BY ALEX EUGENE
Last week’s media announcement that the Powerhouse Museum would stay at its Ultimo site was met with more trepidation than celebration by community members.
Information that the museum would no longer be relocated to Parramatta, was prematurely leaked from a Ministers’ cabinet meeting. A source alleged that the leak had been deliberate to “test” the public response — and that’s because it had been so negative, Ministers are said to have pushed back the meeting while they reconsider their options.
A spokesperson for the Minister of the Arts, Don Harwin, told City Hub that “Nothing has changed from the Government announcement in April.”
But Dr Lindsay Sharp, the founding director of the Powerhouse Museum, said in his opinion the leaked information most likely did resemble what would be brought to Cabinet in coming weeks.
“I am told that the Party Room will be asked to vote on Government’s enforced acquisition of the DJ’s Car Park site for a new museum in Parramatta,” he said.
The government’s preferred site for the new museum in Parramatta is an old David Jones carpark. Experts say the site is dangerously prone to flooding –- making it a disastrous choice for a building expected to house rare and irreplaceable historic artefacts.
Dr Sharp said the relocation would waste tens of millions of dollars, making the plan “a total waste of political capital and actual funds desperately needed by museums elsewhere throughout NSW,” he said.
The relocation could also require the demolition of several important heritage buildings in Parramatta, much to the lament of locals.
“It will require very expensive and highly risk-prone remediation – reducing the new museum budget even more and endangering irreplaceable collections,” Dr Sharp said.
Dr Sharp said he was also concerned that the promise of keeping the Ultimo museum site as a “cultural facility” was far too vague, and at worst, could mean anything from an art gallery to a kid’s playground.
Kylie Winkworth, a heritage consultant and spokesperson for the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, said: “The concern with recent leaks on the government’s thinking is that it would seem they are still considering funding a new Parramatta museum by selling parts of the Powerhouse Museum site. This is not on.”
Ms Winkworth said the museum had always been a public asset and the government did not have any right to sell it off in order to fund its other projects. A museum for Parramatta should be a separate project made in consultation with locals in the area, and should not infringe in any way on the Ultimo Powerhouse site’s future, she said.
Patricia Johnson from the Save the Powerhouse group was similarly suspicious about the leaked information.
“We believe [the announcement] should not be interpreted too optimistically,” she said.
She was also sceptical about the government’s sincerity in consulting the public, given that they had ignored “over 1000 public objections and 20 speeches in opposition” to high rise development plans recently approved by the Government-appointed Parramatta Council Administrator, for the heritage-rich Cumberland Hospital, according to Ms Johnson.