‘Moving’ the Museum: a disaster that must not happen – Tom Lockley

Bulletin 46: edited by Tom Lockley, sent out 14 November and slightly revised on 24 November 2019.

Over the past 3½ years 45 bulletins have been sent out to the members of an email group that includes nearly 200 people, with a wide range of experience and knowledge, but up till now including only factual information that cannot be refuted and which clearly demonstrates the stupidity of the idea to ‘move’ the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta.

In this bulletin we include some rumour and some inferences have been used to support some of the arguments, but most of the material is fully documented. If anything is shown to be wrong, the standard promise is made: corrections will be widely publicised as quickly as possible.

This bulletin lists many aspects of the ‘move’ process that are distinctly unsatisfactory. They are but additional symptoms of the malaise that results from the fundamental problems of this project – lack of research into alternatives, lack of consultation with stakeholders and so on, as listed in appendix 1.

The stage one design competition is shonky

This is the diagram of the site of the Parramatta museum as taken from the brief that was given in the contenders for the initial stages of the competition to select the architects for the new museum at Parramatta,


Note that to get it to nearly the size of the smallest possible measurement of the Ultimo site, even the footpath along the river bank was included.

There was no indication that some of the site was earmarked in the released business plan for a highrise tower. According to the information given in the Final Business Case Summary of April 2019, even with the proceeds of the development of this tower the project had a Benefit Cost Ratio of a mere 1.02, meaning that after all the upheaval the new building could only be 2% better than doing nothing if the calculations proved to be correct, which does not always happen! The calculable benefits of the heritage building at Ultimo was never considered in the equation.

There was also no indication that the ParRamatta Council has unanimously requested the retention of Willow Grove and St Georges Terrace buildings.

The enormous difficulties involved in moving in the Very Large Objects were also not mentioned. They have to be last out of Ultimo and first into Parramatta This process is as specified by Root Associates, producers of sections of the Business Plan related to the relocation. We accept their competence in this regard, despite the fact that on 31 May 2018, the Local Court convicted Root Partnerships of carrying out development not in accordance with the development consent for O’Connell Street Public School (formerly Kings School).  The court imposed a fine of $10,000.

Mr Root appeared before the Inquiry on 17 February and in direct testimony, and in response to specific questions and in responses given ‘on notice’ he invoked ‘cabinet in confidence’ as a reason for answering questions, at least eight times – a prime case of the misuse of this excuse as described on page 7. He did admit that a risk analysis was not part of his scope of work, even though it would be essential to the process.

The difficulties are indeed manifold. The Catalina can only be inserted from the corner of White Avenue and Phillip Street, imposing consequent restrictions on design as regards the final placing of the item. There is absolutely no evidence of appropriate consideration of the difficulties of moving these items: we have a senior engineers’ opinion that the wooden framework of the Boulton and Watt engine must be replaced if moved, and we await the assessment of a qualified metallurgist as to the frangibility of the cast-iron components, which our experts say will need to be handled like a crate of eggs. The list goes on and on.

The next few pages, prepared early this year, are still relevant.

The point is that the information given in the briefing is woefully inadequate.

And this is where the rumour comes in. It is thought that the consultants have been asked to prepare a new business plan to enable a positive benefit-cost ratio and still provide a credible description of the available site to the chosen architect. And it just cannot be done. According to the rumour, this is causing great strains in the organisation.


Staffing chaos persists in all aspects of the project

The status of Directors and Trustees has been compromised

At the very top level we have seen the resignation of director Rose Hiscock, and then the departure of Dolla Merrillees, and the recruitment of Lisa Havilah, not as director but as CEO with the direct responsibility of making the move happen. We will come back to discussing this appointment later.

Mrs Janet MacDonald, trustee for a total of eight years, resigned in March 2017, exposing a culture of contempt for the input of experienced and highly qualified people such as herself. The group of trustees has been systematically denuded of people with experience in the museum and arts field: the new appointments to the trustees announced in February include only one – maths teacher Eddie Woo – who has relevant qualifications. Most of the rest are financiers or property developers, notably including Darren Sternberg, chief Executive of the property development firm Dexus. He had to promise that there would be no conflict of financial interest. The most reprehensible appointment is that of David Borger, who led the public campaign for the ‘move’ despite the overwhelming evidence that it will be a disaster. He has consistently ignored requests to debate the matter, (see below) relying on polemic rather than reason.

