After 25 years of operation, a much-loved science education centre in rural Queensland has been reimagined as the Outback Exploratorium.

Story Mandy McKeesick  Photo Abby Murray

School is out in Emerald, central Queensland, and a boisterous tribe of 6–9-year-olds bursts through the doors of the Outback Exploratorium. They race around balloons left over from a recent birthday party, and past skeletons and robots and balls suspended in space by invisible air currents. Some even sit quietly and examine beetles with magnifying glasses. They are here for Science Squad, continuing research into ticks they began during the school holidays.

Overseeing the melee is Saba Sinai, a lecturer in agriculture at the Emerald campus of Central Queensland University (CQUni). Saba has been involved with this science centre for six years, beginning as a volunteer with Science Squad and holding various roles before joining the board in 2017. Today, he is mustering kids and holding their attention with life viewed under a microscope. “Over the next five weeks we will learn more about our ticks, build a microscope, explore scientific art and contribute to important scientific discoveries,” he says to his audience. It is enough to quieten the room – temporarily.

The Outback Exploratorium, a non-government funded, not-for-profit enterprise, began life as the Central Highlands Science Centre in Capella in 1995, before making the move to Emerald. “Our aim is to involve kids from the central highlands and rural Australia in informal science opportunities and to make science education fun and exciting,” Saba says.

With generous support from sponsors, including the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, Glencore, CQUni, Questacon and the Central Highlands Regional Council, the reimagining of the centre has seen it move from the showgrounds to the centre of town. Half of the new building will be set up as a retail space to help fund the Exploratorium. The remainder is given over to the kids. 

“We are sustained by volunteers and passionate individuals and it’s amazing what has been achieved over the years – specifically that we’ve inspired awe for science and made it accessible,” Saba says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021