Heritage of the Powerhouse Museum: Tom Lockley

Attached here, is a copy of my booklet, Heritage of the Powerhouse Museum , which is being distributed by the Pyrmont History Group. Its purpose is to demonstrate the heritage values of the Powerhouse Museum’s buildings. They are not fibro shacks that can be quickly bulldozed, but are beautifully built and must be preserved because of their quality and unique heritage value.

But an institution such as a museum is more than just buildings. This booklet deals with the total picture and demonstrates that the total operation must be preserved, that if it is moved from the present site its qualities will be severely diminished, and further, that the costing of the whole process is irrational.

  1. The museum is of world standard: this is enhanced because of the qualities of the building. It is the most significant arts and sciences museum in Australia. Because of its national importance, it is more important to have it in a position that is easily accessible to the state, the nation and international visitors than to have it in the demographic population centre of Sydney, further out. Its present site is ideal. In modern society, the synthesis of arts and sciences is essential to agile innovation, and the museum is well-placed to meet this need.
  2. As well as being a great example of building skills the buildings remind us of the incredible feat of the construction of this, Australia’s first major power station, and the establishment of the tram line and tram service in a mere 25 months.
  3. The museum is successor to a long process of development, notably its origins as a Technological Museum in nearby buildings in Ultimo, where it started recording many scientific, technological and artistic advances.
  4. The museum is traditional home of many iconic exhibits, many with local relevance which will be lost in a relocation. Parramatta has its own proud history and deserves its own museum to reflect this.
  5. The museum, both in terms of its award-winning 1988 building adaptations and as a symbol of Australia’s cultural development, is a powerful marker of Australia’s bicentenary. Many of the other buildings of the Darling Harbour precinct which marked the bicentenary have been demolished but this brilliant building conversion must be retained.
  6. To trash such a remarkable cultural icon in its highly significant building is an act of barbarism that is unprecedented throughout the civilized peacetime world and would seriously damage our reputation as a cultured country.
  7. The museum has an amazing human story. It also engenders great affection among many people because of its manifold qualities. If, despite all the facts that indicate that the museum should not be moved, the government goes ahead with its plans it must expect vigorous resistance and possibly direct action.
  8. The project does not even have any economic benefit to the state. The bare site will not realise more than $250 million. It will cost about that much to demolish the buildings and to transfer the exhibits to Parramatta. In the process, the existing building (worth about $450 million) will be destroyed and to erect a new building of reasonable standard on the proposed Parramatta site will cost at least this amount. If the Powerhouse museum is retained, Parramatta can still have the museum it deserves and over half a billion dollars will be saved.

The idea of constructing a new museum at Parramatta has the full support of the lobby group, the Powerhouse Museum Alliance. It makes sense to establish a new facility, in the population centre of Sydney, to showcase modern Sydney’s culture. It makes no sense at all to destroy the Powerhouse in the process.

The government has stated that regardless of the outcome of the coming Legislative Council inquiry, the ‘move’ will occur. This is a denial of due process that will be vigorously opposed.


Tom Lockley has a long career as a teacher and principal in schools in NSW. Since retirement he has volunteered in such places as the Centre for Egyptology, Macquarie University; the Australian Aviation Museum, Bankstown and Powerhouse Museum. He has written several publications, notably on the French airman Maurice Guillaux, who visited Australia in 1914, and has also maintained a strong interest in ancient history.