From walking with butterflies to making puppets, there’s a swag of new kids’ attractions across the country, reports Barry Oliver
MEMORIES of a childhood spent chasing clouds of butterflies through fields, swooshing at them with a little net at the end of a bamboo cane, come flooding back at Sydney Wildlife World. I would put my fluttering prizes into glass jars for closer examination and many, I am ashamed to admit, ended up pinned to a board in my so-cool butterfly collection.
So it’s with more than a tinge of guilt that I enter Flutterbys at Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the two-storey home of some of Australia’s most spectacular tropical butterflies. Flutterbys cost $1 million to build, making it the most expensive area of Sydney Wildlife World.
Before July, viewing was from behind a glass screen. That has changed with a development that has included building a second-level walkway in the house, allowing visitors to interact with the colourful residents at close quarters.
There are 400 to 600 butterflies here and quite a few take a liking to landing on the back of my neck (I try to be brave about it). I take it as revenge for what I did to their distant relatives all those years ago, but senior invertebrates keeper Boris Lomor says it’s colour that attracts them. If you want them to land on you, wear something bright.
I ask Lomor if children chasing the butterflies are a problem, but Lomor says youngsters are usually too fascinated. On cue, a little boy darts after one fine specimen, which nonchalantly flits out of harm’s way.
With its version of Queensland’s tropical rainforest, 30C temperature and 70 per cent humidity, it’s hard to believe we are in one of Sydney’s busiest areas. The environment is computer-controlled and the steamy humidity is helped by two tumbling waterfalls. Lomor says the sunnier the day, the more active the butterflies.
I am surprised I can’t see more flowers to provide food, until our guide points out the brightly coloured feeders that are laced with artificial nectar: sugar, water and glucose. They perceive them as flowers,’’ he says. The butterflies don’t usually reproduce here: pupas are supplied by breeders in Queensland and hatched in a temperaturecontrolled room at Darling Harbour. Replacing them is an ongoing process. Butterflies, whose ancestors date back 50 million years, live for just two months at best.
They are also fighting for survival. was the last time you saw a butterfly in the wild?’’ I’m asked, and I have to admit I can’t recall. Of the 416 Australian species, about 30 are under threat, including two in Queensland: the iridescent blue ulysses swallowtail and the lime green and canary yellow Cairns birdwing. Both float by as we are chatting.
Sydney Wildlife World is working with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to create sanctuaries across the country where butterflies can flourish. It’s hoped Flutterbys will raise awareness about the threat to our butterflies. Lomor says shrinking habitat is the main problem but he remains optimistic. They have a better chance of survival than some birds and mammals, according to Lomor.
‘‘ They are not threatened much by predators (other than man),’’ he says. ‘‘ If we can preserve their habitat they have a good chance.’’ www.sydneywildlifeworld.com.au. WEAR a soldier’s uniform, peer through a submarine periscope, rappel from a helicopter: the new Discovery Zone at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra (admission free) offers children a totally different experience.
Key places and times from Australia’s military history are represented in five interactive areas designed for (but restricted to) eight to 13-year-olds.
The Discovery Zone is described as a ‘‘ nontraditional learning environment’’, but it has a serious purpose: to help Australians of all ages understand the experience of war.
It uses hi-tech features such as odourama, whereby children can smell mustard gas (not the real thing, parents will be relieved to know) as computer-generated rats scurry around. In the World War I trench, an optical illusion projects trench foot (a condition caused by wet and cold conditions) on to their own feet. On the Vietnam set they can hear
not the thud-thud of www.awm.gov.au.
off. MUSIC is taking centre stage at Melbourne’s Scienceworks Museum with Strike a Chord, a new interactive show featuring more than 20 exhibits. Conduct your own orchestra, record and produce your own digital music, play in an air band.
There’s a floor piano where visitors step on giant keys to create a tune; a light harp, an instrument that creates music from light beams; and the so-called top spot, an area of simple percussion instruments that children under the age of five can explore to their heart’s content.
‘‘ The exhibition is all about looking at the many disciplines of science and using fun and exciting musical interactive exhibits to showcase how music is made, heard and experienced,’’ manager Genevieve Fahey says.
