National Wool Museum

I like museums. Not so much for learning stuff, but for seeing how they are put together and presented. I also like wool. I haven’t been a huge wool wearer in the past, but I have recently discovered that wearing wool is a great way to combat the Melbourne cold. On my recent trip to Geelong I took a look inside the National Wool Museum and learnt all about the role wool played in the growth of Geelong and Australia in general and also got to see a museum that is in need of some tlc.

I’ve always been meaning to visit Geelong. I had planned to visit the city on my last three trips to Victoria, but never managed to find the time to go. Last week I finally made my way to the port city on the very comfortable, but twenty minutes late, V/Line train. Once in Geelong I started looking around for something to do. The tourist maps on the street corners blatantly point everyone in the direction of the National Wool Museum by placing it first on the list of hotspots. After a bit of a wander through the city streets and a quick bite for lunch I headed towards the museum.

The museum is housed in a beautiful bluestone building and occupies a large area of floorspace over four storeys. The central void contains a very large loom which is used to produce some quite ordinary looking rugs. The first disappointment of the day was that the loom was out of order. I would have loved to have seen it in operation.

The first of the museum rooms contains the history of sheep farming and wool production in Australia. This part of the museum, while looking a little bit tired now, is really well done. The space is dark but cosy and there are lots of things to interact with and touch, including different types of fleece and wool in its various stages of refinement.

Across the void and in the second museum area is the From Fleece to Fabric display, which traces the process of turning wool into finished garments. While not quite as well laid-out as the first room, this exhibit does contain a large number of machines with explanations on what they do and how. This leads me to the second disappointment of the day – the sock knitting machine was also out of order. I feel as though I should have been given a discount on the entry fee considering two of the main interactive displays were broken. The highlight of this area was the mill worker’s house, which contained a living room and kitchen kitted out in 1950s stuff that you could actually walk around in.

The remainder of the museum space houses a few display areas for changing exhibits. The upstairs gallery contained a scarf competition and one of the volunteers mistook me as one of the scarf designers. I guess my knitting-prowess is already starting to show in the way I walk. A BoxWorld city made from recycled boxes was on display in the lower gallery. I didn’t really understand it but the kids around it seemed to love it.

In the obligatory museum shop you can buy all sort of woollen rubbish. It was very sad comparing what was available here to the kinds of woollen genius you see created by Pop Craft, Wool and the gang or Erika Knight. It feels like the Wool Museum hasn’t quite kept up with where wool is at right now, which is a bit of a shame.

The tourist signs suggested that a trip to Geelong would be incomplete without a visit to the National Wool Museum, and I would have to agree. I really enjoyed spending an hour or so learning about wool in this historic building and I’m sure it’s even better when the loom and sock knitter are actually working!

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