Reflecting a different face of democracy

One of Australia’s most iconic buildings, The Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House, has a new facelift that shows off the building’s place as a hotbed of politics.
Reflecting a different face of democracy MoAD has something for everyone with a range of exhibitions to suit various age groups. Image: supplied
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Sabine Brix

Friday 17 January, 2020

‘Dear Democracy, I hear you haven’t been well lately…’ So begins a letter written by a MoAD visitor as part of Yours Faithfully, a new exhibition with beautifully restored old typewriters that encourages people to write letters to democracy. 

The exhibition is a drawcard for younger generations who explore what life was like before texting and FaceTime. The exhibition cultivates curiosity, at once exploring democracy and educating visitors while being fun. It’s this balance that MoAD prides itself on.

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‘There certainly are serious exhibitions and topics discussed here, but it can also be fun too,’ says Brian Leadbeatter, the coordinator of museum experience at MoAD.

‘People often rock up and think: “This is a very impressive, serious, big white building,” but they come inside and find we have a warm welcome for them.’

An immersive experience

The museum is family friendly, welcoming absolutely any age group who wants to explore Australia’s political and social history. One of its most popular exhibitions is PlayUP, a hand’s on experience for both parents and their children. 

It features listening pods, roleplay for kids in the kindness café and daily facilitated craft activities. Kids can also go on a superhero trail that sends children around the museum to solve a puzzle. Leadbeatter said its scope offers broad appeal to families.

‘Mum and dad get to see the building and exhibits while the kids are engaged and have a little reward at the end,’ he said.

Walking through history

One of the things that often surprises visitors to MoAD is the access they have to a genuine historic site. You can take a seat in The Chambers and imagine yourself as a parliamentarian or step back in time to visit the Prime Minister’s suite of rooms, which have been recently restored to create an authentic 1980s office. There are newspapers, drink cans and office supplies from the decade, right down to ashtrays complete with old cigarette butts.

According to Leadbeatter, the guests have so far found this authenticity astounding.

‘A common comment is: “Oh it's like Bob Hawke and his staff have just got up and walked out for lunch or a cup of tea,”’ Leadbeatter said.

And no doubt there’s a few send ups of Hawke, Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce and other political personalities in Behind the Lines: The year’s best political cartoons. Leadbeatter says ‘poking fun at politicians’ is all part and parcel of that exhibition, but if you’re after something more serious, than you just have to head next door.

Truth Power and a Free Press opens up conversations about the media and issues affecting our democracy,’ Leadbeatter said. ‘We've had contributions from some of Australia's most respected journalists.’

Ultimately MoAD is a call to participate, whether to better understand our current democracy or reflect on the sights of some of Australia’s greatest political moments.

‘It isn’t just for people who remember this place as Parliament House. We've got something for everyone from age 0-99,’ Leadbeatter said.

Visit MoAD to learn more about the Museum of Australian Democracy and the current exhibitions that are on.
 

About the author

Sabine Brix is a writer, editor, podcaster and electronic musician with a specific interest in personal storytelling that captures the essence of why people create. She was the former Online Content Producer at Archer Magazine and editor of the LGBTI website Gay News Network.

She has produced sound art for BBC's Radio4  and composed music for the web series Starting From Now, which screened on SBS. Her debut EP is forthcoming through Parfé Records.

Follow Sabine on Twitter @sabinebrix