It may not be Sydney's cheeriest museum, but the Hyde Park Barracks Museum
may well be its most haunting. The austere Georgian structure was built in 1819 to house convicts, and over its history the building also served as an immigration depot, a women's asylum for the impoverished and a courthouse. The museum holds some 100,000 historic, everyday objects from these eras, such as buttons, aprons, shirts and stockings, many of which were acquired in the 1980s, when workers rehabbing the building discovered old rats nests. The rats had carried off the objects from the barracks' inhabitants while building their nests, so thanks to the rodents, the museum had a windfall of acquisitions. Visitors to the museum can also get an intimate glimpse of life as a convict by lying down in a prisoner's hammock, trying on a set of leg irons and learning about their daily lives. Surprisingly, the museum also houses the excellent Hyde Park Barracks Cafe; arrive hungry and order one of the specialties, like the homemade fettuccine with lamb ragout, crisp pork belly or pan-seared Australian scallops.