed to love it, chasing the various projections around while parents and carers got a few moments to sit down and relax.
Bang in the centre of the gallery is a large climbing frame. Designed for children aged three and above, it is very colourful and certainly makes for an eye-catching centrepiece. It is also enclosed so there’s no threat of kids tumbling out of it and hurting themsleves.
The one thing I found fascinating about this was that there were no parents in the frame at all. Back at home, I would expect to find a liberal smattering of adults in such an attraction, helping kids along. Could this be a cultural difference between Australia and the UK or simply very good, child-friendly design? I have no idea but I would happily sit back and let my two go wild in such a climbing frame while I looked on from the outside.
Around the outside of the climbing frames are display cases full of various artefacts, book shelves and even a comfortable area where kids can sit down and listen to lullabies and other stories. Roughly speaking, this area is circular in shape with only one way in and out making it easier to keep an eye on little ones.
This being Australia, there is an area on the inside dedicated to telling indigenous aboriginal stories. Out in the garden, a couple of frog sculptures tell the indigenous story of Tiddalick, the greedy frog who caused a water shortage by drinking it all.
There’s no denying the interior is a little on the manic side. The garden, however, is a quieter space.
Children with autism or those who simply want a quieter time of it will enjoy this space. You can explore geological features or go digging for dinosaur bones or fossils in several different sandpits. There are also shaded areas a cafe and you’ll find a statue of penguin hiding out there if you look hard enough (Melbourne famously having a colony of penguins living on St Kilda beach).
Has Melbourne Museum achieved its aim and produced a space inclusive and accessible to all families? Unfortunately my kids didn’t travel with me so I am unable to give their verdict.
I can, however, see it appealing to them in a big way. I’ve seen my daughters enthralled by attractions like the Camouflage Disco and Izzy is the most amazing climber so I’m sure she’d love the climbing frame. I can well imagine the challenge of unearthing fossils and bones would have appealed to them. Thinking of my own kids and seeing how the kids present were getting along, I think it’s safe to say the gallery has proved itself.
As for being inclusive, well, you won’t be surprised to hear there were a lot of mums present. That said, I wasn’t the only dad in attendance and I certainly didn’t feel out of place, as us guys sometimes can do in such places, especially on a weekday (I visited on a Wednesday). What shone out at me was the number of grandparents who were there with kids. It was very noticeable so age is clearly no barrier to visiting. I can’t comment to any great degree as I only visited once, but it certainly seemed like Gallery had broad appeal.
My British readership may struggle to pop over to Melbourne any time soon. The internet, however, is an international place so regardless of whether you are a Victoria or Melbourne resident or, like me, a pommie passing through, you can find more information including opening hours and ticket prices online at the Museum Victoria website.