Campaign to Save the Powerhouse

Responsibility for facts stated is taken by Tom Lockley, PO Box 301, Pyrmont
0403 615 134

Bulletin 61: Response to Bulletin 60 from Ms Havilah

I sent out Bulletin 60 (attached) on 21 March. Ms Havilah was not happy, and emailed me saying that she was preparing a response. I replied and said that I would circulate her response as soon as possible. I include the relevant email exchange between me and Ms Havilah. I have only had about two hours to prepare this bulletin – please look at my notes that follow Ms Havilah’s response.

Here it is:



DATE:    28 MARCH 2021 (received by email 10.16 today, 29 March 2021)

The Museum warmly welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement on July 4, 2020 to retain and renew the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo. Since the announcement the Powerhouse Museum with Create Infrastructure is undertaking a range of work to ensure that the museum is renewed in a way that respects and reinvigorates its exhibitions, its architecture and its history. To inform the renewal process, two key dialogue groups have been established and a number of meetings were held across 2020:-

Masterplanning Dialogue

The purpose of the Masterplanning dialogue is to ensure the architectural legacy and integrity of the built form is considered in its renewal. The workshops have included sharing the original design intentions of the museum, presenting and workshopping masterplanning ideas and considering the renewal in relationship to adjacent precincts and developments. The group includes architects Lionel Glendenning, Andrew Andersons, John Wardle, Abbie Galvin and Peter Poulet alongside key stakeholders, Create Infrastructure and Powerhouse Museum staff.

Curatorial Dialogue

The purpose of the Curatorial Dialogue is to support collaboration between the museum’s current curatorial team and previous staff and stakeholders to ensure a coherency of curatorial approach in the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo renewal. The workshops have included presenting ideas and concepts for exhibition development, the importance of the overall 1988 exhibition concepts and Collection development opportunities. The group includes previous staff and Trustees; Jennifer Sanders; Dr Ann Stephen, Senior Curator Art, The University of Sydney; Professor Shirley Alexander, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Technology Sydney; Janet McDonald; Andrew Grant; Debbie Rudder; Dr Kimberly Webber; Grace Cochrane and Create Infrastructure and Powerhouse Museum staff.

Alongside the dialogues, Powerhouse Museum, Architect Lionel Glendenning has kindly agreed to work with renowned heritage architect, Alan Croker to embed his design principles into the Conservation Management Plan that is being developed. Once Lionel has completed this work, the Masterplanning Dialogues will continue across 2021. The Museum is excited that Lionel has also agreed to undertake an oral history project with Alan that will give the Museum even more information to protect and promote this important history.

At the end of last year the Museum announced its 2021 exhibition program. Across the year, 12 new exhibitions will open, featuring the Museum’s collections and focusing on providing access to never seen before objects and their stories. Last week we launched Iranzamin which presents objects from the Museum’s significant Persian collections. The Museum has had a huge community response with many hundreds of people visiting to experience the exhibition and celebrate Persian New Year.

These important temporary exhibitions support and enhance the overall experience of the Museum that is innately connected to its foundational permanent exhibitions. Our 2021 program is born of solid curatorial research undertaken in partnership with community, industry and the tertiary sector. Sometimes people lament not being able to see a much-loved object but very many people also long to see something new. We always balance both of these needs.



The Museum is excited to have reopened the Wiggles exhibition to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. The Curatorial and Collections Team worked to make adjustments to this high touch exhibition to ensure that is COVID safe. We have had a huge response from the community and the exhibition is booked out until the end of April.


Last year as a result of COVID the Museum had to close the Experimentations Gallery. During this time the Curatorial and Collections Team have undertaken adjustments to ensure that this high-touch exhibition is safe and accessible. We are looking forward to reopening the much-loved Experimentations Gallery in May 2021.


We are excited to be working with Trevor Waters who has extensive experience working on the conservation of prestigious and iconic buildings in Sydney including the Sydney Opera House to renew the concrete floor surfaces of level 1. As you would be aware the original 1988 carpet was in a state of significant disrepair. The carpet in these high traffic areas had reached end of life, wearing through and was an occupational health and safety issue for our visitors. Trevor is consulting closely with heritage architect Alan Croker to ensure that we are protecting and enhancing the design integrity of the Museum.


The museum will be presenting a new transport exhibition in the Transport Hall. This exhibition, Microcars will feature microcars from the Powerhouse Collection, and a selection of loans from notable Australian collectors. It will also examine contemporary electric and hybrid microcars such as the Renault Twizzy and the Smartcar.

