Bulletin 68

Campaign to Save the Powerhouse

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

Apologies for breaking my promise that Bulletin 67 was the last to be sent out, but this is important:

MAAS has issued a general invitation to ‘Powerhouse Ultimo’ this weekend, March 19-20, 2022.

We are invited to ‘ Learn more about the historic renewal of Powerhouse Ultimo. Join us for behind-the-scenes tours, meet our creative industry residents, learn more about our history and participate in live feedback sessions. Powerhouse Ultimo is undergoing transformative renewal. To inform the renewal we are developing a Conservation Management Plan to guide the future design, use and management of your much-loved museum’.


(A Conservation Management Plan is part of the management of a cultural place as set out in the Burra Place agreement, the details of which  can be seen on https://australia.icomos.org/publications/burra-charter-practice-notes . The Burra Charter was last updated  in 1979 to ensure the proper management of cultural places, and the first requirements are ‘understand the place’ and ‘assess its cultural significance’. If that had been properly done in 2014 we would not have the present near-disaster situation: the last CMP for the  Ultimo Powerhouse Museum was completed in 2002).

See the link https://www.maas.museum/event/powerhouse-ultimo-open-weekend/ .

‘Information’ sessions are being held: Register at https://events.humanitix.com/tours/powerhouse-ultimo-open-weekend   

There is also an online questionnaire, at https://swipengage.com/#/powerhouse-ultimo-cmp . As usual, it has been prepared by a PR firm whose brief is to ‘present a positive image’ of the Government’s actions: one question is ‘What makes it difficult to navigate Powerhouse Ultimo and it’s (sic) spaces?’ But there are some ‘250-characters’ spaces for comment on some pages and a large comments space on the last page. These can be used to present views that are not covered by the other sections.

Why not come to an ‘information’ session and also fill in the questionnaire?

Whatever your point of view, it is important for it to be registered.


For the tragics: a personal view: debate welcome:

Many people are under the impression that the museum was ‘saved’ on July 4 2020. Many others were heartened to hear on 19 June 2021 that about $480 million had been proposed for ‘rejuvenation’ of the ‘Powerhouse Ultimo’ which will ‘focus on design and fashion’. But the basic problem is that the Museum is being fundamentally altered.

The logical thing after July 4 would have been to suspend degradation of THE Powerhouse MUSEUM pending the development of a Conservation Management Plan as basis for future action, but instead the process of degradation accelerated. The Education classrooms had already been denuded, and areas of level 1 had been  made bare.

In March 2021 we saw the removal of the Ecologic display and the massive Transport Hall display cabinets in a process that was not to museum standards. The Wiggles section (a very popular young children’s activity) was demolished next.

The publicity photo for the 19-20 March shows the present intention of removing the children’s playground and lunch area, which is an essential part of visits by family and school groups.

We are told that the plan is to have very few permanent exhibits, which bodes ill for the wonderful Steam Revolution exhibition. This is one of the great working steam engine displays of the world, and its impact is made more forceful by the fact that it is housed in the magnificent area of the 1899 Powerhouse building, built in only two years to a standard of construction not seen in modern times. Go into the museum at any time, and you will  find that this area has as at least as many visitors as any of the modern temporary exhibitions: the idea that people visited THE Powerhouse MUSEUM only once a generation is absurd.

And now, with all these decisions made, we are being asked to have input to a Conservation Management Plan. This is a travesty of proper process.

Other matters are of interest, for example

·        There seems to be a general downgrading of science and historical knowledge in the temporary displays that have been a feature of the transitional period. For example, society photographer Robert Rosen gets about 80 metres of beautifully curated wall space, whereas the five very significant aircraft still remaining on level one have about 4 square metres of signage, with some inaccurate statements. The drawings have errors, some of which are major.

·        The decision has apparently been made to make the lower entrance the main entrance to the museum, ignoring effect of entry through the soaring gallery of the Wran building.

Over the years this website has chronicled the (lack of appropriate) development process of the ‘move’ idea. The conclusions that have been advanced are:

Alternatives were never properly investigated. No significant expert input was involved. There was no consultation on basic issues with any significant stakeholders. These deficiencies have persisted over the seven+ years since the basic announcement. The Government has imposed excessive secrecy and taken special non-democratic measures to avoid following due process. The opposition to the project expressed by the general public and the and museum and arts community is unprecedented. However, their reasoned, evidence-based criticisms and the comprehensive Legislative Council Inquiry report have been treated with contempt. The financial aspects of the project have been very badly managed, and the waste of taxpayers’ money is enormous. The heritage aspects of the whole move are relevant here. Though the initial plans have been modified and the situation has improved, the autocratic decision-making process persists, with consequent serious ongoing problems.

These assertions have never been challenged by the Government.

The battle has apparently been lost in terms of construction of the ‘milk crates’ on the riverside site at Parramatta. As we have been so eloquently told, we just have to ‘suck it up’. Maybe so, but at least everyone should have their say on what happens next.

Thanks for reading!

Tom Lockley