The high-level professionals are fleeing

Without exception, all the Government witnesses at the Inquiry who had supervisory responsibilities for the ‘move’ have since left their positions.

  • Samantha Torres, who at the Inquiry on 5 September 2016 said that she had overall responsibility for the project abandoned this job less than six months later and is now working for Johnstaff. She is qualified in law with an MBA and no relevant experience in museums so will fit in well.
  • Michael Parry, appointed Parramatta Project Director in February 2016, seconded to Create NSW June 2017 to February 2018, returning to Parramatta Project director in September 2018, left NSW in May 2019 to take up a job in Victoria.
  • Michael Brealey resigned as CEO of Create NSW after 13 months in the post and left at the end of March 2018.
  • Ms Alex O’Mara was the team leader at Create NSW, in charge of creating ‘a vibrant, accessible and thriving cultural sector in NSW’. She left in May 2019 to become Deputy Secretary Place Design and Public Spaces at NSW Department of Planning and Environment. To me, this does not sound like a promotion.
  • Carolyn McNally, secretary of the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment, announced her resignation in April of this year.
  • Craig Limkin, Executive Director of Create Infrastructure since April 2017 suddenly quit in August 2019.

The staff turnover of a certain US President comes to mind, though this is not as extreme. One fears that high rate of turnover involves similar factors as apply in the US executive branch.

Within the staff of the museum, there have been at least two interesting departures:

  • ‘highly respected’ Collections and Exhibitions Director Peter Denham, recruited from the Museum of Brisbane in October 2016, knowing full well that he would be deeply involved in the ‘move‘ left in August 2019.
  • Programs Director Tristan Sharp was appointed to facilitate the ‘move’ and lasted from September 2016 to May 2019.

Andrew Elliot, MAAS finance director, who was acting director pending the assumption of the CEO job by Lisa Havilah, appeared at the Inquiry on 16 November 2018. His long opening statement was irrelevant to the major issues, and his evidence was related to his part in the investigation of the notorious ‘ball’. He is a long-term employee of the museum, but seems to have had little involvement in the ‘move’ process. He is the only survivor from the group of senior people that began the project.

The point is that if the move program was going ahead smoothly, and we were on track to produce ‘the equivalent of the Smithsonian’, or was even a viable and sound project, would all these people have abandoned their chance for a wonderful career achievement?

Current staffing policies are dishonest

The anonymous, but obviously very experienced,  ‘Witness B’  said at the Inquiry on February 2 this year ‘I can assure you that even the past and current executive, up until the end of last year, although publicly supporting this decision, have privately had serious concerns [about the project]. ….They came in knowing that they would be part of this move. The executive would say, ”This is a career-defining opportunity”. That is how they were trying to sell it to people. There would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a great new project and it would be great on their curriculum vitae [CV]’.

There is absolutely no evidence to support the claims made over the years that the staff are enthusiastic about the move. There is evidence to the contrary, despite the fact that museum jobs are in short supply and keen demand, and if you are lucky enough to have a job it is not easy to express your opinions: you feel that such a move is dangerous to your future employment. There is indeed no problem in hiring low-level staff with adequate qualifications to prepare for the ‘move’ by doing such things as cataloguing and digitising exhibits, but quantities of high-level replacements for senior people are needed , and it will be interesting to see how many of these people remain enthusiastic about the project as the facts become more clearly known.

Many people have left and many of the current staff have been there for only a couple of years. Many others are staying on, keeping their heads down to maximise termination payments when the decline the move to Parramatta.

The Ultimo site has huge potential….

The new CEO has supported the establishment of new temporary displays, and to her credit, these have been locally produced displays rather then turnkey imports. The recent opening of the Jenny Kee / Linda Jackson Walk into Paradise exhibition is a case in point, and the wonderful atmosphere at the opening was a telling reminder of the magnificent spaces available in this museum which would not be replicated in any new museum at Parramatta. She has also made efforts to resume cooperation with the ‘affiliated groups’ – people who traditionally have interacted with the museum to mutual benefit, but many of them have been literally shut out of the museum since 2014, and their expertise has been ignored. These are positive developments, but underline the special features of the Ultimo museum and do nothing to promote its destruction.

