Bulletin 66

Campaign to Save the Powerhouse

Responsibility for facts stated is taken by Tom Lockley, PO Box 301, Pyrmont
0403 615 
134 tomlockley@gmail.com

It is now six years and eight months since the initial ‘move’ announcement, and the situation is very complex. Following the announcement on 16 June of big funding for the museum, we got a lot of emails and other messages. Many were congratulatory and many others were seeking more information, and this email tries to clarify the situation, concentrating on the year since July 4, 2020, when THE Powerhouse MUSEUM was reprieved from destruction. As usual, we welcome comments of all kinds and are happy to correct errors.

In this bulletin

Contents

End of year stocktake

and for the tragics

Current museum news

A Journal of a Plague Year

End of year stocktake

Just over a year ago we heard, with delight, that THE Powerhouse MUSEUM had been saved from imminent closure. The decision was made, as usual, by a small Government group and decided over a period of about 48 hours, with no input from experts. However, the decision was a tremendous boost to the huge five year, ten month campaign against the Government's proposal to ‘move’ it to Parramatta. There was general rejoicing. But details of exactly what was planned were not released. The museum continued to be stripped out, and the Harwood Building storage continued to be denuded. Some beginnings were made, at last, in consulting with people with museum experience and qualifications, but there is no evidence at all that they were involved in major decisions such as the stripping out of much of the museum, notably on level 1.

 

 

More information came to us on June 16 this year. The announcement that the museum would be upgraded at a cost of around half a billion dollars again was greeted with delight by the general public, but over the years the opponents of the ‘move’ have long experience of the Government’s autocratic procedures and its undemocratic secrecy. Supporters of the applied arts and sciences vision of the museum were uneasy at the emphasis on ‘fashion and design’ outlined at the announcement . There were fears that the magnificent steam collection would become just nice decorative objects as background for fashion shoots, but the CEO has promised that at least the display in the 1899 Powerhouse will remain basically as is, where is. There have been later explanations that ‘design’ will be interpreted widely, eg ‘Loco no 1 is a wonderful example of design’, and that THE Powerhouse MUSEUM will not just become a glorified ‘frock shop’, but the emphasis is well illustrated by the announcement publicity photo.

 

 

Those who have opposed the ‘move’, and now question the fashion focus of the proposed identity, are in a difficult position. The Government can simply say, ‘we are giving the arts and cultural lobby half a billion dollars, but they're still not happy’, and this argument may seem to have validity. The Government may claim that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

However, the vital decisions are still being made by a small, secretive, autocratic control group. Even the trustees and the CEO are not consulted. This little group lays down the basic principles of the project and allows consultation only in matters of detail. The group’s decisions are demonstrably not sound: they are not based on research and consultation with relevant experts, and have been comprehensively shown to be deeply flawed. Further, it is not their money they are spending – it is public funds, and the informed consensus is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted.

It needs to be understood that the Government has the unmitigated privilege of being custodian of the world-class treasure that was THE Powerhouse MUSEUM: it is not a bauble to be disposed of, or degraded, at a whim. We, as a nation, will fail in our duty to future generations if we allow this to happen.

THE Powerhouse MUSEUM buildings have a wonderful industrial and architectural heritage. Large industrial objects are more suited to the huge galleries than fashion items such as those seen in the photo. (One correspondent suggests that the only way the large spaces can be used for fashion items is by a forest of Kate Miller-Heidkes on stilts singing Zero Gravity as she did at Eurovision). There are, indeed, many spaces that can be used for fashion and similar displays, and the museum has held many magnificent fashion exhibitions over its history. There is room for a fashion hub, but it should be part of the overall mission of the museum, not dominate.

And there are other problems involved in setting up the Parramatta facility as the flagship museum.

 

 

We have yet to see the costs of setting up the type of display planned for Parramatta as seen above. Certainly, if it is possible to insert these huge objects through the ‘milkcrate’ exoskeleton, one or two floors up, it will be enormously costly.

