City News

Power play for Parramatta

The Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Addie Morton.


Community outrage continues to grow over the NSW Government’s decision to move the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to a flood-prone site on the Parramatta River.

The new museum, which is projected to open in 2022, will be on the site of the old David Jones carpark and is looking to cost upwards of $1 billion. Museum experts claim the transfer also risks damaging historical artefacts and heritage buildings in the process.

Jamie Parker, Member for Balmain in the NSW Parliament, isn’t sold on the relocation.

“This proposal was always a real estate deal rather than any type of cultural decision,” Parker said. “The government identified this land as incredibly valuable real estate for the developers.”

Since Parramatta is a marginal seat for the government, Parker also sees the relocation as a political move.

“It’s a seat they have to win, and they thought they could buy votes in Parramatta by moving the Powerhouse Museum into their community,” Parker said. “The people of Parramatta and Western Sydney deserve a museum or a cultural space that actually speaks to the spirit of that community rather than just relocating and dumping the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta for a short-term political fix.”

Despite promises to release a preliminary business plan for the move in March, secrecy still surrounds the case as the release has been pushed back three months.

Lindsay Sharp, Founding Powerhouse Museum Director, believes the excessive secrecy could be the government’s fear of someone finding a better solution.

“Why would they delay their business plan for 90 days? Because people questioning the move would inevitably arise,” Sharp said.

Although little to no information is known about the move, the marketing analysis team has projected that the new museum will see up to one million visitors in the first year.

“I don’t know what they’re smoking, but it’s pretty good stuff,” Sharp said. “In my professional opinion, it is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever seen. It’s entirely without foundation as far as I can tell.”

Sharp predicts that the market analysis team has partly based these figures on previous visitation to Ultimo which cannot be applied to the new market.

He believes the government will move objects almost immediately after the business case is released to make the move irreversible.

Since exact costs and details of the relocation are still unknown, it seems the decision was made without any genuine consultation to either community. The heritages of both areas are being pushed aside and not being recognised.

Instead of moving the Powerhouse Museum, which belongs to the industrial history of Ultimo, many are pushing for a new museum in Parramatta that connects to the indigenous history of the area.

Parker believes the government should go back to the drawing board and recognise that an entirely new museum should be built in Parramatta instead of an enormous relocation of the Powerhouse.

“That’s what the government should be looking at rather than trying to make a quick buck, which they have now realised it is very difficult to do with this site,” Parker said.

Kylie Winkworth, a museum and heritage consultant and former Powerhouse Museum trustee, worries about the state of the museum during the relocation process.

“They’re going to pack up all of the treasures and we won’t see those treasures for another 10 years,” Winkworth said. “The Powerhouse Museum took 10 years in developing and planning, so if people think there is going to be a new museum in Parramatta in any less time they need to think again.”

Winkworth says the museum has already seen a dramatic collapse in acquisition of donations to the museum.

“Who is going to give their family treasures to a museum that is being demolished?” Winkworth questioned.

She added that great museums are not planned through secrecy, and the proposal of the move has breached trust with donors and supporters and puts the future of the museum at risk.

On Powerhouse’s website it states that the new location in Parramatta will go by a different name and feature different exhibits.

Efforts of those opposed to the relocation are now geared towards not wasting tax money, preserving irreplaceable artefacts that are connected to the community and keeping the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo.

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