Powerhouse Museum sell-off a ‘shameful act of vandalism’

June 25, 2020
Photo: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

On June 30, the New South Wales government will shut the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to the public and prepare it for sale. This controversial decision is still being widely opposed.

“We are about to witness one of the most shameful acts of cultural vandalism in the history of this country,” Leo Schofield, a former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum, wrote in the June 21 Sydney Morning Herald. Cultural professionals and the general public have opposed the government’s plan to destroy the iconic Powerhouse Museum, since it was announced six years ago.

Renown worldwide, the Powerhouse “has assembled a unique, priceless and irreplaceable collection of objects relevant to the history of Australia in general and to NSW in particular”, Schofield said, adding that he believed many items would not be seen again and “a good deal probably sold off”.

Nothing is sacred to this government, he said: “Beautiful sandstone buildings, no open spaces, nothing that can’t be monetised”.

Former museum trustee and consultant curator Kylie Winkworth described the Powerhouse scheme as the “willful demolition of a world-class museum”. She said its closure in Ultimo would lead to a “cut-down version” in Parramatta, where the site was not only at risk of flooding, but “whose themes and content bear no relation to Parramatta’s stated cultural priorities or notable cultural opportunities”.

The government’s determination to proceed with the sale is another example of its insatiable drive to sell off public assets to help enrich private developers. The unique museum building will be transformed into more over-priced apartment blocks.

The obvious alternative, as many in Sydney’s western suburbs agree, is to build a new museum in Parramatta, focused on the history and culture of the region and boosted by the huge stock of artefacts in storage at the Powerhouse Museum which cannot be displayed  because of lack of space.

A 2016 petition opposing the sell-off, signed by more than 10,000 people, forced a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the museum plan, which rejected the proposal. The government has forged ahead regardless.

It has now been revealed that the proposed Parramatta museum will not be completed before 2024, and possibly only ready to open in 2025. Infrastructure NSW has said that the cost of the move will be in the vicinity of $1.1 billion.

The NSW government is using the COVID-19 shut-down to accelerate selected infrastructure projects, freeze public sector wage rises and privatise public assets. The campaign to reverse the Powerhouse Museum sell-off and to support a new Western Suburbs Museum needs to continue.

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