In the submarine exhibit kids will enjoy trying out the bunks, peering through a periscope and playing the sonar operator game, but even better is going out on the wharf and climbing down a ladder into an
actual navy submarine, the HMAS Onslow. Eyes will widen as they try to picture how sailors managed to live and move around in these cramped conditions. You can also board a replica of Captain James Cook’s ship, Endeavour; tread the decks of a restored 19th-century tall ship, the James Craig; or take part in Action Stations on the destroyer HMAS Vampire.
■ Mini Mariners – a special experience suitable for children aged 2–5 years. Be there at 10am or 11am any Tuesday in term time for an interactive gallery tour with a costumed guide, craft activities, stories and dress-ups; bookings are essential: (02) 9298 3655.
■ Kids on Deck fun day – craft activities, stories, games, puzzles and dress-ups for 5–12 year olds, 11am–3pm every Sunday; no booking required.
HMAS Vampire is one of the largest destroyers ever built in Australia and the last of Australia’s big gun ships (Australia’s fighting ships are now equipped with rocket weaponry). Have a look at the anti-aircraft guns and the three twin turrets housing 4.5-inch guns. There used to be torpedo launchers and anti-submarine mortars as well. The Vampire served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1959 to 1986. When Australian troops were sent to fight in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Vampire escorted them, but never took part in a battle.
■ Entry to the museum’s core exhibitions is free, but it is definitely worth paying for tickets to board at least one of the vessels out on the wharf. Remember to wear sensible closed shoes for clambering
up and down ladders on the vessels.
■ Be aware that the last boarding of vessels is 50 minutes before closing and there are restrictions: children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult, and children less than 90 centimetres tall are not permitted to board the Endeavour replica or the submarine HMAS Onslow. Anyone with a fear of confined spaces will want to give the submarine a miss.
■ Yots cafe has highchairs, colouring books and a great kids’ menu, but take care as the cafe is not fenced off from the water.
■ There are sometimes opportunities to sail on one of the ships from the Sydney Heritage Fleet; see www.shf.org.au