Even ignoring the huge expenditure, the ‘move’ is certainly not an unmitigated benefit to Parramatta. The transplanted museum has no relevance to Parramatta's amazing history. It adds another high rise building to an already crowded precinct and it ignores Parramatta council’s expressed preference for a Riverside Park at that area. The present plan involves the destruction of the heritage Willow Vale building. Finally, there is strong support for the establishment of a museum and cultural precinct at the Fleet Street precinct, which has the potential to become one of the great cultural areas of the world. Already, as a result of purely local enterprise and initiative, there are several remarkable cultural facilities in this area.

The consensus of the anti ‘move’ coalition is clear. Parramatta must get a magnificent new museum and/or other cultural facilities on a site that is democratically approved and of a type that is properly researched and democratically selected. Australia’s only museum of applied arts and sciences must remain where it is: in the most accessible site for the city, the state, the country and the world. It must retain its iconic traditional exhibits, in its unique heritage building, with appropriate facilities and funding.

It appears that the third aim of the anti ‘move’ coalition has been achieved: the basic fabric of all Powerhouse Museum buildings, including the Harwood building, will apparently be preserved and used for museum purposes. Let’s continue to work to achieve the best possible outcome to the present situation.

Current museum news

Of course, the museum is shut down because of Covid, which is a pity as the Eucalyptusdom exhibition was due to open on June 30. Bearing in mind the research and development work on eucalyptus oil done by the museum early last century, it promises to be a great example of the fusion of applied arts and sciences which has the mission of THE Powerhouse MUSEUM. It is keenly anticipated.

Some partitions that had been installed on level 1 have been removed, probably in preparation for the Clay Dynasty exhibition, and the apparatus in the Turbine Hall from which the Cierva Autogyro and the Transavia Airtruk were suspended has been checked for safety so maybe it will be put to proper use soon.

On a less happy note, the Wiggles exhibition has been demolished. It was a great activity for parents with young children, a great place for city apartment dwellers to let their children discover.

On 29 April, 2021, the Planning Minister approved the construction of a Powerhouse storage centre in Castle Hill. Building J, as it is known, is to be built on TAFE land and the site of the museum’s eucalypt plantation established to scientifically help with the commercial harvest of essential oils.

Regarding Parramatta, to clarify the Land and Environment case launched by the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, this is our understanding:

·        26 March, 2021: Legal action was launched to stop work on ‘Parramatta Powerhouse’: (North Parramatta Residents Action Group v Infrastructure NSW).

·        25 and 26 May: sittings of the Land and Environment case North Parramatta Residents Action Group v Infrastructure NSW

·        16 June, 2021: Land and Environment Court judgement supported the Government’s right to remove the historic Willow Grove building to make way for the ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’. The initial sentence of the judgement preamble stresses that that decision ‘does not consider … the merit of the site selected for the Powerhouse Parramatta or the design selected for the museum facility to be constructed on the site’. In brief, the Government case was that the proposed building could only be erected on that site, and it is a State Significant Development, meaning that its merits could not be judicially assessed. Suzette Meade of NPRAG said the legal proceedings were always ‘plan B’. ‘Our plan A has always been and will continue to be the power and the passion of the community with the unions working together.’ The building has been under 24/7 surveillance to guard against demolition activities.

·        28 June, 2021: After another complex series of procedures, an Injunction was granted, work on Willow Grove halted until documents are re-examined.

Lawyers might be interested in the judgements, seen at https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/179ea257054d280af7a19196 is the original ruling of 16 June and https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/17a50b11302948ff69876437 is the ruling on the Injunction of 28 June. NPRAG is seeking more money to support their basic costs – to assist, go to Save Willow Grove Legal Fund .

Activities of the email group…

This introduction to this bulletin has tried to make a reasonable summary of the hugely complex situation that has developed over the last 6 ½ years. Many aspects of the overall scheme are occupying the email group: these include

·        The actual education programs, formal and informal, that will be featured in the future

·        further analysis of the only support group for the Government proposals (Western Sydney Powerhouse Community Alliance)

·        design features of the Parramatta building; can it function as a MUSEUM?

