Inquiry into the Government's management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales

Submission from Tom Lockley

This submission addresses specifically Terms of Reference 1 (a) (v) the impact on the heritage status of the site at Ultimo and heritage items at Willow Grove and the Fleet Street precinct at Parramatta

#3 Heritage matters


This submission demonstrates that matters of heritage have had little bearing on the process of planning for the so-called ‘move’ of the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta.

It is divided into four sections:

(a) a mention of academic work on the financial values of heritage: this has been ignored in this project

(b)                        discussion of the heritage to be lost at Ultimo: it will be shown that apart from being a wanton act of destruction the current proposal simply wastes money.

(c) a discussion of the destruction of heritage buildings on the (as yet only ‘preferred’) Parramatta site. The site has never been approved by an elected Parramatta council and the dominant wish is for retention of the heritage buildings. The Government has consistently issued misleading statements in this regard, and the public record needs to be amended.

(d)                        a discussion of the potential for the Fleet Street site in Parramatta.

The financial values of heritage

Throughout the world great museums and galleries are often housed in historic buildings – the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Uffizi, Quai d’Orsay, and indeed the Powerhouse Museum. The key point to be made here is that even for people who do not appreciate great workmanship and wonderful history, heritage aspects of a building do have a commercial value. Copious studies exist regarding this matter: a typical example is Valuing the Priceless: The Value of Historic Heritage in Australia[i].Throughout the Business Case, and all other documents, the Government has stressed the appeal of new buildings but there has been no consideration at all of the cash values of heritage buildings in attracting visitors and in visitor impact. For this reason alone the plan to move the Powerhouse Museum is deeply flawed. The installation of the magnificent steam engine collection in Australia’s first industrial power station makes an impact that cannot possibly be replicated in an ultramodern setting.

In Business Case Attachment G, Heritage Advice, The Ultimo Presence Project, Weir Phillips Heritage make the valid point (page 3) that in the early stages of development of the plan, heritage values were only mentioned as an afterthought, whereas Weir Phillips Herirage believed it should have had much higher priority.

Heritage considerations at Ultimo.

The first stage of the building housed Australia’s first industrial-scale powerhouse, built in 25 months, (finished December 1899), to very high construction standards. Ten kilometres of tram tracks were laid and 100 trams put on the line, simultaneously training everyone concerned in completely new technology. No comparison is made with the current situation in regard to light rail construction!

Over the next 40 years many additions were made to the original building, to the same superb standards of construction. By 1960 the Powerhouse was unused and derelict, but as part of the bicentennial commemorations of 1988 the buildings became a museum. The National Trust commented as follows:
The Powerhouse Museum opened on March 10, 1988. The challenging design by NSW Government Architect J Thompson and Design Architect Lionel Glendenning for the Powerhouse Museum converting the shell of an industrial building into one of the world’s most up-to-date museums was deservedly given the 1988
Sulman award for architectural merit … The Trust strongly opposes the sale by the NSW Government of the Powerhouse Museum for redevelopment and would also strongly oppose any demolition of the existing historic structure, the purpose built 1988 extension and extant components that demonstrate the Powerhouse’s original use.[40]

Heritage values are not assessed, and, we believe, not even mentioned, by the Government in their premilitary investigations, their submissions to the Inquiry, or even in the Business Case[ii]. Basically, the Business Case merely summarises the present position in regard to heritage listing.

No heritage classification was sought for the Powerhouse Museum when it was erected as no-one could have believed that this magnificent building could ever be under threat. Graham Quint, National Trust advocate, applied for Powerhouse Museum heritage listing in November 2015[iii], and eventually action ensued:  Tim Smith OAM, Director Operations, Heritage NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet as Delegate of the Heritage Council of NSW, in an email  dated 25 February, 2020 advised that an application had been made for the preservation of the Ultimo Tramways Power House and comment was invited.

On examination, this government-sponsored application sought the retention only of the basic structure of the original Power House buildings. It was, in effect a licence for destruction of the Harwood building and the 1988 conversions to allow for the construction of four high-rise towers.

This application was supported by a so-called independent assessment by Cracknell Lonergan Architects Pty Limited NSW. It is of staggering ineptitude. To take one example among many, the assessment states that there is no persons or group of persons with which the building is associated[iv]  and is important for its associations with an identifiable group … at a local level only.[v]

This statement is so wrong that it must be caused either by complete incompetence or a conscious desire to mislead. Pages 5ff give an incomplete list of such persons or groups. It is not included here so as not to disturb the flow of the narrative.

