Castle Hill Discovery Centre


Australian Museum on the move as its critters find a cool new place to call home

Peter Munro
Published: November 7, 2016

The hairy rhino is rolled out last of all the beasts from the back of the truck, then dispatched across the polished concrete floor. Every creature has its place in the scheme of things. Here, at the Australian Museum’s new storage centre, the stuffed Sumatran rhinoceros slots in neatly near a Komodo dragon and wallaroo.

The Castle Hill warehouse resembles a Noah’s Ark menagerie, without all that God stuff and two-by-two. Lions watch over lambs, seals sit near stoats, near badgers, near a reclining red kangaroo. Shelves are loaded with whale bones and plastic-wrapped baby leopards. Trolley-loads of specimens deliver new discoveries: marbled quails, black-tailed godwits, a Pondicherry partridge or two.


“I’ve been moving stuff up and down the east coast for years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” remarks a removalist, after a close encounter with a tiger. “I move office furniture, mostly.”

Close to 250,000 specimens that don’t fit within the museum’s city site are filling its first custom-built off-site storage facility, under a joint venture between the Australian Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts and Science, and Sydney Living Museums. The government-funded Castle Hill site, at the Museums Discovery Centre, contains collections from all three museums.


The new building housing the Australian Museum’s collection sits on 3000 square metres. The temperature is set at a mild 21 degrees, with relative humidity at 50 per cent.

If you squint, it could be an Ikea, albeit one containing 20,000 birds eggs, 150 seal skulls, 14 lemurs, two giraffes and a mounted ostrich. The building also houses much of the museum’s cultural collection, including paintings, canoes and 21,000 spears.

Managing the three-month move, which started in September, is Dr Anja Divljan, who has a PhD in flying fox ecology and usually works in the museum’s terrestrial vetebrates section. Stranger still, she likes moving. “It gives you an opportunity to declutter.”

Creatures are first packed in specially built stillages and frozen for seven days to kill any bugs, before being thawed and stored. Finding space for everything is a bit like Tetris, Divljan says. “I have tried to keep it neat but it’s an eclectic collection.”

The museum’s off-site stocks have moved at least six times since the 1970s, prompting chance discoveries such as an enormous sunfish inside a crate labelled “baby elephant”.

The Museums Discovery Centre offers public access to part of the collections of all three museums. The Australian Museum plans to hold guided tours of its own warehouse from next year.


“Generally, the first question we get from visitors is: ‘Is that a real animal?’,” Divljan says. And the second question? “Did you kill it?”

Most of the material has come to Castle Hill from a temporary storage site in Lilyfield, inside an old parachute factory with no air conditioning or heating. I visit on a Monday morning, when natural sciences conservator Sheldon Teare is preparing seven pallets of whale skulls and skeletons for the move.


He’s been readying the collection for removal from this aged building for more than a year, working through the winter dark and the wretched humidity of summer. “This place is pretty creepy, it makes some very weird noises,” he says. He’s not bothered by stuffed animals. “I don’t mind taxidermy eyes,” he says. “It’s paintings that freak me out – the eyes that follow you.”

We stroll past a white box marked “wallaby pink muffs”, a dinosaur turtle thing and several black plastic-wrapped stillages. “Inside those ones are two boxing red kangaroos,” he says. “There’s a lion in that one. This one could be almost anything.”


Moving a museum was never going to be easy. Objects in the oversized collection are large, heavy and dusty. Each move risks damaging the collection. Teare prefers the creatures safe and sound on a shelf somewhere. But he seems to be in the swing of this whole moving thing.

Have you ever considered a career change, I ask. “I never want to move again,” he says.


Museums Discovery Centre reopens

Historical treasures sit waiting to be discovered at the newly reopened Museums Discovery Centre

Stacey Roberts, Hills Shire Times

Margaret Simpson curator video


Millions of treasures from the state collections can be viewed at the centre, ranging from engineering and architecture to science, art, transport, fashion and design, and health and technology.

Minister for the Arts Troy Grant and Minister for Heritage Mark Speakman attended the launch of the redeveloped centre on Wednesday along with board members from each of the three museums.

Mr Grant said the upgrade was “significant money that has been exceptionally well spent”. “This is an excellent facility and it has wonderful, excellent exhibits contained in it,” he said. “They are diverse and they speak a lot about our history but also tell us a lot about what our future can be.”

Mr Speakman said the reopening of the centre was “a historic collaboration” between the three museums.


“The display store here at the Museums Discovery Centre lets Sydney Living Museum showcase many significant items, that are either too large or too fragile for the house museums,” he said. “These are items that have rarely, if ever, been seen in public before and they include archaeological remnants from some of Sydney’s most important lost colonial buildings.”

Mr Speakman said the centre was a “fantastic new facility” for Greater Western Sydney. “It compliments Sydney Living Museum’s other two visitor experiences in Western Sydney, Elizabeth Farm and Rouse Hill House and Farm.”

MDC is open at 172 Showground Road, Castle Hill, every weekday.


Click here for more details.



Powerhouse Museum Castle Hill Building I

Year: 2016
Client: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences
Location: Castle Hill NSW


Building I

In 2014 JPA&D were engaged to design a massive 9000 square metre storage building known as Building I, to provide world class storage conditions for the collections of three of the state’s cultural institutions; The Australian Museum, Sydney Living Museums and The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

The facility houses a vast range of objects and materials so secure entry foyers and transit rooms have been provided for their safe movement and control, ensuring both vermin fee and climatic specific requirements are met. Office accommodation is provided for the specialists that care for and research the collections.

JPA&D were also engaged to undertake the design of the internal fitout of the storage facility. This included a diverse range of types of storage units to accommodate the variety of items held in the collections. Whilst some units were new others were already existing and needed to be refurbished to provide a fresh, clean and cohesive appearance. Special storage units were also designed to store doors, spears and other unusual items.

Powerhouse Museum
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences website

Powerhouse Museum Castle Hill Display Building

Year: 2016
Client: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences
Location: Castle Hill NSW




The Display building, the second phase in the redevelopment of the Castle Hill site, provides a space for the display of items from the various collections.

The façade of the building has a steel frame that evokes the surrounding trees and reflects the history of the site as a eucalypt plantation. The tree motif is accentuated by the perforated aluminium panels that provide shading to the upper part of the façade. A zinc box provides the entry route through the steel trees into the interior of the space via a ramp lined with hoop pine ply panels.

The initial double height space leads through to two levels that connect back into Building E.


Powerhouse Museum
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences website


Powerhouse Museum Castle Hill Building E

Year: 2015
Client: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences
Location: Castle Hill NSW







Building E

The internal refurbishment of Building E, at the Museum’s Discovery Centre Castle Hill, was the first phase in the development of a significant new cultural facility in the area. It provides educational and staff facilities including a theatrette, video classroom facility, office space and staff facilities as well as a generous reception area to accommodate large groups. Within these spaces designed for people rather than objects, the colours are striking, with strong oranges and ochres to contrast with the neutral tones of storage and display spaces. Environmental responsibility is important to both JPA&D and to this client team and materials were selected that had recycled content, were recyclable or were biodegradable.

Associated with the internal refurbishment is a new entry to the building to accommodate large groups of visitors. From a new bus drop-off zone, a path leads through the trees to a covered entry ramp that guides the visitors to the buildings entry and the newly refurbished interior.


Powerhouse Museum
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences website