Launceston is fast gaining a reputation as a city where the arts and culture can thrive. This isn’t something new though as after all, its most famous museum was established more than a century ago.
The Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, or simply QVMAG, is one of the most visited attractions in Launceston. It’s Australia’s largest regional museum and the largest of its kind not to be located in any one of the state capitals.
QVMAG’s history dates back to 1891, when it was opened as the Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The name was later changed to the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery to avoid confusion with the museums of the state of Victoria. The museum was housed in a two-storey building with a display of minerals on one level and art on the next. In 1907 a zoological gallery followed.
For a little over a century the museum’s extensive collection was housed in the same building on the edge of Royal Park on the eastern bank of the Tamar River. However, in 1998 a new site was developed. This new site was at the old 1870s Launceston Railway Yard at Inveresk on the northern bank of the North Esk River.
Today the Inveresk site in Invermay Road houses the Queen Victoria Museum while the original building at Royal Park houses the Queen Victoria Art Gallery. At Inveresk, the old railway workshops have been preserved and this is also where you’ll find the social history and natural history collections. Among the permanent exhibits is the fascinating Tasmanian Connections, with dinosaurs, rocks, objects from the convict and bushranger days and even artefacts from the first merchant ship that sank in Australian waters, the Sydney Cove. Other exhibits include items from Tasmania’s railway past, tools and other items from the old workshops that make up The Blacksmith Shop, as well as an exhibit about the extinct Tasmanian tiger. Children and those grown-ups who never really did grow up will love the interactive science exhibits of The Phenomena Factory. The museum site also houses the Planetarium.
At the Royal Park site you’ll find the vast collection of art and design objects dating from Tasmania’s colonial past, through to contemporary arts and design. A bit of exotic colour comes in the form of the Guan-Di Temple, a working Chinese temple with artefacts and ceremonial objects that came from temples in the mining towns of Northeast Tasmania, where significant populations of Chinese miners came to build a new life.
At each site there is both a shop and a cafe, open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm every day except Good Friday and Christmas Day. These are the opening times for the museum and the art gallery too. To travel between the two sites, you can catch the Tiger Bus, which runs throughout the day. It will also take you to other sights in Launceston and is free.