The Powerhouse Museum is an invaluable item of Australian heritage

The first stage of the building housed Australia’s first industrial-scale powerhouse, built in 25 months, (finished December 1899), to very high constructions 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]

No heritage classification was sought for the Powerhouse Museum 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, and these submissions have not been yet been considered under this Government in the 2½ years since they were lodged.

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.[41] Basically, the Business Case merely summarises the present position in regard to heritage listing. It is true that at Ultimo the heritage situation of the Turbine Hall and related areas has resulted in them being preserved as part of the Lyric Theatre / Fashion Museum conversion, but that is the only concession made to heritage values that we have so far found in the Business Case.[42]

In Attachment G, Heritage Advice, The Ultimo Presence Project, Weir Phillips Heritage make the valid point that in the early stages of development of the plan, heritage values were only mentioned as an afterthought, whereas they believed it should have had much higher priority.[43]

But the main issue is that the museum in its totality is a remarkable item of Australian heritage, and as such it should not be destroyed or degraded.[44] Even setting that aside, 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.[45] Throughout the Business Case, and all other documents, the Government has stressed the appeal of new buildings but we have found no consideration at all of the cash values of heritage buildings in attracting visitors and in visitor impact. 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.

An example of the tramcars that were based in the (Harwood Building) tramshed after 1899 -is yet another evocative combination of exhibit and display site


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

[41] The 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.

[42] ‘The development of Project and Development Options for the Site are influenced by the requirement to retain key heritage items. These include: the Ultimo Power House (northern buildings) including the Pump House, Engine Room, Turbine Hall, New Boiler house and Switch house; and the Ultimo Post Office. New Museum for MAAS at Parramatta Final Business Case Heritage Report 25 November 2016 Page 12

[43] ‘The title of the preliminary feasibility study uses the word Heritage however the study contains little heritage information to guide the reader. On page 2 the sub-heading Heritage is last. As a Heritage Item, heritage should come first as an issue as all that is proposed after this point will have some impact on the heritage significance of the site. Without some heritage commentary or analysis, the reader cannot be confident of the potential impacts of the Options.’, Heritage advice, The Ultimo Presence Report, Attachment G, section 3.0

[44] This is developed in detail at a lay level in the booklets Heritage aspects of the Powerhouse Museum precinct ISBN 978-0-9803693-4-2 and Heritage aspects of the Powerhouse Museum ISBN 978-0-9803693-4-2 by T H Lockley, published 2016 and online at and respectively.

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