If you arrive in Sydney and want to understand its history, the best place to start is the Museum of Sydney, a modern complex at the base of a high-rise block immediately south of Circular Quay, designed by Richard Johnson of Denton Corker Marshall and opened in 1995.
It stands on the site of the original Government House, built in 1788 for Governor Arthur Phillip and occupied until 1846. Some of the foundations and the outline of the building are visible, and within there’s a detailed model and a recreation of part of the façade.
On the forecourt of the Museum is a haunting sculpture by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley entitled ‘Edge of Trees’, marking the spot where the Gadigal natives must have observed the arrival of the First Fleet of colonists from England.
The three floors of exhibition space tell the story of the early settlers and their relationship with the indigenous population. There are models of the eleven ships of the First Fleet, and displays about the nine Governors who resided on the site, other important figures in the early history of the city, and a video montage Eora [“people”], by Aboriginal filmmaker Michael Riley, highlighting the life of Sydney people of indigenous descent back to the time of their dreaming.
Details of visiting times, and an online guidebook, are at http://www.hht.net.au/museums/mos.