…. and this museum is in the right place

It is a common mantra among previous directors and Government speechmakers that this is Australia’s only museum dedicated to the important interface between the applied arts and sciences.

Everyone agrees with this, and it follows that it is an act of gross cultural vandalism to move it from its present magnificent building on its present site, site, most accessible to the state, the country and the world.

The best display of steam engines in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the best in the world, is housed in the turbine room of the first commercial power station in Australia. There is a strong rumour that the Parramatta museum will not include a steam generation and reticulation apparatus as is present at Ultimo.

The original buildings display magnificent craftsmanship, never to be replicated in modern times. They would be very difficult to modify while still maintaining structural integrity. It is difficult to see how items such as the Apollo rocket engine can be removed without making huge holes in the massive brickwork walls on level 1.

The 1988 development won world-wide recognition for the brilliant new additions and the repurposing of the old buildings, including the Harwood Building, a magnificent storage and curatorial area. Incidentally, it was never thought that this museum would be scheduled for demolition within thirty years, so no heritage listing was sought. The Government has not acted on heritage nominations for this building for the 3+ years after they were eventually lodged.

The secrecy continues

At the Inquiry, Government witnesses frequently refused to give basic information, claiming it was ‘Cabinet in confidence’ (at least 37 times in the Legislative Council Inquiry into Museums and Galleries evidence alone). ‘Cabinet in confidence’ traditionally applies to discussions made within the cabinet, leading to the convention that Cabinet speaks with one voice, having deliberated the matter in question and determined a policy. The present Government has extended the policy to include the recommendations made by various bodies to the Government and even to the data that underlies these decisions, as is seen in the discussion of the Inquiry testimony of Peter Root (page 2).

Many financial matters have been redacted from the released business case. The excuse given is that these facts may be used by people who will eventually submit estimates to carry out the various works involved. Again, the idea of something being ‘commercial in confidence’ is that when negotiations are under way with various competitors for a project, the ideas presented by one candidate may be withheld from the others. There seems no reason for basic commercial data to be withheld from the public unless negotiations were under way, and we have repeatedly been assured that this is not the case: no secret deals are under way regarding matters such as land sales, building permissions and so on. It seems more likely that the redactions have been made to avoid making the embarrassing contents known to the public.

Those who remember the development process of the 1980’s unfavourably compare the transparency of the process at that time with the obsessive secrecy presently being displayed.

The decision to have a lyric theatre and fashion showroom similarly appears to be the whim of the politicians, with no alternative being considered. This point is academic, as the destruction of the Powerhouse to enable the space to be cleared for any other use must not happen.

The complete lack of museum expertise continues

As a matter of interest, early this year we checked on LinkedIn the qualifications of all the Sydney employees of Johnstaff, the organisation that has the contract for coordinating the Business Case documents. There were no experts in museums, and not even any experts in fields arts and culture. They are guns for hire: they are told what the Government’s decision is, and told to make it happen. (The PR firm that was employed for the 2017 so-called ‘consultation’ meetings was Elton Consulting, and they were given the specific task of selling the idea, which they did by running consultations asking the participants what they wanted to see in the new museum and what they wanted the ruins of the Powerhouse to be used for. Consultation about the merit of the whole process was not included).

Johnstaff’s work involves making up budgets that are supposed to demonstrate the viability of the Government’s wishes, but they do not even consider the calculable value of heritage in institutions such as the Powerhouse, a standard procedure in such cases.

Last July I was talking to a senior officer of the museum and made the point about the lack of museum experts in the whole process. He said that a museum expert had been appointed by Johnstaff, and promised to supply this person’s details. He has not done so even after several email reminders and phone calls to his office.

There are limits to which even these people can go in fulfilling their masters’ wishes. The rumour is that these limits have been reached throughout.

