About How to Move a Zoo

The menagerie comes to the museum

This summer, join the stampede to the Museum of Sydney to discover how hundreds of animals journeyed across the city to their new home at Taronga Zoological Park in 1916. 

How to Move a Zoo, a new interactive exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, creatively reimagines the scenes when animals big and small were moved from the cramped, barred enclosures of the old zoo at Moore Park in Sydney’s east to the largely natural and spacious surrounds of Taronga, picturesquely located on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour. 

The remarkable undertaking included many memorable moments – from a tiny sugar glider who made the journey in a zookeeper’s pocket, to Jessie the elephant slowly making her way on foot, public fears of lions on the loose, and some cheeky monkeys who did try to escape from their new home. These events and more inform a playful and inventive retelling of this little-known Sydney story that will appeal to visitors of all ages. 

Animals in the archives 

The exhibition was inspired by a series of around 100 glass-plate negatives held in the NSW State Archives’ Government Printing Office collection, documenting the animals in their old home at Moore Park and in their new enclosures at Taronga. Government records also held in the archives provide insights into the complex process of conceptualising, planning and ultimately building the new zoo. Correspondence, minute books and sketch plans of the animal enclosures all help to build a picture of this unique moment in time. Newspaper stories evocatively describing the event provided a compelling starting point for an imaginative re-creation of the journey.  

Illustration of elephant and cockatoo

Illustrations © Ollie Davis illustration 2021

Discovery and wonder 

How to Move a Zoo takes visitors on an exciting and interactive journey of discovery and wonder, created by the Sydney Living Museums team in collaboration with talented local and international artists and creative agencies. A team from Sydneybased creative experience design studio Grumpy Sailor, led by Tom Siddall and Jake Mu, worked with us to distil the incredible story to key compelling moments, told through interactive digital experiences. 

Newspaper articles from the time had already anthropomorphised many of the zoo’s animals; for the exhibition, their distinct personalities have been drawn out through sensitive illustrations by Ollie Davis, a children’s illustrator and mixed-media digital collage artist, and clever animations by Sydney-based motion graphics designer Jonty de Klerk. The animals guide visitors from the moment they arrive at the museum, leading them through the entry doors and connecting the story as it unfolds across the museum spaces. 

In the immersive digital experience you can see patient Jessie lumbering, Dizzy the hippopotamus roaring, and glimpse a cantankerous bear gesturing in frustration. To further bring the dynamic scene to life, We Love Jam Studios has developed a rich soundscape that reproduces the sounds of the zoo in delightful and surprising ways. In the museum’s entry cube is a whimsical kinetic bird sculpture by paper artists Samantha Gazal and Hester Clark. The fluttering silhouettes represent the 552 birds that were relocated to Taronga, and are accompanied by the sounds of the aviary (but minus the smell and the mess!). 

Hippo on a truck.

An incredible journey 

Visitors can join the animal parade by creating their own animal mask, snapping a selfie and adding it to the digital menagerie. There are also opportunities to quietly contemplate the reality of the animals’ lives in their dreary cages at Moore Park, and the significant contrast that Taronga afforded, brought to life through historical footage and images. 

Marvel at the feat of moving the zoo through an encounter with a selection of life-size animal sculptures. Part of Jessie’s journey, along Macquarie Street to Bennelong Point in the heart of Sydney, has also been rendered in miniature by model makers Yippee Ki-Yay. The story of How to Move a Zoo, Jessie’s journey and the creation of the model will feature in a documentary series, Tiny Oz, by production company Northern Pictures, due to air on ABC TV in early 2022. 

The visitor journey extends beyond the Museum of Sydney. In acknowledgment of the Zoological Society’s consideration of both Vaucluse estate and Harris Park in Parramatta as alternative locations for the new zoo, school holiday workshops will be held at Vaucluse House in January and Elizabeth Farm in April. A display at NSW Parliament House in February will showcase the captivating 100-year-old images that inspired the exhibition, and a series of talks, programs and tours delivered in partnership with Taronga Zoo will extend the experience across the harbour. 

Explore the exhibition

Click on an image below to take a closer look.


Bob Whight, Production Manager, Production & Experiences 


This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our Members’ magazine.

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