When Geelong parents Tim and Billie Mahon couldn’t find the perfect place for their two kids to play locally, they created their own amazing space; Geelong’s first children’s museum MoPA: Museum of Play and Art which opened on January 7 in the gorgeous and historic Wintergarden Building in McKillop Street. MoPA is  a beautiful and creative space for children and families to play and learn together.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and your two kids.

Tom and I have two cheeky boys, Eddie 5 and Rafferty 2. Family life is super hectic, and has been particularly so over the last year, but we feel blessed to have the opportunity to be raising two wonderful young men… And working on our new third child, MoPA!

What were you both up to work wise before the idea for MoPA came about?

Tom is jack of all trades, but has spent most of his career in marketing, technology and management, and I have been lucky enough to work with some of Australia’s most fantastic brands in various lead creative roles. Tom and I have a complementary skill-set, but it wasn’t until we began building MoPA that we realised just how well the skill-set would work together to create something special.

We’d love to hear where the idea for MoPA came from?

Like lots of ideas, it started as a niggle and grew into a big itch that we just couldn’t resist itching. We are constantly looking for great things to do with kids, and we’ve tried just about every activity on offer, and we just couldn’t find a place that was fun, creative AND educational, that also provided a beautiful space for us to hang out and engage with the kids. We were inspired by some of the worlds best Children’s museums, but MoPA is an original concept; a beautiful calm space designed specifically for families to play, create and learn together.

What can families expect to find in a visit to MoPA?

Firstly, a beautiful building. Formerly the Wintergarden, this 160 year old heritage building has provided us the most incredible canvas to create a truly amazing space. Inside, visitors will find a range of exhibits and activities across two levels, a conservatory and a gorgeous back yard. The exhibits have been curated to support the Early Learning Framework, and early primary curriculum, but are most importantly very creative and loads of fun! The kids won’t know how much they’re learning because they’ll just be having far too much fun.

A lot of what we see has been custom-designed, hand-built and painted by yourselves. Who else was involved in bringing this creative space to life?

It would be an understatement to say that it has been a behemoth effort to both renovate an entire building, and design, build and refine all the exhibits. We learned to 3D model just so we could design and reposition everything before we built it. Then, after much debate and half a dozen re-shuffles, we finally settled on the exhibits and site layout. Some exhibits have actually been in build for 2-years; others were pulled together [incredibly] in just a few weeks. We engaged a small but incredible team of prop makers, craftspeople, and self-proclaimed ‘tech nerds’ to bring these wonderful ideas to life – and we’re so proud of everyone in involved. 

Tell us about the beautiful 160 year old Wintergarden building.

The building has a very rich history! It has been a church, scout and army hall, and even a dry cleaners for a decent period of time. For the last 30-years though, it has primarily been used as a creative, function and gallery space. The history and legacy of the building is actually one of the things that made it such an obvious choice. We’re incredibly thrilled that now the building has a new lease on life, and for many of the folk that know it well, they’re bringing their grandkids along to create a new wave of special memories. It’s actually very heart-warming to be part of. 

What’s your fave thing about being a parent?

Most definitely, seeing the children become their own little people. Nothing gives Tom and I more gratification than when the boys learn or even try new things, and when they grow as a result.

Got any funny parenting tales?

At the tender age of 3, Ed woke up one day to find ants in our kitchen. We went over to inspect with him and he muttered under his breath ‘f**n ants!’. He so doesn’t get that language from us, ha! More recently, it has been really fun hearing of how Ed and Raff have  had to convince their kinder teacher and friends that their Mum and Dad are making toys all day for everyone to play with! He makes it sound like we’ve been Santa’s helpers!

What are your favourite go-to’s in Geelong with the kids?

Geelong is so blessed with outdoor spaces – you can’t go past fish and chips on the beach!

And when you’re in Melbourne, what’s your favourite place to visit?

The boys love their animals, and so we’d have to say that visiting Melbourne and Werribee Zoo or Healesville are our favourite Melbourne outings. We’ve long been members, and they do such amazing work at Zoo’s Vic – we’re massive fans.

You can find MoPA at 51 McKillop Street, Geelong,
open Tues – Sun, 9.30am -4.30pm.

To ensure everyone’s experience is comfortable and calm, there is a capacity limit on entries. They’re currently booking out around 2 weeks in advance, so be sure to reserve your tickets early at www.museumofplayandart.com.au.