The claimed ‘peer review’ process is a sham

The Arts Minister in Inquiry evidence stated that the process had been continually subject to peer review supervision and approval, and this has been shown to be ridiculously false. On 29 August 2017 Mr Harwin advised us of the membership of an Expert Advisory Group / Panel, mentioned by Ms Torres on 30 June 2017 who ‘provided guidance throughout the process’. Members of the group were listed by Mr Harwin as Dr Patrick Greene, previously the chief executive officer of Museum Victoria; Professor Graham Durant, the Director of Questacon; Mr Mark Carnegie, well-known as an arts philanthropist, Doug Hall; director Art Gallery and GOMA, Brisbane; Peter Root, the Managing Director of Root Partnerships who has had an extensive involvement with the Powerhouse Museum; Penny Hutchinson, previously the head of Arts Victoria; and Edmund Capon, former director of the Art Gallery of NSW

There is absolutely no evidence in the released Business Case of any input from any member of the group. The group was not formed until over 2 ½ years had elapsed since the project was inaugurated. Mark Carnegie and Edmond Capon did not attend any meeting. Mark Carnegie is on record as saying that he knows nothing about this matter and Edmond Capon is reported as saying that he wanted nothing to do with it. Only two meetings were held, in September 2017, both offsite, attended respectively by three and four members of the group listed above. Peter Root, who attended both meetings, was quite ineligible to be a member of an independent review panel, as he was employed by the museum, and Penny Hutchinson as director of Root Associates is disqualified for the same reason. Mr Hall assisted Johnstaff consultants from about June 2017 but details of his employment are not clear: we have been unable to establish whether or not he was paid for his involvement, and in any case he did not attend either of the meetings. Professor Durant, who attended both meetings, has stated that he did give some advice after the meetings in regard to establishing a Questacon-like facility in the new museum but has had no input since that time. Dr Patrick Greene appears to have left the country and we have not been able to contact him.

The ‘guidance throughout the process’ from peer review thus does not exist, at least till well after September 2017. And there is no evidence of any such procedure since that time.

In July 2019 Mr Harwin issued a ‘final response’ to the report of the Museums and Galleries inquiry, and again stated that ‘highly qualified consultants in cultural infrastructure, museum logistics, urban planning, construction and operations contributed by peer review processes and governance panels’ We have on many occasions asked for details of the peer review process with no response.

We are prepared to concede that something well less than 100 hours of expert outside involvement occurred during the period June-September 2017 by what the Government has called a Peer Review process, but it is certainly not the type of rigorous outside investigation that can, by any remote stretch of definition, be called a proper academic peer review.

The Government is again invited to provide facts that outline any later peer review process, including membership, meeting times and places, and some indication that they have had some influence on the project.

For the record, the ‘move’ idea has been specifically opposed by two former directors of MAAS, at least two directors of other comparable institutions, four former trustees, nine professional curators and at least five other museum experts of similar standing. There are also many experts in other art-related areas, including the architect who designed the museum conversion and at least two other (younger) architects who are practicing at a very high level. They have given reasons, not polemic. Not one of the 100+ individual submissions made to the Inquiry recommended the ‘move’ and most were from highly qualified people from relevant fields of endeavour.

We have investigated all the people in the museum / arts sector listed by Mr Harwin in Inquiry evidence as being strong supporters of the ‘move’ and only found one who would confirm this support. A particularly ridiculous claim (12 September 2018, Inquiry evidence), was that the move had been supported by the Manager of Arts and Culture with responsibility for the Penrith Regional Art Gallery and the Lewers bequest, when that very person, Dr Lee-Anne Hall, had appeared at the Inquiry on 6 September 2016 and presented empirical data that specifically supported the retention of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo. The majority of people contacted indicated that they supported the Government in general terms for spending money in the museum sector, but did not support the ‘move’, for the reasons obvious to everyone and made apparent elsewhere. They were reluctant to run the risks inherent in openly opposing the Government.

The project has declining support within the Government

Over the years we have made four major mailouts to all MPs. From the outset the responses from Government members have fallen into two categories: ‘referred to the Arts Minister for comment’ or ‘the Governments is bringing culture to the west, how dare you knock this wonderful idea’ – not exact words, but the sense of the answer. I have not kept an exact tally of these responses, but it is clear that in the last mailout even the total number of acknowledgements of receipt of the mailout has declined and that the number directly supporting the move had dropped to nearly zero. And of course, throughout, the response that eventually comes from the Arts Minister is from a bureaucrat in the Arts Ministry that says how good the Government’s policy is and completely ignores the facts.

