Powerhouse Museum: Concerns grow as heritage items stripped

July 5, 2024
A rail carriage being removed from the Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Save the Powerhouse/Facebook

Supporters of the Powerhouse Museum are concerned that NSW Labor is ignoring its promise to retain the arts and sciences museum.

Museum experts and the public want the museum retained. But Labor wants to gut it and build a creative arts centre for fashion and design, with three enormous event spaces. The former would save about $300 million and win lots of votes.

For nearly 10 years, the major parties have played many dirty tricks. But a new low was reached on June 20 when the early 1900s Governor’s Rail Carriage was removed in the dead of night, trucked off to a storeroom at Castle Hill.

It came from the middle of the level one transport display — an inspiration since the museum. Locomotive 1243 was removed a few nights later. Built in 1882, a few hundred metres from the Powerhouse Museum, it is a wonderful example of manufacturing industry at the time.

Already nearly half the area has been stripped. Work is now underway to remove the iconic Catalina aircraft.

The space display and items, such as the Central Station destination board of the steam train era, will be removed and not replaced.

Judging from the way the area has been stripped, there are fears for the safety of the exhibits.

As well as marking 200 years of European settlement, the museum's founding in 1988 was the beginning of a new awareness of First Nations’ culture.

The “adaptive reuse” of the derelict power station was recognised with worldwide architectural awards: no one then would have believed it would be destroyed less than half a century later.

After a huge struggle, supporters of the museum did manage to establish an assessment of the heritage value of the museum.

But Labor is ignoring the law which states a new major project cannot be “determined” (given a “go” order) before a range of social and environmental factors are taken into account.

The $350 million building program for a new Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta will end up with an inferior museum. There have been at least 10 major consultative exercises, all of which have shown huge support for retaining the Powerhouse Museum “as is, where is”.

The museum needs upgrading, not demolition and degradation.

But Labor plans to strip the interior of the building back to the original walls: it will become an empty space with a few token decorative items.

No one with experience was involved in the decisions which began in November 2014 when then Premier Mike Baird first announced, controversially, that the Ultimo museum would be moved to Parramatta.

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