Similar analyses may be made of any of the criteria (a) (ii) to (vi), (b) (i) to (vi), (c) (ii) to (ix), (d) (i) to (iv), (e) (i), (ii) and (iv), (f) (iii) to (vii), (g) (i) to (iii), (vi) to (x), and all sections of Social Significance.

(a) The heritage situation at Parramatta.

This is related to the matter of the site choice. It is a matter of record that the democratically elected Parramatta City Council (to 12 May 2016) was steadfastly opposed the use of the recently ‘acquired’ site for the relocated museum (see Resolution 16308, 14 December 2015; Resolution 16353, 14 January 2016; and Resolution 16646, 9 May 2016)[vi] . The 9 May 2016 meeting was the last meeting of the elected council, thus showing the importance placed by the elected council on the views expressed.

In June 2017 an Expert Steering Committee, none of whom had museum experience or qualifications, was formed by the administrator, They very quickly approved the purchase plan in a letter dated 20 July[vii] with no apparent recognition that it contradicted the views of the elected Council.

The Inquiry hearing of 29 August had several wrong statements about this matter.

For example, Ms Chadwick, Parramatta Administrator (transcript page 7): ... in this matter the views and the resolutions (my underlining) of the former Parramatta City Council are the most important. The previous Parramatta council had in December 2014 endorsed the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatre ... I see that this agreement delivers that upgrade together with the cultural precinct that was anticipated there.

The Hon Shane Mallard supported the witnesses by such comments as (page 8) the previous council already endorsed that position and was already a decision the council had made prior.

The Hon. Don Harwin said (page 21) We have now got extensive material back to us on exactly what sort of museum presence the people of Western Sydney want. I am confident that we will be able to deliver on that response.

The Hon. Scott Farlow said (page 21) The council has been telling us that since 2014 (ie, stating that the previous council had supported the ‘move’)

We pointed out this clear error of fact in an email submission to the Inquiry on 12 September 2017 and its receipt and distribution was confirmed in a phone call. However the false information was then repeated by Government witnesses in the Inquiry evidence of Monday, 28 May 2018 [viii]and remains a matter of public record. This is not only very frustrating for us, but is a clear breach of the standards expected in a democracy. It is clear from the records that the Parramatta Council has never agreed to the use of the riverbank site for the museum, but wanted it retained as open space.

The only thing that the Council has agreed on is the desire to keep the Willow Grove building and the Macquarie Terraces on the riverbank site. This was ignored by the design competition judges who agreed to the demolition of the heritage buildings. As the proposed ‘move’ has been declared a State Significant Project there are no legal actions available to prevent this totally undemocratic action.

Strong feelings remain: 3 May 2020


As forecast on page 3, we now move to an incomplete list of persons or groups of persons with which the building is associated[ix], typically at far wider than a local level, that are NOT mentioned in the Cracknell document  Assessment of Heritage Significance criteria (a) (i) and (d) (i); others, eg Social Significance (iii):

Associations: (a) Affiliated Societies of the Powerhouse Museum

The following have been traditionally associated with the museum. However, since the ‘move’ idea has been proposed in 2014 there has been a decided lack of interest from the Museum in promoting relationships with these societies. This changed with the appointment of Ms Havilah, and at a meeting called by Ms Havilah on 4 July 2019 had representatives from 17 societies, and while the attendees indicated that they were not favourably disposed to the ‘move’ idea they were still keen to work cooperatively with the museum for mutual benefit. I propose that at least 20 of the following 43 societies or their successors still maintain a strong attachment to the museum. Eight societies have members who are long-term regular volunteers bringing specialist knowledge to the museum at no cost. The underlined societies have had involvement with the museum in the past eighteen months.

Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia, Art Deco Society of NSW, The Asian Arts Society of Australia Inc, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (NSW Division), The Australian Ceramics Association, Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (Ku-ring-gai) Inc, Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (Sydney) Inc, Australian Association of Musical Instrument Makers (NSW Branch), Australian Flute Society Inc, Australian Lace Guild NSW Branch Inc, The Australian Numismatic Society, The Australiana Society Inc, The Aviation Historical Society of Australia (NSW) Inc, Ceramic Collectors Society, Ceramic Study Group Inc, The Colour Society of Australia (NSW) Inc, Design Institute of Australia, NSW Chapter, The Doll Collectors Club of NSW Inc, The Early Music Association of NSW Inc, The Embroiderers’ Guild NSW Inc, The Furniture History Society (Australasia) Inc, Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia NSW Inc, The Knitters’ Guild NSW Inc, The Metropolitan Coin Club of Sydney, National Space Society of Australia Ltd, Object – Australian Centre for Craft and Design, Oral History Association of Australia (NSW), Oriental Rug Society of NSW Inc, Philatelic Association of NSW Inc, The Phonograph Society of NSW Inc, Pyrmont Ultimo Historical Society, The Quilters’ Guild Inc, Royal Aeronautical Society, Australian Division, Sydney Branch Inc, Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, NSW Chapter, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (NSW Chapter), The Silver Society of Australia Inc, Sydney City Skywatchers Inc, Sydney Space Association, The Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW Inc, Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc, Watch and Clockmakers of Australia (NSW Branch), The Wedgwood Society of NSW Inc, Woodworkers’ Association of NSW Inc,

Associations (b): Life fellows of the museum

Ken Done AM, Gerry Gleeson AC, Lionel Glendenning, Linda Jackson, Prof Ron Johnston, Jenny Kee, Trevor Kennedy AM, Alan Landis ,Terence Measham AM, Janet McDonald AO, Fred Millar AO, CBE, Dr Nicholas Pappas AM, Anne Schofield AM, Leo Schofield AM, Dr Lindsay Sharp, Richard (Dick) Smith AO, Hon James Spigelman AC, QC, Kylie Winkworth, Dr John Yu AC. The underlined people are actively engaged in resisting the destruction of the museum and none of the others are in favour of the ‘move’ idea as proposed.

There are also about 50 life members of which at least 12 are actively resisting the ‘move’ idea and 14 honorary associates of whom at least 6 are actively resisting the ‘move’ idea. Not one of the people listed have supported the ‘move’ in its present form

Associations (c): Organisations making submissions to the first Inquiry

The following organisations were so supportive of the museum that they made strong submissions to the Inquiry requiring retention of the museum at its present site:

Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials, Australian Society for History of Engineering and Technology Inc. (ASHET), Ceramic Society of Australia, Engineers Australia, Engineers Australia NSW Division - Engineering Heritage Sydney, Greater Western Sydney Heritage Action Group, Harden-Murrumburrah Historical Society, Historic Houses Association of Australia, Jacksons Landing Community Association, Orange and District Historical Society, National Association for the Visual Arts (*NAVA), National Trust of Australia, North Parramatta Residents Action Group Inc., International Council for Museums; Australia, Powerhouse Museum Alliance, Public Service Association, Pyrmont History Group, Save the Powerhouse Campaign, The Design Institute of Australia (DIA).

And even more associations …

·       20,000 signatories to the petition presented to NSW Parliament, 25 Feb 2016

·       178 signatories to the Powerhouse Museum Alliance ’s 17 Feb 2016 open letter

·       authors of the 133 submissions to the Upper House Inquiry who oppose the Powerhouse move – representing 94% of all the submissions about the Powerhouse; these include the National Trust of NSW, Museums Australia, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and many other professional, artistic and historical groups

·       some 100+ volunteers who regularly work at the museum, many of whom travel long distances for this purpose: ‘local’ volunteers are a small minority

·       countless museum visitors and supporters from across NSW, around Australia and overseas

·       and members of many organisations including

o   The Save the Powerhouse Facebook group

o   The Powerhouse Museum Alliance

o   North Parramatta Residents Action Group

As a matter of interest, at least 15 of the strong supporters of the protest movement have CVs equivalent to, or far more impressive than, Mr Lonergan, the author of the ‘independent’ appraisal of the Heritage Application.

Details of land ‘preferred choice’ at Parramatta

These are from the minutes of council meetings of the elected council prior to its forced dissolution on 12 May 2016 to allow for the process of amalgamation carried out by the Government.