In the last mailout, August 2018, the booklet ‘Moving’ the Powerhouse (with individual, personalised covering letters), there was  only one exception to this, only one authentic response, and that is from the Honourable David Elliot, who pointed out that his electorate of Baulkham Hills adjoined the museum site and for that reason he was fully in favour of the museum relocation. End of story.

We have reports that indicate that at least four Government MLAs, including one relevant minister, have expressed doubts about the wisdom of the move, either publicly or in one-on-one or small group sessions. The rumour again is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that many MLAs can see the stupidity of the ‘move’ idea, but are afraid to express their opinions, either publicly or within Government policy-making structures. It is believed that at least until this year the matter has never been debated in party meetings.

The Honourable Matthew Mason-Cox MLC incurred the wrath of some of his colleagues when in June 2018 he voted with the opposition to secure the public release of the Business Case papers. The Government grudgingly did so. In a single copy made available in office hours by appointment. The papers were significantly redacted. One section was illegible, and some pages were missing. We have sought these pages on no less than 15 occasions with no response. We put the papers on the Internet and were asked by the Museum to make it clear that this was a private site not supported by the Museum, obviously on instructions from the Government, another indicator of the highly suspicious obsession with secrecy.

The cultural ambassador to the West has gone missing….

Ms Macgregor (Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and designated ‘Cultural Ambassador for the West’) gave evidence at the Inquiry on 5 September 2016. She is almost the only person with significant arts and cultural qualifications that we can find who has supported the ‘move’ but since appearing at the Inquiry we cannot find any evidence of continuing support for the project. So we tried to contact Ms Macgregor to see if she still stood by her original support of the ‘move’, but phone calls and emails elicited no response, nor did a registered letter. Bear in mind that her original support was for the initial proposal of Mr Baird which stated that the entire move would be financed by the sale of the Ultimo site, which was immediately proved to be ridiculous.

… and so has her main advisory group!

Ms Macgregor said in her Inquiry evidence, 5 September 2016, that she had discussed the move in depth only with the Western Sydney Arts and Cultural Lobby and indeed was very vague about the name of even this group.

According to their submission to the inquiry, this group consists of individuals and 13 organisations, mainly art and theatre groups; there are no museums or historical groups. Two groups are part of Western Sydney University and a press release from the Lobby was put out by the same PR firm as the WSU uses.

They had some meetings in about 2016. Their submission approved the idea of the move, just about the only non-government submission that did so. There is no indication at all that they considered any other option. In a later press release the group suggested the development of a film library and film / tv school at Parramatta.

During 2019 we have often tried to contact the group. They have no website or facebook profile. They have no ABN. Their submission to the Inquiry does not include the name or contact details of even one person. We have contacted everyone we can think of who might assist. Mr Harwin’s office and Mrs Macgregor’s office were unable to provide any contact details. We phoned each of the groups mentioned as being components of the group but no-one had contact details. The Sydney Business Chamber and their Western Sydney branch were unable to assist. No-one could remember a meeting held this year.

Compare this to any of the other groups that made submissions or gave evidence opposing the ‘move’ – for example the National Trust of Australia, Engineers Australia NSW Division – Engineering Heritage Sydney, .the massive Facebook campaign of Save the Powerhouse, Trustees of the Historic House Trust, the Powerhouse Museum Alliance (see their website!), Engineers Australia, the International Commission on Monuments and Sites, the Council of Australasian Museum Directors, Jacksons Landing Community Association, North Parramatta Residents Action Group Inc, the Ultimo Village Voice and many others, including even the Harden-Murrumburrah Historical Society.

Bear in mind also that Mr Baird was asked at the Inquiry to name one museum or arts organisation that supported the ‘move’ but did not do so even when given three weeks to research this matter and respond to the request.

Why are they still pushing this ridiculous idea? A theory

So in this rambling discourse I have been trying to make the point that the Government is finding it hard to maintain any credibility at all. So why are they continuing to push this ridiculous idea?

A theory has emerged which is the only one that fits the facts. It suggests that there is a group of tacticians in the Government who want the ‘west’ to see that this Government will downgrade the city of Sydney whatever the cost. To these people Clover More is a mortal enemy. By moving the museum to Parramatta they can be seen to deliberately damage the city, regardless of cost.

