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15 September 2022

Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre opens at National Museum of Australia

A mysterious bunyip, the world’s woolliest sheep and a boy from the Torres Strait who became a dugong are some of the intriguing characters who feature in a new $9 million children’s Discovery Centre which opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre is a groundbreaking new curated space in which children aged 0–6 can explore Australian history through storytelling and play, building a lifelong love of museums in the process.

National Museum Deputy Director, Stephanie Bull, said the new Discovery Centre is an exciting new offering for families and one of the most accessible play spaces in Canberra, designed to accommodate children with different play and learning styles.

‘This new play space is unique in taking a curated approach to children’s play which is both fun and educational and we can’t wait to formally welcome families into the centre,’ Ms Bull said.

‘Early road-testing of the space with children and their carers over recent months has prompted very positive feedback and we’re confident that the new Discovery Centre will be loved by families.’

Leading Australian philanthropists Mr Tim Fairfax AC and Mrs Gina Fairfax AC supported the development of the new dedicated children’s space and said they are delighted to see the new Discovery Centre open to the public.

‘This new centre was designed to engage children with Australian stories and the work of the Museum. It provides interactive educational play onsite, and facilities to reach regional and remote communities,’ Mr and Mrs Fairfax said.

Architect Howard Raggatt, who designed the original National Museum building, said, ‘The Discovery Centre opens up a part of the Museum that was not previously easily accessed. The new space follows the form of the building and links two other galleries, completing the original path around the Garden of Australian Dreams.’

The mysterious bunyip, Chris the sheep who grew the world’s heaviest fleece, Gelam who transformed into a dugong, and Trim the cat who circumnavigated Australia with explorer Matthew Flinders, are some of the characters who children will meet in the space.

Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre Manager, Carlie Walker, said the space is designed to inspire and intrigue.

‘The elements in the space spark curiosity and promote creative play to foster a love of learning about diverse Australian stories, from an early age,’ Ms Walker said.

‘The space features meaningful stories of creation, transformation, exploration and imagination from the deep past, First Nations cultures and local history.’

The Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre will formally open on Friday 16 September 2022 with a celebratory day of free booked sessions, before paid booked sessions commence on Saturday 17 September 2022. There will also be a free public access day once a month.

Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre – background

The new Discovery Centre features two key areas, a curated Play and Learn Space for children aged 0–6 and their carers, and a digitally networked multipurpose Workshop space for children and adults, community and access groups.

Play and Learn Space

The curated Play and Learn Space will foster young children’s learning through self-guided and facilitated play, and crafts themed around animal characters and landscapes in Australia’s history and collective imagination.

The Workshop

The Workshop hosts a mixture of facilitated programming, self-guided maker and digital activities during Museum opening hours and after hours.

Experts from rural and remote communities will have the opportunity to lead classes onsite at the Museum. National Museum staff will also be able to connect digitally with remote and regional communities.

The Play Area

The specially curated Play Area engages children with five separate spaces featuring signature Australian animal stories.

Crawl space

The first area to greet the visitor is a soft and colourful infant crawl space. This is an area where toddlers can make and build while their younger siblings roll, crawl and investigate.


In the great Australian grasslands, where visitors meet Wambuwuny, the grey kangaroo, hear the Wiradjuri tale of how she got her pouch. This is a quiet area where kids can listen to the story of Wambuwuny inside one of three relaxing pods designed to mimic a kangaroo’s pouch.

Chris the sheep
Young visitors arrive in the bush to meet Chris, a record-breaking sheep, and learn how he strayed from his flock, grew the biggest fleece in history and became famous all over the world. Chris’s space is an active area where kids can follow a labyrinth designed around a sheep pen, and learn about mustering and how wool becomes our clothes.

From the bush, our adventurers move into the reefs and lagoons of the Torres Strait. Here kids can discover the story of Gelam, the boy who became a dugong, swam the breadth of the strait and transformed into many of the features that make up the islands today. In this area visitors can arrange stones in the lagoon to create an Indigenous fish trap, or gather and group shells in the way that Torres Strait Island kids do on Erub Island.

Trim the cat
Next up children can learn about Trim, the first cat to circumnavigate Australia, between 1801 and 1803 when he travelled with Captain Matthew Flinders. In this active space they’ll climb through the ships netting, turn the vessel’s wheel, look through a telescope and experience what Trim may have felt while sailing on the HMS Investigator. Within the netting structure there are quiet areas for kids to rest and relax.

From the sea, visitors move to the billabong where they meet the mysterious bunyip. There they can dance and dress up and are encouraged to act out the story of Australia’s most famous mythical creature. This is an active area where kids are surrounded by projections and the many sounds of the billabong.

Arterial’s design

The Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre was created by Arterial, a design, interactivity, and technology company.

The overarching framework for the design of the play space is a deconstructed 18th-century sloop, inspired by Matthew Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia in the HMS Investigator. This ‘ship’ inhabits the entire play space using architectural ribs, portholes and climbing structures.

Animations, viewed through the portholes, transport visitors into six different stories and environments. Each of the six stories features a different Australian animal or mythological creature. The stories are reinforced through full-body interactive play opportunities which encourage the children to become, and empathise with, the characters while acting out physical challenges.

Media contact: Diana Streak 02 6208 5091 | 0409 888 976 or

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