Hidden in a backstreet in Sydney’s Darlinghurst is the Australian Museum of Magical Arts and if you’ve ever wanted to know how to saw a woman in half without embracing your inner Dexter, you’re going to want to add it to your list of things to do in Sydney – sharpish. Find out why in our review of the The Australian Museum of Magical Arts tour.
There’s A Magic Museum in Sydney?
How I ended up writing this Australian Museum of Magical Arts review on a cold Tuesday night was somewhat spooky.
I was sitting in bed one Saturday morning trying to decide where to go for a walk. I do this a lot so I am no a stranger to the google map of Sydney but this day something new appeared – a tiny marker for the Australian Museum of Magical Arts.
I hadn’t seen that before….it was, erm like magic!
Faster than you can pull the proverbial rabbit from the proverbial hat I messaged Kendall, my partner in crime for all mystical outings.
This is a woman who has been on stage with Penn and Teller and stayed in the Magic Castle hotel so she could go drink in the bar normally only open to registered masters of magic. ‘Have you been to the magic museum in Sydney?’;
I asked… the answer was a surprised no and tickets were booked immediately.
What Do You See in the Australian Museum of Magical Arts?
I can’t tell you that!
You see the first thing you do on your arrival into the flag-covered foyer of the Australian Museum of Magical Arts is to agree to the Magician’s Oath which states
’As a Magician, I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician unless that one swears to uphold the Magician’s Oath in turn.’
You’re not allowed in the building until you agree to it.
Once you do though all bets are off. I now know how to do card tricks, how to make someone levitate, saw someone in half and turn a girl in a spangly outfit into a puma if I ever feel the need to do so.
Admittedly, the second half of the Magicians oath is that you will also not perform any of said feats until you’re good enough to not reveal how it’s done so I’ve got a while to go yet before I can out-Copperfield anyone but we all have to start somewhere.
When Do the Tours Occur?
You can tour the museum six times a week.
There are tours at 11.30 Tues-Friday and 1.30 Saturday and Sunday which are open to all ages (add that to your list of weekend activities in Sydney!) or Tuesday evenings from 7pm which is over 18s only.
The fact that the night time tour came with cheese and wine sold us and so, the next Tuesday we found ourselves standing outside a simple building in Darlinghurst with no real idea of what to expect next.
Dead on time the door opened and we met James, our guide for the night.
The Tour Begins…
Dressed in a simple white t-shirt and black jeans, James was absent of magician stereotypes; no tailcoat, no wayward hankies, no wand – the only clues to any mystical tendencies was the pentangle tattooed on his arm, but one card trick later and credentials were confirmed.
In fact, James is James Karp one of Australia’s most respected magicians.
James fell in love with magic after meeting two of the world’s most famous magic meisters, Seigfried and Roy, in Las Vegas. He was soon welcomed into Vegas magical circles learning the (literal) tricks of the trade.
After his time in Vegas, James came back to Oz and successfully performed his illusion based show around Australia for years.
Now based in Sydney, he runs the Magician’s Cabaret, home to weekly magic shows, Sydney’s coolest secret bar (it only opens when shows are on or by private appointment) and the Australian Museum of Magical Arts.
The tour starts with a brief precis of James’ background, who he has worked with and how magic as a career started for him, then, fully oathed up you enter the tiny theatre for a glass of wine, the aforementioned cheese (both rather nice!) and to start your museum tour.
They Need to Rename This Tour
Museum Tour does not give any idea of what’s about to follow…
See, while there are magic artefacts dotted around the place – like plans for the original gizmos and gadgets that let magicians carry out their illusions and pictures of spellcasters from days gone by, a museum tour does not really describe how the next 90 minutes is going to pan out.
Museum makes it sound like you’re going to be staring things in glass cases, not taking part in tricks, standing in props and laughing like a drain at James’ descriptions of his past stage outfits – he rocked an open-necked pirate shirt and a curly perm for quite some time – and how he created his on-stage pose with a little help from Tom Jones.
You also learn why the really tricky job in any magic act is actually that of the Magician’s Assistant – that’s a job that requires some seriously unique skills.
Now That’s Magic!
Until James stood in front of us with a pack of cards that night, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a magic show, but it all came flooding back when James tricked us with his first card trick. Even once I learned the secret as to how its done it’s still an amazing feat.
Next up we got on stage and learned how to make a woman levitate and then stood in the secret box from which women can appear in a puff of smoke.
Sawing a woman in half, turning them into tigers, I know how it’s all done now and while every illusion of childhood was being shattered, it was super cool to find out what really happens.
You know magic isn’t real – well, stage magic anyway, I’m still holding out for witchcraft and unicorns – but knowing how it’s done really does make you feel like you’re in a secret club.
Talking of clubs….at the end of the night, you adjourn to the sofas within the museum’s uber cool bar for a cocktail or two and a chance to ask James’ more questions.
If you’re lucky he’ll let you play with the cute white bunny he uses in his act – and his grumpy black cat (of course it’s black) might deign to stop sulking that there are people on its sofa and let you pat it!
I wish I could tell you more details about our night, I wish I could show you more pictures, reveal more secrets, but I took an Oath – plus, you really need to experience this one for yourself. It’s got to be one of the most fun things to do in Sydney at night – it’s definitely one of the most original.
Trust me. I’m a Magician.
Where is the Australian Museum of Magical Arts?
It’s located on Riley Street in Sydney’s Darlinghurst about a 10-minute walk from Sydney’s Hyde Park.
Day time and weekend tours cost $44.10 for adults and from $35.74 for kids (it varies slightly by day), and $58.73 for the week night tour. This one is over 18s only and includes a glass of wine and some cheese and bread.
The museum’s theatre is also home to the Magician’s Cabaret stage show. Again, check out what shows are on and when via their website.
It’s probably even better now you know how it’s done.
Just remember not to tell.
What to Read Next
The Magical Arts Museum is close to Wooloomooloo and we have a whole guide of fun things you can do there. Check it out here.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles include The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.