·        examination of the evidence given to the current Inquiry

·        more work on the latest document release

·        a list of questions about the current processes. We submitted a list of this kind in July 2017, without response, (see the bottom of this page) and on many other occasions. However these lists do record our areas of concern.

Updating the fact sheet is also a major project but this is difficult because of Government secrecy.

Thanks to all the people who have provided information, analysis and thoughts; if you have any comments, or especially you also would like to help, please email tomlockley@gmail.com. Please do not use ‘reply’ to this email for contact purposes as these replies often get lost.

A Journal of a Plague Year

This is a brief rundown of the major events since July 4 2020. It is part of a larger digest of events that we hope to put on the website soon, but of course the authoritative work of this type is the Powerhouse Museum Alliance website ‘chronology’ – easily Googled!

1.     It soon became clear that the July 4 ‘reprieve’ was yet another decision taken by a small group within the Government and even the trustees and the CEO were not informed in advance, much less consulted. In terms of what would be displayed at the museum the only promises were that the Boulton and Watt steam engine, the Catalina and Loco No 1 would be retained.

2.     A draft document indicated that planning was under way for a ‘Powerhouse Fashion and Design Museum within a fashion and design precinct. Returned to their original industrial aesthetic, the renovated heritage halls of the Boiler House, Turbine Hall and Engine House [would] be used for ticketed and free contemporary exhibitions and public events’. Next door, the Harwood Building was to be used as a ‘Fashion and Design Creative Industries Hub with offices, studios, workshops, fashion and design markets.’

3.     The CFMEU confirmed that its green ban on the destruction of the Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace buildings, announced on June 30 was still in force.

4.     David Shoebridge MLC stated that the upper house inquiry into the disputed project would not be abandoned.. 29 July 2020: First hearing of ‘Select Committee on the Government's management of the Powerhouse Museum and other museums and cultural projects in New South Wales’. Mr Harwin is the only Government person who has given evidence in the previous Inquiry: all other Government functionaries have moved on to other employment rather than lead this ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to fruition. (Details of hearings are not given in this bulletin due to lack of space, but have been covered in the Powerhouse Museum Alliance website. The Government has made no further effort to rebut the finding of the previous Inquiry ‘That the Final Business Case for the Powerhouse Museum in Western Sydney Project did not comply with NSW Treasury's Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis.’

5.     30 July: analysis of submissions to the Environmental Impact Statement for ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’, courtesy of Save the Powerhouse’ website:

 

 

6.     Submissions to the new Upper House Inquiry followed a similar pattern, the only support from organisations being Government organisations or business lobbies. 

7.     21 August 2020 Second hearing

8.     2 September 2020 Third hearing

9.     In September the first major consultation involving people with museum qualifications and experience was instituted. Participants have been sworn to secrecy, but from Ms Havilah we know that 1) a Masterplanning Dialogue has been initiated, involving consultation with 'architects Lionel Glendenning, Andrew Andersons, John Wardle, Abbie Galvin and Peter Poulet alongside key stakeholders, Create Infrastructure and Powerhouse Museum staff'; 2) a 'Curatorial Dialogue' has also been initiated, involving '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' and 3) A Conservation Management Plan was also being planned. We also have heard that the Conservation Dialogue involved three meetings within the next few months, but no records of the dialogue or outcomes have been released.

10. Professor Glover, on his departure from President of Trustees, declined an invitation to confirm whether or not his conditions for approval of the museum ‘move’, set out on 1 September 2016, had been met.

11 .8 October 2020 fourth hearing

12. 9 October: Western Sydney Powerhouse Community Alliance announced, strongly supporting the ‘move’ project. ‘Elected’ chairman Christopher Brown, Chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, a business lobby group with 8 paid employees. All available information released by this organisation can be found on https://wspca.com.au/

13. 9 October: Government announcers that Willow Grove will be demolished and moved from its present site; indication of costs or feasibility not made public.

14. 7 November: ‘Billionaire property developer’ Lang Walker, former NSW Liberal leader Peter Collins and Mark Hassell, a partner at consulting giant KPMG, join trustees with Mr Collins as President of Trustees. Mr Collins has had a long association with the museum and it is hoped he will put its interests first.

