The National Museum of Australia will have a new $8.8 million dedicated play and education space, thanks to a "major" donation by philanthropists Tim and Gina Fairfax.
Neither the Fairfaxes nor the museum would reveal the amount of the donation but it is enough for the new facility to be named the Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre.
It follows similar donations by the Fairfaxes to the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery.
The museum says the couple's gift reflects their "strong belief in the cultural sector as a vehicle for children's education and learning about Australia's culture, history and national identity - and a commitment to taking these stories to regional communities".
Mr Fairfax said it was "all about learning".
"It's all about kids' education, which is what brings me to the table," he said.
"And I hope it's friendly and something they can interact with. Not only kids, but families can enjoy as well. Engaging them at that early age is so important. I hope the kids go away talking about it and having enjoyed it."
Mr Fairfax would not be drawn on how much he had donated to the museum.
"It's a contribution both my wife and I decided to make. Some people like to divulge amounts, but I'm very low-key and I just like making a difference without any fuss," he said.
The 767-square metre Discovery Centre is currently under construction in part of the museum that was formerly an open display area and a store for the museum's archives. The archives were moved to Mitchell, opening up the area. It will be completed in October.
The Discovery Centre will comprise two areas - a Play and Learn Space for children up to six and a Maker and Shaper Space for children, adults and community groups.
Lead curator on the Discovery Centre project, Jono Lineen, said there had not been a play area at the museum for more than a decade, after the former area was subsumed by a new display.
"That was a space really popular with young families, children and their carers and there was a constant flow of traffic of young families to see things that were interpreted in a different way to traditional museum exhibitions," Mr Lineen said.
"Since 2010, we haven't had that space and been planning to bring it back there for more than a decade and finally we're there."
The Play and Learn Space will have stories and activities to inspire an interest in Australian identity and history, focusing on both European and Aboriginal stories.
"You actually move through a series of stories, animal stories, " he said.
The subjects will include the Bunyip; the Torres Strait Island legend of Gelam; explorer Mathew Flinder's cat, Trim; and even Canberra's Chris the sheep as a pointer to the wool industry. They will be accompanied by evocative landscapes that relate to each character, from grasslands to a billabong. Children can also dress up as the creatures and even snuggle in kangaroo-pouch-like hanging pods to read a story.
"They're fur-lined so it's actually like climbing into a kangaroo's pouch," Mr Lineen said.
The Maker and Shaper Space will be a multipurpose area for children and adults to take part in anything from arts to crafts to talks and digital activities .
"It will also have the ability to link in to remote communities, so we could send out programs to communities in the central desert, for example, and at the same time, we could have elders being beamed into the same space to be part of programs here in Canberra," Mr Lineen said.
Between the two pieces will be a showcase of more than 150 objects from the National Historical Collection.
Mr Lineen agreed there was a pragmatic element to the space, to entice in families looking to entertain their children.
"I think we've probably lost that audience for a while and, of course, we want to get that audience back, because it's a very special audience," he said.
"I remember as a child, going to a museum in Ireland and that changed me forever, it opened up all these doors for me. Doors around inquiry, doors around narrative, doors around story that have been with me for the rest of my life.
"I've been lobbying for a decade to get this space opened and I'm so happy it's going to happen in October. Is there pragmatism to it? Of course ...The aim of this project is to reconnect with that audience we think is so important."
Mr Lineen said the majority of the facility had been funded by the federal government but the Fairfaxes' donation "really got it across the line".
National Museum director Mathew Trinca thanked Tim and Gina Fairfax for their generosity.
"The new Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre will encapsulate the National Museum's vision to engage children of all ages in Australia's remarkable story and to foster understanding and curiosity through engagement and play," Dr Trinca said.
"The launch of this centre in 2021 would not have been possible without the generous support of Tim and Gina Fairfax and we thank them for their advocacy of this project and the museum.
"After the challenging times we have faced as a nation, it is fantastic and humbling to receive such a public endorsement of the value of the arts and cultural sector to all Australians.
"The museum is really, really proud of this space. It's something special for families in Canberra."
And, yes, parents and carers will be able to take in a coffee.
"We're actually hoping there is going to be a coffee cart at the entrance," Mr Lineen said.
Mr Fairfax, meanwhile, has also funded A New Approach, an independent think tank championing investment in Australian arts and culture. He agreed arts and culture was often where Australians turned for entertainment or sanity during the coronavirus lockdowns, but the sector had been "left out on a limb" during the pandemic.
"It was also the last to be funded in any substantial way. It did come in the end, but it wasn't there to begin with," he said.
"I really felt sorry for all those artists, whether musicians or artists or sculptors. They were left out on a limb."
And while history and identity was often fraught, in the face of movements like the cancel culture or what statue needs to be toppled next, Mr Fairfax was not about to weigh into any debate.
"I'm involved with the Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery but I'm not embedded in the museum well enough. But certainly all the galleries have an important part to play with First Nation," he said.