So why not ask the Parramatta people where they want this museum to be put? Why are they ignoring the FACT that the Council has never approved the site chosen, and at the beginning of the project actively opposed the use of this site. And why not ask the people of Parramatta what sort of cultural amenity they would like to have?

The only reasonable explanation is that they want to be seen to be dominating the council as well as being dictatorially spiteful to the Sydney city area. They are saying to Parramatta ‘You will have what we say you will have, and there is no way you are going to get a choice of what you want because we are the boss. If you knock back this silly idea and want something more sensible, you will get nothing’.

It is bitterly ironic that the person who proposed this stupidly wasteful idea is now a wheeler and dealer for the National Bank, when no bank could possibly support this idea.

Likewise, the main proponent of the scheme is David Borger, of the Western Sydney Business Chamber. He is the only person who gave evidence supporting the move of the museum who was not a Government employee in some form or another. One wonders about his financial acumen: he is impervious to reasoned argument that conclusively demonstrates the incredible waste involved if the ‘move’ process is carried out. We have asked for the reasons behind his support for the scheme over all possible alternatives with no response, and to crown all he has been chosen as a museum trustee.

There are many options that are far better.

The Government members of the Inquiry put in a 209-word dissenting report on the Inquiry. They simply stated that the proposal to relocate the Powerhouse Museum is the only substantive proposal that is presently advanced that will enhance the cultural amenity of Western Sydney, and despite the mass of expert opinion to the contrary, persisted in the face of all the facts which had been advanced. See appendix 1 of this paper.

No evidence has ever been advanced of any consideration of alternatives by the Government, and the conclusion that that there was no such consideration cannot be escaped. On the contrary, submissions to the Inquiry and witnesses, as well as the people of Parramatta, have presented many options The best consultation to date is North Parramatta Residents Action Group, October2016: the combined cultural associations of Parramatta recommend the development of the authentic ‘Fleet Street’ area into a multipurpose cultural precinct, and local choice of arts facilities, supported eg by the Inquiry Submissions 21, 117, 142, 142b and 149. Specific projects suggested include migration (13, 21, 37, 51, 149), early history (North Parramatta Residents Action Group) and submissions 21, 42, 119, 143), 149 with special emphasis on Aboriginal history (21, 31, 51, 149) and a Questacon or multipurpose display area (36, 51, 149, 143, 96b, 142b).

There are many other examples of Parramatta people’s keenness for other proposals than the Powerhouse ‘move’. For example on 10 July 2017 a public forum (Outcomes of the Public Exhibition of the draft Development Control Plan for the Parramatta North Urban Transformation Precinct) was held by the Administrator in which participants could express their feelings on various subjects. Over 1000 submissions had been made supporting the development of the Fleet Street area as a cultural precinct. A succession of speakers made the basic point that this was a desirable outcome. These included Jenny Brockman, Andrew Quah, Suzette Meade of NPRAG, Ronda Gaffey (representative of the Parramatta Female Factory Friends), Brian Powyer, Auntie Kerrie Kenton, Professor Helen Armstrong of Saving Sydney’s Trees, Warren Moss and planner/developer Donna Savage. There is no doubt that there is a very strong lobby favouring development of the Fleet Street are as a cultural precinct over the planned extension of high-rise, destruction of heritage buildings and alienation of open space that is involved in the current museum plans.

The provision of a locally based museum at Parramatta, plus for example a Questacon, would, we submit, be far more financially attractive. The huge cost of the ‘move’ adds enormously to the need to recoup costs through entry fees, and this additional cost means inevitably that more people will not be able to afford it. Attendances, particularly of people and children of lower socio-economic status, suffer, diminishing the cultural and social value of the museum. A Questacon, in the demographic centre of Sydney, would be financially viable: the Canberra Questacon, with a nominal feeder area of 510,000 had 517,000 visitors in the last reported year, of which at least 10,000 would have come from Sydney. This particular educational experience would be particularly valuable for city children, many of whom live in apartments, and have relatively little experience in the practical physical activities that form a large part of the Questacon’s attractions. This could be established at a high level, plus a world-class museum reflecting Parramatta’s ethos, for much less than the cost of moving and housing the Powerhouse exhibits. It would be even less if the Fleet Street site, which has the potential to be a world-class culture precinct, was used.