15. 1 November: Government ordered to produce documents re ‘Powerhouse Ultimo and Powerhouse Parramatta (third release of documents under ‘return to order’ procedures). These documents were received on 8 December.

16. 26 November: fifth anniversary of the ‘move’ announcement by Mr Baird. The Government and Infrastructure NSW do not respond to the current fact sheet listing shortcomings off the ‘move’ process.

17. 8 December: release of the second group of documents sought as part of the second Inquiry process. As was the case with the first group released in the first half of 2020 all basic financial and planning material were withheld as being Cabinet in Confidence etc and only relatively minor information could be gleaned by process of data mining. Only one copy was available, to be examined in the Legislative Council office by appointment. There were many documents supplied in multiple copies, and a considerable portion were illegible. The situation was exacerbated by Covid restrictions – people wishing to inspect the documents have to be escorted to the office by a Government staffer, and these people have been working from home wherever possible. Several requests have been made for the documents to be released in digital form or put on the NSW Government website, but these requests have been ignored.

18. 9 FEBRUARY 2021 Bayram Ali photographs of Snowy Mountains Scheme 1955-1970 opened at THE Powerhouse MUSEUM.. This will continue until 5 October.

19. 9 February: MAAS announced its scheduled programme of exhibitions for THE Powerhouse MUSEUM. For the first six months they were Bayram Ali, Iranzamin, (19 March), Clay Dynasty, (28 May), 100 Conversations and Micro Cars (11 June).

20. 15 February 2021 Fifth hearing

21. 13 February Mr Harwin announced that the plans for the ‘Parramatta Powerhouse’ had been approved (announcement issued late on Friday afternoon).

22. 28 April 2021: Contract let for the demolition of Willow Grove. As part of the contract, the Government has to issue orders to start within 120 days or pay a $10,000 per day penalty, and that period expires on 27 August 2021.

23. 3 March: ‘The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) today announced that, after more than two transformational decades at the helm, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, will end her tenure as Director later this year’. Ms Macgregor was the expert person who recommended the museum ‘move’. Constant requests have been made to all concerned to release the basis for this recommendation, with no result. Ms Macgregor has not endorsed the ‘move’ project since her evidence to the first Inquiry (5 September 2016) despite requests for her to do so, and no significant research underlying her recommendation of the ‘move’ has been released, also despite numerous requests.

24. 19 MARCH 2021: opening of Iranzamin, exhibition of Persian arts and crafts from THE Powerhouse MUSEUM collection. The exhibition aimed to examine ‘how objects inspired by traditional arts and crafts were used in Persian society’. It has been particularly successful in linking with the Iranian community: its opening coincided with the Persian new year Nowrouz and celebrations of Nowrouz, Haftsin, a table traditionally set for the Persian new year on 20 March, and Sizdehbehdar, the Persian national day for the celebration and admiration of Mother Nature (April 3) were held in the museum.

25. 19 March: Destruction of display stands and viewing platform in Transport Hall was under way. All material on the floor in the southern 60% of the transport hall has been removed, including all of the Ecologic display. ‘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.’ (Ms Havilah). Requests for a copy of the relevant fire regulations and consequent assessments that the cabinets must be removed have not had any response. There was also great concern concern that the remaining exhibits had not been protected from dust etc, and later, test covers were put over the remaining exhibits and items such as the Bleriot aircraft were cleaned.

26. 26 March, 2021: Legal action launched to stop work on ‘Parramatta Powerhouse’: (North Parramatta Residents Action Group v Infrastructure NSW).

27. 29 April, 2021: the Planning Minister approved the construction of a Powerhouse storage centre in Castle Hill. Building J, as it is known, is to be built on TAFE land and the site of the museum’s eucalypt plantation established to scientifically help with the commercial harvest of essential oils. The fear is that its construction will enable the Harwood Building at Ultimo to be used for non museum use. Expert opinion is that THE Powerhouse MUSEUM and the Parramatta facility, if it is to function as a museum, requires good support facilities on site.

