The Nicholson Museum, the first university museum in Australia, rests quietly in one corner of the Quadrangle. It was founded in 1860 by Sir Charles Nicholson, the first Chancellor of the university. According to Craig Barker, the Education Manager of Sydney University Museums, Nicholson travelled to Egypt and Italy in 1852 and acquired about 1,500 objects in methods “that were legal at the time.”
Now, a few hundred years later, it has the largest public collection of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Egyptian items in the Southern Hemisphere, or something.
Most visitors to the Museum are school students on compulsory Ancient History excursions, or parents with children, or old people—so basically everyone but actual uni students. Somewhat disgruntled, Barker says that many are ex-students now regretting not visiting the museum during their time at university. I feign outrage and then nod in agreement, carefully hiding the fact that I fit precisely into that category.
To be honest, my interest in the museum comes mostly from their newly erected ‘LEGO Pompeii’, an exhibition that reconstructs the ancient Roman city with more than 190,000 individual LEGO blocks. It was put together across 470 painstaking hours by Ryan McNaught who is Australia’s first and only LEGO Certified Professional (which apparently is now a thing; research tells me there are 13 worldwide), and who is spectacularly known as ‘the Brick Man.’
I loved LEGO as a kid, I studied Pompeii for Ancient History in the HSC, and I’m now at the end of my degree; so, the way I see it, this exhibition is me coming full circle. In a way, this exhibition IS me. Maybe I’m reading into this a little too much.
The model itself is quite amazing—it reconstructs Pompeii at the time of destruction in 79AD, but also blends the time of rediscovery in the 1700s, along with modern references (like a sneaky Pink Floyd concert live in the Amphitheatre in 1972). I have a strong urge to reach in and play with it, but am thankfully held back by the display glass. Luckily, on the side, there’s a table full of loose LEGO blocks to play with.
On my way out—having failed to build my own bigger, better LEGO Pompeii—I see a line of yellow rubber ducks on sale from the British Museum. Accompanying them is a sign that reads: “Welcome Quack! Museum ducks $10—Sphinx, Roman, Viking, Samurai, Chinese Couple, Graduation”. I try not to think about the ducks being symbolic of my experience in the museum. They stare at me with vacant eyes.