Ok, hands up if you have driven to the Island from San Remo across the bridge. You passed the little airport on the left with the helicopters, next door to a big warehouse type building on a dirt road with a sign about vietnam vets museum, wondered about it for a second and kept going to the major tourist traps. Yeah, me too.
My wife and I are not veterans and have no family connections to the Vietnam war.
But, on this trip we decided to stop and take a look. Our museum visit commenced mid-afternoon.
Wow.. This has got to be one of the best-value under-publicised treasures on the Island.
You don't have to be a veteran, or even associated with the services, to be enthralled by this museum. There are so many aspects and objects of 1960's-70's life on display that every teenage and older visitor will find something to connect with. If you've hiked, camped, or served as a volunteer in Australia in the past few decades, chances are you will recognise the army surplus stuff on display that you have used yourself. The clothing and uniforms show how sizes were noticeably smaller back then and just how young the soldiers were.
Aside from the 'entertainment value' of this museum I must point out that a visit will also educate you about what really happened with Australia's involvement in the war and help you better understand the contribution and sacrifices made by the veterans. They have recently added a significant amount of material contributed by our friends across the ditch in New Zealand.
If you are planning a Vietnam holiday, a visit to this museum should be part of your pre-trip research.
For the younger children in your party, the large machines on display may be of interest but stopping them from climbing on the exhibits will be a challenge. A lot of the objects are displayed in the open (not behind glass) and the Do Not Touch policy is in effect. Do your research before visiting to establish whether the need to supervise your kids will undermine the visit for you.
Previous reviewers have already talked about the holographic presentation which is a must-see starting point for your visit.
Then there is the whole ground floor hall of exhibits, stories, objects, equipment..and, yes, lots of guns and ammo. After almost 2 hours exploring this bit I made it to the back of the hall only to discover a second hall just as big behind it full of trucks, tanks, helicopters and other big stuff.
Ran out of time at this point (polite volunteer came through saying they are locking up in 10 minutes) and happened to look up on the way out to realise there is a whole second storey boardwalk of further exhibits. There is probably more to see outside as well but it should be obvious by now there is plenty to occupy half a day or more.
Do check their website when planning your visit.
It is light on detail and doesn't really indicate just how big the collection is and how much time you will need for a visit but it is a good starting point. I found out afterwards that guided tours for groups or individuals are available at no extra cost.
The volunteers are friendly and helpful. Call them or make contact via the website if you have questions not covered by the published material.
This museum is good value at the current full entry prices, but holders of memberships to motoring organisations like RACV can get significantly discounted entry. Carers can get free entry.
If you have a PIE pass (Phillip Island Experience) then that includes a 20% discount on entry.
In addition, if you run out of time on your first visit to see everything, like I did, there is a Repeat Visitor pass available for purchase. Quoting from their website...
Great value - $5.00 per head
If you are planning to visit us again soon, don't forget to purchase a Repeat Visitor Pass before you leave. To find our more, have a chat with our friendly counter staff.
This pass is valid for 6 months from the date of your visit and it must be purchased at that time.
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If you feel after visiting that the quality of the museum was worth more than the charged entry price (or free entry) there are several donation boxes available to vote with your loose change.
I suggest you visit in the morning to allow yourself plenty of time to look around. If you decide it's not your thing then the rest of the Island is within easy reach but if you find it as fascinating as I did you'll be grateful for the early start. I'll be going back to check out that second hall, the upstairs boardwalk and whatever is hiding behind the shed.
Do yourself a favour and visit this place. If you're driving down from Melbourne put the left indicator on as you pass the airfield.You'll be glad you did.
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