Heritage of the Powerhouse Museum:

What’s at stake in the move to Parramatta

Back to menu   Story so far   World significance   The buildings  Museum history  Iconic exhibits  Bicentenary  Reputational damage  People  Cold hard cash

And the move makes no financial sense at all.

The move of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta was forecast in the Create in NSW: NSW Arts and Cultural Policy Framework released on 26 February, 2015. It included as a key aim ‘investigating the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to the Parramatta Cultural Precinct’. On 24 November 2014, even before the release of this document, the Parramatta Advertiser carried a story confirming that the move would take place. The Premier and the Arts Minister announced the relocation of the museum to Parramatta and flagged their plans to sell the site, using the proceeds to erect a new museum in Parramatta. The site would be used for new residential buildings. All proceeds from the sale ($150 to $250 million) would be used for the new museum.

$10 million was set aside to examine the feasibility of the move. A specialist firm was employed for the purpose, but their findings have not been made available despite ‘Freedom of Information’ requests.

The loss of heritage is deplorable, but even setting this aside, the lack of information has led to serious doubts about the basic financial aspects of the project. Engineers, museum experts, town planners and other informed people have expressed doubts along the following lines:

Moving the exhibits….

This is not just a job for a crane and some semitrailers. Almost everything requires care far beyond that of the average removalist. Looking first at a few of the big items:

These are some of the obvious problem items, and an added complication is that many large items such as these will have to be last out of PHM and first in to the new buildings. The new buildings will require strengthened floors and ceilings in many areas.

The provision of steam throughout will be another huge problem.

But the large items are not the only problems. In the climate-controlled storerooms of the Harwood Building are thousands of smaller items that will need equal care. For example, this Japanese Edo period suit of armour (left) is extremely fragile, and is valued at $500,000. Not something to just put in a suitcase!

In short, it is apparent that the costs of clearing the site, and simply moving the exhibits will take all the money raised from the sale of the site, before even purchasing the new land, much less erecting the new building.

We will have lost this magnificent building for nothing.

This is terrible economics. The building itself is valued, at a minimum, at $450 million; to rebuild something equivalent at Parramatta will cost at least a similar amount.

The resistance to the move has been characterized by the government as a class war: ‘inner city trendies’ versus ‘westies’. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We share a common cause: similar atrocious planning is apparent in Parramatta, for example in the proposed demolition of the Parramatta swimming pool, and we stand united in opposing senseless destruction.

Every PHM supporter, and every thoughtful person in Parramatta, wants a museum in Parramatta that reflects its own wonderful past and future. Parramatta has a fascinating indigenous heritage, culminating in the resistance of Pemulwuy. It was our first successful farming area, our first inland city, and has a vibrant industrial and multicultural history. The area deserves its own museum. This can be afforded if money is not wasted by the senseless destruction of the Powerhouse.