Resolution 16308 (Minutes, 14 December 2015)
Council receive and note the draft minutes of the Riverside Theatres Advisory Board meeting held on 26 November 2015, however Council wishes to disagree with comments in the Minutes under Item 3, Parramatta Culture Arts and Entertainment Plan as it is not necessarily the view of Council that the Riverbank Site would be supported as the preferred site for the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Resolution 16353 (Minutes, 14 January 2016)
included the following recommendations in Suspension of Standing Orders, re the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, where’ The Lord Mayor ruled that the matter was one of urgency’. Resolved:

1.      That the Lord Mayor write to the relevant Ministers expressing our community’s concern about the possible relocation of Powerhouse Museum.

2.      That Parramatta City Council, through the Lord Mayor, commence a campaign supporting the possible relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to be at Parramatta Golf Course located near Parramatta High School or at Old King school or the Parramatta Jail site and the reasons therefore.

3.      That the campaign consist of a meeting to be arranged via the state members between the Lord Mayor and the Minister, appropriate correspondence to the relevant local Members of Parliament and an appropriate media campaign.

4.      That the community be made aware of the state government agenda on the Powerhouse Museum.

5.      That it be noted it is imperative that the state government understand that Parramatta City Council has policy and budget approved for the part of River.

6.      That Parramatta City Council outline the money invested through purchase of properties for Parramatta City Council to achieve our vision for our River foreshore.

7.      That it be noted if the government insists or force the location of the Powerhouse Museum on our River foreshore, it will result in a negative impact on Parramatta City Council and its vision as a River City and this is the only parcel of land that our Council can develop and invest in a public domain that will be beneficial to our local residents and business.

8.      Further, that the option of Powerhouse Museum being located on the Riverbank Foreshore will lead to a financial implication for Parramatta City Council and the City.

Resolution 16571, Minutes 11 April 2016 (p22)
‘The Lord Mayor provided details on the State Government’s recent selection of the Parramatta River Foreshore as the preferred site for the new Powerhouse Museum together with advice on the recent meeting held with the Minister for Infrastructure. Councillor Chedid raised concerns that the footprint of the proposal may eliminate Council’s vision for the Riverbank Foreshores and may have an impact on the current Expression of Interest for this area.’
Resolved: That Council staff provide a report on the action that has transpired to date in relation to the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum.

Resolution 16646, Minutes, 9 May 2016 (p22)
At the very last meeting of the elected council The Lord Mayor ruled that a motion to suspend standing orders to consider the Powerhouse Museum and the Riverbank was one of urgency. It was resolved:
(a) That Council write to the relevant Minister referencing the agreement, in principle, that the State Government would design the new Powerhouse Museum within the appropriate Council footprint to ensure that the Museum does not disadvantage Council in achieving its vision for the river and not disadvantage Council’s strategic asset on the site.
(b) Further, that a report be prepared outlining the discussions that have taken place to date.

 (There is no evidence that any such report has ever been made as part of the assessment process.).


[i] ] Research Report 2 November 2005 Prepared for the Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand heritage/info/pubs/valuing-priceless.pdf

[ii] The Business Case documents New Museum for MAAS at Parramatta Final Business Case Heritage Report 25 November 2016 Appendix X and Attachment G, Heritage Advice, The Ultimo Presence Project 2 October, 2017 do nothing more than summarise the present situation as regards heritage. The monetary value of the attraction of heritage buildings is not mentioned.

[iii] National Trust submission to Inquiry, no 46, page 2

[iv] Assessment of Heritage Significance, Ultimo Tramways Power House, page 26

[v] Ibid, criteria (a) (i) and (d) (i); others, eg Social Significance (iii) are also relevant.

[vi] Details are on page 6ff.

[vii] . This group required the agreement to be executed quickly, but without giving a reason for this. The elected government was due to take over in less than two months. From the Panel’s letter: The NSW Government has advised the Committee that after an extended period of negotiation with the Council, it is critical to the success of the Museum project that the Heads of Agreement is executed before August 2017.

[viii] Inquiry transcript, Monday, 28 May 2018, page 12:

The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD: But there was a council resolution of a previously elected council in support of the sale and the Powerhouse project? Mr DYER: Yes, that is right. The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD: So that was guiding Ms Chadwick in her deliberations. Mr DYER: This process had been aligned with the council policy from the previous council— The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD: That is right. Mr DYER: —and all the way through to the administration period, yes.

[ix] Assessment of Heritage Significance, Ultimo Tramways Powerhouse Museum, page 26