Hyde Park Barracks - review by Rusty Compass
Sydney | see and do guide

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Hyde Park Barracks

| 03 May 2023
Hyde Park Barracks
Macquarie St, Sydney
Check hours
Free as of 2023
03 May 2023

The 1819 Hyde Park Barracks is one of the oldest convict sites in Australia. It's a World Heritage listed serious piece of history designed by convict architect Francis Greenway under Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Inside is a museum remembering convict life, the building's time as a women's immigration depot, and Indigenous dispossession. In 2023, admission is now free. If you're into history, this place is worth a visit - though it seems to underperform its standing as Sydney's main convict heritage site.

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Convict designed and built, Hyde Park Barracks is one of the best surviving remnants of Sydney's convict period that ran between 1788 and 1840.

The barracks was commissioned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie and opened in 1819.

The governorship of Lachlan Macquarie between 1810 and 1821 is considered a momentous period in the evolution of New South Wales from penal colony to prosperous colonial outpost.

The former prison barracks and women's migration centre has long been a Sydney tourist attraction. In 2020, it reopened following an $18 million upgrade. Strangely a US based company was brought in to produce the new version of stories incorporated into the upgrade. That's probably more a reflection on the state of history in Sydney than the skill of our storytellers. It's hard to imagine many cities bringing in outsiders to tell our deepest historical stories.

This should be one of the best museums in Sydney, in one of its finest historic buildings. But it's not quite there. The 2020 refurb fitted it out with fancy tech and made sure the old building was up to another century of operation. But it may have gone too far in the tech department.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney
Sleeping quarters - Hyde Park Barracks
Photo: Mark Bowyer Sleeping quarters - Hyde Park Barracks

If you're an old-fashioned museum junkie like me, you may find the straitjacket of the audio presentation stifling. Everything is automated and it works off sensors that follow you around. I found it clunky. Sometimes the sensors jumped between presentations. Sometimes I wanted more, Sometimes I wanted less. But you're in the hands of the tech Gods.

You may also find yourself craving some old-fashioned explanatory panels as I did. There is almost no text used and no opportunity for deeper exploration of subjects. It feels a little too smart.

The idea of a one-size-fits-all narrative or museum experience is problematic. This place seems to be intended purely for the Tik Tok generation.

I was also disappointed by the heavy-handed display cases in a heritage building that needs little decorative help.

It's a rigid immersive experience from the New York based people who did the World Trade Centre monument there.

It's possible to take a wander around the building - that'll still give you a pretty good sense of the historic space.

Hyde Park Barracks is a World Heritage listed convict site. The exhibits cover the building's life as a convict barracks and a women's immigration centre. It also examines the dispossession of indigenous peoples - though there's a confusing lack of focus on the Indigenous experience in the immediate area around the original Sydney penal settlement.

Recommended - Allow 90 mins.


Rusty Compass listings are always independent. We list the places we think you should know about. That's it. We always disclose any commercial arrangements and we received no inducement of any kind for this listing.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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