We have had the opportunity to present this exhibition through the requirement to remove the 1988 display cabinets within the Transport Hall. The cabinets were found to no longer meet fire safety standards and were deemed as non-compliant. The viewing platform above the plinths was also an accessibility issue as it could only be accessed via the stairs.

All work undertaken across the museum is led by our professional conservators and curators to ensure the care and safety of our Collection at all times. The museum is committed to ensuring the exhibition furniture is reused and that we are meeting our sustainability principles. Other than the removal of the showcases and the creation of Microcars no further work is planned for the Transport Hall.


The restoration floor works across Level 1 have nearly been completed in preparation for the installation of a major new exhibition, Clay Dynasty. The exhibition will feature over 400 objects from the Museum’s significant ceramics collection and tell the story of Australian studio ceramics over the last 50 years. The majority of the objects from the Collection in this exhibition have never been publicly shown before.


Mars Yard was a temporary exhibition that was no longer providing the platform for learning activities that it once had. It ceased to be effective as a learning tool when the research funding for the project finished in 2015. At this time the Australian Centre for Field Robotics from Sydney University ended.their engagement with the project. It has never been used for an MSC course in Robotics from UNSW. The Museum has multiple partnerships across industry and the university sector to develop new exhibitions and education experiences connecting young people to STEM.


Ecologic is a temporary exhibition that was last refurbished over a decade ago. The majority of the material in this exhibition is out of date and the museum received many complaints about how dated the exhibition was. The Museum is developing a new climate change exhibition called 100 Conversations which will bring together leading Australians that are innovating to address our climate challenge across the fields of traditional knowledge, marine ecology, landscape architecture, environmental engineering and climate law. The exhibition will run for 100 weeks beginning in June 2021 and finishing in June 2023.


There are no plans to make any changes in the Steam Revolution Gallery. The Curatorial Team believe that in the future updates will be required to this exhibition to provide further context and include the social issues of the day alongside communicating the environmental impacts that the Industrial Revolution continues to have.

The renewal of the Powerhouse Museum marks a return to its commitment to telling stories through the presentation of its vast and diverse collections. Its renewal is also a strong step towards supporting specialisation across the curatorial team and expanding the scale of the conservation team. Through this new direction the Powerhouse Museum will increase its commitment to social history, reconnect in new ways with its regional partners and re-engage with the principles of programs that have had great success namely the Migration Heritage Centre. We are only successful in our renewal if we value and carry forward the legacy of the work of those who went before us.

(end of Ms Havilah’s comments).

From Tom:

I was delighted to get a response to my comments. As all people that object to the Powerhouse ‘move’ know, we often do not get a response, and when we do, it is usually just a statement that the ‘move’ is wonderful, not addressing our concerns.

My friends and I are examining the statement, and within a few days we will send out yet another bulletin, with detailed analysis and assessment.

I did promise to correct any errors I had made, and just after sending out Bulletin 60 I realised that I may have given a wrong impression on one matter. The demolition of the display cabinets did take me by surprise, and bulletin 60 gives the impression that this was not forecast. On reflection, this was wrong. Some time ago Ms Havilah mentioned the refurbishment of this area, and my volunteer friends tell me that this was outlined to the Thursday volunteers on the online meeting of 19 March, one of the very few that I have not attended since the shutdown last March.

In mitigation, one of the things that worried me was the manner in which the demolition is being carried out. I thought that only minor work needed to be done on the display cases. Under the circumstances of this demolition, I thought that the least that should have been done is to cover the Bleriot with dust sheets. I am getting advice on this from experienced curators, and this will be part of the next bulletin. And no, for those of you who know the story, I do not think that my concern is at all tinged by my affection for this particular aircraft, about which I have written several articles and booklets and been involved in related activities!

On a more positive note, we have just finished a project that some friends and I began some time ago. This is a small booklet about the aircraft of the Powerhouse collection, and it can be downloaded from the website either as a booklet or as a plain .pdf . If you can’t print it off and would like a copy, email me at and I will print one for you with pleasure. The collection is really outstanding and I hope we can all work together to Linksmake the most of it, and indeed of the whole museum complex. More to come shortly!

Thanks to all the people giving me information, ideas and suggestions: too many to acknowledge fully. Things are happening, and I am hopeful that there will soon be a third bulletin within a week or so with exciting news!


Campaign to save the Powerhouse

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Buletin 60 about which Ms Havilah was complaining