So, what next?

The project must not be allowed to proceed. Let us see if the Government comes to its senses during the next few months, but be prepared for an interesting start to 2020.

If you have read this far, my thanks, and if you think I have included made any errors of fact, please be in touch and I will correct them.

Appendix 1. The fundamental facts.

The following FACTS have been consistently asserted over the past four years, not just from the enormous Inquiry into Museums and Galleries, and no contradictory material has emerged. On Monday 21 January this year the Premier, the Arts Minster and other politicians received, by mail and by email, a copy of these facts, with a covering letter formally requesting comment or refutation, but again there has been no valid response. The material comes from the PHG email group which consists of w very wide range of people, many very highly qualified, also many employees and volunteers. Full references supporting each fact are available: check https://powerhousemuseumalliance.com/ or email tomlockley@gmail.com. It is beyond belief that the Government is persisting with this project.

  1. The idea of moving the Powerhouse Museum was not researched. It was an announced political decision in late 2014. CIPMO, Create Australia and MAAS museum authorities have clearly stated that their actions have resulted from this announced decision, and there was no pre-announcement research into alternative strategies for the laudable objective of improving the cultural facilities of Western Sydney.
  2. There was no consultation with stakeholders. Even the trustees of the museum and Parramatta Council learnt of the idea from reading about it in the newspapers.
  3. This state of affairs has continued: There has never been any later consultation or research into alternatives to moving the Powerhouse Museum to the site chosen by the Government in Parramatta. A sham consultation effort in mid-2017 consisted of asking people what they wanted to see in the new museums and asking for suggestions about the use of the Ultimo site.
  4. ‘Moving’ the Powerhouse is a very bad idea. Of all possible projects for enhancing the cultural facilities of Western Sydney, it is hard to find one that is more expensive, more destructive and more inefficient: The largest objects have to be the last out of Ultimo and the first into any new building at Parramatta, with consequent massive costs for storage and transit. There will be a considerable resultant time delay, unnecessary with almost any other project. The specially strengthened floors (for supporting heavy exhibits) and ceiling (for suspending aircraft), as well as the extensive steam reticulation network, will be wasted at Ultimo and have to be replicated at considerable cost at Parramatta.
    This process wastes, at the very least, some hundreds of millions of dollars above what would be required for any other cultural / educational project.
  5. The magnificent soaring galleries of the existing building cannot be replicated in Parramatta within the proposed new building. The proposed site is smaller than the Ultimo site, and is further compromised by the current plan to build at least one commercial / residential tower on the site and by the unanimously expressed desire of Parramatta Council for the retention of heritage buildings on the site. The unresearched decision to include a Planetarium within the museum adds further difficulties.
  6. The currently planned process involves a massive degradation of the Ultimo site, again for the purpose of building commercial / residential towers to assist budgeting. There is a calculable value of heritage in institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum, and this has been totally ignored by the Government.
  7. The proposal has been the subject of almost universal criticism. The Government was forced to hold a Legislative Council Inquiry which attracted over 150 relevant submissions. Apart from the Government submission, all organizational submissions, including those of the National trust, only two gave qualified support for the move, and all others completely opposed it. Of the over 100 individual submissions, some from very highly qualified people, none supported the ‘move’. Non-Government witnesses have been universally condemnatory of the idea. The Save the Powerhouse Facebook page exemplifies the views of the general public with over 20,000 people involved in active support. Mr Baird, asked at the Inquiry to name one arts group in favour of the move, did not do so even when given three weeks to research the topic.
  8. The site chosen by the Government had been specifically rejected by the elected council prior to its dissolution to enable forced council amalgamation. The land deal was finalised by the unelected administrator, and has not been approved by the re-elected Parramatta Council.

This is Australia’s only museum dedicated to the important interface between the applied arts and sciences and it is an act of cultural vandalism to move it from its present magnificent building on its present site, site, most accessible to the state, the country and the world.

Edited by Tom Lockley, PO Box 301, Pyrmont 2009. tomlockley@gmail.com 0403615134.