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Harried and hassled Mums (and Dads, and Grandmums et al) – if you live in Canberra and your little ones need a new place to play, help is at hand. When your precious one(s) is tearing your place apart, repeatedly poking the dog in the eye, making cakes in your pantry without your supervision, screaming, crying, whingeing, and otherwise driving you to distraction and quite possibly lunacy, there is a solution. The new Play Up exhibition at Canberra’s Old Parliament House may be just the ticket to get you through the day – and have a lot of fun.

Actually it’s now called the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD), and the powers that be have breathed new life into this grand old white building that was the home of Federal Parliament for more than 60 years (1927 to 1988), providing it with a new purpose and mission while maintaining the history and the charm. Designed originally as a provisional Parliament House, the building served the country well, but eventually we outgrew it without discarding it.

A meagre $2 entry fee (less if you’re a student) will get you into the House and all its treasures, and quite possibly save your sanity. Climb the central timber staircase and wander through the wide open timbered spaces, take in the massive portraits and spaces as you take a right past the Senate, and you will arrive at some of the best (and cheapest) kids’ entertainment in Canberra.

A very recent addition to the House, Play Up is actually a grown-up exploration of play and its importance in our world, dressed up in a multi-roomed, multi-coloured kids’ heaven.

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Even the entrance hallway is intriguing with contributions of mini-figurines, artworks and comments lining the walls, compliments of previous small visitors. My Miss Munchkin would be happy to spend an hour just in that little spot, pulling things off the wall and replacing them. But venture a little further and it opens up into a smorgasbord of play delights.

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There’s big blocks to make princess castles or a fort, little blocks, a table to make craft at (complete with supplies), a puppet theatre booth, a white board with giant letters, skinny and fat mirrors, masks, and more. In fact, there’s just about everything. And the book selection is amazing. You could spend hours there snuggled in the bright and brilliant beanbags or on the glorious collection of coloured crewelled cushions reading to your child – except there’s too much else to do.

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And the best thing is that it doesn’t really matter what your kids do, they can’t get into too much strife because it’s all been designed for them, to be safe and reasonably indestructible. So there’s not much, ‘Don’t do that’ or ‘don’t touch that’ directed at the kids. At Play Up, it’s their job to touch. They get to play hard, and you get to join in and have a rest at the same time.

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For the slightly older child, there’s a multi-media section where a range of thought-provoking videos can be selected and viewed, imbuing social justice material about rights and responsibilities into interesting material for kids. The current exhibition, the Right to Play, celebrates the 25th  anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In fact, there is whole world of further discovery at the Museum – from the nearby dress up room to school holiday programs, from free guided tours to art exhibitions, from Sunday music to Friday night drinks, not to mention the great cafe. Take a look at What’s On.

How extraordinary it is to watch a rogue one year old padding up and down the wide, wooden corridors of power of Old Parliament House, in the same footsteps as our Prime Ministers past, peeping into the Senate, running past the House of Reps, no security in sight. An absolute example of democracy in practice – Parliament House returned to the people.

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And how lucky are we to live in Canberra with this wonderful building and its contents and programs at our disposal for half the cost of a cup of coffee? Go along, take your friends and mothers’ group, and soak it up.

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