Strike a Chord was developed by Canberra’s Questacon and will be at Scienceworks until May 2008. There will be extra activities during national Science Week, August 18 to 26. www.scienceworks.museum.vic.gov.au. IT started in the late 1950s, with a local throwing scraps to a few mullet at Doctors Gully in Darwin. As these things tend to do, it escalated until it reached the status of Aquascene, a full-blown attraction.
At high tide each day hundreds of fish — milkfish, bream, catfish, mullet, barramundi, rays, cod, mangrove jack and diamond fish — turn up looking to be fed. There’s no shortage of visitors, young and old, willing to oblige (bread is supplied). Times vary according to tides. www.aquascene.com.au. CHILDREN love puppets, whether it’s watching or making them. Fremantle’s Spare Parts School of Puppetry in Western Australia covers both bases.
Its holiday program for children includes all areas of making, performing and developing skills in the art of puppetry. One and two-day workshops will run in October, split into four and five-year-olds and six to 13-year-olds. Prices from $45 to $93.50 a child.
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, one of Australia’s leading producers of theatre for children and families, will be performing Tim Winton’s The Deep in the October school holidays. Visitors can also check out the interactive puppet museum in the foyer of the theatre in Short Street, Fremantle. www.sppt.asn.au. CHILDREN can explore icy Antarctica without leaving the Apple Isle in one of the latest showings at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Islands to Ice: The Great Southern Ocean & Antarctica exhibition is described as ‘‘ an invitation to journey south from Hobart across wild sapphire oceans to the crystal desert of the Antarctic’’.
It explores the perceptions and the myths surrounding Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: ‘‘ The places, the people, the creatures and the phenomena that make the great southern wilderness a world of its own.’’ There’s a 3-D theatre and several hands-on activities. Visitors, young and old, can use a compass to find the south magnetic pole on a large map made of ice, use a computer to track penguins, albatross and seals, touch an emperor penguin chick or a whale tooth and find out what the weather’s like in the Antarctic. www.tmag.tas.gov.au.
SKIING and children may not sound as if they go together but these days snow resorts are more than happy to roll out the red carpet for little visitors.
Take Victoria’s Falls Creek, where Pete the Snow Dragon keeps a smile on the faces of kids, as well as mums and dads. There’s a terrain park among the snow gums especially for children (expanded for this winter). Parents can drop off youngsters at the purpose-built Kids Snowsports School at the top of the express chairlift and head off for a morning or afternoon on the slopes while their youngsters try their hand at skiing or snowboarding. When the lifts close, Pete the Snow Dragon takes centre stage in his own show every Wednesday and Saturday from 5pm. www.fallscreek.com.au. NIGHT-TIME visitors to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Queensland’s Gold Coast are in for a totally different experience. Be prepared for sugar gliders, northern bettongs, Tasmanian devils, owls and even spiders on its Wildnight Adventure. Or hand-feed kangaroos and cuddle a koala during a 21/ 2- hour tour that includes an Aboriginal dance performance.
Experts are ready to help on this unusual hands-on tour that runs seven nights a week, from 7.15pm. Adults $49; children (four to 13) $27. www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au. YOUNGSTERS can turn archeologist at The Rocks Discovery Museum in Sydney. Children dress up as Junior Discoverers and dig up objects buried in ‘‘ soil’’ (actually a form of rubber) while experts are on hand to unravel the stories behind their finds. The 45-minute sessions $5) run during school holidays, from 11am to 2pm. www.rocksdiscoverymuseum.com.au. Barry Oliver was a guest of Sydney Wildlife World.
Admission to Sydney Wildlife World (including Flutterbys) is $28.50 for adults; $14.50 children; $68 for a family of four. It includes interactive shows and nine ecosystems with spiders, cockroaches, snakes, lizards, koalas, nocturnal mammals, wallabies, cassowaries — the world’s most dangerous bird — and wombats.
Family assortment: Clockwise from above, Strike a Chord at the Scienceworks Museum; butterflies at Flutterbys; Pete the Snow Dragon; the Australian War Memorial’s Discovery Zone
In the trenches: Discovery Zone