28. 1 May: May Day march in Parramatta, usually held in central Sydney. Wide support for green ban from unions and civic groups. About 3000 people attended, marching through the city centre to the (boarded-up) street-front of the historic building, Willow Grove. Members of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance supported colleagues in their campaign to save this building.

29. 6 May: Alex Greenwich asks questions including a request for the release of the latest business plans. The Business Plans are completely withheld.

30. 9 May: report that Sydney philanthropist Gene Sherman has called for the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo to become ‘the state’s first cultural institution dedicated to the display of design, decorative arts, and fashion’, offering a large donation.

31. 25 May: sittings begin of the Land and Environment case North Parramatta Residents Action Group v Infrastructure NSW

32. 28 MAY 2021 Clay Dynasty was scheduled to open: this will now occur on 20 August, see below.

33.11 JUNE 2021 100 Microcars and 100 Conversations were scheduled to open. These will now open on 8 October (Microcars) when the ‘rejuvenated’ level 1 will be open again, and on 5 November (100 Conversations - see below.

34. 15 June 2021: NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin, with MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) CEO Lisa Havilah, announce ‘a new investment of $480-500 million to transform Powerhouse Ultimo into a museum focusing on design and fashion. Parramatta, the flagship museum, will be the new home of science and technology.

35. 16 June, 2021: Land and Environment Court judgement supported the Government’s right to remove the historic Willow Grove building to make way for the ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’. The initial sentence of the judgement stresses that that decision ‘does not consider … the merit of the site selected for the Powerhouse Parramatta or the design selected for the museum facility to be constructed on the site’. In brief, the Government case was that the proposed building could only be erected on that site, and it is a State Significant Development, meaning that its merits could not be judicially assessed. Suzette Meade of NPRAG said that the legal proceedings were always ‘plan B’. ‘Our plan A has always been and will continue to be the power and the passion of the community with the unions working together.’

36. 28 June, 2021: After another complex series of procedures, an Injunction was granted, work on Willow Grove halted until documents are re-examined.

37. 25 JUNE 2021 Eucalyptusdom – ready to open, but the opening is delayed because of the Covid lockdown. This exhibition of ‘our cultural history and ever-changing relationship with the gum tree, presenting over 400 objects from the Powerhouse Collection alongside 17 newly commissioned works by creative practitioners’ is creating a lot of interest and the opening is keenly awaited. MAAS research was a major factor in the success of this uniquely Australian industry, and this exhibition will clearly fulfil the mission of THE Powerhouse MUSEUM in underlining the importance of the interface between the applied arts and sciences.

***** the following events were delayed from the first half of the year******

38. 20 AUGUST 2021: Clay Dynasty: will open on 20 August, largely in the area formerly occupied by Robotics and the Mars Yard. It celebrates studio ceramics in Australia as shaped by three generations of makers: from the 1960s pioneers who transformed the functional pottery tradition to contemporary ceramic artists who continue to push the medium. ‘The first major exhibition to chart the astonishing diversity of ceramic practice across Australia, it features more than 400 objects from the Powerhouse’s significant ceramics collection’.

39. 8 OCTOBER 2021: The ‘rejuvenated and updated’ Transport Hall will reopen with an exhibition of Micro carsIt will feature the Lightburn Zeta, Goggomobil Dart and the 1942 home-made electric car from the MAAS collection and many others from other sources. Also, the signage for the transport hall is in the process of being upgraded to 21st century standards, and we have been assured that it will be very informative. This need for this upgrade has persisted for at least the last ten years.

40. NOVEMBER 2021: opening of 100 Conversations. This occupies the old Ecologic space, which was closed because it was 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’(Ms Havilah). There was, however, considerable use of the area by school groups, notably in stage 4, and it served a purpose of informing many students involved in the massive climate change demonstrations. The new exhibit will develop over the next two years, and in a custom-built studio, each week for 100 weeks, renowned Australian journalists will engage experts in critical sectors involved in the climate challenge. In November 2023 the completed project will ‘become an important archive acknowledging the Australian innovation in responding to climate change during this historical and pivotal moment in time.